Holy Cross at UConn – August 31st 7:30 PM, ET Pratt and Whitney Stadium East Hartford, CT
The Holy Cross Crusaders will kickoff the 2017 season against an old New England rival, the UConn Huskies. Amazingly, and sadly, these two have no met on the gridiron since 1985 when both programs were 1-AA (FCS). Since that time UConn’s administration decided to move their program to FBS and the Big East before the conference disbanded football. The Huskies are currently in the American Athletic Conference. After leaving UConn for the “greener pastures” of the Big 10 (Maryland) in 2010, Randy Edsall returned as the UConn head coach during the offseason. The fiery coach had quite a bit of success in Storrs during his previous stint as head man but he inherits a mess this time around.
After a disappointing 2016 season, the Crusaders would love nothing more than to spoil Edsall’s return debut by getting a coveted FBS win (over a regional rival to boot). While the odds are almost always stacked against FCS teams when they step up in class, a good showing/moral victory actually counts for something in these games. Holy Cross should enter their season opener with the mindset they can at least compete for 4 quarters. The Huskies offense was woeful last year (14.8 ppg ) and with several new faces this season in key positions, it’s highly unlikely UConn comes out of the gates in 2017 firing on all cylinders. Knowing how bad the offense has been, Edsall and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee are going to try and use a high tempo, high play total (ala Chip Kelly) offensive strategy in hopes of getting better production. With two new starting wide receivers and sophomore David Pindell getting the starting nod over the incumbent Bryant Shirreffs (223 ypg 7 TD 6 INT in ’16), RB Arkeel Newsome (715 yards rushing 5 TD, 2nd on team in receptions) figures to be the focal point of the Huskie offense. If Holy Cross can stand up physically to the UConn offensive line it’ll go a long towards keeping them in the game for 4 quarters.
Offensively, Holy Cross has to put the ball in QB Peter Pujals’s hands and let the 5th year senior loose. He’ll need to make plays with his arm and legs for the Crusader offense to have success. If UConn has a strength heading into 2017 it should be their defense based on the amount of experience that returns. Even by FBS standards it’s loaded with 5th year seniors. The Huskie front 7 will severely test the Holy Cross offensive line. If the Crusaders O-line is able to give Pujals time to throw and RB Gabe Guild room to run, Holy Cross will have an opportunity to control the ball thus shortening the game some. Pujals will likely lean on veteran WR Richie DiNicola to lead an otherwise unproven receiver crew. The more balance Holy Cross has on offense the closer the game will be.
Holy Cross has to at least like their chances to put on a respectable showing for 60 minutes against a highly suspect UConn team. UConn is without a doubt bigger and deeper at most positions. Holy Cross has a few key 5th year guys while the Huskies 2-deep is littered with them. There’s no question there’s a certain disparity between the two teams. Yet, it’s hard to imagine UConn walking over a rested and healthy Holy Cross team. If the Crusaders can protect the ball and avoid the dreaded special teams blunders this should be a game worth keeping an eye on.
Prediction: UConn 27 Holy Cross 16