FACTS & STATS: Site: Rentschler Field (40,000) -- East Hartford, Connecticut. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: Rutgers 4-2, UConn 0-5. Away Record: Rutgers 2-3, UConn 1-4. Neutral Record: Rutgers 0-0, UConn 0-0. Conference Record: Rutgers 2-4, UConn 1-5. Series Record: Rutgers leads, 22-10.
GAME NOTES: Fresh off their first win of the season the Connecticut Huskies will try to pick up another when they host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights in American Athletic Conference action at Rentschler Field.
The last few weeks have not ended well for Rutgers, which has dropped four of its last five decisions. The most recent losses have been the most unsettling. In setbacks to Cincinnati and UCF, the Scarlet Knights have been outscored by a combined 93-34. The recent losing stretch has Rutgers' postseason hopes hanging on by a thread with two games to play. Rutgers is just 5-5 overall and at 2-4 in league play, far from the conference title chase.
Any chance at the postseason and the conference championship have long been gone for UConn, which is just 1-9 overall and 1-5 in league play. That single win didn't come until last weekend when the Huskies roared back from a 21-0 halftime deficit on the road to top Temple, 28-21. The win was not only the first of the year for the Huskies, but the first under interim head coach T.J. Weist, who took over for the fired Paul Pasqualoni earlier in the campaign.
These two teams clashed in a defensive battle last year that ended in a 19-3 victory for Rutgers at High Point Solutions Stadium. The two teams combined for only 524 yards of total offense in the affair, which ended in the 22nd win in 32 meetings between them for Rutgers.
Saturday's matchup likely won't run up a huge offensive tab either. Rutgers is posting only 379.2 yards of total offense per game while scoring just over 28 points every week. Compare that to just 291.3 yards of total offense each week from UConn as well as a scoring average far below the AAC's best (17.4 ppg).
Gary Nova has really struggled under center for the Scarlet Knights in recent weeks. Against UCF last weekend Nova completed only 11-of-34 pass attempts to finish with 1-7 yards while being intercepted once. Nova has completed less than 50 percent of his pass attempts in three of the last four games and has also been held below 200 yards passing in each of those games. Nova has tallied 2,159 yards and 18 cores overall but the with 14 interceptions and 25 sacks taken, he has been uneven to say the least.
One thing Nova has done somewhat well is spread the ball around. There are fourth different receivers with at least 300 yards and three of them have more than 400. Leonte Carroo (28 receptions, 478 yards, nine TDs) has been valuable, especially as a threat in scoring plays. Tyler Kroft (33 receptions, 428 yards, three TDs) is a reliable tight end that had eight receptions for 72 yards against UCF. Brandon Coleman (29 receptions, 423 yards, three TDs) is another solid target.
Leading rusher Paul James (671 yards, seven TDs) has played in each of the last two weeks after being absent for three games with an injury. James had 78 yards two weeks ago against Cincinnati but was limited to 20 yards on 12 carries against UCF, though he did score a touchdown. Justin Goodwin (457 yards, four TDs) held down the fort while James was out and is a solid option as a replacement.
The most alarming trend for Rutgers during its losing streak and the season as a whole, is how poorly it has played on defense. The Scarlet Knights are currently better than only Temple among AAC teams in total defense (434.9 ypg). A year ago Rutgers ranked second in the league in the category. The Scarlet Knights have still been strong on the pass rush with 27 sacks, the third most in the conference. Steve Longa (93 tackles, 3.0 sacks) is nearing the 100-tackle plateau for the unit.
Three different quarterbacks have been slotted as the starter throughout the year for UConn due to injury and poor performance. The most recent call up has been Casey Cochran, who will likely be the starter again on Saturday. Cochran threw for only 111 yards and a touchdown on 8-of-18 passing in the win over Temple. Cochran also threw his fourth interception of the contest in the game. In limited time this year Cochran has thrown for 521 yards and five scores, to four picks, on 56.8 percent passing.
The biggest threat the Huskies have on offense is wide receiver Geremy Davis. Against Temple, Davis brought in four passes for 83 yards and a touchdown for his third-straight game of at least 70 receiving yards. On the year, Davis has 51 receptions for 780 yards and two touchdowns. That far outweighs then efforts of any player on the roster, including second-leading receiver Shakim Phillips (28 receptions, 406 yards, three TDs).
In the backfield Lyle McCombs and Max DeLorenzo get the bulk of the work. McCombs (650 yards, four TDs) had his first 100-yard effort of the game entering play last week. He finished with 51 yards on 16 attempts against the Owls. DeLorenzo (290 yards, three TDs) is more of a short yardage back but he has had at least 60 rushing yards and a score in each of the last two weeks.
UConn was the only team in the conference that was better in terms total defense than the Scarlet Knights last year. The Huskies' fall from grace has been less pronounced, though at sixth in the conference (399.4 ypg), they are still quite off the mark they set a year ago. Yawin Smallwood (102 tackles) is the lone bright spot for the unit. It was Smallwood's 59-yard interception return for a touchdown that decided the game for UConn last weekend.
It took a furious rally in the second half against a 1-10 Temple squad to give UConn its first win. Even though Rutgers isn't among the league's elite anymore, the Scarlet Knights will be able to pick up a sixth win on Saturday.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rutgers 23, Connecticut 17
Saturday, November 30, 12 p.m. (ET)