Q&A with UConn's The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus’s sports editor forsees a 34-20 Mizzou win in this weekend’s contest.
Missouri Tigers tailback Russell Hansbrough (32) runs with the ball Sept. 5, 2015, during a game against the Southeast Missouri Redhawks at Faurot Field.

Missouri faces UConn Saturday at Faurot Field. The Maneater talked to Matt Zampini, sports editor at The Daily Campus, about the matchup.

The Maneater: So, 2-0 through the first two games for the first time since 2008. What's been the difference?

Matt Zampini: Yeah, it's been quite a different story than the past few years here in Storrs. I think the biggest thing is that UConn isn't turning the ball over, and it finally has a quarterback who is comfortable out there on the field and can make plays with both his arm and feet. Through the first two games, UConn has just two turnovers compared to four in the first two games last season. A large part of that has to due with quarterback Bryant Shirreffs protecting the ball and not putting it into dangerous spots around the field. With the offensive line being in question coming into the season, it is good that Shirreffs is mobile and can escape the pocket when need be.

You can also attribute it to the defense, like you mentioned, UConn is only giving up 284 yards per game. It has an experienced defense out there that hopes to be on of the best defenses in the country. But the Huskies haven't seen a team like Missouri this year, so we'll see how they handle the Tigers on Saturday.

ME: UConn is 33rd in the country in total defense and only giving up 284 yards per game. What can you attribute this to?

MZ: Like I mentioned before, the defense has a lot of experience from last year. UConn returned seven players on the defensive side of the ball from last year. Some players to take note of are Graham Stewart, Andrew Adams, Kenton Adeyemi, Julian Campenni and Marquise Vann. The Huskies have allowed 16 points per game this year, good for third in the conference.

ME: What players should Mizzou folks look out for and why?

MZ: Mizzou fans should watch out for Shirreffs, wide receiver Noel Thomas, running back Arkeel Newsome and Adams. After going through multiple quarterbacks over the past few seasons, it looks like UConn has finally found a stable one in Shirreffs. Through the first two games of the season, Shirreffs is 31 of 45 in the air with 472 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He's smart, quick and he hasn't put the ball in danger, which head coach Bob Diaco loves. He can also be mobile, as seen by his 64 rushing yards in two games. Thomas, a junior with very good hands, is one of Shirreffs favorite targets to throw to. Diaco said that Thomas should be one of the best receivers in the country this year, so the expectations were high coming into 2015. In two games, Thomas has seven receptions for 122 yards.

Newsome is small, but he's quick and can make big plays. A sophomore, Newsome was the first UConn player to ever receive the honor of Parade Magazine All-American. He also holds the Connecticut high school record with 10,672 yards and 187 touchdowns. This season, Newsome has a rushing and receiving touchdown.

Adams is the leader of the UConn defense. He has an interception in both games this season and has a knack of making big plays when UConn needs them most. Look for him to have a big game Saturday afternoon.

ME: What's the fans’ mindset in Hartford having to go play at two-time defending SEC East champion Missouri?

MZ: The excitement for this game is definitely higher than usual on the Storrs' campus. Because the team has won its first two games, the mood and talk around campus has been much more positive than in previous years. It's crazy what winning does, right? If this was a home game for UConn, there's no doubt that it would be sold out. Just like the game against Michigan two years ago, UConn had started out slowly but packed the stadium when Michigan came to town. A game against a big-time school like Missouri definitely has campus more excited than usual.

ME: What's UConn's biggest strength? And biggest weakness?

MZ: Strength: the defense. I already talked about it a bit but this is the biggest strength that UConn has. It kept the Huskies in a lot of games last year, but the offense couldn't produce. So far this year, the defense is living up to the expectations from preseason, but I'm really interested to see how it does against a SEC offense. Weakness: Offensive line. Last year, it was not good. It has improved this year. It returned three starters from last year. But it also helps that the offensive line has a mobile quarterback that can escape the pocket. Also, UConn has had two of its PAT (kick attempts) blocked this season, so that is somewhat concerning and worth watching out for.

ME: What's the realistic prediction for UConn this year, and what's your prediction for this game?

MZ: I predicted that this team would be 4-8 coming into the season. I thought that UConn would win its first two games (which they have) and then face Missouri and lose. I said that the ceiling for this team is five wins, but after seeing the first two games I am a little more optimistic than I was before the season started. But I will stick with 4-8 for this year, everything is going as I predicted wins/losses-wise. As for the game on Saturday, I think that UConn can hang around with Missouri. I'm thinking it is going to be a close game in the first half but I think Missouri might score a late touchdown in the second half to stretch the lead. I'll say the score will be 34-20 Missouri.

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