#91 Connecticut Football 2016 Preview

Connecticut Huskies
Overall Rank: #91
#8 American


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Connecticut and Coach Bob Diaco deserve a lot of credit for their 2015 campaign and trip to the St. Petersburg Bowl. The Huskies rebuilt and suffered through a tough 2014 season, but it paid off last year. Now Connecticut needs to keep improving and turn into a contender in the AAC. There is the potential for a big jump here, but it seems more likely that the Huskies will sneak into another bowl game. Yet, for UConn, that’s not a bad place to be.
2015 Record: 6-7, 4-4
2015 Bowl: St. Petersburg Bowl vs. Marshall (L 10-16)
Coach: Bob Diaco (8-17 at Connecticut, 8-17 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Frank Verducci
Defensive Coordinator: Anthony Poindexter
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Arkell Newsome, RB, 792 yards
Passing: Bryant Shirreffs, QB, 2,078 yards
Receiving: Noel Thomas, WR, 719 yards
Tackles: Junior Joseph, LB, 93
Sacks: Folorunso Fatukasi, DL, 8.5
Interceptions: Jamar Summers, CB, 8
Other Key Returnees: RB Ron Johnson, WR Tyraiq Beals, TE Alec Bloom, CB Jhavon Williams, S Obi Melifonwu, LB Luke Carrezola, K Bobby Puyol
Key Losses: S Andrew Adams, DL Julian Campenni
Connecticut’s defense is not flashy, but they certainly get the job done. Last year they led the AAC in pass defense and scoring defense, allowing a mere 19.5 points per game. That will keep Connecticut in every game. The Huskies did not give up a lot of big plays and were great in the red zone and this group is more experienced and should be even better. The line features Folorunso Fatukasi and Luke Carrezola, who combined for 15.5 tackles-for-loss and 14 sacks. At linebacker, Junior Joseph returns after tallying 93 tackles and Matthew Walsh is an experienced senior who can get into the backfield. The secondary will work around cornerbacks Jamar Summers and Jhavon Williams and free safety Obi Melifonwu. There are a few holes here and there to fill, but Connecticut has the depth to fill them without much of a problem.
And the defense did all of that despite a pretty awful offensive showing. The Huskies were one of the worst teams in the country in total offense and scoring offense. Rarely will 17.2 points per game be enough to reach a bowl, but it was for the Huskies. They will need to do better this time around. This is a team that wants to slow things down, run the ball and avoid turnovers. That lets the defense do what they do best. Last year turnovers were not a problem at all, but the ground game was a big concern. Arkeel Newsome rushed for 792 yards on 183 carries and is back to attempt to boost his yards per carry average. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs was the team’s second leading rusher and is capable of making some plays with his legs. It often seemed that running the ball last year was just to kill clock and let the defense rest since few big plays were ever made on the ground. In the air, Shirreffs was decent, completing 60.2 percent of his attempts for 2,078 yards and nine touchdowns. Consistency was an issue, but that should improve now that he is an upperclassman and has a year of starting experience under his belt.
The Bottom Line:
The offense almost has to be better, but it will not look that way at all if the ground game is still scraping for a yard or two on every carry. The defense came out of nowhere last year and the rest of the teams in the AAC could be ready for it now and have a better game plan. As long as the turnover margin stays in the Huskies favor, they will get back to six wins on the shoulders of their defense, but this team has plenty of upside. It is very possible that the defense gets better and the offense gets better and this Connecticut team wins eight or nine games. With their first two AAC games on the road at Navy and Houston though, it is also possible they will basically be out of the title race by the end of September.
Projected Bowl: Boca Raton Bowl
2015 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 124.8 (114th in nation, 10th in conference)
Passing Offense: 185.5 (103, 11)
Total Offense: 310.3 (123, 11)
Scoring Offense: 17.2 (121, 11)
Rushing Defense: 165.8 (60, 6)
Pass Defense: 189.3 (20, 1)
Total Defense: 355.1 (33, 2)
Scoring Defense: 19.5 (15, 1)
Turnover Margin: 0.69 (15, 4)
Sacks: 1.62 (97, 8)
Sacks Allowed: 2.85 (107, 10)


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