UConn to put No. 20 Boise State to the test

The Sports Xchange

September 04, 2018 at 11:41 pm.

No. 19-ranked UCF represented the Group of Five conferences in last season’s Peach Bowl. No. 20-ranked Boise State is an early contender to represent the Group of Five this year.

Connecticut (0-1) opened the 2018 season with Central Florida, and now for Week 2, travels to Boise, Idaho, to take on the Broncos on Saturday.

“Another Top 25 team, another outstanding quarterback we’ll go against and a program that has, historically, been very, very good,” said UConn coach Randy Edsall. “We’ve got our work cut out for us again this week.”

Boise State (1-0) and UConn were on the opposite ends of also mirroring scores in Week 1. While the Huskies lost a 56-17 decision at home to UCF, in which McKenzie Milton — one of those outstanding quarterbacks Edsall mentioned — passed for 346 yards and five touchdowns, the Broncos got four touchdowns from their quarterback, Brett Rypien, in a 56-20 rout of Troy.

“They’re both very talented, and they know exactly what they’re doing within the schemes they’re playing,” Edsall said. “Brett has a very strong arm. Very accurate, very poised when you watch him on tape.”

Rypien’s accuracy shined in Week 1, with the Boise State quarterback going 20-for-28 for 305 yards. Perhaps as significant, Rypien spread the ball among eight receivers. Sean Modster was the standout of the group with 167 yards on seven receptions, including two touchdowns.

For as outstanding as the Boise State offense proved at Troy, the Broncos defense stole the show. Linebacker Tony Lashley made an interception in his debut after transferring from Idaho, and cornerback Tyler Horton earned the Bronko Nagurski Award National Defensive Player of the Week for his effort, which included two fumble returns for touchdowns.

Boise State’s turnover-creation has remained a consistent trait of Broncos defenses in recent years. They ranked No. 16 nationally in 2017, No. 5 in 2015 and No. 9 in 2014.

In contrast, UConn coughed up three turnovers in the loss to UCF. Two ended five of the Huskies drive that stalled within the UCF 36.

UConn’s turnovers put a damper on what was otherwise an impressive showing for the Huskies offense. They gained nearly 500 yards, keyed by a standout individual performance from quarterback David Pindell. He passed for 266 yards with another 157 rushing, and scored a touchdown both through the air and on the ground.

“We were pushing down the field and then had things that beat ourselves, false starts, turnovers, all that stuff; things that catch up to us when we push the ball down the field,” Pindell said in the postgame news conference Thursday. “So that’s really why we couldn’t push the ball into the end zone.”

Despite the unfavorable end result, Pindell’s efforts caught the attention of Boise State staff preparing for Saturday’s matchup at Albertsons Stadium.
“Their quarterback — this guy’s a very athletic, very good player. He can run,” said Boise State coach Bryan Harsin in his weekly news conference on Monday. “He’s got the ability to do everything in balance, as far as running and throwing.”

Although it’s just one game, UConn’s rushing production against UCF marked dramatic improvement over the Huskies’ 2017 output. UConn averaged 4.7 yards per rush, an improvement of 1.1 per play from a season ago.

The defensive line led by defensive end Sonatane Lui should set the tone for Boise State attempting to snuff out running plays, particularly quarterback run-pass option and zone-read, before they can develop.

The pass rush has been a consistent strength for Harsin-coached teams, and a direct cause of the lofty turnover numbers, and it continued at Troy. But if there’s any area in particular need for improvement for the Broncos in Week 2, Harsin said it’s the special teams.

“I have full confidence in our specialists, but we have to be ready to play,” Harsin said.