Louisville, UConn look to stay in Big East race
Connecticut and Louisville come into Saturday's Big East showdown in the thick of the conference championship free-for-all.
The Huskies (4-5, 2-2) host the Cardinals (5-5, 3-2) in what amounts to an elimination game between teams that could end their seasons in bowl games or with losing records.
UConn is hoping that history repeats itself. A year ago the Huskies were 3-4 after losing to Louisville, but finished the season with five consecutive wins to earn a Fiesta Bowl bid.
''It just takes us back to that point in time,'' UConn linebacker Sio Moore said. ''We had to win those games that were big. So now we have three big games, starting with Louisville this week that we have to make sure we capitalize and do what we have to do to get where we want to go. Because our goals are still in front of us.''
The Cardinals have the same goals. Louisville began the year 2-4, but won three straight before falling to Pittsburgh 21-14 last week. Coach Charlie Strong is 12-11 in his second year at the school.
''We've made gigantic steps and maybe we've come too fast, too soon,'' he said. ''But still though, you're expected to go play well. You look at teams out there - West Virginia, Pitt, anybody can still go win this league right now.''
Freshman Teddy Bridgewater will make his eighth straight start at quarterback for the Cardinals. He's already thrown for 1,440 yards and nine touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Connecticut had a bye week to get ready for him. In fact, the Huskies have played just twice in the last month, losing at Pittsburgh on Oct. 26 before beating Syracuse on Nov. 5.
''It gave the team a chance to get healthy,'' UConn tailback Lyle McCombs said. ''It was needed coming into the most important three-game stretch of the season.''
By contrast, Louisville has played seven consecutive weeks since having a bye in late September.
The Cardinals, who gave up 396 yards, including 200 on the ground to Pitt, will need to stop McCombs, who has rushed for over 100 yards six times this season and is just 19 yards away from a 1,000-yard season.
The Huskies also have been using more of their option package with redshirt-freshman quarterback Scott McCumming. He is used as change-of-pace from Johnny McEntee, who runs the more traditional pro sets.
That means coming up with two defensive game plans, Strong said.
''It's going to be a good test for us because we're going to see right now if we're a physical football team,'' he said.
Louisville is averaging 120 yards rushing, but will face a UConn defense ranked sixth nationally against the run.
The Cardinals' defense is ranked 10th nationally in tackles for loss and 12th in scoring defense, so scoring could be at a premium.
If Louisville wins and Rutgers beats Cincinnati Saturday, there would be a three-way tie among those teams for first place in the Big East. If Connecticut wins, the Huskies would be tied for second place in the league, with two conference games to play.
A win also would give UConn its first winning streak of the season.
''We kind of have the approach of it's not where you start, it's where you finish,'' McEntee said. ''It's probably better to be playing your best football in November.''