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Know Thy Opponent 2021: UConn Huskies

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Purdue’s second opponent has been one of the worst FBS teams in the country lately.

East Carolina at Connecticut Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

With the transfer portal you’re bound to get some roster crossover where current players play their former school, but it is harder to do that in the non-conference season. When Purdue heads to Storrs, Connecticut on September 11 it will have one player seeing some former friends. Long snapper Nick Zecchino played in all 12 games for UConn back in 2016 before eventually ending up at Purdue and becoming our starter in 2019. Tyler Coyle, who just signed as an undrafted free agent after a brief year at Purdue, also came from UConn, as did Bob Diaco (by way of Louisiana Tech).

Aside from that, there is not a lot of crossover between Purdue and UConn. This is the first meeting between the schools. They only moved up to the FBS level in 2000 and they have a 3-6 record against Big Ten teams. Two of those wins are over Indiana, so they have had success against the state of Indiana.

UConn Huskies

2020 Record: Did not play, 2-10 in 2019

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: The UConn Blog

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Last Purdue win: None

Last UConn win: None

Head Coach: Randy Edsall (80-100 in 16th season at UConn, 102-134 overall)

Last Season for the Huskies

It is easy to summarize the 2020 season for UConn: There was none. As an FBS independent they were unable to get much of a schedule together since teams were playing minimal non-conference games, so when they take the field at Fresno State on August 28 in a week 0 game it will be their first game since November 30, 2019. Like Rutgers with Greg Schiano, they have run it back with former Maryland coach Randy Edsall. Edsall took UConn to its highest heights as a program between 1999 and 2010. His peak was reaching the Fiesta Bowl as Big East champion in 2010. He also had a 9-4 season in 2007.

Over the last few years, however, the Huskies have been one of the worst FBS teams in the country. This is year four for Edsall in his second stint and they are 6-30 in that time. Half of those wins are over FCS teams, and even those were close games with none being decided by more than seven points. They have only beaten Temple, Tulsa, and UMass as FBS level teams, with a 56-35 win over UMass in 2019 as their most recent win over anyone. It is also their only FBS win since October 21, 2017.

This is a very bad team. They were not great before COVID and now they are coming off of a year off, the likes of which has not been seen since SMU suffered its infamous death penalty. It certainly looks like this is a team that is starting over completely from scratch, but that could be a blessing considering how bad the program was.

UConn Offense

Please bear in mind that almost everything here is a guess at best. It is mostly me working off of their 2019 stats and seeing the roster of who is left. In 2019 UConn ranked near the bottom of FBS, averaging 344.7 yards per game. In terms of scoring they were at a meager 18.9 points per game. If you want an analogue to how bad they were, they were slightly better than Northwestern, who averaged 16.3 points per game and was boosted by a solid finish after a dismal start. Vanderbilt, who Purdue also beat in 2019, averaged 16.5 points per game.

One of the few standouts was running back Kevin Mensah. He had a 1,000 yard rushing season with 1,013 yards and 9 touchdowns. He also caught 8 passes for 91 yards. He is slated to return, so they have an interesting piece to build around. Robert Burns, a transfer from Miami, will also be a contributor.

Jack Zergiotis was the best quarterback in 2019 with 1,782 yards and 9 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He also had a 57.7% completion percentage. He is still on the roster, but NC State transfer Micah Leon will likely battle to start, but he never played at NC State.

Cameron Ross was the number one receiver with 60 receptions for 723 yards and 4 TDs and he is back. That gives UConn its best running back, quarterback, and receiver from the last season it played football. Matt Drayton (21-278-2) and tight end Jay Rose (27-261-2) are also back. Overall UConn returns a lot of its production from 2019 and did add two per 5 transfers, so it is a start.

UConn Defense

In the three years under Edsall the UConn defense has been an absolute horror show. In 2019 it gave up 466 yards and 40.5 points per game. The scoring number was so bad only New Mexico State (41 ppg) and UMass (52.7 ppg) were worse. It may hard to believe, but this was actually an improvement over 2018. When Purdue got Tyler Coyle it got basically their best defender over the past two seasons. In 2018 UConn had the worst defense in the country and one of the worst of all time:

Through six games, the Huskies are giving up 53.7 points per game. The last team to give up more than 50 points for a game over an entire season: 1997 UL Lafayette’s 50.3. Before that: 1918 Stanford’s 60.5.

So yeah, it’s possible UConn finishes with the worst scoring defense since World War I.

They ended up giving up 50.4 points per game, so they were the worst in more than a century until UMass in 2019. They were dead last in rushing defense that year at 335 yards per game on the ground and they gave up 617 yards per game total. Ironically, Purdue’s first opponent, Oregon State, had the second to worst defense that year at 45.7 points per game, followed by Purdue’s 4th opponent in Illinois at 39.4 points per game.

As I said, Coyle was their best defender before he came to West Lafayette. He had 86 tackles, an interception, and 10 pass breakups. Lwal Uguak led them with 4 sacks and he is back. Diamond Harrell led the team with two interceptions and is also back. Senior linebacker Omar Fortt had 70 tackles and 1.5 sacks. D.J Morgan is also back after leading the team with 10.5 tackles for loss.

Even in all that, this is a very bad defense.

UConn Special Teams

Both specialists must be replaced, especially punter Luke Magliozzi, who transferred out to play elsewhere. The entire return game must also be replaced.

Game Outlook

I am going to be blunt: If Purdue loses this game Jeff Brohm should not be allowed to return to West Lafayette. Fire him before he even gets in the locker room. I know Purdue’s road record against non-Power 5 foes has been very bad of late. It lost at Nevada in 2019, at Marshall in 2015, at Cincinnati in 2013, and at Rice in 2011. In terms of overall non-conference road games it only has one win since winning at Toledo in 2007: that came at Missouri in 2017. That’s a 1-8 record since the start of 2008. The home record vs. non-power five teams has also not been great with losses to Central and Eastern Michigan, Toledo, Northern Illinois (twice), Bowling Green, and Cincinnati since Joe Tiller retired.

None of those games were against a team as bad as UConn, however. In 2019 the Huskies lost to both Illinois (31-23) and Indiana (38-3) from the Big Ten. It beat Virginia in 2016 for a Power 5 win, but has had just one season of more than three wins since 2012.

Jeff Brohm was brought here for his offense. He is facing a defense that has been historically bad the last few seasons and has few signs it is going to be significantly better. If Purdue can’t win this game it will struggle to beat anyone else on the schedule even with it coming on the road.

Way-to-early Prediction

It might be dicey early if UConn gets an early score or two and has a lead through a quarter, but Purdue is the better team. I think it eventually has no issues and cruises to a multi-score win. If that isn’t the case, be very, very concerned. Purdue 45, UConn 17