The last time these two teams met, the University of Connecticut was in the midst of a five-game run to the Big East title, and became bowl eligible with their 23-6 win at the Carrier Dome.
The last time these two teams met Randy Edsall was still the head coach and the Huskies were on their way to playing in their first BCS bowl game against the Oklahoma Sooners.
Fast forward ten months. Edsall is coaching at Maryland. Standout running back Jordan Todman is trying to make it in the NFL (he was actually just waived by the San Diego Chargers in favor of former Orange running back Curtis Brinkley). Only five offensive starters remain from last season’s trip to the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. And the Huskies have dropped four of their last six, with their lone victory in that stretch coming over a struggling South Florida squad.
Perhaps the most notable difference is which team head coach Paul Pasqualoni will take the field with. He’ll be roaming the sidelines this Saturday but won’t be wearing the orange and blue he spent 14 seasons in.
Pasqualoni led Syracuse from 1991-2004, producing a 107-59-1 overall record and a 73-34 record in Big East play. He was fired after the Orange was routed by Georgia Tech in the 2004 Champ Sports Bowl, despite finishing tied for first in the Big East.
Pasqualoni came to Connecticut having spent the last several years in the NFL with both the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins.
So what does the Huskies head coach think about this weekend’s game being dubbed a bowl game with his namesake?
“Anything other than preparation for this game is a distraction,” said Pasqualoni. “The fact that I worked at Syracuse, that’s a distraction. It’s not fair to the team. It has nothing to do with this game.”
“I don’t really think about it like that, and I don’t think any of the players here probably will,” said Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone. “The fans and the media may. But in this profession, it’s so volatile – I can’t tell you a game that I’ve coached when someone I’ve coached with previously wasn’t on the opposing sideline.”
And best for Marrone and his football team to worry about what’s on the field. The Orange defense will have to contain Lyle McCombs who has rushed for 829 yards and four touchdowns, including back-to-back 100-yard plus performances against South Florida and Pittsburgh. Johnny McEntee has emerged as the starting quarterback for the Huskies. He’s passed for 1,402 yards and eight touchdowns and hasn’t thrown an interception since a 24-20 loss to Iowa State on September 16.
After giving up 198 yards and two touchdowns through the air to true freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last week, the Orange will have to contain McEntee and do a solid job defensively against their receiving corps, including junior tight end Ryan Griffin. Much like his Orange counterpart Nick Provo, Griffin is a go-to option with 24 receptions for 367 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, nine starters return for the Huskies, including defensive tackle Kendall Reyes, who has amassed 27.0 tackles and 4.0 sacks. This is not welcome news for an Orange offensive line that looked like Swiss cheese last week against Louisville, allowing Nassib to be sacked four times.
There is good news for the Orange. The Huskies have given up over 400 yards passing in their last three losses, including a 479-yard performance by Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder. Nassib needs to cure his recent illness for overthrowing wide-open receivers and make better decisions on third downs. He looked to regress last week after throwing for 229 yards and four touchdowns against No. 15 West Virginia.
And while the Paul Pasqualoni Bowl may not be top of mind for head coach Doug Marrone and its players, maybe the fact the he has never beaten Connecticut and that Syracuse has never won at Rentschler Field will be some extra incentive.