UConn's opponent Saturday, Big East rival and 16th-ranked West Virginia, might be 20.5-point favorites, but that doesn't mean they're taking the Huskies lightly. That's what happened a year ago and the Mountaineers ended up losing, helping UConn to the Big East title and a BCS Bowl bid.
“Our guys wanted that to happen (go to a BCS bowl) last year and it didn’t, so I think that’s going to provide a little motivation for us to get in a good week of work,” WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said, according to MSNsportsNET.com.
Despite any perceived mismatches on paper, the Huskies have done well to keep the matchups close in recent years. In addition to the win in 2010, UConn lost 24-21 in 2009 because of a late-game Noel Devine 56-yard touchdown run, and in 2008 trailed 13-7 at the half before the Mountaineers exploded for a 35-13 win.
Whether it's UConn's previous success against WVU or Holgorsen refusing to underestimate any opponent, the Mountaineers aren't taking the 2-3 Huskies for granted.
“They’re physical; they’re big,” he said. “We’re going to have to do a good job of being physical and playing with a bunch of effort."
“They’ve played some good football teams. If you look at what Western Michigan has done this year they’ve been competitive in every game and they’ve played some pretty good people. I watched the tape pretty closely and that wasn’t UConn playing poorly - that was Western Michigan making a whole bunch of plays in very tight space, which was fairly impressive to watch.”
The Huskies might have found it impressive, too, if they weren't the ones being victimized. If nothing else, Holgorsen's comments prove that future opponents will be watching the Western Michigan tape with the intention of exposing those very same weaknesses when they face the Huskies. But finding ways to exploit that defense won't be easy and Holgorsen understands as much.
“Their defensive front is big and they try and outnumber and suffocate you,” Holgorsen said. “They’re good against the run because they’re physical and they try and outnumber you. … Schematically, they do things to try and create problems, and they do a good job of it. They get eight negative plays a game and about three sacks a game. It will be another challenge for our offensive line.”
But that very same defense couldn't slow down Western Michigan's passing attack, something the Mountaineers are pretty good at, too.
“If they’re trying to suffocate you on the line of scrimmage then you don’t need to be stubborn and do things to allow them to be successful,” explained Holgorsen. “We’ll try to figure out what their plan is and attack it the best way we know how to.”