Duke and Connecticut are traditional basketball powers, but the meet Saturday on Girdiorn. The Blue Devils will have to contend with potent pocket passer Dan Orlovsky, and the Duke offense will try to keep up.
When Dan Orlovsky headed to college, he stayed within the small state of Connecticut. He moved a mere 70 miles from home instead of heading to a more established football power like Notre Dame.
Since the senior joined the Huskies, his impact has spread far beyond those 70 miles. He has led a team that moved from a Division I-AA status to a legitimate Division I-A football program in a BCS conference.
Orlovsky was voted Big East Preseason Player of the Year and named to the watchlists for top national quarterback honors. After starting 32 games, he is set to lead Connecticut into his 33rd start against Duke.
For the Blue Devils, Saturday’s noon game will come down to defense, just as last week’s contest at Navy did. The team faced Navy’s triple-option offense that rushed for 301 yards and left Annapolis with a 0-1 record. Saturday, Duke will have to contend with a very strong passing game led by Orlovsky.
“Obviously it’s a lot of speed and a fantastic quarterback and a very solid offensive line,” Duke head coach Ted Roof said. “First thing we always got to do is stop the run. You can’t let people have both [a running and passing game]… you got to take away one. You got to try and keep him off-balance.”
For Duke, stopping the running game will likely be easier than shutting down Orlovsky’s air attack. Last season the UConn quarterback averaged 2.9 touchdown passes per game. Orlovsky tied his career-high with 382 passing yards and five touchdown passes in last weekend’s win over Murray State.
Duke’s ability to counter the Huskies’ air assault may be hampered by the loss of Kenneth Stanford. After suffering an injury at Navy, Stanford is still listed as day-to-day.
Roof said that although much of the focus is on defense, the team still has to make plays on the other side of the ball. As was the case last week, both signal-callers, Mike Schneider and Chris Dapolito, will see time running the offense. Roof said that Schneider would remain the starter.
“You just have to be ready to play no matter where you are on the depth chart,” Schneider said. ”Right now we are both number one it seems like, until one of us proves that we’re head and shoulders better than the other... [Last week] penalties really killed us. We shot ourselves in the foot and next thing you know the game is over.”
If the game comes down to the wire, the Huskies have the advantage; the Blue Devils struggled in the second half last week, and the Huskies have a strong track record in close games. UConn, which has won its previous six games dating back to last season, has had four of these contests decided within the final 30 seconds.
“Whether it’s business or whatever, you got to be able to close the deal,” Roof said. “We got to be able to get to the end of the deal to close it. You attack it and you don’t watch the scoreboard. You think about your assignments. You just play the game, play the next play, and play it as hard and aggressively as you can. You worry about the other stuff at the end of the game.”
This is the first meeting ever for the two football squads, but the UConn-Duke rivalry has taken shape over the last few years on the basketball court. Indeed, fans are eager to see the schools send their best to Rentschler Field Saturday. Only 1,000 tickets remain in the stadium that fits about 40,000.
“I think it’s two teams that are very hungry to win and there is certainly a history there that started in basketball and developed into a good rivalry,” Roof said. “The more hostile the environment, the better it is. We can’t control how they feel. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go and we’re representing ourselves.”
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