UConn‚Äôs football opponent this week will be playing a bit short-handed. Illinois running back Mike Epstein suffered a knee injury in the Illini‚Äôs 42-3 win over Akron Saturday and coach Lovie Smith said Monday that Epstein will miss the remainder of the season.
Epstein was Illinois‚Äô leading rusher in 2017 but has battled injuries often since then. He ran for a team-high 45 yards on Saturday.
‚ÄúYour heart goes out to the kid,‚ÄĚ offensive coordinator Rod Smith told the Chicago Tribune. ‚ÄúHe does everything right, everything you ask of him. If anyone deserves success, it‚Äôs him. He might have had the best fall camp he ever had. I was excited to see him take off. I told him ‚ÄėThere‚Äôs a reason for everything. You‚Äôre going to come back stronger.‚Äô ‚ÄĚ
UConn and Illinois will meet for the first time on Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network) at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in East Hartford.
The Illini, who are 20¬Ĺ-point favorites, do have some depth in the backfield, as six different backs carried the ball at least five times in their opener.
Reggie Corbin, who ran for 1,085 yards last year, had six carries for 36 yards vs. Akron before leaving with a hip pointer. Smith was ‚Äúhoping‚ÄĚ Corbin could play Saturday.
UConn (1-0), which beat Wagner 24-21 Thursday in its opener, was by most accounts relatively pleased with its performance in week 1.
‚ÄúWe did some really good things offensively but three times were inside the 30-yard line‚Ä¶and turned it over,‚ÄĚ head coach Randy Edsall said Monday, acknowledging that his team can‚Äôt afford such things against Illinois.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs going to be one of those games where we‚Äôre going to have to play well and we‚Äôre not going to be able to make some of the mistakes we made this previous week,‚ÄĚ Edsall said.
STAFFORD GRAD JOINS TEAM
Justin Grant, a 2017 graduate of Stafford High, has joined the Huskies as a walk-on. A running back and linebacker for the Bulldogs, Grant is believed to be the first alum of the program to play FBS football.
Edsall gave game balls to running backs Kevin Mensah and Art Thompkins on offense, defensive tackle Lwal Uguak on defense, and punter Luke Magliozzi and linebacker Ian Swenson on special teams for the Wagner win. ‚Ä¶ No Huskies were honored by the AAC this week, which gave its offensive player of the week award to Tulane quarterback Justin McMillan, defensive award to Memphis defensive end Bryce Huff, and special teams nod to SMU returner C.J. Sanders. ‚Ä¶ UConn, which held FCS Wagner to 185 yards, is 12th in the FBS in total defense after week 1. The Huskies set national records for points and yards allowed last season in finishing last (129th) in the category.