UConn football can clinch first winning season since 2010 against Army
UConn has maintained the same laser-sharp focus throughout the peaks and valleys of a regular season.
The Huskies have been locked in on their daily task from the season opener to preparing for Saturday’s regular-season finale against Army (3-6) on Saturday (noon, CBSSN) at Michie Stadium in West Point, N.Y.
“I appreciate that about these guys,” coach Jim Mora said earlier this week. “It’s a little rare when you see a team stay as focused as they have stayed over this amount of time. It’s a real credit to the players.”
It’s a significant reason why UConn has far exceeded expectations from outside the locker room, are bowl eligible and can clinch a winning record for the first time since 2010 with a win Saturday.
So why have the Huskies (6-5) been able to stay so focused?
“It goes back to what I’ve said many times about just their character,” Mora said. “They’re not entitled. They want to work for everything. There’s just a hunger. It’s the way they were brought up. It’s a credit to their families and the people they surrounded themselves with. It’s just the way they’re built, their character.
“When you go out and recruit, you look for certain characteristics. We talk about football character and we talk about just personal character. We want guys that just love football and can’t live without football. But you also want people that are high character individuals that are committed to something, that don’t look for excuses, that are dependable and accountable. We’ve got a team of those types of men.”
UConn is riding momentum from winning five of its last six games, including shocking No. 19 Liberty, 36-33, last Saturday.
The Huskies insist they’re not satisfied.
And they have added motivation on Saturday, taking on a team that crushed them, 52-21, last season at West Point.
Redshirt sophomore defensive back Malik Dixon-Williams made his UConn debut that day and finished with 11 tackles.
“It was definitely tough,” Dixon-Williams said. “It was my first college game ever. This game you have to be the most disciplined ever. I had a ball caught on me so I’m definitely going to take that into consideration and just make me lock in a little bit harder this game.”
There’s no secret about Army’s game plan.
The Black Knights operate a potent triple option attack that averages 299.4 rushing yards per game, second in the nation. Quarterback Tyhier Tyler (430 yards, seven touchdowns), Tyson Riley (396 yards, two TDs) and Tyrell Robinson (321 yards, one TD) and Jemel Jones (296 yards, 6 TDs) are their most effective runners.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Mora said. “They’re going to get their yards rushing; It’s Army. They’re so efficient and they’re so detailed. They do such an amazing job with what they do well. They’re the epitome of putting their players in a position to make plays and do what they do best. It’s unparalleled.”
Mora is concerned about Army controlling the game and eating up valuable time with long offensive possessions. The Black Knights are 25th in the country in time of possession at an average of 32.05 minutes per game.
The Huskies must do their part to put together sustained drives that end with points.
They also can’t be so focused on containing Army’s running game that they give up a game-changing pass play. The Black Knights average 92.1 yards in the air.
“They hit big ones when they throw it so you have to be very disciplined on the back end,” Mora said. “You can’t get sucked up. You can’t get lazy. You can’t get bored because you’re not getting challenged deep, because once you do, they hit the big ones on you.”
The Black Knights have seen their share of struggles this season. They’ve lost two straight and scored only 16 points in those games against Troy and Air Force.
But they’ll give maximum effort on every snap.
Mora has great respect for the Army program.
“This is a different group,” Mora said. “These are the kind of men that you want defending your country, right? So playing them in football is a heck of a challenge. They don’t give up. They don’t give in. They don’t quit. They don’t back down. They don’t do any of that stuff. They just keep coming. I love it.”