Former UConn defensive tackle and SNY studio analyst Sean Mulcahy previews UConn vs. Cincinnati
In the Spotlight: UConn quarterback play
The skinny: UConn quarterback Chander Whitmer is coming off a head injury, but is cleared to play. Should the Huskies risk putting him in there? Or, go with an experienced backup in Johnny McEntee?
Mulcahy’s take: Chandler Whitmer is a game-time decision but that’s a very typical answer from head coach Paul Pasqualoni. He never likes to give his opponent any additional information or a leg up before they play. In all seriousness, Whitmer needs to start. The UConn staff wants to put its best chances on the field and if Whitmer is cleared he should play and try and extend the winning streak to three and be bowl eligible. Whitmer is the correct starter answer due to his progress this year and pocket mobility. I give tremendous credit to Johnny McEntee coming off the bench and finding Shakim Phillips for the score in OT against Louisville last Saturday as his second read. But, does UConn have faith in him doing it again and for four quarters? I don’t think they do. Whitmer has had more time to establish on-the-field relationships with the receiving corps this year and if he is healthy needs to play. McEntee’s inability to maneuver in the pocket is what cost UConn games last season. With the UConn offensive line struggling in pass protection, I question the chances of them winning with McEntee. Whitmer is just as accurate, has a better arm, and is much more mobile. It may take a few series for Whitmer to adjust coming off of a “head injury”, but we should know by the second quarter if McEntee needs to relieve him. If that does happen, McEntee is a back-up with experience and he needs to do what he did late last week for a much longer period of time. McEntee has to be ready since Whitmer could easily sustain another hard hit and have to come out. McEntee needs to prepare like he is starting but, if Whitmer is cleared to play, he has to get the nod early on. Too much is at stake.
In Focus: Lyle McCombs
The skinny: Running back Lyle McCombs has had the two best games of the season including 133 yards against Louisville last week. What’s been the difference for McCombs in the running game?
Mulcahy’s take: Lyle McCombs needs exactly 200 hundred yards for 1,000 on the season. That would be one heck of a way to cap a topsy-turvey season. It would also solidify the progress the offensive line has made in the running game this season and more importantly, likely a win if he gets there. It hasn’t been easy for McCombs. McCombs may have had a few distractions this season, but that doesn’t make him slower, cut at the wrong times, or find the wrong hole. The last two weeks have been vintage McCombs. We have seen him get stronger as the season has grown, which is a credit to him, the weight training staff with Gerry Martin, and his coaches. Many running backs wear down easily as the season grows old. It’s a tough sport and that position takes a lot of high velocity hits. McCombs is getting stronger. He is running with a chip on his shoulder lately and he constantly delivers the blow and does not stop his feet on initial contact. The stretch play or outside zone is McCombs’ bread and butter run. He can extend the run to the sideline or cut back into any hole he wants. It also gives the offensive line the best chance to reach the defensive line and cut the defensive players off from leverage. Then, the offensive line can get to the second level (linebackers) and seal them off. Another play McCombs has had success with is the trap play. Right up the middle behind the center and following the pulling guard. It happens so fast that the defense cannot react quickly enough and the next thing you know it’s a big play. If McCombs and the offensive line can dominate these two plays, as well as upfront, they will put themselves in tremendous position to win the game versus a very good Cincinnati Bearcats team.
UConn defensive line vs. Cincinnati RB George Winn
Mulcahy’s take: It will be a lot of fun to watch the Big East’s No. 1 rushing defense versus the No. 1 rusher. George Winn (5.5 avg, 1,134 11TDs) has had a fantastic season filling the shoes of the Big East’s Co-Offensive player of the year last season in Isiah Pead. The Bearcats run it down everyone’s throat, but they are going to have their hands full with; DE Trevardo Williams, DT Ryan Wirth, DT Shamar Stephen, DE BJ McBryde, DE Tim Willman, DT Angelo Pruit, and DT Julian Campenni. What the unit has done considering the losses of Ted Jennings and Jesse Joseph to injury. Their ranking is a credit to the defensive line. The Bearcats have a big offensive line averaging over 300 pounds and this is going to be a major battle. Here’s a fun fact: UDonn D-line coach Hank Hughes coached at Cincinnati in the 1990’s and also coached future Hall of Famer Charles Haley at James Madison. Hughes knows how to stop the run.
TE Ryan Griffin
Mulcahy’s take: The Huskies got very lucky with a win last week not including their best offensive receiver in Ryan Griffin. Maybe they used him as a decoy? Either way, look at the game against Pitt three weeks ago to remember why he should be in the game plan as a primary target. The bootlegs and roll out passes to Griffin were perfectly executed and effective. It kept the defense honest, gave Whitmer a clear throwing lane and took pressure off the offensive line. It also helped get the other tight end in John Delahunt open several times after those plays. I would like to see offensive coordinator George DeLeone go back to this game plan. It was the best offensive strategy of the season by far against a solid opponent. Griffin also has the speed and height to get past a linebacker and make a catch at the apex (highest point). If Griffin gets one-on-one coverage, than the Huskies need to exploit this mismatch and Whitmer needs to get him the ball. The offense does this and runs the ball effectively, the Huskies will come out on top and play in a bowl.