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College Football Preview: Louisville vs. Connecticut

Charlie Strong looks to get his Cards refocused on the road in East Hartford after a disappointing home loss in which the guys came out flat and struggled to move the ball on offense. A win against Connecticut on Saturday afternoon will make the Cardinals bowl-eligible for the second straight season and keep their slim Big East title hopes alive. U of L is 2-2 on the road this season, with big rivalry wins over Kentucky and West Virginia and close, almost heartbreaking, losses to North Carolina and Cincinnati. Still, the players seem more focused away from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium than when they are in front of the home crowd.

The Huskies are coming off a bye week and last played on November 5 when they defeated Syracuse at home, 28-21. Paul Pasqualoni is 4-5 in his first season with UConn after taking over for Randy Edsall, who left for his “dream job” at Maryland. (Maryland is 2-8, but has really neat uniforms.) Pasqualoni accumulated a 107-59-1 record in 14 seasons as head coach at Syracuse from 1991 to 2004 prior to coaching stints in the NFL with the Cowboys and Dolphins.

There hasn’t been too much to be impressed with about the Huskies this season. Their two out-of-conference wins came over Fordham, a 1-9 FCS team, and a 2-8 Buffalo squad. Their other league win was over USF at home, 16-10. The Huskies “represented” the Big East last season in the BCS, “traveling” to Arizona before being handed a 48-20 loss from Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Louisville defeated UConn in The Oven last season, 26-0, the first win for the Cards over the Huskies since 2006 (thanks, Steve).

UConn is led on offense by running back Lyle McCombs. The redshirt freshman averages nearly 25 carries a game, though he’s only entered the end zone five times this season on the ground, four of which came in the season opener against Fordham. He has rushed for over 100 yards six times this season, with a high of 152 against Syracuse, and is a big play threat with three runs of over 60 yards.

Junior quarterback Johnny McEntee is in his first year as a full-time player and has accumulated 1515 yards with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. His three main targets are Isiah Moore, Kashif Moore and Ryan Griffin. Despite a team-high 32 receptions and 436 yards, Isiah Moore has yet to reach the end zone. Kashif Moore has hauled in four touchdown grabs this season.

UConn’s sixth-ranked rushing defense is led by junior linebacker Jory Johnson. Johnson has accumulated 74 tackles, four for a loss. The Huskies only allow 90 yards a game on the ground, so expect Charlie Strong to unleash everyone on the depth chart again Saturday if the guy before isn’t moving the ball. Statistically speaking, the Cards and Huskies are quite even in both offensive and defensive rankings. The one startling difference is the Huskies being ranked 112th in pass defense (compared to U of L at 57). Even if the running game struggles, Teddy Bridgewater will have the opportunities to pass and make plays, if offensive coordinator Shawn Watson allows it.

It’s been an up and down season for the Cards since the opening kickoff against Murray State way back on September 1. (How long ago does that seem?) After an awful three-game losing streak to Marshall, North Carolina and Cincinnati, and an awesome three-game winning streak over Rutgers, Syracuse and West Virginia, it was only natural that we drop our Senior Day affair to Pittsburgh. All is not lost at 3-2 in the Big East and a BCS bowl is still a possibility. Look for Strong and the coaching staff to have the Cards ready to get to 4-2 at The Rent Saturday afternoon.

Date – Saturday, November 19, 2011
Location – Rentschler Field (40,000), East Hartford, Conn.
Time – 12:00 p.m. ET
TV –Big East Network, Mike Gleason (pbp), John Congemi (color), Eamon McAnaney (sidelines)
Radio – Nelligan Sports Network, WKRD 790, 101.7 FM, SIRIUS Ch. 128, XM Ch. 203, Paul Rogers (pbp), Tony Stallings (color) and Doug Ormay (sidelines)
Series – 4-3 Louisville


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