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Behind Enemy Lines: UConn Huskies

They can’t convince us we’ll lose.

NCAA Football: Wagner at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

We exchanged emails with UConn’s SB Nation blog, The UConn Blog, and their site manager Aman Kidwai. Here’s what we learned. (We’re going to win.)

1. No Illinois fan expects to lose this week. Are we right to think that?

Yes. UConn is in the middle of a rebuild and head coach Randy Edsall does not seem super concerned with what the record looks like during this phase of his process.

While last year’s team got a lot of negative press for its historically bad defense, the depth chart on that side of the ball was entirely freshmen and sophomores, so it was somewhat understandable. This year, the defense is still quite youthful. Though a few grad transfers and junior college players have brought some experience, the defense is better but still has a long, long way to go.

On offense, senior quarterback David Pindell was the focal point of an okay unit last year, but a new quarterback is working with an entirely brand new receiving corps this year. Oh, and there are new offensive and defensive coordinators as well.

I think UConn can be an okay-ish team in the future, there are young pieces on this team to build around, but it just isn’t in the cards to be competitive with a Big Ten team right now, even if it’s Rutgers.

2. Wagner? Really? You only beat Wagner by 3?

It does not look good, but from a production standpoint, UConn played much better than Wagner and should have won by more. I’m sure if we had Bill Connelly’s win-expectancy-based-on-performance, it would look a lot better than the three-point margin of victory. The Huskies had roughly double the yards gained, first downs, and plays run compared to their opponents, who got 7 points on a bad pick-six by new QB Mike Beaudry, a Division 2 transfer.

Were there a lot of boneheaded plays, such as after-whistle penalties or stretches of bad tackling and angles defensively, and an inability to get points out of long drives on offense? Yes! Welcome to the current state of UConn football. They will have a hard time winning more games this year.

3. What should we know about this UConn football team?

There are some interesting, talented players to keep an eye on. Defensively, tackle Travis Jones is a sophomore who was getting high ratings from Pro Football Focus. Linebacker DJ Morgan, a grad transfer from Notre Dame, has brought more experience and tackling ability to the front seven, and his impact on that group is profound. Tyler Coyle and Omar Fortt are experienced guys who are very athletic in safety/hybrid linebacker roles.

Offensively, running backs Kevin Mensah and Art Thompkins are worth watching. The Husky offensive line is solid, which hasn’t happened in a while, and Mensah leads the rushing attack, with over 30 carries in the season opener. Thompkins is more of a speedy, pass-catching back, bringing a new dynamic to the offense after transferring from Toledo.

Almost all of these guys will be back next year, and that’s why there’s a shred of hope for UConn fans.

4. There’s a return matchup in 2020. What does the future of UConn football right now, in the midst of switching conferences?

The Husky football program is going to try out life as an FBS independent starting in 2020. The move to the Big East allows UConn to let its marquee basketball programs thrive, and leaves the football team to carve out an existence which may pay as much as the AAC anyway, depending on local TV partners SNY or NESN.

This will also allow the Huskies to play football games against teams that UConn fans and alumni care more about, such as nearby independents Army and UMass, and former Big East rivals Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, and Boston College. They already have future series with Purdue, Duke, NC State, and buy games scheduled with Clemson and Tennessee. This is a lot more interesting to potential ticket-buyers than East Carolina, Tulsa, Tulane, and UCF, even if some of those teams are good.

Long-term, your guess is as good as mine, but it’s admirable that UConn made this decision in a moment where it seems pretty clear that the Power 5 is not going to be taking in new members from the Group of 5.

5. Convince me that Illinois loses Saturday.

Sir, with all due respect, I cannot.

It would take cataclysmic weather, the NCAA suspending all of Illinois’ starters (and some backups), or some other miracle. Thank you for your time and consideration. Please schedule us in the future for easy wins or if there are any other losing streaks you need to end.