Orlando, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Fresh off their stunning victory over then No. 8 Louisville, the UCF Knights will be trying to avoid a hangover when they host the Connecticut Huskies in an American Athletic Conference affair at Bright House Networks Stadium.
It looked like the Cardinals were going to be too much for UCF, as Louisville had a 28-7 lead midway through the third quarter. However the Knights were not quite finished as they rallied to claim a 38-35 victory. Now it is UCF that is in the driver's seat for the league crown with a 2-0 mark in conference play and a 5-1 overall record. UCF also pushed its way into the Top 25 for the first time sine 2010.
"Obviously it's a big win, there's no question about that. It's the biggest win of the year, because it's a conference win. I'm just happy for the kids," UCF head coach George O'Leary said. "We went in the game with one motto- great effort, great effort, and great effort and compete. And that's what I thought they did. We got down 28-7, they could have just hung their heads, but they didn't."
The Huskies have still yet to earn a victory as they are 0-6 overall and winless in two tries against conference opponents. The Huskies are currently playing under an interim head coach in T.J. Weist, who took over when Paul Pasqualoni was fired at the end of September. The Huskies are 0-2 under Weist, including a 41-16 loss against Cincinnati last weekend.
"We have to find ways on this team to get momentum and keep it. We show signs on offense, defense, and special teams of making plays but we have to put it all together. We haven't had a game yet where we have put it all together," Weist said after Saturday's loss.
Familiarity won't be a benefit for either of these teams in this matchup as it is the first ever meeting between them.
UConn represents the second-worst offensive team in the AAC. The Huskies are managing just 303.3 yards per game and have been held to 21 points or fewer in every game this season.
In last week's loss to Cincinnati the scoring wasn't there but the Huskies did manage to throw the ball with some success, finishing with 321 yards passing as a team. Tim Boyle threw for 310 of those yards in his first career start as Weist had finally seen enough of Chandler Whitmer. However, Boyle was also intercepted three times and sacked on eight occasions.
Even though the offense has not been performing at a high level that hasn't stopped Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips from giving the Huskies a solid receiving tandem. Davis had eight catches for a career-high 140 yards against Cincinnati and now has 31 receptions for 528 yards this year. Both of those marks are team-highs. Phillips (18 receptions, 293 yards, three TDs) missed two games this season but still leads in touchdowns.
Running the ball has not come easily for the Huskies. Lyle McCombs is averaging 4.4 yards per carry but has just 378 yards and three scores on the season as the Huskies' leading rusher. In all UConn is rushing for the third-fewest yards per game in the country (73.9 ypg).
Yawin Smallwood is one of the best linebackers in the conference and has powered the UConn defense with at least nine tackles in every game this season, including five games of more than 10 stops. Thanks in part to Smallwood the unit has managed to remain competitive in the AAC, ranking sixth in yards allowed (377.7 ypg), despite a lack of success in creating pressure. The Huskies have just five sacks.
Blake Bortles finally put himself on the map against Louisville. While Cardinals' quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has gotten all the glory, Bortles has quietly put together a strong season and by out-dueling Bridgewater, has shown he can hang with any player in the conference. On the year Bortles has completed 64.9 percent of his pass attempts for 1,584 yards and 11 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
Taking the lead from their signal caller the Knights have not been posting incredible numbers this season, ranking fifth in total offense (419.3 ypg), but the effort against the Cardinals showed just how explosive they can be.
Storm Johnson's play against Louisville was even more important as he tallied 188 all-purpose yards (106 rushing, 79 receiving) and also scored a pair of touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving). Johnson has been a real force with 564 yards and eight rushing touchdowns, while adding 180 yards and a score through the air.
While Johnson did have a team-high in receiving yards against Louisville it is normally Breshad Perriman and Rannell Hall that make the majority of plays in the passing game. Perriman leads in yards (435), while Hall has gotten his 399 yards on a team-high 24 receptions, including three for scores.
Though they struggled early on defense against Louisville, the Knights found their identity in the second half when the team scored 24 unanswered points. The Knights have not overwhelmed on defense, ranking fifth in the league in yards allowed 368.3 ypg, but they have made plays when they need to. The prime playmaker has been Terrance Plummer, who has a team-high 53 tackles along with two sacks and two interceptions.