1. Get a grip. UConn’s near-upset of Michigan wasn’t as shocking as the 17ø-point spread would suggest. The Wolverines are turnover-prone. UConn defenders have a knack for coming up with the ball. The Huskies scored on a 9-yard drive after recovering a fumbled punt. They returned another fumble for a TD. That’s how you make a game of it when your offense is sputtering. The turnover total could prove crucial today. UConn already has forced eight fumbles and recovered four to go with four picks. UB has intercepted three passes and recovered a pair of fumbles. With neither offense lighting it up, miscues could be the determining factor.
2. What’s the rush? UB’s managed just 289 yards on the ground this year and 112 those came in the second half and OTs of the Stony Brook game. But the Bulls are a juggernaut compared to the Huskies, who rank 122nd in the nation at a measly 52 yards per game. On the flip side, both defenses have been gashed on the ground, with UB allowing 730 net yards and UConn yielding 710. So there’s an advantage to be gained for the team that finds a way to get a running game going. UConn’s main man is Lyle McCombs, who plugged away 29 times for 97 yards in UConn’s 24-17 victory of a year ago. UB counters with an entirely different look than last year, when Alex Zordich was at QB and Brandon Murie subbed at RB. Branden Oliver’s back after missing the Stony Brook game and he’s looking to break out. Oliver has just 105 yards on 39 attempts – a 2.7 average.
3. A matter of time. UConn’s inability to make opponents respect the run has made life all the more difficult for junior QB Chandler Whitmer. Already the Huskies have yielded 15 sacks and rest assured UB's Khalil Mack (2.5 sacks) will be lining up on the edge most of the afternoon hoping to force him into hurried throws. Whitmer went off for a career-best 349 yards against Maryland, with the big play a 75-yard TD connection with Shakim Phillips. He’s also thrown 19 INTs the last 15 games. Key for UB will be its ability to control a pair of powerful WRs, the 6-2 209-pound Phillips and 6-3, 215 Geremy Davis. Big wideouts have caused UB trouble in the past because their DBs are built for press coverage.
4. One of the best. UConn’s 4-3 defense revolves around LB Yawin Smallwood, a menacing 6-4, 236-pounder out of Worcester, Mass. Like UB’s Mack, Smallwood was named to the preseason watch lists for the Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award and, also like Mack, he’s justified the acclaim. Smallwood opened with 16 tackles against Towson, followed up with 14 against Maryland and last week was in on 13 in the loss to Michigan. CBSSports.com named him last week’s national Defensive Player of the Week (Mack won the nod in Week One) and he ranks second in the country at 14.3 tackles a game. Smallwood could well declare for the NFL Draft after the season.
5. Extra points. UConn leads the series, 16-4, with UB’s last win coming in 2001. … Mack is 3.5 sacks away from UB’s career record of 24. . . . Huskies have returned a punt or kickoff for TD nine straight seasons, the fourth-longest active streak . .. . Opening loss to Towson (No. 2 FCS) turned up the heat on UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni.
Outlook: Huskies defense improving and big wideouts raise concern. UConn, 23-21.