Big East Weekend Preview

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Tom Savage leads the Scarlet Knights against Tulane this week.

Tom Savage leads the Scarlet Knights against Tulane this week.

Vanderbilt at Connecticut

Saturday, noon EST

Connecticut hosts the biggest non-conference game the Big East has to offer this week. After a week in which league teams fell to Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma and LSU, it’s now up to the Huskies against 1–2 Vanderbilt of the SEC.

No, it’s not a big game nationally. But it is a big game to UConn coach Randy Edsall. After losing to Michigan and, surprisingly, Temple, Edsall made some changes that paid off last week in a win over Buffalo. He’s hoping that the changes provide a spark as the Huskies bear down on the upcoming Big East schedule.

Cody Endres has taken over at quarterback. After being suspended for the first three games, he came off the bench against Buffalo to throw for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Also, Robbie Frey entered the game in the second half and rushed for 112 yards. This week, however, Edsall is hoping to get team leader Jordan Todman back from an arm injury. Todman is ranked fifth nationally in rushing, averaging 149.33 yards.

Vandy is 1–2 overall, but 1–1 in SEC play after defeating Ole Miss 28–14. The Commodores also had a week off afterward. They bounced back after losses to Northwestern (23–21) and LSU (27–3).

“They show a lot of different looks on offense,” Edsall said. “They play hard on defense.”

Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith has completed 36-of-68 passes for 383 yards and a touchdown with one interception.

 

Tulane at Rutgers

Saturday, 2 p.m. EST

In the last two games, 2–1 Rutgers hasn’t topped 19 points. (The 19 were managed against Florida International.) The team’s best running back, Joe Martinek, has a bad left wheel. And quarterback Tom Savage, expected to be one of the Big East’s best, hasn’t cracked the top 100 FBS passers in efficiency. There was fear, however, he did crack his ribs.

On Tuesday, though, Savage pronounced himself ready to play Saturday after taking a shot to those ribs. RU, meanwhile, hopes this is a shot to fix a sluggish offense.

There’s reason for hope. Tulane fell to 1–2 last Saturday via a 42–23 loss at Houston. The Green Wave, in fact, has yet to allow less than 21 points — and that includes a win over Southeastern Louisiana.

RU’s defense, on the other hand, has been more than fine. The Scarlet Knights are second nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 10.3 points.

 

Florida International at Pittsburgh

Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST

Pitt came into the season an almost unanimous pick to win the Big East. Now the Panthers are looking to avoid their first 1–3 start since 2006 after an embarrassing 31–3 home loss to Miami (Fla.).

“We’ll have to make improvements from last week, that’s for sure,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. “We need to clean some things up.”

It hasn’t helped that standout defensive end Greg Romeus is shelved and starting linebacker Dan Mason is out for the year. “We have to make adjustments,” Wannstedt said. “We have other guys that have to step up.”

The Panthers are next-to-last in the Big East both in total offense and defense. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has completed 48-of-77 passes for 520 yards and three scores with two picks.

Florida International is 0–3 after a 42–28 loss at Maryland last week. The Panthers have also fallen to Texas A&M and Rutgers.

Syracuse transfer Jeremiah Harden has rushed for 191 yards on 54 carries for FIU coach Mario Cristobal.

 

Florida Atlantic at South Florida

Saturday, 7 p.m. EST

As a first-year coach at South Florida, Skip Holtz has his first true test. And it’s not 1–2 Florida Atlantic of the Sun Belt. It’s finding a way to turn back the clock to the first half of his team’s loss to Florida. In the second half, the Gators scorched the Bulls. Last week, USF nudged past Western Kentucky, losers now of 24 straight games, by 24–12.

Holtz is hoping a spark provided by running back Demetris Murray lifts his team. “He has a smile on his face; he’s upbeat; he’s into it,” said the coach. He’s also hoping a return of standout wideout Donatavia Bogan, coming off an ankle injury, will help.

Florida Atlantic is coming off a 21–17 loss to North Texas. The Owls also lost at Michigan State by 30–17 and defeated UAB 32–31.

“I’m impressed by what I’ve seen,” Holtz said of the Owls. “They’ve got some weapons. It’s a pretty good offensive team.”

 

Louisville at Arkansas State

Saturday, 7 p.m. EST

Louisville coach Charlie Strong tried this week to build up his team’s opponent: Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference. He talked about how the Red Wolves disguise defenses. He pointed out this would be State’s Homecoming. He said quarterback Ryan Aplin is in “total control.”

Louisville, however, should be in control of this one. The Red Wolves are 1–3. They are coming off a loss to Troy. Auburn drubbed them 52–26.

The 1–2 Cardinals, meanwhile, are coming off a bye after a cross-country trip and 35–28 loss to Oregon State.

Strong’s strong suit has been defense, but his offense is ranked third in the Big East, averaging 386 yards. Quarterback Adam Froman has hit 51-of-90 passes for 634 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions.

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