Much of the buzz last week surrounding the Big East had to do with expansion and a possible invitation to TCU. Odds are, that will continue to be the case this week, but the league’s teams did go a combined 4–1 in the last full week of non-conference games.
There were no matchups like the previous week, when league teams faced opponents like LSU and Oklahoma, but Connecticut managed a victory over the SEC’s Vanderbilt. For the second straight week, the Huskies found themselves tied at halftime before delivering in the second half in moving to 3–2 with a 40–21 win at Rentschler Field. Now it’s on to league play for UConn, starting with Rutgers on Friday.
“I think we’re heading into (league play) in the right frame of mind, in the right direction,” said Connecticut coach Randy Edsall. “I think in these last two games we’ve done things to get better.”
The Huskies scored the last 21 points in last week’s win against Buffalo and closed against Vandy with 26 unanswered points. Jordan Todman had a career-high 37 carries for 190 yards and two touchdowns against the Commodores.
The league’s biggest disappointment came via Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights suffered the loss of both quarterback Tom Savage and a 17–14 decision at the hands of Conference USA opponent Tulane, which entered 1–2. Green Wave coach Bob Toledo’s staff called a trick play — backup QB Joe Kemp threw a 10-yard lateral to wideout D.J. Banks, who then fired another pass back to Kemp for a 24-yard score — that left Rutgers coach Greg Schiano taking blame afterward. “It’s on me,” Schiano said. “I was unable to get our team ready to go... So as the head coach, everything falls on me.”
Savage didn’t return after being tackled out of bounds in the second quarter.
Otherwise, league teams had few problems against Florida Atlantic, Florida International and Arkansas State. South Florida, now 3–1, defeated FAU 31–3 at Raymond James Stadium. The Bulls registered seven sacks, forced three turnovers and scored a touchdown on a blocked punt return. Bulls QB B.J. Daniels threw for 155 yards and a touchdown while completing 14-of-19 passes. Running back Moise Plancher had 20 carries for 93 yards and two TDs.
Pitt had no trouble despite the absence of incumbent Big East offensive and defensive players of the year Dion Lewis and Greg Romeus, both sidelined with injuries. Panther tailback Ray Graham ran wild, rushing for 277 yards and three touchdowns — the second-best effort by a Pitt runner in school history. Graham added 78 yards on kickoff returns and 19 receiving yards to finish with 374 all-purpose yards in the 44–17 victory over FIU.
Louisville, meanwhile, raced to a 31–7 halftime lead on its way to a 34–24 win at Arkansas State. The Cardinals reeled off 575 yards of offense — their best performance in more than two years. Quarterback Adam Froman completed 20-of-33 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns. The U of L had two 100-yard rushers in tailbacks Bilal Powell (157 yards) and Victor Anderson (108 yards).
Connecticut 40, Vanderbilt 21
Tulane 17, Rutgers 14
Pittsburgh 44, Florida International 17
Louisville 34, Arkansas State 24
South Florida 31, Florida Atlantic 3
A real rush
The Big East may not have a lot going for it this season, but it does have two of the nation’s top four rushers. The 277-yard outburst by Pitt back Ray Graham helped lift him to third among this week’s national rushing leaders, behind only Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson and Oregon tailback LaMichael James. He’s now averaging 164 yards a game. Connecticut’s Jordan Todman, meanwhile, is fourth nationally, averaging 159.5 yards. In all-purpose running, Graham is No. 1, while Todman is No. 5.
A grand return
South Florida’s Dontavia Bogan returned from an ankle injury in style against Florida Atlantic. Bogan caught a 38-yard touchdown pass on a flea-flicker, had five receptions for 66 yards and moved passed the 1,000-yard career receiving mark in the victory.
A grand return II
When Connecticut tailback Jordan Todman ran for 190 yards — two fewer than his career best — against Vanderbilt, it wasn’t just another day at the office. Todman missed last week’s game against Buffalo with a hyper-extended left elbow, but didn’t rest much against the Commodores, carrying the ball a career high 37 times.
Tag this a season of defense within the Big East. While offense usually grabs the headlines, three league teams have performed well on the other side of the ball. West Virginia is ranked eighth nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 249.25 yards. In scoring defense, Rutgers is fourth, allowing an average of 12 points. Connecticut, meanwhile, is tied for seventh in interceptions (nine) and ninth in tackles for loss (8.2 per game).
A sigh of relief
When Louisville held off Arkansas State on Saturday, it snapped a 10-game road losing streak that had been going on since defeating Memphis on Oct. 10, 2008.
Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage’s status is uncertain for Friday night’s game against Connecticut because of an injury to his throwing hand. On Monday, RU coach Greg Schiano said Savage would be a “game-time decision for sure.”
Connecticut offensive tackle Jimmy Bennett hurt his hand last week. Running back Robbie Frey had arthroscopic surgery on his knee Monday.
The Big East is the only league yet to start conference play. That changes this week when Connecticut visits Rutgers Friday for a 7:30 p.m. ESPN game. Syracuse returns from a bye to visit South Florida noon Saturday.
Connecticut hosts the biggest non-conference game the Big East has to offer this week. After a week in which league teams fell to Miami (Fla.), Oklahoma and LSU, it’s now up to the Huskies against 1–2 Vanderbilt of the SEC.
No, it’s not a big game nationally. But it is a big game to UConn coach Randy Edsall. After losing to Michigan and, surprisingly, Temple, Edsall made some changes that paid off last week in a win over Buffalo. He’s hoping that the changes provide a spark as the Huskies bear down on the upcoming Big East schedule.
Cody Endres has taken over at quarterback. After being suspended for the first three games, he came off the bench against Buffalo to throw for 139 yards and two touchdowns. Also, Robbie Frey entered the game in the second half and rushed for 112 yards. This week, however, Edsall is hoping to get team leader Jordan Todman back from an arm injury. Todman is ranked fifth nationally in rushing, averaging 149.33 yards.
Vandy is 1–2 overall, but 1–1 in SEC play after defeating Ole Miss 28–14. The Commodores also had a week off afterward. They bounced back after losses to Northwestern (23–21) and LSU (27–3).
“They show a lot of different looks on offense,” Edsall said. “They play hard on defense.”
Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith has completed 36-of-68 passes for 383 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
Tulane at Rutgers
Saturday, 2 p.m. EST
In the last two games, 2–1 Rutgers hasn’t topped 19 points. (The 19 were managed against Florida International.) The team’s best running back, Joe Martinek, has a bad left wheel. And quarterback Tom Savage, expected to be one of the Big East’s best, hasn’t cracked the top 100 FBS passers in efficiency. There was fear, however, he did crack his ribs.
On Tuesday, though, Savage pronounced himself ready to play Saturday after taking a shot to those ribs. RU, meanwhile, hopes this is a shot to fix a sluggish offense.
There’s reason for hope. Tulane fell to 1–2 last Saturday via a 42–23 loss at Houston. The Green Wave, in fact, has yet to allow less than 21 points — and that includes a win over Southeastern Louisiana.
RU’s defense, on the other hand, has been more than fine. The Scarlet Knights are second nationally in scoring defense, allowing an average of 10.3 points.
Florida International at Pittsburgh
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST
Pitt came into the season an almost unanimous pick to win the Big East. Now the Panthers are looking to avoid their first 1–3 start since 2006 after an embarrassing 31–3 home loss to Miami (Fla.).
“We’ll have to make improvements from last week, that’s for sure,” said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt. “We need to clean some things up.”
It hasn’t helped that standout defensive end Greg Romeus is shelved and starting linebacker Dan Mason is out for the year. “We have to make adjustments,” Wannstedt said. “We have other guys that have to step up.”
The Panthers are next-to-last in the Big East both in total offense and defense. Quarterback Tino Sunseri has completed 48-of-77 passes for 520 yards and three scores with two picks.
Florida International is 0–3 after a 42–28 loss at Maryland last week. The Panthers have also fallen to Texas A&M and Rutgers.
Syracuse transfer Jeremiah Harden has rushed for 191 yards on 54 carries for FIU coach Mario Cristobal.
Florida Atlantic at South Florida
Saturday, 7 p.m. EST
As a first-year coach at South Florida, Skip Holtz has his first true test. And it’s not 1–2 Florida Atlantic of the Sun Belt. It’s finding a way to turn back the clock to the first half of his team’s loss to Florida. In the second half, the Gators scorched the Bulls. Last week, USF nudged past Western Kentucky, losers now of 24 straight games, by 24–12.
Holtz is hoping a spark provided by running back Demetris Murray lifts his team. “He has a smile on his face; he’s upbeat; he’s into it,” said the coach. He’s also hoping a return of standout wideout Donatavia Bogan, coming off an ankle injury, will help.
Florida Atlantic is coming off a 21–17 loss to North Texas. The Owls also lost at Michigan State by 30–17 and defeated UAB 32–31.
“I’m impressed by what I’ve seen,” Holtz said of the Owls. “They’ve got some weapons. It’s a pretty good offensive team.”
Louisville at Arkansas State
Saturday, 7 p.m. EST
Louisville coach Charlie Strong tried this week to build up his team’s opponent: Arkansas State of the Sun Belt Conference. He talked about how the Red Wolves disguise defenses. He pointed out this would be State’s Homecoming. He said quarterback Ryan Aplin is in “total control.”
Louisville, however, should be in control of this one. The Red Wolves are 1–3. They are coming off a loss to Troy. Auburn drubbed them 52–26.
The 1–2 Cardinals, meanwhile, are coming off a bye after a cross-country trip and 35–28 loss to Oregon State.
Strong’s strong suit has been defense, but his offense is ranked third in the Big East, averaging 386 yards. Quarterback Adam Froman has hit 51-of-90 passes for 634 yards and two touchdowns with three interceptions.
Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, following in the footsteps of new Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, has his work cut out for him. A win at NC State would be a good working start.
After losing to Fresno State, which racked up eight sacks, Cincy bounced back to dismantle Indiana State 40–7. Interestingly, Jones had QB Zach Collaros pass only 17 times against ISU for 130 yards. Running back Darrin Williams stepped in for injured Isaiah Pead and rushed for 117 yards on 13 carries. With wideout Vidal Hazelton out for the season, it will be worth watching to see how Jones attacks NC State offensively.
The Wolfpack are 2–0 after defeating Central Florida 28–21 last Saturday. NC State took advantage of five UCF turnovers, even though the Pack’s offense mustered only 239 yards. QB Russell Wilson has completed 31 of 61 passes for 411 yards and two touchdowns.
Jones seems more concerned with the Wolfpack defense’s looks and blitzes. “We have a short week,” said the UC coach. “They do so many things. … It will be a great challenge for us across the board.”
Maryland at West Virginia
Saturday, noon EST
This series resumes for the 48th time after a three-year break.
So far this season, West Virginia has stumbled, although to a 2–0 record. The offensive line, which returned almost all of its starters, has been particularly head-scratching against Coastal Carolina and Marshall. WVU had to rally from a 21–6 deficit and win in overtime against the Thundering Herd. Still, tailback Noel Devine and fullback Ryan Clarke are averaging a combined 132.5 yards. And QB Geno Smith has emerged as a leader. He’s hit 72.2 percent of his passes, owns a 145.26 passer rating and led the rally against Marshall.
Maryland, meanwhile, has matched last season’s win total of two with victories over Navy and Morgan State.
“They’re hitting on all cylinders,” said WVU coach Bill Stewart. “I’m a big Navy fan … and they completely shut them down.”
The Terrapins will challenge WVU’s offensive line. They own a couple of nice linebackers in Alex Wujciak and Adrian Moten. But this is a game WVU needs for street cred.
“We hope to bring a 60-minute game to them,” Stewart said. “That’s what we’re working on.”
Connecticut at Temple
Saturday, noon EST
Whenever Temple plays a Big East team, the Owls have revenge on their minds. The league once booted Temple out and, in what has to be perceived as a cruel twist, are now looking at adding crosstown rival Villanova. The Owls, by the way, opened the season by defeating the Wildcats 31–24. TU is now 2–0 for the first time in 29 years after downing Mid-American Conference peer Central Michigan 13–10 in overtime.
Connecticut, however, simply can’t stumble at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly if preseason expectations are to be met. The Huskies rolled over Texas Southern last week 62–3 but began the season with a thud against Michigan.
The positive note is that tailback Jordan Todman leads the Big East in rushing, averaging 128 yards per game. QB Zach Frazer has yet to throw an interception and has completed 52.2 percent of his passes for 309 yards.
Louisville at Oregon State
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. PT
Louisville coach Charlie Strong picked up his first career head coaching victory last week against Eastern Kentucky. Now he’s looking for one that matters.
Oregon State is 0–1, but looked strong in a 30–21 loss to highly regarded Texas Christian at Cowboys Stadium. The Beavers are even ranked in some polls. The reasons are the Rodgers brothers — tailback Jacquizz and wideout James. The former had 75 yards and a score against TCU. Both were all-Pac-10 first team selections last season.
“The thing I like about them is they have so many weapons,” Strong said. “The whole defense is going to have to play well. … We need to get enough guys around the ball when (Jacquizz Rodgers) has it.”
What he’s hoping is that Oregon State will be looking ahead to next week’s game at Boise State. He’s also hoping for continued production from tailback Bilal Powell, who leads the Big East’s third-ranked rushing attack. Powell, though, will need help from QB Adam Froman.
Maine at Syracuse
Saturday, 7:15 p.m. EST
Syracuse coach Doug Marrone and his Orange are happy to finally be playing in the Carrier Dome. They opened with back-to-back road games against Akron (a win) and Washington (a loss).
“It’s exciting to be back home,” Marrone said. “It’s what a lot of players have been looking forward to when they came here, to play in the Carrier Dome.”
In Maine, Syracuse will be meeting a Colonial Athletic Association team that opened with a 3–0 loss to Albany before defeating Monmouth 31–23 last weekend. Running back Jared Turcotte has averaged 117 yards with three rushing touchdowns in the first two games. Last year, Maine led 17–13 at the Carrier Dome before falling 41–24.
SU is averaging 383.5 yards of offense, while giving up an average of 316.5. Running back Delone Carter is fourth in the Big East rushing, averaging 91 yards.