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    UConn Football
    Wednesday, April 17, 2024

    UConn hosts Cincinnati in pivotal AAC football game

    Pressure is starting to build on the UConn football team.

    The Huskies, to ultimately achieve their goals, need to stop their slide and move in a positive direction, starting with Saturday's American Athletic Conference game against rival Cincinnati (11:30 a.m., CBS Sports Network) at Rentschler Field in East Hartford.

    Stakes are high today for both the Huskies (2-3 overall), who are trying to avoid a three-game losing streak, and Bearcats (3-2).

    Neither team wants to fall to 0-3 in the conference.

    When asked if Saturday's game has added importance given the situation, UConn coach Bob Diaco said there's no right answer to the question.

    "I would say this: There's nothing that anyone can say, do, present that would add any more time, energy, effort, intensity, passion, love to this task on the players end," Diaco said. "I wouldn't even attempt it. They are giving everything they can give. There's no listless malcontents that we would try to find a button to push.

    "They're a spectacular group of guys and they're trying as hard as they can try."

    It's hard to fault UConn's effort in the first five games. Execution is another matter.

    UConn's offense has sputtered and its defense has suffered major breakdowns. The Huskies rank 10th in total offense (350.6 yards per game) and ninth in total defense (412.8). They are the league's worst rushing team, averaging 123.8 yards per game, and are last in pass defense, allowing 294.6 yards. They haven't scored in the first quarter this season.

    One focus will be to get tailback Arkeel Newsome more involved.

    "We need to get him the ball," Diaco said. "We're underachieving — period — by not getting the ball to Arkeel Newsome more than we do. It doesn't make any sense. Get him the ball."

    Cincinnati has had similar issues on both sides of the ball.

    Like the Huskies in last week's 42-14 road loss, the Bearcats were overwhelmed by nationally-ranked Houston, 40-16, back on Sept. 15. Cincinnati's other AAC defeat came against South Florida at home last week, 45-20.

    "Disappointed obviously in the 0-2 start in conference," Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. "Playing two of the best teams, we knew going in we were going to have to play our best and we didn't do that. We basically self-destructed in both of the two conference games."

    The Bearcats are operating with an inexperienced quarterback in redshirt freshman Ross Trail, filling in for injured starter Hayden Moore. Trail is undergoing some growing pains, throwing three interceptions last week.

    "He's going to get better and better," Tuberville said. "He's going to be a heck of a quarterback."

    Diaco, who was Cincinnati's defensive coordinator in 2009 when the Bearcats won the Big East title and played in the Sugar Bowl, is impressed with the backfield of Mike Boone and Tion Green as well as the offensive line and tight ends.

    "Really good players," Diaco said of Cincinnati's running backs. "I believe it's the best offensive line that the defense will have faced and the best tight ends."

    Hardly unstoppable, though.

    Cincinnati averages just 149.4 rushing yards per game. And the Bearcats only rank above UConn and SMU (19.8 points per game) in scoring offense at 25.8.

    Mistakes have impacted the outcome of games for both teams. The Bearcats have committed a league high tying 13 turnovers, including 10 in the last three games. The Huskies have forced only two turnovers, a significant dropoff from last season's 25.

    "We really drilled down on that and addressed that on Sunday," Diaco said. "It's a huge piece. We need to be more disruptive."

    Cincinnati has dominated the series, winning five straight and 10 of 12 overall.

    "This is an important game," tight end Tyler Davis said. "We're playing a great opponent, great defense, well-coached team. So we're excited for the challenge that Cincinnati is going to bring to us."

    g.keefe@theday.com

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