UConn at Army Football Preview – Saturday at 12pm ET (CBSSN)

Another week, another rough matchup for the UConn Huskies football program. UConn will hop on buses and head to West Point, NY to play Army on Saturday as 33.5pt underdogs, and rightfully so. The 2-0 Black Knights began their season with a blowout on the road at Georgia State and squeaked by Western Kentucky by 3 in a high-scoring battle last week, after a 21pt 4th quarter from the Hilltoppers. Army has to feel pretty confident they will be 3-0 as UConn rolls into town this weekend.

Army Black Knights

The Black Knights are known for their triple option offense, which generally is difficult for UConn to handle. As the name suggests, it creates 3 potential running options for the offense on any given play – a QB run/keeper, a classic RB handoff run, or a toss outside to a RB or WR. Army has 4 players who have 10+ rushes on the season already, including 3 with 90+ yards and 6 players with a rushing TD this season in 2 games. QB Christian Anderson has already run for 174 yards in 2 games (averaging 4.7 yards per carry), while passing just 8 times (6 completions) for 117 yards. He’s their primary runner, with RB Jakobi Buchanan as RB1, who has rushed 29 times for 99 yards. They also use RB Tyrell Robinson and RB Anthony Adkins in the option game, both of whom can keep a defense off balance.

The biggest issue when facing the triple option is play awareness and adjustment to the action, which can be harder for younger, less experienced talent like UConn. If they limit the amount they throw the ball like the first few games, that will help the secondary play the run and hopefully limit the amount of big explosive plays from Army. We’ll likely see multiple 12-18 play drives from Army as they get 3-5 yards each play and keep moving the chains down the field. It’s not always pretty and fun to watch, but it can be very effective.

On the defensive side of the ball, Army has a few very talented and dynamic players, most of whom are sophomores or juniors. Junior LB Andre Carter II has been a beast to begin the season with 4.5 sacks in 2 games, including 3 in their season opener against Georgia State. He will be a challenge for the offensive line along with their 2nd leading tacklers senior LB Arik Smith and sophomore LB Spencer Jones. In the secondary, junior DB Marquel Broughton and sophomore CB Jabari Moore both have 2 passes deflected and an INT each on the season so far and CB Julian McDuffle leads the team in tackles with 10.

Offense

After another goose-egg last week vs. Purdue, the UConn offense has a lot to prove this weekend at Michie Stadium. The offensive depth chart has basically remained the same, but interestingly, the backup QB role is now listed as an OR situation between redshirt junior Micah Leon, freshman Tyler Phommachanh and sophomore Jack Zergiotis. I’m not sure if this is intended to be a statement to Zergiotis about his status on the team or a chance to recognize that the other two QBs have been putting in the work in practice. To me, it says that Lou Spanos isn’t afraid to make a change if needed and put in who he feels could perform the best at any given moment regardless of where they are on the depth chart. Given the lack of offensive production, why not throw all darts at the board and see what sticks.

I’ve said this before and I’ll probably have to say it again, but UConn needs more production from their running game. It’s been disappointing and flat so far in 2021 and a strong run-game can open up the passing game and give whoever the QB is time to throw and separation for the receivers. A net-gained rushing yards of 331 and 2.4 yards per carry between 4 RBs, 2 QBs, a WR and a TE is embarrassing in 3 games. Compare that to opponents who have gained 639 yards on 4.3 yards per carry against the Huskies over that stretch in just 26 more attempts.

Defense

This will be a potentially tough match-up for the Huskies on defense. For a D that has had some trouble giving up big plays in the run and pass this year, they will need to be smart and hold their assignments in the run game. The Army offense has rushed 134 times in 2 games for 597 yards and 8 TDs and will be looking for more of the same on Saturday. Getting stops on 3rd down and getting off the field will be the key for this defense and their stamina through the full 60 minutes. With long drives and small chunk gains, the Army offense will wear down the defense, especially the lineman and linebackers leading to larger and larger holes as the game wears on.

If the UConn defense can limit the long 10+ play drives and force a handful of punts, they will have a chance to at least look respectable. Army’s offense doesn’t score quickly and in bunches, so some early scoring will put pressure on the triple option and perhaps force a few more passes than in previous games. Although QB Christian Anderson is capable of making a throw when needed, forcing him to throw more often and pushing him out of his run-first preference is definitely to UConn’s benefit. I’m not sure UConn is talented enough to accomplish that, but it should be a focus.

Special Teams

Not much to see here, but worth noting that the punt team could play an important role if the game progresses as we expect. We know the UConn offense will stall at times, and with an Army team that likes to pick up small yardage per play on long drives, pining them deep in their own zone on punts can swing the field position battle and give UConn a better chance for stops. Basic statistics show that it’s harder for a team to go 80+ yards than 60+ yards on a drive, so being able to swing field position when they’re not able to score will be beneficial.


Prediction

Army 42, UConn 14

This will finally be the week that UConn beats the spread (by a little) and shows some semblance of life. They will still lose big, but the offense will finally put some points on the board against an FBS opponent and have a little more balance. The key to this game for both teams is sustained drives and in the end UConn’s defense will be exhausted in the 4th quarter and give up and extra TD or two making the final score even uglier. QB Steven Krajewski will establish himself with an 150+ yard passing game and cement his role as QB1.

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