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UConn's defense is good enough to shut down Missouri's sputtering offense

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UConn is 2-0 in 2015, with tight wins over lesser opponents -- 20-15 over Villanova (a very good FCS team) and 22-17 over Army. The Huskies are run-heavy on offense and had a decent run defense and awful pass defense last year. (It's hard to say much about the pass defense this year since option-heavy Army was one of the two opponents.)

Let's walk through the UConn depth chart.

Offense

QB
Bryant Shirreffs (6'2, 220, So.) -- 31-for-45, 472 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT, 4 sacks (9.2 yards/att); 18 carries, 87 yards
Tim Boyle (6'3, 224, Jr.)

Shirreffs is an N.C. State transfer who was pretty run-heavy in Raleigh but has attempted 49 passes to just 18 carries in two games for the Huskies. Against two defenses quite a bit worse than Missouri's, he's been pretty awesome -- 69% completion rate and 15.2 yards per completion mixed with nearly five yards per carry. Mizzou's defense represents quite a step up, however. We'll see how he responds.

TB
Ron Johnson (5'11, 226, So.) -- 41 carries, 108 yards (2.6), 2 TD; 1 target, 1 catch, -2 yards
Arkeel Newsome (5'7, 182, So.) -- 16 carries, 74 yards (4.6), 1 TD; 5 targets, 5 catches, 52 yards (10.4), 1 TD
Max DeLorenzo (5'11, 216, Sr.) -- 1 carry, 3 yards; 2 targets, 1 catch, 11 yards (5.5)

I said that UConn is run-heavy above. The Huskies are rushing 72 percent of the time on standard downs, 20th-most in the country and well above the national average of 59 percent. (Mizzou, if you're curious, is at 53 percent.) That's not the same thing as saying the Huskies are good at running the ball, however. Only 11 of Ron Johnson's 41 carries have gained even five yards, and while Arkeel Newsome has been more efficient and more explosive, Johnson has been the go-to guy.

Seeing what we've seen from the Missouri defense so far, I would be surprised if UConn ran the ball particularly well. The onus, then, will likely be on Shirreffs to make plays against a secondary that has been mostly strong so far.

WR
Noel Thomas (6'1, 195, Jr.) -- 11 targets, 7 catches, 122 yards (11.1)
Brian Lemelle (5'10, 172, Jr.) -- 1 target, 1 catch, 10 yards

WR
Thomas Lucas (6'2, 213, So.) -- 6 targets, 3 catches, 50 yards (8.3)
Tyraiq Beals (6'0, 171, Fr.) -- 4 targets, 4 catches, 54 yards (13.5)

TE
Tommy Myers (6'5, 255, So.) -- 5 targets, 3 catches, 97 yards (19.4), 1 TD
Zordan Holman (6'5, 224, Fr.)

TE
Alec Bloom (6'6, 257, So.) -- 6 targets, 4 catches, 58 yards (9.7)
Chris Lee (6'7, 252, Fr.)

It's early, but UConn's tight ends have been among the nation's most productive. Myers and Bloom have combined for 147 yards on 11 targets, an awesome per-target average. I'm guessing they're getting used a lot up the seam, probably on play-action. (It's a pure guess, as I haven't had a chance to actually watch them yet.) Meanwhile, the receivers are producing as well. This passing game was absolutely dismal last year (122nd in Passing S&P+), but Shirreffs has things rolling thus far. We'll see if he can keep it up against better competition.

LT
Richard Levy (6'6, 312, Jr.) -- 14 career starts
Matt Peart (6'7, 263, Fr.)

LG
Tommy Hopkins (6'6, 309, So.) -- 2 career starts
Steve Hashemi (6'6, 286, So.)

C
Brendan Vechery (6'6, 302, So.) -- 2 career starts
Dan Oak (6'3, 292, RSFr.)

RG
Tyler Samra (6'2, 301, Sr.) -- 15 career starts
Kyle Bockeloh (6'3, 295, Jr.)

RT
Andreas Knappe (6'8, 311, Jr.) -- 9 career starts
Trey Rutherford (6'5, 300, So.)

As with all the other units on UConn's offense, UConn's offensive line stats were dismal last season, and they've been pretty bad so far in 2015, too. Johnson has no holes to run through, and four sacks allowed in 49 pass attempts seems like a pretty decent amount considering the competition. It's amazing how quickly I've gone from wary of the young Mizzou defensive line to completely trusting of it, but here we are. I assume Mizzou will have a significant advantage in this battle.

To put it lightly, the advantages shrink when Missouri has the ball.

Defense

DE
Kenton Adeyemi (6'4, 291, Sr.) -- 2.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 QBH
Cole Ormsby (6'3, 262, So.) -- 1.0 tackles

DT
Foley Fatukasi (6'4, 304, So.) -- 5.0 tackles, 2 TFL (2 sacks), 1 FF
Sean Marinan (6'1, 296, Jr.)

DT
Julian Campenni (6'0, 306, Sr.) -- 4.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL
Mikal Myers (6'1, 323, Jr.) -- 1.5 tackles

DE
Luke Carrezola (6'3, 255, So.) -- 5.5 tackles, 3 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU, 1 FR, 2 QBH
Cameron Stapleton (6'4, 246, So.) -- 2.0 tackles

Villanova's John Robertson won the FCS' Walter Payton Award last season over, among other players, EWU quarterback (and now Oregon quarterback) Vernon Adams. He rushed for 1,405 yards in 2013 and threw for 2,846 in 2014. He's pretty awesome. Against UConn in the 2015 season opener, Robertson completed 17 of 32 passes for just 153 yards, a touchdown, an interception, and four sacks. He did gain 85 yards in 14 rushes, but UConn was able to almost completely rein in the 'Nova offense.

The 'Nova offense might be better than Missouri's right now.

It starts up front. UConn's defensive line has been wonderfully active, with each starting tackle logging some disruptive plays and sophomore end Luke Carrezola looking awesome. Missouri moved the ball reasonably well in the second half against Arkansas State, and the Tigers' offensive line looked a little bit less porous than it had before. One has to hope that the improvement, however minor, continues. UConn's line is the best Mizzou's faced.

LB
Graham Stewart (6'1, 237, Sr.) -- 8.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 1 PBU
Vontae Diggs (6'2, 225, So.) -- 1.0 tackles

LB
Junior Joseph (6'1, 242, So.) -- 10.0 tackles
John Hicks (6'2, 246, Jr.) -- 2.0 tackles

LB
Marquise Vann (6'0, 231, Sr.) -- 3.0 tackles, 1 QBH
Matt Walsh (6'1, 241, Jr.) -- 3.5 tackles, 1 TFL

Perhaps because of the awesome performance by the line, the linebackers haven't been asked to do as much this year. In 2014, if Graham Stewart (a Florida transfer and former four-star recruit) or Marquise Vann weren't making a play, no one was. The two combined for 17.5 tackles for loss; this year, they only have one so far, but the defense has been sturdy nonetheless.

This is a good front seven. The Huskies can generate pressure and fissures without sending the house, and we'll see what Mizzou is able to do in the ground game.

CB
Jhavon Williams (5'10, 190, Jr.) -- 4.5 tackles, 1 PBU
John Green (5'10, 187, Jr.) -- 0.5 tackles

SS
Andrew Adams (6'0, 198, Sr.) -- 8.5 tackles, 2 INT, 1 PBU
Ellis Marder (6'1, 199, Jr.) -- 1.0 tackles

FS
Obi Melifonwu (6'3, 216, Jr.) -- 6.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 PBU
Junior Lee (6'0, 209, Sr.) -- 2.0 tackles

CB
Jamar Summers (6'0, 185, So.) -- 3.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Javon Hadley (5'10, 168, Jr.) -- 3.0 tackles, 1 TFL

The secondary hasn't been asked to do much yet because the pass rush was potent against Villanova, and Army doesn't pass. We know that the pass defense was a major weakness in 2014, but the secondary was loaded with freshmen and sophomores who are now sophomores and juniors. This is a unit that wanted to be active and aggressive last year (Jhavon Williams and Andrew Adams combined for four picks and 11 passes defensed, and Obi Melifonwu had 3.5 TFLs) but couldn't because there was no pass rush and it was too young to avoid mistakes.

So far, so good for the Huskies this year. Few tests so far but no failed tests.

Special Teams

K
Bobby Puyol (5'10, 178, Jr.) -- 3-5 PAT, 3-3 FG under 40
Michael Tarbutt (6'0, 177, Fr.) -- 10 kickoffs, 58.2 average, 2 touchbacks

P
Justin Wain (6'3, 214, Jr.) -- 7 punts, 42.4 average (5 fair caught, 4 inside 20)

KR
Arkeel Newsome (5'7, 182, So.)
Josh Marriner (5'9, 201, So.)
Brian Lemelle (5'10, 172, Jr.) -- 2 KR, 12.0 average

PR
Brian Lemelle (5'10, 172, Jr.)
Tyraiq Beals (6'0, 171, Fr.)

This wasn't a very good special teams unit last year, mainly because Bobby Puyol's accuracy was scattershot, and the returns were nonexistent. We don't know if either of those weaknesses have been fixed, but at the least, Justin Wain has looked pretty strong so far.

***

We'll dive further into the stats tomorrow, but while UConn's offense is probably still a big liability ... so is Missouri's. And the UConn defense could be successful enough to keep this game close.