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UConn Faces Another Stiff Challenge at BYU

After winning two games they should have won, giving a solid showing on the road in a close loss in Southeastern Conference territory, and then watching Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds have his way as usual, the Connecticut Huskies have reached an interesting point on their schedule with a 2-2 record.

What’s next? The longest regular season trip in the history of the UConn program, that’s all. The Huskies have traveled to Provo, Utah, to play the BYU Cougars (2-2) in a Friday night game. That means they’ve been through a short week of preparation and face a kickoff at 10:15 p.m. ET (ESPN2) at LaVell Edwards Stadium.

It’s a grand stage for the Huskies in many ways, but that isn’t all that unusual for this program any more. BYU, ranked No. 22 in the Associated Press poll before a 31-0 loss at Michigan last Saturday, will be trying to put the pieces back together after joining the list of other teams receiving votes.

The Huskies are just about where they should be record-wise. As a heavy underdog at BYU, no one will be stunned if they end the non-conference portion of their season with a 2-3 overall record (0-1 in the American Athletic Conference after that Navy loss). But a victory and a 3-2 record would be one of the great emotional lifts in recent UConn history.

The Huskies demonstrated on Sept. 16 that they have the emotional makeup to go on the road. A 9-6 loss at Missouri wasn’t about a lack of confidence or jitters. It was simply poor executions, especially in special teams department.

Unless the Huskies are blown out and embarrassed in Provo, it would seem that will emerge with reason to continue on with the AAC schedule.

“Looking right now at the four-game picture, as a player and coach you can’t help but be encouraged,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said at his Tuesday press conference. “If you just look at 2-2, that might throw a bit of a blanket over that. With just a blink of an eye, it’d be 3-1, very realistically. With a little bit more of a stretch than just a blink of an eye, dare I say, we could have had an opportunity to be 4-0 if we could just execute a little better.

“It’s been a tough stretch, a highly competitive stretch, as we knew it would be, one of the best FCS teams in the country, two academies, one in triple option, and an SEC team on the road. No rest for the weary. . . .To fly out west and play BYU, a team that beat the snot out of us a year ago, is an exciting challenge and an exciting opportunity.”

Diaco remembers well that 35-10 loss at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. It was his debut as UConn’s coach, and his first game as a head coach in college football. Quarterback Taysom Hill threw for three touchdowns and ran for another two as the Cougars scored 28 points before halftime.

That was a drastically different UConn team, one that would close out the season with a 2-10 record.

This UConn team is investing in its defense with the hope that it can raise its stock in a conference that is becoming known for its high-scoring offenses. The Huskies rank 21st in the country in total defense, a mark that is tops in the AAC. UConn is 24th in the country in scoring defense.

Since UConn is beginning a stretch with three of its next four games on the road, it would help the Huskies to find some level of improvement on offense, a young unit that is showing its potential. UConn is at UCF on Oct. 10, returns home to play USF on Oct. 17 and then travels to Cincinnati on Oct. 24.

19 SEP 2015: Connecticut Huskies head coach Bob Diaco talks with players during the second half of a NCAA football game against the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium on Faurot Field in Columbia Missouri. Missouri won 9-6.

19 SEP 2015: Connecticut Huskies head coach Bob Diaco talks with players during the second half of a NCAA football game against the Missouri Tigers at Memorial Stadium on Faurot Field in Columbia Missouri. Missouri won 9-6.

“It’s hard to say [what has been the problem],” offensive lineman Andreas Knappe said. “For me, personally, I think it’s a couple of execution things and maybe a couple of technique things too that need to get refined and polished.”

BYU is hardly pleased with its 2-2 record, but the Cougars, as an independent, have played a very challenging schedule. Jeff Sagarin Ratings ranks it the second-most difficult schedule in the nation.

After opening the season with such a dramatic 33-28 victory at Nebraska, the Cougars defeated Boise State but fell to UCLA 24-23 and then struggled in that loss to Michigan. This has become a familiar spot for BYU as an independent and the Cougars can’t afford a slip up against UConn.

“We are ready to come out and compete again on Friday,” BYU linebacker Jherremya Leuta-Douyere told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We have somewhat of a chip on our shoulder [after the 31-0 loss at Michigan]. We are ready to prove everybody wrong and just get better, game by game.”

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