Connecticut opened the season against FCS foe Fordham last weekend cruised to a 35-3 victory as expected. That game marked the debut of Paul Pasqualoni as the new leader of the program, as he takes over for Randy Edsall who left to take the Maryland job. Pasqualoni, who had great success as the leader of the Syracuse program, is the first man ever to be head football coach at two Big East schools. He inherits a group of Huskies that finished 8-5 last season, including a 5-2 record that was good enough to earn them a Big East title and a BCS bid.
As for Vanderbilt, it is also under new leadership, as James Franklin takes over the perennial SEC basement dweller. Vandy made a winner of Franklin in last week's debut, as the squad had no trouble disposing of FCS foe Elon by a 45-14 final. Considering that the Commodores have won just two games in each of the last two seasons, Franklin's group has nowhere to go but up.
Connecticut beat Vanderbilt by a 40-21 final last season to tie the all-time series between the teams at 1-1.
UConn had plenty of questions in need of answers in the opener against Fordham, most important of which involved the quarterback position. Johnny McEntee and Mike Nebrich both saw time under center, and McEntee was clearly the more impressive of the two. He completed 8-of-12 passes for 113 yards with no interceptions and showed a great deal of poise.
The Huskies have an impressive track record of star running backs, and Lyle McCombs may be the latest to carry the load. Against Fordham, McCombs carried the ball 24 times for 141 yards and four touchdowns, and 60 of his yards came on one long run. As for the receivers, Ryan Griffin led the pack with 97 yards and a score on three grabs. The offense finished with 434 total yards and 21 first downs, but Vanderbilt foes figure to pose a stiffer challenge than Fordham.
It comes as no surprise that the Huskies were dominant defensively last weekend. Fordham was only able to post 169 total yards, including a mere 20 rushing yards on 30 attempts. UConn registered one takeaway and one sack. Teddy Jennings was outstanding in that affair for the Huskies, as he posted 2.5 TFLs. As for teammate Sio Moore, he broke up a pair of passes.
Last week, Elon scored a touchdown early in the third quarter to cut its deficit to 21-14 against Vanderbilt. To the credit of the Commodores, they dominated the contest from that point on, scoring the final 24 points of the tilt en route to the 31-point victory.
Vandy finished with a modest total of 309 yards, but the fact that the club didn't commit a single turnover was far more important than any other stat, aside from the final score. Quarterback Larry Smith completed just 13-of-27 passes for 125 yards, but he did throw two touchdowns with no interceptions. Smith also ran for a score in the romp, and Chris Boyd had a pair of touchdown receptions.
Coach Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan view the week one performance of Smith with obvious optimism, as the quarterback completed only 47 percent of his passes a year ago with a mere six touchdown passes. The signal caller has plenty to prove, but he is certainly exhibiting confidence and doing all the things a leader is supposed to do.
Defensively, Vanderbilt was far from dominant against Elon last week, yielding 323 yards and a pair of touchdowns to the sub par opponent. Sure, the Commodores were tough against the run, permitting a lowly 2.2 yards per carry, but they surrendered 13.3 yards per pass completion. Still, it did help matters that they were able to come up with a pair of interceptions.
Chris Marve is clearly the best player on the defensive side of the ball for the Commodores, and the linebacker posted nine total tackles in the opener, including a pair of TFLs. Marve is a two-time All-SEC performer who is an impact hitter at 6-0 and 242 pounds.
The Huskies and Commodores are fairly evenly matched and should produce an entertaining game this weekend. Give the slightest of edges to Vanderbilt, based solely on the home field advantage.
DATE & TIME: September 10th, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Vanderbilt Stadium (41,221) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: CSS. Home Record: UConn 1-0, Vanderbilt 1-0. Away Record: UConn 0-0, Vanderbilt 0-0. Neutral Record: UConn 0-0, Vanderbilt 0-0. Conference Record: UConn 0-0, Vanderbilt 0-0. Series Record: Series is tied, 1-1.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Vanderbilt 23, Connecticut 20.