Huskies soldier onward

Nov. 19—The UConn football team is back in the bowl conversation after managing only four wins over last three seasons.

The Huskies, under first-year coach Jim Mora, reached the six-win threshold with an upset of 19th-ranked Liberty last Saturday, guaranteeing a .500 record and meeting the minimal requirement for bowl eligibility.

As an independent program without a conference affiliation, UConn does not have a contractual path to a bowl invitation. There are 41 bowl games, but most of the 82 slots are tied to conferences.

There are "at-large" spots and bowls could consider inviting independent programs if a conference does not have enough six-win teams to fill its spots.

But one thing is certain. The Huskies (6-5) can enhance their bowl resume with a seventh win Saturday in their regular-season finale against Army (3-6) at Michie Stadium in West Point, New York (noon, CBS SN).

UConn has not won seven games in a season since 2010 and has not appeared in a bowl game since 2015.

"This isn't about becoming bowl eligible," UConn coach Jim Mora said earlier this week. "This is about winning the next game, playing to our potential and maxing out. That is what it's about."

While Mora has avoided bowl talk, Athletic director David Benedict has been lobbying hard for the program to receive a bid.

Benedict posted a letter to fans on the Athletic Department website on Nov. 5 — before the Liberty game — in an effort to gauge interest in bowl tickets.

"With our most recent victory, we now have six wins and are bowl eligible," Benedict wrote in the letter. "Because of our status as an independent football program, it will be important that we show our commitment and desire to support a bowl invitation. ... We are reaching out to bowl game organizers in an effort to present UConn Nation's readiness to receive a bowl invitation should they be looking for a team. Getting to a bowl requires a team effort, including our loyal fans! We must demonstrate that we will do what it takes to sell bowl tickets. We have shown in the past that we can do this, and I know we can do it again."

Bowls with at-large bids not tied to a conference include the Armed Forces Bowl (one at-large team), Birmingham Bowl (one), Boca Raton Bowl (two at-large teams), Camellia Bowl (two), Cure Bowl (two), First Responders Bowl (one), Frisco Bowl (two), Gasparilla Bowl (one), LendingTree Bowl (one), and Myrtle Beach Bowl (two).

The Athletic's bowl projections have the Huskies facing NC State in the Dec. 23 Gasparilla Bowl. has UConn in the Dec. 22 Armed Forces Bowl against ECU while has the Huskies facing Southern Miss in the Dec. 17 LendingTree Bowl.

The Huskies lead the all-time series with Army 5-3 but the Black Knights dealt them a 52-21 loss last season at West Point.

Redshirt sophomore defensive back Malik Dixon-Williams made his UConn debut that day and finished with 11 tackles.

"It was definitely tough," Dixon-Williams said. "It was my first college game ever. This game you have to be the most disciplined ever. I had a ball caught on me so I'm definitely going to take that into consideration and just make me lock in a little bit harder this game."

The Black Knights utilize a prolific triple option attack that averages 299.4 rushing yards per game, second in the nation. Quarterbacks Tyhier Tyler (430 yards, seven touchdowns) and Jemel Jones (296 yards, 6 TDs) and running backs Tyson Riley (396 yards, two TDs) and Tyrell Robinson (321 yards, one TD) are their most effective runners.

Mora is concerned about Army controlling the game and eating up significant chunks of time with long offensive possessions. The Black Knights are 25th in the country in time of possession at an average of 32.05 minutes per game.

The Huskies must put together sustained drives that end with points to combat Army's lengthy possessions.

"A big challenge for us will be to keep them out of the end zone and to not let them hog the ball all game," Mora said. "They use up clock, we have to maximize possessions on offense. We can't have three-and-outs and send them right back on the field. We have to be able to maintain possession and do the best we can to score points."

UConn also can't be so focused on containing Army's running game that it gives up explosive plays through the air. The Black Knights don't throw the ball often but average 92.1 passing yards per game.

The Huskies have struggled to defend the pass this season, allowing 240.6 yards through the air per game.

"They hit big ones when they throw it so you have to be very disciplined on the back end," Mora said. "You can't get sucked up. You can't get lazy. You can't get bored because you're not getting challenged deep, because once you do, they hit the big ones on you."

UConn also employs a run-heavy offense, sitting in 35th in the country with 189.5 yards on the ground per game and 106.1 passing yards per game.

The Huskies have gone over 200-plus yards rushing yards as a team in five games and are coming off a 209 yards against Liberty.

Freshman running back Victor Rosa, a Bristol native who has seen his workload steadily increase this season, has racked up 450 yards rushing on 117 carries and a team-high eight touchdowns.

The Army and Huskies' defenses have each allowed 25.4 points per game.

UConn's defense is among the nation's leaders in creating turnovers this season. The Huskies are ranked 14th in the FBS in turnovers gained with 20 and are 39th with a plus-5 turnover margin.

Junior linebacker Jackson Mitchell, a Ridgefield native, leads the nation with five fumble recoveries. Senior cornerback Tre Wortham ranks 10th in interceptions with four.

The Black Knights have converted on third down 44.8% (52-116) of its chances, while UConn has converted on 37.2% (58-156) of its opportunities.

"It's a huge challenge," Mora said. "They're going to get their yards rushing; It's Army. They're so efficient and they're so detailed. They do such an amazing job with what they do well. They're the epitome of putting their players in a position to make plays and do what they do best. It's unparalleled."

For daily updates on high school sports in JI's coverage area, follow Kyle Maher on Twitter: @KyleBMaher, Facebook: Kyle Maher, and Instagram: @KyleBMaher.