Behind Enemy Bylines: UConn Huskies

The Vanderbilt Hustler spoke with Evan Rodriguez of the University of Connecticut’s The Daily Campus to preview Vanderbilt’s upcoming game against UConn.


Mattigan Kelly

Vanderbilt and UConn will both be looking for victories this Saturday in Nashville. (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly).

Bobby Kent, Staff Writer

The Vanderbilt Commodores play host to the UConn Huskies on Saturday, with both teams looking to turn their respective seasons around. Vanderbilt has gotten off to a 1-3 start to the year in head coach Clark Lea’s first season in Nashville and is coming off its most disappointing result thus far, a 62-0 loss to the No. 2 Georgia Bulldogs. 

The UConn Huskies are still in search of their first win, having dropped the first five games on their slate. The season has not been without adversity as long-time Huskies coach Randy Edsall stepped down just two games into the season. 

Prior to kickoff, The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines and interviewed Evan Rodriguez,  a football writer of The Daily Campus, to preview Vanderbilt’s matchup with UConn.

Vanderbilt Hustler: What players will Vanderbilt have to gameplan against in order to find success against UConn?? 

Evan Rodriguez: Honestly, you have to go with the obvious option here. You have to go with the quarterback. Quarterback Tyler Phommachanh has been playing really well the past two games he’s been in. Against Wyoming, even though he did throw that interception late in the game, I feel like he totally transformed UConn’s offense. He makes even the freshmen look absolutely amazing and with the help of new offensive analyst [Noel] Mazzone, it’s going well on offense. Running back wise, they did switch out [Kevin] Mensah for Nathan Carter. I think it was a great change even with Mensa’s history with UConn. 

UConn has rotated three quarterbacks since the season began. Why have the Huskies struggled to stick with one starter, and who’s going to play Saturday against Vanderbilt?

They are going to stick with Phommachanh for this Saturday, but as for the whole cycle [of quarterbacks], it’s definitely due to coaching. Randy Edsall was absolutely terrible throughout his second tenure with the Huskies and with the change to [interim head coach] Lou Spanos, UConn has had to change up the whole game plan. They switched to quarterback Steven Krajewski just for that game against Purdue and [he] wasn’t looking great. It was definitely better than Jack Zergiotis but it wasn’t much better. Then, Spanos decided to go with the risky decision of putting the freshman [Phommachanh] in and it paid off. Definitely paid off there.

Vanderbilt’s run defense has struggled this season so far, allowing a few big games on the ground. Do you think the Uconn offense will be able to take advantage of this? 

Definitely. I think our offense is heavily underrated compared to how the national media will portray us. I think we are definitely due. Everyone was saying we were going to get destroyed by Wyoming but obviously we kept it close. We almost won but did not come out with a win. I think against Vanderbilt, we have a solid shot, even with just odds, as the odds are in our favor, but I feel like we have a great shot. 

UConn fell in a close game versus Wyoming which had UConn’s interim head coach Lou Spanos saying the team is “trending in the right direction”. What went well and how do the Huskies replicate that performance?

Our defense just looked much better than we’ve had all season. Well, definitely with the freshman defensive back Myles Bell, he had an interception [against Wyoming]. We had defensive back Jeremy Lucien with another pick as well against Wyoming. Even with the pass interference calls, I’m definitely happy with how the defense performed. Even with Myles Bell out [against Vanderbilt], I still think our defense is going to do great—great compared to how we’ve been doing all year. I think defense is the main storyline for us. 

In that same game, the Huskies had a lead and surrendered two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. How does the defense bounce back against Vanderbilt’s offense?

I just feel like our defense gets worse and worse as the game progresses. We were definitely helped by pass interference calls. I do feel that with the experience comes better performance. We’ve seen it throughout the season. I feel like we’re just going to get even better in this game against Vanderbilt. We’re definitely going to sway some opinions [about UConn]. 

The Vanderbilt offense features talented wide receivers who have the potential to impact the game. How will the Huskies defend Vanderbilt’s receivers?

I like our freshmen defenders. Even against Wyoming, I felt like our freshmen defenders played really well. I think that they’ll definitely get up on those Vanderbilt receivers. I think they’re going to have a tough time, especially as you mentioned. However, quarterback play has impacted that side of the ball. I just think we’re going to do much better. We have been missing defensive lineman Travis Jones which should definitely help out Vanderbilt, especially considering his talent level, but I feel like we’re definitely going to impact the game. It’s going to be tough for both teams. 

Vanderbilt’s defensive line has struggled to generate pressure against opposing quarterbacks all season long. Do you see quarterback Tyler Phommachanh being able to take advantage of having more time in the pocket?

Definitely. Even though our offensive line has taken a lot of criticism this year, it’s gotten better and with how athletic Phommachanh is in the pocket, he can confuse defenses and you saw that in the game against Wyoming. Even with the trick plays, he was running the ball really well. I feel that he’s just going to keep defenders on their feet.

Finally, can we get a score prediction?

27-23 UConn.