Connecticut (3-5) at South Florida (2-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 3, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Raymond James Stadium (65,857) -- Tampa, Florida. Television: ESPNU. Home Record: UConn 2-2, USF 1-3. Away Record: UConn 0-3, USF 1-3. Neutral Record: UConn 0-0, USF 0-0. Conference Record: UConn 0-3, USF 0-4. Series Record: Connecticut leads, 5-4.
GAME NOTES: Something will have to give this weekend as the only two winless teams in Big East Conference play square off in a battle between the Connecticut Huskies and the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium.
After a three-game losing streak, all in conference play, Connecticut was idle this past weekend. A weekend off might have been just what the Huskies needed after they were run off the field in a 40-10 loss to Syracuse their last time out. At 0-3 in league play the Huskies are just a half game better than the Bulls in the conference standings. Interestingly enough, Connecticut's first conference win of the 2011 season came against USF.
It looked like the Bulls were finally ready to get into the win column against a conference opponent last weekend, but they let a 23-3 halftime lead slip away en route to a 37-36 loss to Syracuse. The Bulls led until three seconds remained on the clock, when Orange quarterback Ryan Nassib threw a one-yard touchdown pass that proved to be the game winner. The Bulls have been hit with disappointment on a consistent basis with the squad riding a six-game losing streak into this matchup.
This will be just the 10th meeting all-time between these two squads. Connecticut took ahold of the all-time series lead with the victory last season, 16-10. Connecticut also won the last time these teams faced off at Raymond James Stadium, a 19-16 win in 2010. It ended a five-game winning streak by the home team in the series.
Winning is difficult to do when you can't score or move the ball effectively. That has been the biggest weakness for Connecticut this season, with the Huskies averaging 316.8 yards of total offense per game and a Big East-worse 17.9 ppg.
Lyle McCombs return to the field was not a successful one against Syracuse as he was bottled up for only 16 yards on 12 carries after missing the previous game. In the loss to Syracuse, the Huskies were unable to get anything going on offense, finishing with a total of negative six yards rushing. McCombs has been a workhorse for the offense, but has not replicated the success he had last season with 500 yards on 146 carries for an average of 71.4 yards per game.
Quarterback Chandler Whitmer's transition from junior college has been much more rocky than was hoped for entering this season. Whitmer has completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 1,831 yards and seven touchdowns but he has also been intercepted 11 times, including three games in which he was picked off at least twice. Whitmer's struggles have come in part because he has constantly under pressure taking a conference-high 22 sacks this season.
Throughout the season Geremy Davis has flashed the ability to be an impact receiver. He has had at least 78 yards in four games and has picked up 449 yards on 29 receptions, both team-highs, this season. However, inconsistent quarterback play has also contributed to Davis' inability to really erupt. Michael Smith (23 receptions, 280 yards) is the second option, while tight end Ryan Griffin (19 receptions, 286 yards) has been a dangerous threat with a team-high four touchdown receptions.
Several weeks ago Connecticut was all over the national leader boards in a number of defensive categories. The Huskies have slid out of the top of the national lists but have remained one of the best units in the Big East. Connecticut is the No. 1 team in the league in total defense (291.1 ypg) and the only team allowing fewer than 300 yards per game. The Huskies' real strength has been in getting in the backfield with the second most tackles for loss (58) and sacks (20).
That ability to get past opposing offensive linemen will be severely weakened if Trevardo Williams can't play. Williams, the Big East sacks leader with 7.5 this season, is listed as probable for Saturday's game. The Huskies have other playmakers in Yawin Smallwood, who leads the Big East with 85 tackles including 13 for loss, and Sio Moore, who has racked up 53 total tackles, 9.0 for loss and five sacks.
USF had one of its more successful offensive showings ruined in the last- second loss to Syracuse. The Bulls were especially dominant on the ground, rushing for 369 yards which was the most by the Bulls since posting 373 against UTEP last season. Two rushers (Lindsey Lamar and B.J. Daniels) each finished with 100 yards on the ground, the first time two Bulls have accomplished that feat since 2007.
A repeat of that type of performance will be tough to accomplish for the Bulls as Lamar, who has 475 yards this season after posting a career-high 145 against Syracuse, suffered an injury to his chest and is expected to miss the remainder of the season. Filling in for him is the capable Demetris Murray, who has been more of a short-yardage back despite rushing for 439 yards. Murray has averaged only 3.9 yards per carry as compared to Lamar's 7.2.
With Lamar out, even more pressure will fall on Daniels under center. Against Syracuse, Daniels showed off his ability to run with the ball posting a career-high 134 yards on the ground. Daniels' passing has been less consistent with a 55.9 completion percentage and nine interceptions, negating some of the success he has had in throwing for 1,876 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Daniels has relied heavily on Andre Davis and Terrence Mitchell. Davis is the team-leader in receptions (35), yards (446) and touchdowns (six). Mitchell has not been as productive, but has still been a solid option with 345 yards on 24 receptions.
On defense South Florida has had very few, if any bright spots this season. The Bulls are being gashed for 406 yards of total offense and a conference worst 28.6 points per game. South Florida is also at the bottom of the conference in sacks (13) and tackles for loss (40). Even more troubling is the Bulls' inability to create turnovers. The Bulls have recovered only five fumbles and is the only team in the conference without an interception.
Sam Barrington is the team's leader in tackles with 58, while Kayvon Webster (55) and DeDe Lattimore (55) have also gotten to the 50-tackle mark at this point in the season. Lattimore is also the team's leader in sacks with 2.5. Webster has been the best defender against the pass as he is tied for the team-lead with four pass breakups.
Both of these teams look destined to finish near the bottom of the conference standings. The Bulls' quest to end a long losing streak was made more difficult with the loss of Lamar, but Daniels has the ability, and the home field advantage, that should lift the Bulls out of its losing ways at least for this week.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: South Florida 29, Connecticut 20
10/31 10:44:03 ET