UConn vs Purdue Football Preview – Saturday at 3pm ET (CBSSN)

The first game in the post Randy Edsall 2.0 era will be a tough one for the Huskies. The Purdue Boilermakers roll into East Hartford, CT fresh off a win at home against Oregon State and are, understandably, 33.5pt favorites on the road. The first ever match-up between these two teams features the interim UConn head coach Lou Spanos in his first game at the helm. The first 2 games of the season were uninspiring and embarrassing, leading to the “stepping down” of Randy Edsall as head coach, so now is the time for a clean slate and hopefully some glimmers of hope for the future. Let’s take a look at the match-up.

Purdue

The Boilermakers are filled with experience on the offensive end. They have 9 returning starters on offense and are led by their junior QB Jack Plummer. They have an extremely potent passing attack which was on display in week 1 as Plummer completed 29 of 41 attempts for 313 yards and 2 TD, including a 50-yard game-sealing TD with 2 min left. His backup is 5th year Aidan O’Connell who threw for over 300 yards per game last year. The receiving core is very talented and showed it in week 1. Plummer completed passes to 8 different players and threw for over 40 yards to 5 of them. Three receivers averaged 20+ yards per catch, which will likely increase even more against the Huskies weak secondary. The run game is good, if not great, but it doesn’t need to be great with the pass-first attack.

The Purdue defense is solid, but not as impressive as their offense. They have a new defensive coordinator, Brad Lambert, who was the former Marshall Thundering Herd defensive coordinator. He’s aiming to turn around a D that was at the bottom of the Big Ten the last few years. DE George Karlaftis has the potential to wreck havok in the backfield against the suspect UConn offensive line. In his last full season in 2019, Karlaftis had 54 tackles (17 for a loss) and 7.5 sacks alongside a forced fumble. He’s projected as a 1st round talent in the 2022 draft and a player worth game-planning around.

UConn Offense

The big news this week with the coaching change is the switch from QB Jack Zergiotis as the starter to QB Steven Krajewski. Given the relative ineffectiveness of Zergiotis through 2 weeks, it makes sense that Spanos would give Krajewski a chance to take the starting job and maybe gain some momentum on offense. The other half of the battery is also changing this week with freshman C Christopher Fortin taking the starting job from junior Sidney Walker now that he is healthy. It’s worth watching early in the game if there are any issues with the snap given a new QB/C tandem.

For RB, Robert Burns has fallen off the chart, leaving Nate Carter as the backup for Kevin Mensah. The receiving core will look a little different with the likely season ending injury to their #1 receiver Cam Ross against Holy Cross. The Hartford, CT native Jahkai Gill will take Ross’s spot and brings far less experience with just 1 catch for 5 yards this year. He also has the odd distinction of being listed as a sophomore on ESPN, but as a senior on the UConn website, which is just odd.

I’m hopeful Krajewski can get some momentum and lead the Huskies offense down the field a few times on Saturday, but I’m not holding my breath. A new coach and new QB against a tough Big Ten team is a tall task for a team that couldn’t beat FCS Holy Cross one week prior.

UConn Defense

The defense appears to be lined up similarly to last week. They have the toughest task this week trying to hold down the pass-first offense of Purdue. This game has 60+ points against potential, which is terrifying. The UConn defense can take a big step forward this week if they can limit the big plays. In each of the first 2 games they allowed at least 1 huge 2nd half play to the opposing offense that was completely avoidable with solid tackling and smart angles. It’s likely that Plummer will have some success, but if the D can contain the deep passing game and be solid tacklers, they will have something to build upon going forward.

The other thing I’m watching in this game is the reaction of the defensive players after giving up a big play. It’s seems to snowball once they give up a big play, with the D struggling to regain composure and get a stop. To me, that’s at least partially coaching, which was reshuffled this week.

UConn Special Teams

Not much to report on special teams, except now that Jahkai Gill is a starting receiver, I expected him to do less in the punt return game. He is still listed as the punt returner along with Aaron Turner, but I assume he’ll see fewer punt returns if he’s getting more offensive snaps. Although the way the Purdue offense can score, I’m not sure how many punts there will be to return.


Prediction

Purdue 42, UConn 17

Purdue might just be overlooking the Huskies with a huge match-up vs #9 Notre Dame next week, but luckily for the Boilermakers, it won’t matter. Purdue’s strengths are UConn’s weaknesses which is a recipe for disaster. The air-attack will be damaging to the big-play prone Huskie secondary and I wouldn’t be shocked to see 3+ 40-yard plays against the UConn D. The Boilermakers take a 2+ TD lead in the first half and never look back. Krajewski does some promising things, but makes a few mistakes in his 2021 debut.

UConn vs Holy Cross Football Preview – Saturday at Noon (CBSSN)

After a 45-0 blowout on the road at Fresno State on Saturday, game #2 can’t come quickly enough. The Huskies will play at home for the first time this season, and the first time in nearly 2 years, when they host the FCS Holy Cross Crusaders at noon on Saturday. Despite it being an FCS opponent, this will still be a tough match-up for the young Huskies, but certainly should be a winnable game. Odds-makers are understandably skittish on the Huskies, setting them as just 2.5 pt favorites, which essentially means it’s a toss-up game with UConn having the home field advantage. Let’s take a look at some depth-chart changes for the Huskies and preview Holy Cross.

Holy Cross

The Crusaders are opening their season in East Hartford, so we haven’t had a chance to see them play yet this football year. They played an abbreviated spring season in early 2021 and were pretty solid winning the Patriot League with a blowout of Bucknell. They made the FCS playoffs, but got smoked in the first round 31-3 by South Dakota State. Unfortunately for the Holy Cross offense that scored 22.5 points per game last year, their starting QB, Connor Degenhardt, graduated, and they will likely start the only QB on the roster with experience, Matthew Sluka. That could be a problem for UConn, because Sluka is a dual-threat QB and they always give the Huskies trouble.

Other than at QB, it’s hard to know much about this Holy Cross team given the short 4-game season in the spring and nothing yet in the fall. In terms of skill and talent, the FBS Huskies should have an advantage on the FCS Crusaders, but I’m not sure the gap between the programs is as large as UConn would like. The Holy Cross coach, Bob Chesney, has helped make the Crusaders a perennial playoff team in FCS in his short tenure, bowing out in the first round the last few years.

Offense

Going into week #1 and the Fresno State game, it was nice to have a real depth-chart from Randy Edsall after refusing to actually submit one in 2019. That being said, there was a lot of ‘OR’ in the chart making it hard to really analyze who was going to be the starter at several positions until seeing the team on the field. As it turned out, there was no real QB competition and Jack Zergiotis was, and still is, the leader of this offense. He certainly didn’t call his family after the game and brag about his 12/24 61-yd performance, but he was also facing a tough secondary in Fresno State. He got little-to-no help from the running game, making it tough to find open receivers.

Speaking of the running game, Kevin Mensah was an ‘OR’ last week on the depth chart, even though it was assumed, correctly, that he is the RB1. Mensah amassed just 31-yards on 11 carries, while freshman RB Nate Carter ran the ball 8 times for just 10-yards. This week, Mensah is RB1 and Carter is an ‘OR’ with graduate transfer Robert Burns for the backup spot. Burns rushed 3 times for just 5-yards last week, but appears on the depth chart for the first time. The lack of anything in the running game is also a product of a weak offensive line, which should have an easier time this week against a weaker Holy Cross line.

Defense

The defense was surprisingly good to start last week’s game at Fresno State, basically matching the Bulldogs in the first quarter. Unfortunately, once they started to bend, they broke in half. They were plagued in 2019 with giving up big plays at inopportune times and that reared it’s ugly head again on Saturday. My biggest concern with this defense is inexperience in the secondary and a lack of confidence when things start to go south. When they were playing well early, their body language and confidence was evident, but as soon as they began to give up a big play or two, they got shaky with fundamentals and you could tell they were thrown off their game. I’ll attribute some of that to rust, but have concerns going forward.

This week there is one starter at every secondary position vs last week when there were more ‘ORs’ on the depth chart than I’ve ever seen. At corner, the only definite start last week, junior Jeremy Lucien, remains in that spot and is joined by fellow junior Tre Wortham, who took the job over sophomore Myles Bell. The safeties are senior Diamond Harrell and freshman Durante Jones, beating out redshirt sophomore Jalon Ferrell and redshirt freshman Malik Dixon. It will be interesting to see if having defined starting roles will help instill confidence in the younger players.

The defensive line had a hard time getting much pressure on Fresno State QB Jake Haener. Some of that is because Haener is very talented and is able to get the ball out quickly, but it’s another concern going into week #2. In order to protect the secondary, the Huskies need to apply some pressure to the QB and force him to potentially make mistakes. This week, they will need to work on containing the dual-threat QB and keeping him from ripping off a big play with his legs. It’s a tall task given what we saw in week #1.

Special Teams

There hasn’t been a lot of changes on special teams this week. Freshman Haydn Kerr and Joe McFadden are still listed as ‘OR’ this week after Joe McFadden appeared to take over the role last week with 8 punts to Kerr’s 3. That will be an interesting battle to watch as the season progresses, with McFadden also being the place kicker. In the return game, freshman Devontae Houston is no longer in the ‘OR’ category for kick returns and has won the job over fellow freshman Brian Brewton, while Cam Ross remains the punt returner.


Prediction

UConn Huskies 24, Holy Cross Crusaders 21

This is a tough match-up to predict given all the unknowns on both teams, but I think the home crowd will lift the UConn offense to 4 scores and the defense will do just enough to hold off a late surge from the Crusaders. I expect this will be a fairly even game throughout with some back and forth scoring at times. Even though an FCS opponent should provide a fairly easy win on the schedule, UConn has had moments of struggle against them in the past. This will be the first of 2 or 3 wins for the Huskies in 2021.