The first Big East Conference game of the year comes up Friday night as Rutgers hosts Connecticut on ESPN.
"Any time you are on Thursday or Friday night, there is always added excitement ," UConn coach Randy Edsall said. "This is something that has really benefitted and aided the Big East Conference in terms of the exposure we’ve received."
Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage had another rough outing during a 17-14 loss at the hands of Tulane. Savage was knocked out of the game when he fell on his right hand while being tackled near the sideline on a scramble. Savage was 2-5 passing for 29 yards prior to the injury.
"Tom is banged up a little bit," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "There is no way of telling right now if he can play. We won’t know until late in the week if not right before the game."
If Savage can’t go in the Friday night game against Connecticut, true freshman Chas Dodd would make his first career start.
Dodd saw significant action in the Tulane game following Savage’s injury. Dodd went 13 of 29 passing for 176 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Dodd’s best moment came in the third quarter when he converted a 4th-and-six with an 8-yard completion to Jeremy Deering. That play led to the touchdown pass to Mohamed Sanu from seven yards out.
Deering, another true freshman, had his break out game with four catches for 66 yards as he flashed that potential that he showed during pre-season camp.
On the down side, Rutgers continues to be one of the most penalized teams in college football. The Scarlet Knights lose one score when Joe Lefeged’s 95-yard kickoff return was called back on a hold. Rutgers also gave up a score on a trick play when Tulane quarterback Joe Kemp caught a 24-yard touchdown pass on a throw-back across the field following a lateral.
UConn has won two in a row following a loss at Temple. The Huskies have scored 85 points in back to back home wins over Buffalo and Vanderbilt.
"Saturday was the first time we’ve had an S-E-C team here and we beat them," Edsall said. "We played well defensively for most of the game. Hopefully we can play a 60 minute game this week.
"Jordan Todman played well and Cody (Endress) did a nice job throwing the ball," Edsall said. "We just need consistency now."
Running back Jordan Todman carried the ball a career high 37 times as he finished with 190 yards and two touchdowns in a 40-21 win over Vanderbilt. UConn finished strong for the second consecutive week. The Huskies scored the final 26 points against Vanderbilt a week after scoring the final 21 points in a the win over Buffalo.
Todman did his work behind a patch work offensive line. Left tackle Adam Masters missed the game with an injured arm as redshirt sophomore Jimmy Bennett replaced him as the starter. Bennett was injured in the second quarter and did not return. Back-up tackle Kevin Friend finished the game.
Quarterback Cody Endress, however, was not sacked in the game as he finished with 179 yards and two touchdowns as he was making his first start in over 13 months.
"What Cody has to continue to do is to deli ever the ball on time and get the ball to the right receiver," Edsall said. "He needs to be a leader for us."
The injuries, however, have started to pile up for UConn.
Backup running back Kelmetrus Wylie had surgery on his left knee last week and is out for the year. Freshman linebacker Yawin Smallwood had shoulder surgery that will keep him out the rest of the way. Another running back, Robbie Frye, had his knee scoped and will miss 2-3 weeks. Offensive lineman Jimmy Bennett needs hand surgery that will keep him out a month or longer. In addition, starting defensive end Marcus Campbell was lost in the pre-season to a knee injury.
Friday night’s game will feature Connecticut’s top ranked rushing offense against a Rutgers defense that is ranked No. 1 in the league stopping the run.
UConn is averaging 210 yards per game on the ground. That total is 25th best nationally. Rutgers has allowed an average of just 80 yards rushing per game. That total is seven best in the country.
The other Big East Conference game this week will feature Syracuse at South Florida Saturday. Both teams are 3-1.
For the Orange, it represents the best start for the team since 2003. Syracuse was off last week and the Orange have a chance to get off to a quick start in league play. Syracuse hasn’t won more than one conference game in a season since 2005. It has failed to defeat Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, South Florida and West Virginia in that stretch. Overall, SU is 4-31 in the league under its present alignment.
With the league wide open, it could be the year for Marrone and his team to make a big step up–or at least escape the cellar in the Big East Conference.
League teams are a combined 15-13 in out of conference games having lost three more non conference games that it did all of last year. And for the second consecutive week, no Big East team is ranked in either the Associated Press or the USA-Today Coaches Top-25 poll.
Syracuse, at this point, is clearly the product of an early season schedule that has featured Akron, Maine and Colgate. But it beats the alternative as the Orange have faced the likes of Penn State, Northwestern, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Wake Forest, Florida State and Virginia all during the first month of the season over the past five year. Predictably, Syracuse lost all of those games. This year’s schedule has allowed the Orange to gain some confidence and taste winning again.
"We’ve done some good things that we can build upon," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. "We are playing a team that since they arrived in the Big East has really dominated us. They are coming off their most complete game in that win over Florida Atlantic and they are better than they were last year."
South Florida, meanwhile, has lost only on the road at No. 12 Florida. The Bulls have had easy pickings as well against Stony Brook, Western Kentucky and Florida Atlantic.
South Florida’s special teams and defense appear to be playing well.
USF’s punt block return for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Florida Atlantic game was the Bulls’ second this season, matching the program’s single-season record set in 2001. The USF defense had 12 tackles for loss Saturday. The most in a game since 2007. Those 12 tackles included a school record seven sacks by seven different players. That Bulls defense, now headed up by former Marshall head coach Mark Snyder, also forced three turnovers while holding Florida Atlantic to 208 yards of offense.
South Florida has dominated the five games it has played against Syracuse. The Bulls have outscored the Orange by an average of 24 points per game while averaging 209 yards of total offense more than Syracuse.
The league’s latest opportunity for a high profile win will come this week as 2-2 Pitt will play on the road at 2-3 Notre Dame.
Pitt beat Florida International 44-17 Saturday as Pitt’s Ray Graham, who has replaced an injured/ineffective Dion Lewis, rushed for 277 yards and three TDs in his first college start. Only Tony Dorsett has gained more yards on the ground in a game for Pitt. Graham fell 26 yards short of Dorsett’s single game Pitt record of 303 rushing yards set in 1975 in a game against Notre Dame.
Graham was named Big East Conference Offensive Player of the Week. Saturday’s effort propelled Graham to the top of the list of Big East Conference rushing leaders. In fact, Graham is ranked third nationally with an average of 164 yards per game.
Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt says Graham was aided by a Pitt offensive line that made significant progress after some changes were made in practice leading up to the game.
Starting right tackle Lucas Nix moved inside to right guard, replacing Greg Gaskins. Jordan Gibbs, a 6-foot-7, 315-pound junior, will moved into Nix’s spot in the starting lineup.
"Running the ball," Wannstedt said, "That was the No. 1 thing that we came out of the game feeling good about."
Pitt and Notre Dame meet for the 66th time in a series that dates back to 1909 The Irish lead the all-time series, 44-20-1, but Pitt has won three of the last four. The Panthers, in fact, have won two in a row at Notre Dame. The four overtime game at Notre Dame Stadium back in 2008 stands as the longest game in both programs history. Pitt won last year 27-22 at Heinz Field.
We mentioned Graham as a rising star in the league. Now Pitt seeks the balance on offense. Jon Baldwin was held to a season-low two receptions for 14 yards against FIU on Saturday. Perhaps the presence of Notre Dame on the schedule could spark Baldwin. He had one of the best games of his career last year against the Irish as he caught five passes for 142 yards including the go-ahead touchdown.
For the year, Baldwin has 15 receptions for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
Louisville had a 31-7 halftime against Arkansas State, but had to hold on to win 34-24 for the Cardinals first road win in two years.
"We continue to get better each week," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "I like the way we continue to improve."
The Louisville offense had 575 yards of total offense–the most for a single game since Sept. of 2008. Louisville now leads the conference with an average of 433 yards of total offense per game. Quarterback Adam Froman is the conference leader in total offense as he has thrown for 942 yards in four games so far.
"Winning helps everything and it is important that we continue on and win this next one," Strong said.
This week, Louisville plays Memphis again. These former Conference-USA rivals have met just once over the past six years after Louisville left that league for the Big East.
The meeting in 2004 provided one of the most exciting college football games of the decade as the teams combined for 105 points and 1,202 yards of total offense.
There were 15 plays of more than 20 yards. It was an offensive explosion on a Thursday night on ESPN that saw No. 14 Louisville squeak by 56-49 on a one-yard run by Eric Shelton with just 37 seconds left in the game. The lead changed 10 times, the last time on Shelton’s TD. Louisville linebacker Abe Brown intercepted a pass to seal the UofL win with 21 seconds left.
The series was also known for close games. From 1996 to 2004 the Tigers and Cardinals played eight times, with six of the games decided by a touchdown or less. That held true to form in 2008 as well as the Cardinals won 35-28.
Cincinnati was beaten badly by both Fresno State and North Carolina State on the road. The Bearcats played a lackluster first half against Indiana State before getting it together to beat one of the worst Division 1AA programs in the country. Then came the very solid second half performance against No. 7 Oklahoma in a 31-29 loss two weeks ago.
The UC offense ultimately couldn’t overcome four turnovers. But it did receive a huge boost against Oklahoma from junior running back Isaiah Pead, who, after missing most of two games with a leg injury, rushed for 169 yards.
Following a week off, Cincinnati will try and put together it’s first all-around performance of the season when it faces long time rivalry Miami of Ohio Saturday night.
Miami is 3-2, having lost road games against ranked teams Florida and Missouri. The 34-12 loss at No. 12 Florida is the one that holds intrigue for Cincinnati coach Butch Jones.
"What they did to stay in the game allowed them to gain tremendous confidence," Jones said. "A lot of their players, we recruited, so we are very familiar with them."
Jones came to Cincinnati after spending the last three seasons in the Mid-American Conference at Central Michigan.
"We have great knowledge of the MAC and we have great respect for the MAC," Jones said. "We watched a lot of film on Miami last year and we were able to watch them grow and progress. By the end of the year, they were one of the best teams in that conference.
"They are a football team, right now, playing with great confidence," Jones said.