UConn Football Preview: Can the Huskies put up a fight against Illinois?

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The Illini present an interesting challenge for the Huskies at the Rent. (AP Photo/Holly Hart)

The first game against Wagner is out of the way, and now UConn fans will get to find out a little bit more about how good the team really is as it faces Illinois at the Rent.

The Illini just got finished ransacking Akron, 42-3, at home in their opener. They’re coached by former Bears head man Lovie Smith, whose beard has ensured he will continue to find employment as a mall Santa Claus in case this coaching thing continues to go south.

Smith and the Illini have spent the entire year preaching about how things will be different this season, after a disappointing 4-8 campaign last fall.

“I’m going to stop talking about last year,” Smith said after the win over Akron. “We set the bar today for this season.”

UConn no doubt feels the same way, as the Huskies exercised some defensive demons against Wagner, holding the Seahawks to just 185 total yards. Impatient Huskies fans will talk about how progress wasn’t as clear-cut as they wanted to see, but if you look at UConn’s performance against last year’s FCS opponent, Rhode Island, there’s a stark contrast. The Huskies’ defense gave up 49 points in that game. This was much better.

Illinois looked polished against Akron, which finished 4-8 in the MAC last year and isn’t expected to be much better this season.

Like a strong financial portfolio, the Illini offense was well-diversified. Nine different receivers caught passes, led by junior Ricky Smalling (4 receptions for 54 yards), and six different backs carried the ball at least five times. Each rushed for over 20 yards.

If the Illini stick with a similar gameplan at the Rent, UConn’s defense is going to have its hands full. The Huskies don’t have the depth to be chasing around six different running backs.

Under center, junior Brandon Peters was solid against the Zips. He threw for 163 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Illinois’ defense stymied Akron, holding them to 192 yards and just 1.7 yards per carry on the ground. The matchup between the Illini defense and the Huskies’ running backs, who excelled against Wagner (Kevin Mensah and Art Thompkins combined for 235 yards and two touchdowns) could be the key in this game.

PREDICTION: UConn will hang tough, especially at home, where they’ve played well in the past against big competition. They’ll need better quarterback play from senior Mike Beaudry (14-21, 158 yards, 1 INT) and a big showing from the defense, which needs to prove it has put last year’s nightmare behind it. If the Huskies get all that, and replicate the performance they got from their running backs against Wagner, they’ve got a shot. We’re not ready to predict a ‘W’ just yet, though.

Illinois 35, UConn 17

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