Tennessee football hosts UConn at Neyland Stadium on Saturday afternoon in this week’s homecoming matchup.
Each week, Rocky Top Insider will take you behind the scenes with a question and answer with a media member who covers Tennessee’s opponent.
*Some answers have been slightly altered for clarity
UConn overachieved in Jim Mora’s first season. What were expectations for this year and how big of a disappointment has it been to this point?
“For sure. Last year was the first bowl appearance in seven years and they expected to get back. They hit the portal hard and they got some bigger, faster, stronger guys. Over the summer, it looked like they were going to have another good year. Maybe 7-5 or another six-win season is kind of what it looked like going in. There were some games that they should have won that they didn’t win and a lot of close games really. The last four games have been decided by seven points or less. So it is disappointing and it’s frustrating. I think frustrating is the word I’d use because they’ve been so close. Now I don’t expect this one to be close but that’s kind of what the mindset is now.”
UConn has played in a lot of close games. Is it fair to say they’re better than the record indicates?
“I think yes. I think there have been some execution problems and some coaching decisions that they can point to at this point that have resulted in losses in the fourth quarter and things like that. But they’ve been finding ways the last few weeks to stay in games. The yardage is usually lopsided, the time of possessions is usually lopsided but they’re forcing turnovers and they’re capitalizing in that way so that’s what’s keeping them close.”
What are the strengths and weaknesses of UConn’s offense?
“They would like their strength to be their run game. It’s been difficult because their top two running backs both left the program a couple games into the season. Coach Mora will say they quit so that’s the status there. They’ve been counting on two sophomores that are instate, local kids. Both won Gatorade Players of the Year and things like that. One of them (Camryn Edwards) came in as a defensive back and changed his position and he’s had to step up the last couple weeks because Victor Rosa had an ankle sprain but he should be back this week. They would like to say their run game and we’ll see. Even with those two guys back, they’re really thin at the position.
The passing game was cooking a little bit for a couple games with quarterback Ta’Quan Robertson but the last couple games haven’t been great in that way.”
What are the strengths and weaknesses of UConn’s defense?
“They struggled to start the season with mobile quarterbacks and I know Tennessee has one. They started to key in on that and have gotten better in that way. But they’re good at stopping the run and passing is a little more of a challenge— particularly down the field passing but it’s usually short plays after short plays than they’ll allow a big chunk play that really kills them. That’s that. They didn’t force turnovers to start the season at all but the last four weeks they’ve really turned that up and that’s been key for them staying in games.”
What is a key or a couple of keys for UConn to make this a four quarter game and give themselves a chance to pull the upset?
“They’re going to have to control time of possession. They’re going to need to keep the ball which is something the offense has struggled with. They’ve had a lot of three-and-outs and punts this year. Then, defensively, they’re going to have to force turnovers. Tennessee is going to have to have some moments where they hurt themselves. Some unforced turnovers and things like that which UConn has benefitted from the last couple of weeks. But yeah that’s really it to stay in the game. I don’t think this is going to be a close one.”
Tennessee 42, UConn 10