UConn Ready to Take on Villanova - NBC Connecticut
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UConn Ready to Take on Villanova

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    NEWSLETTERS

    UConn Ready to Take on Villanova
    NBC Connecticut

    UConn hosts Villanova on Thursday in a season-opening game that was originally envisioned as a battle of conference rivals.

    It was scheduled back when Villanova was contemplating a football upgrade and the Big East was a major football conference.

    The breakup of the Big East left Villanova in the FCS and UConn without a home in a power conference.

    The Huskies have not had a winning season since 2010 and won just two games in 2014, including a 19-16 victory over their only FCS opponent, Stony Brook.

    Bob Diaco has described his first season as head coach in construction terms, saying his staff had to do a lot of tearing down before laying a new foundation for winning.

    "We've put on another coat of paint, and it's one that will last," Diaco said. "It's all being done the right way. It's all being built to last."

    Villanova was 11-3 a year ago and comes in as one of the top-ranked teams in the championship subdivision. The Wildcats are led by dual-threat quarterback John Robertson, who won the Walter Peyton award as the top offensive player in the FCS. He threw for 35 touchdowns and ran for 1,078 yards and 11 TDs in 2014.

    Here are some things to watch for in the season opener between UConn and Villanova:

    SHIRREFFS IN TOWN

    UConn has its own dual-threat quarterback in North Carolina State transfer Bryant Shirreffs, who will make his first start for the Huskies. Diaco describes him as an intelligent, strong player with good quickness and speed. Shirreffs takes over an offense that was one of the worst in the FBS last season, averaging just over 15 points a game.

    CHERRY ON TOP

    Villanova's defense is led by a Connecticut product. Linebacker Don Cherry, who went to Trumbull High School, was named the Colonial Athletic Association's preseason defensive player of the year. He led the Wildcats last year with 134 tackles, including 21 1/2 for a loss.

    YOUNG TEAM

    The Huskies have five freshmen or redshirt freshmen listed on the team's offensive two-deep depth chart and just one senior — guard Tyler Samra. "More veteran players that are grizzled, that have this great depth of understanding of their jobs is always better, but you can't have everything," Diaco said.

    MARROW DONOR

    Villanova starting right tackle Jake Prus will play against UConn, but then miss the next three games as he donates bone marrow. The junior added his name to the national registry as a freshman and was notified this spring he was a match for someone in need of a transplant. The donation was postponed this summer, because that patient was too sick at the time to receive the cells. He's expected back in mid-October.

    HISTORY

    Villanova will be meeting the Huskies for the 14th time. Twelve of those meetings came between 1987 and 1999, when the teams were both members of the Yankee Conference or the Atlantic 10 football conference. The Wildcats lead the all-time series 9-4.