No. 19 Liberty (8-1) is back in action Saturday afternoon as the Flames travel to play at UConn (5-5) for a noon kickoff against the Huskies. To help us get a preview of what to expect from UConn, we caught up with Stratton Stave of The Daily Campus.
What is the overall feeling surrounding the season within the program thus far and its fans on expectations for the year?
Stratton Stave: Against expectations, this team’s gone way above and beyond in Jim Mora’s first year. The Vegas over/under for total wins was 2.5 and the Huskies are sitting at five just 10 games in. There’s a ton of buzz about the way the program has really turned it around in such a short period of time. The Fresno State win at home was really the first moment where you felt things were different. Most UConn teams of old would’ve rolled over and laid there after getting routed by ranked teams in three straight games, but this squad really responded in a positive way. The fans really want Mora to be in this one for the long haul.
What has been your feeling/evaluation of Zion Turner thus far and what is the expectation for his production in this game?
SS: Turner’s a true freshman quarterback who was thrown into the fire when starter Ta’quan Roberson tore his ACL in game one against Utah State. It’s impossible to complain about Turner’s production if you’re a UConn fan. Although it’s a run-driven offense, when he’s been asked to throw the ball, he’s done a nice job finding his receivers and limiting errors, which is impressive at his young age. Turner has thrown just just four picks on the year and although he’s been far from perfect, he’s gotten the job done to get UConn to .500 this late in the year.
Who do you consider to be the biggest X factor on the UConn offense besides the quarterback? How about for the defense?
SS: The biggest X factor for this Husky offense is definitely going to be the run game. They’ve seen a revolving door of running backs producing so far, with their first two backs on the depth chart out for the season in Nathan Carter and Brian Brewton. Devontae Houston has been electric when on the field, as illustrated by a 75-yard house-call last week, but he’s missed some time with injuries too. True freshman Victor Rosa has been good when his name was called and scored a pair of touchdowns last week. If Houston’s healthy, his play-making ability makes him the best remaining option, but whoever is taking carries is the X-Factor in such a run-heavy offense.
If you had to guess the ending record for this team, what would it be?
SS: It’s really hard to say with just a pair of games left, but I’d have to go with 6-6. This team really wants to get to that 13th game and it feels like they’re destined to do so. Although Liberty will be a tough game as a ranked opponent, the Army game is more winnable and should get them there if they lose Saturday.
What player has surpassed expectations and has been breaking out this season?
SS: The biggest breakout player this year has easily been TE Justin Joly. The freshman started the season off buried in the depth chart, but worked his way up quickly, demonstrating his chemistry with Turner. He had the lone touchdown in the BC win on a 62-yard catch and is second on the team in receiving yards. He’s been a pleasant surprise for Husky fans and everyone’s looking at him and Turner to have a great connection for years to come.
Where do you think the Flames will struggle the most against this team?
SS: With the expected high-winds, I really think it’s going to be tough for Liberty to throw the ball against an already impressive Husky secondary, which will play nicely into UConn’s favor. Even though The Flames are well balanced, taking away the pass for both teams benefits the Huskies, who are really reliant on the run. UConn’s given up just six defensive touchdowns in the past five games, so scoring could be an uphill battle for Liberty.
What is your final score prediction for this game?
SS: As much as I’d like to say UConn’s going to pull out the upset on senior night with all their momentum, a win here will just be tough against a team like Liberty. The Flames have let inferior teams keep it close, so a blowout is unlikely, so I’ll go with 13-10, Liberty in a tight loss for the Huskies.