Campus Corner

Four Downs with UConn football beat writer Desmond Conner of the Hartford Courant

Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu.
Connecticut safety Obi Melifonwu. The Associated Press

There aren’t many connections between Missouri and the University of Connecticut football team, but there are a few.

Tigers running backs coach Brian Jones was an offensive lineman for the Huskies, who are 2-0 for the first time since 2008 and play the No. 22 Tigers at 11 a.m. Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Columbia.

Additionally, Chiefs general manager John Dorsey is one of two former Connecticut players on the 2016 National Football Foundation College Football Hall of Fame ballot, which will be announced in January.

Dorsey, a four-year starter, was an All-American for the Huskies in 1983 when he recorded a program-record 184 tackles. He also remains UConn’s career leader 495 tackles.

That’s it for the history lesson.

Now, on to the present with help from Desmond Conner, the Huskies’ football beat writer at the Hartford (Conn.) Courant, who went Four Down with The Star ahead of the game.

Be sure to read his work in advance of the game and give him a follow on Twitter.

First down: How good is Connecticut’s pass defense? We know it’s been strong historically and the Huskies’ numbers against the pass have been strong so far, but is that a product of competition or an indication the secondary is stout again?

Conner: The secondary will be stout again. The defense figures to be better overall than it was, which at 49th (in 2014) wasn’t terrible. But their safeties are outstanding and the corners are good. I think the combination makes it a formidable unit against anybody. We’ll see if that’s indeed true on Saturday. Maty Mauk is pretty darn good.

Second down: Now in his second season, are there signs that coach Bob Diaco is righting the Huskies’ ship?

Conner: Well, 2-0 is a good sign. They wouldn’t have won either one of those games last year. So, the “culture change” that was needed when he took over appears to be taking hold, because the team would have wilted in the face of adversity last season. The team hasn’t done that yet and they’ve had their chances. Another test of just how far they’ve come in that department comes on the road in Columbia.

Third down: UConn is 2-22 against ranked teams in its history. What are a few keys for Connecticut if it’s going to pull an upset at Missouri?

Conner: Can’t get caught up in being on the road against an SEC team. Can’t worry about what has happened on the road in the past. Can’t turn the ball over. Can’t allow deep balls over their heads. Can’t let adversity take hold. Fundamentals, technique and doing their jobs have to be the only things Huskies focus on doing.

Fourth down: Do the Huskies have some NFL-caliber players on the 2015 roster?

Conner: I don’t think there’s any doubt both safeties are NFL bound, although free safety Obi Melifonwu has another year. Andrew Adams has been terrific. I think defensive tackle Julian Campenni has a chance. He’s only a sophomore, but linebacker Luke Carrezola will be there if he continues on the tear he’s been on. Junior cornerback Jhavon Williams could be a candidate by the time he’s a senior.

To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to tpalmer@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @todpalmer.

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