ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) – UCF and UConn expected to be in much different places heading into Saturday’s American Athletic Conference matchup.
Following back-to-back victories to open their season, UConn (2-3, 0-1 American) looked ready to flip past a 2014 campaign that yielded just two wins. But after three consecutive losses, many of the same questions again dog the Huskies.
UCF (0-5, 0-1) began the season at least looking like a contender in the East Division, but are struggling on both sides of the ball while tying to deal with a myriad of injuries that no one saw coming.
Turnovers have been a big impediment for the Knights, who have been outscored 138-81 this season.
But more than anything just staying healthy has become a week-to-week challenge.
UCF leads the country with 29 combined games missed on offense due to injuries to starters or projected starters. It also leads the FBS with 28 first-time starters.
“We’re just running down to putting in people that you would have liked to have sat this year, but just the nature of the game is I need you now,” Knights coach George O’Leary said.
The Huskies’ struggles have included averaging just 15.8 points per game so far in 2015. But coach Bob Diaco said he thinks his team is “doing a better job protecting the football and playing smarter.”
He said the opening five games have been a learning experience for his team.
“We’re a developing team, but we’re gonna take it as kind of just what the doctor ordered,” Diaco said.
There was a little bit of good news on the injury front for the Knights. Starting quarterback Justin Holman was released by the doctors last week after breaking a finger on his throwing hand at Stanford on Sept. 12.
O’Leary said all three quarterbacks took snaps this week and a decision will be made on Holman’s status once coaches get a clearer picture if he is throwing with the velocity and accuracy he wants.
If Holman can’t go there will have to be a decision made of whether start freshman Bo Schneider for the fourth straight game, or to go with redshirt freshman Tyler Harris.
Here are some things to watch for in Saturday’s game:
TROPHY GAME: There will be something more than AAC division position on the line Saturday. Despite experiencing some Internet backlash earlier this year for creating a “rivalry” trophy that UCF had no part of, Diaco is bringing his “ConFLiCT” trophy to Orlando. Diaco defended it this week saying it was simply “something to energize the players and staffs on both sides.so that we can have a great energetic game that is classy and high character, that’s clean and with fairness. That’s the idea.”
OFFENSIVE WOES: Injuries have clearly taken a toll on UCF’s offensive production so far this season. The Knights currently rank last in the FBS in total offense, averaging just 266.4 yards per game. Their scoring average of 16.2 points per game isn’t much better, ranking 124th out of 127 teams.
ALL ABOUT SACKS: The Huskies have combined for seven sacks this season, but their offense has given up 16. UConn sophomore quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has had some success this season, completing more than 60 percent of his passes to go along with five touchdowns and just three interceptions. But his offensive line will need to protect him.