GAME PREVIEWTELEVISED TONIGHT ON ESPN at 8:00 PM
East Hartford, CT - Look for Connecticut to crowd the line of scrimmage and try and force No. 4 West Virginia to throw the football when the two teams meet tonight at Rentschler Field, says Mountaineer coach Rich Rodriguez.
?Traditionally they were an eight-man front but now they are more of a two-deep team but they won?t play a lot of traditional two-deep on run downs a lot of times,? Rodriguez said. ?They will bring their linebackers very, very tight to the line of scrimmage. They?ll get their corners involved in the run game.?
Connecticut (3-3) is coming off one of its best defensive performances of the year last weekend, holding Army to just 252 yards of offense in a 21-7 victory.
UConn limited Army to only 13 first downs and 97 yards rushing.
?We?re going to have to pitch and catch and we?ve worked hard on the passing game and hopefully the weather will be decent so we can execute some,? Rodriguez said.
Connecticut?s three losses this year have come against quality opponents: 6-1 Wake Forest, 5-2 Navy and 5-2 South Florida.
Some have made note of Connecticut?s 38-16 loss at South Florida because the Bulls run a spread offense like West Virginia?s, but Rodriguez cautions to not read too much into that because South Florida?s running plays are different and the Bulls also utilize the pass more frequently.
?A lot of their run game is different even though USF ran their quarterback some,? Rodriguez said. ?USF has got some of the most dangerous wide outs in the league. They?ve got some guys one-on-one that are really scary. They couldn?t play just straight man coverage against them because of that fact.
?Our run game and some of our zone runs are really different than what USF is doing so we got some out of that but not a lot,? he said.
West Virginia blockers must account for Husky linebacker Danny Lansanah, a 6-foot-1-inch, 238-pound junior who leads the team with 48 tackles and four tackles for losses.
Senior defensive tackle Rhema Fuller is an Outland Trophy candidate that has made his presence felt in the middle this year. He has 21 tackles, six tackles for losses and 3.5 sacks. Sophomore defensive end Cody Brown leads Connecticut with 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for losses.
?They?ll press the line of scrimmage and get a lot of people close to the ball within seven or eight yards and a lot of times play cover zero,? Rodriguez said.
Offensively, Connecticut has gone back to senior quarterback Matt Bonislowaski after sophomore D.J. Hernandez struggled to move the team in a 14-7 win at Indiana earlier this year.
Bonislowaski completed 10 of 21 passes for 139 yards in the Army win and comes into Friday night?s game completing 45 of 98 passes for 516 yards and three touchdowns. He has only thrown one interception.
?He?s a big guy with a strong arm,? Rodriguez said. ?I think he?s comfortable with what he?s doing and he?s managing the game well, getting them into the right plays and not making the big mistakes.?
Connecticut?s preferred method of moving the football is on the ground, where senior Terry Caulley has been a four-year standout for the Huskies. Last week Caulley ripped off a Big East-record 98-yard TD run against the Black Knights and finished the game with 135 yards ? his 13th career 100-yard game.
Caulley has gained a team-best 588 yards on 99 carries, while sophomore Lou Allen has added 222 yards and scored a team-best four rushing touchdowns. The two split time in the backfield last weekend in the Army win.
?Caulley is the fast guy and Allen is the more powerful guy. I think they?re just trying to keep them fresh,? Rodriguez said.
Bonislowaski will not only look to a fleet group of receivers featuring game breaker Larry Taylor who shows 19 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown, but also tight end Steve Brouse who shows nine catches for 109 yards.
?They use their tight ends a good bit in the passing game to keep you from playing the run too much,? Rodriguez said. ?I suspect we will see some play action on first and second down and try to keep our guys off balance a little bit.?
Rodriguez also expects Bonislowaski to challenge a young West Virginia secondary that has given up 18 pass plays of 20 yards or longer this year.
?They will probably take some deep shots against our DBs and throw the ball down the field because they?ve got some fast receivers and see if we can play the deep ball,? Rodriguez said.
The only other time West Virginia traveled to East Hartford in 2004 the Mountaineers came away with a tough 31-19 decision. Rodriguez remembers the atmosphere at 40,000-seat Rentschler Field being one of the best in the Big East.
?It was one of the loudest atmospheres that we played in,? he said. ?It?s 40,000 but they are kind of right on you and their students do a great job of making a lot of noise. From what I can remember a couple of years ago it was a pretty tight ballgame and they were making noise. There was a lot of communication work that we had to do prior to that and after the game our guys said that it was a little louder than they thought.?
Friday?s game will be televised nationally on ESPN (Dave Pasch, Rod Gilmore, Trevor Matich and Heather Cox).
It?s West Virginia?s second prime-time ESPN game this year.
?It probably gets the guy?s juices flowing a little more because everyone wants to play on national TV,? Rodriguez said. ?I don?t think it changes a whole lot from their mental standpoint.? Briefly:
West Virginia is gunning for a school-record 14th straight regular season win dating back to last year. Last week, the Mountaineers tied the record after beating Syracuse 41-17. WVU has the second longest win streak in the country trailing just No. 1 Ohio State.
Friday?s game features the nation?s No. 1-ranked rushing offense in West Virginia (328.3 ypg.) going up against Connecticut?s 105th-ranked defense against the run allowing 177.2 yards per game.
Connecticut is also an excellent rushing team ranking ninth in the country averaging 209.2 yards per game.
Connecticut is 17-6 in games at Rentschler Field
West Virginia is the eighth nationally ranked team Connecticut has faced in football. The Huskies are 0-7 against ranked teams. Twice UConn has played host to a ranked team at Rentschler Field, falling 31-19 to No. 17 West Virginia in 2004 and losing 30-20 to No. 16 Louisville in 2005.
Rodriguez said during his Tuesday afternoon news conference that defensive end Johnny Dingle is probably out with a sprained ankle and Pat Liebig is questionable after spraining his ankle during practice Monday evening.
Larry Taylor ranks third in the Big East in punt returns averaging 14.5 yards per return. Taylor returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown during last week?s 21-7 win over Army.
Connecticut special teams and tight ends coach Dave McMichael spent 18 years at West Virginia coaching on Don Nehlen?s staff. McMichael also spent two years coaching with Rich Trickett at Southern Illinois in 1980-81.
Connecticut?s 2006 football slate is rated the toughest in the nation by the NCAA. The Huskies? 12 opponents have a combined record of 51-22 so far placing them ahead of Minnesota (52-23).
?People say some of the team?s we beat this year outside the league didn?t have good records,? Rich Rodriguez said. ?Well, part of that is because we beat them.?