STORRS, Conn. — Former Big East foes UConn and Syracuse meet Saturday for the first time since 2012.
And while a matchup of the two national basketball powers once elicited excitement on campus no matter the sport, it’s being treated this week as just another non-conference game.
“Is it really still a rivalry?” asked UConn coach Bob Diaco, who is in his third year in Storrs. “You guys have a much better perspective of that than I do here. I think it’s an exciting matchup of local-like teams and universities.”
It’s also a matchup of vastly contrasting styles.
UConn (2-1) is a methodical team that runs about 66 plays a game and puts up an average of 330 yards of offense. It wants to win games by controlling field position and time of possession. It is built, Diaco said, to keep games close. The Huskies’ three games this season have been decided by a total of 10 points.
Syracuse (1-2), under first-year-coach Dino Babers, runs the fastest-paced offense in college football, with an average of 93 snaps and 505 yards offense. They ran a school-record 105 plays a week ago.
“It’s like defending two games,” Diaco said.
The Orange, who will be playing their first road game this season, are trying to bounce back from back-to-back double-digit losses Louisville (62-28) and South Florida (45-20).
“As we grow together, we’ll get better and better at it,” said Babers.
Here are some other things to watch for as UConn hosts Syracuse:
Diaco said he’s concerned that Syracuse’s hurry-up tempo could be dangerous if he is unable to get fatigued defenders off the field. He said there is nothing he can do tactically to slow down the pace of the game and would never coach a player to fake an injury just to stop play. But he said exhaustion is a real possibility if his team is unable to substitute. Mikal Myers, UConn’s 325-pound defensive tackle, said he and his teammates feel they are physically ready for the challenge. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis “kills us all summer, so hopefully in translates to the game on Saturday,” he said.
The game features two of the nation’s top wide receivers. Syracuse’s Amba Etta-Tawo , a graduate transfer from Maryland, has 28 catches for 436 yards and three touchdowns. He leads the Atlantic Coast Conference and ranks third nationally in receiving yards per game (145.3), and his 9.3 receptions per game are tied for fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision. UConn’s Noel Thomas has 26 catches (seventh nationally) for 277 yards. No other Husky receiver has more than seven catches.
Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey is has already thrown for 960 yards this season. He’s hoping to follow in the footsteps of other signal callers who have done well in Babers’ high-octane offense. One of those guys is Jimmy Garoppolo. The New England Patriots quarterback played under Babers at Eastern Illinois, where he threw for 8,873 yards and 84 touchdowns over two seasons.
GOING FOR IT
Syracuse has attempted to convert nine fourth downs already this season and has been successful five times. The Orange have punted the ball 19 times. UConn is 3 for 3 in fourth-down conversion attempts.
UConn has won six of the nine meetings between the programs, which all occurred between 2004 and 2012, when both were members of the Big East. The Orange beat the Huskies 40-10 in their last game, which was played at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse has never beaten the Huskies in Connecticut.