The American Athletic Conference is still very much in its infancy. The best example of that is the fact that UConn and Tulsa, conference mates for going on four years, have never met on the gridiron.
That will change Saturday when the Golden Hurricane visits Pratt & Whitney Stadium (noon, ESPNU).
It’s odd that the two programs haven’t faced off until now, but they’re not completely unfamiliar with each other.
“It is a little bit weird,” UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. “I’m sure I’ve played them in a video game or something like that growing up. But it’s different because all the other teams we’ve played before.”
UConn and Tulsa are the last two AAC members to face off; everyone else has clashed at least once.
UConn (2-4, 1-3 American) has played only one other game against a team from the state of Oklahoma in its history: that would be the Huskies’ Fiesta Bowl loss to the Oklahoma Sooners in 2011.
Tulsa (2-5, 1-2), like UConn, snapped a four-game losing streak last week. The Hurricane ran away from Houston for a 45-17 victory.
This may be the first meeting between the two but both sides are rather familiar with each other. Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery admitted he has a good idea of how UConn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee approaches games.
“I’ve known Rhett for a little while now,” Montgomery said. “He does a great job schematically. He’s going to put his guys in the right spot.”
Recently, Lashlee and the Huskies have enjoyed running some trick plays. In last week’s win over Temple, converted quarterback Donovan Williams, lining up in the wildcat, tossed the ball out to Shirreffs, who then sent a pass deep to Hergy Mayala. The play resulted in a mere incompletion against the Owls, but went for a touchdown earlier this season against Virginia.
“Any plays like that bring a different dynamic to a game,” Shirreffs said. “It makes me reminisce on times playing in the neighborhood where you just do crazy plays.
“There’s a purpose and a reason to run every single play but it’s fun to see how the offense executes it. The different components of this offense are a lot of fun.”
Much of that fun is injected by Lashlee himself, Shirreffs says.
“He’s a passionate person and he really enjoys his job. You can tell it means a lot to him but he has fun doing it,” Shirreffs said.
Montgomery’s familiarity with the Huskies extends beyond Lashlee. Before he came to Tulsa, Montgomery also spent seven years as an assistant at Baylor and faced Randy Edsall’s Huskies twice.
“We’ve played them once up there and once at our place,” said Montgomery, referring to a 31-28 UConn win in 2008 in East Hartford, and a 30-22 Husky triumph in 2009 in Waco, Texas.
The Huskies and Hurricane have relied heavily on their freshmen classes. UConn has played 20 redshirt and true freshmen, while Tulsa has used 21.
“They’re playing a lot of young guys like we are. Those guys are learning and growing, just like ours are,” Montgomery said.
Tulsa lists three freshmen among its starters on the team’s depth chart this week; UConn lists seven.
Foley a nominee
UConn defensive tackle Foley Fatukasi was named Thursday as a candidate for the 2017 Danny Wuerffel Trophy, an award given annually to the FBS football player who “best displays exemplary community service with academic and athletic achievement.”
A senior from Far Rockaway, New York, Fatuaski is in his fourth year as a starter for the Huskies. He has 140 career tackles, including 10 sacks.
Fatukasi is involved with Collective Uplift, an organization the according to UConn “provides educational and developmental opportunities” that goes “beyond traditional schooling and athletic contests.”
The semifinalists for the award will be announced Nov. 2, and the finalists Nov. 22. Past winners include USC quarterback Matt Barkley (2012) and Florida quarter Tim Tebow (2008).