UCONN at WV Preview
With Connecticut set to play its first game after a team tragedy, football won't be the first thing on the minds of many in Morgantown on Saturday.
The Huskies will have heavy hearts following the murder of Jasper Howard, and 22nd-ranked West Virginia will also honor the late cornerback before and during the Big East contest.
Oddsmakers from online sports book SPORTSBETTING.com have made West Virginia -7 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 66% of bets for this game have been placed on West Virginia -7 (View College Football bet percentages).
Howard forced a key fumble in the Huskies' 38-25 win over Louisville last Saturday, but hours later he was stabbed to death in an on-campus incident.
UConn coach Randy Edsall said he and his team were devastated by the loss of Howard, an expectant father and starter in the defensive backfield. No one has been charged with the crime from early Sunday morning, but Edsall stressed that Howard's memory will help the Huskies move forward.
"The Howard family will get through this, as well as the UConn family," Edsall said. "Because we are determined and we are willing to make sure that Jazz will be honored in the right way, and how we do things is what he'll be expecting out of all of us."
Edsall said postponing the game was "not discussed" because "Jazz wouldn't want that," and Howard's family spoke to team and urged them to return to practice Tuesday.
"It's definitely hard to move forward, with a loss like that," linebacker Lawrence Wilson said. "But as his mom and his parents said to us, Jasper would want us to win. So I think the team will practice hard for him."
While UConn's players plan to attend the funeral in Miami on Monday, Howard will also be honored at Milan Puskar Stadium.
Both teams plan to wear decals on their helmets to memorialize the junior, and after a moment of silence the opposing players will shake hands on the field before the game.
"This is all about Jasper Howard and honoring a fallen brother," Mountaineers coach Bill Stewart said. "I am very proud of the West Virginia and Connecticut administrations for helping us make this happen to honor Jasper."
Stewart also urged his players to prepare for the game.
"We have a good group of young men here that are saddened by a situation," the coach said, "but after that coin toss, the Mountaineers need to be ready to play football."
West Virginia (5-1, 1-0) may not have its starting quarterback as it tries to reaffirm its return to the rankings. The Mountaineers jumped into the Top 25 following a 24-7 win over in-state rival Marshall on Saturday, but Jarrett Brown was injured on a helmet-to-helmet hit on the team's first offensive series.
Backup Geno Smith went 15 for 21 for 147 yards and a touchdown in place of Brown, whose status depends on his progress during the week.
"If he gets through Tuesday well then he has to get through Wednesday. Then, if he gets through Wednesday, then we will talk about him playing a football game," Stewart said.
West Virginia will certainly be without defensive tackle Scooter Berry, who was suspended indefinitely after being arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct early Sunday morning.
But the team can always lean on star running back Noel Devine, who had 103 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries against Marshall. Devine ranks 10th nationally with 734 rushing yards after racking up 1,289 as a sophomore last year.
UConn held Devine to 60 yards on 17 carries last Nov. 1, but the Mountaineers won 35-13 - their fifth victory in five all-time meetings with the Huskies. UConn's last visit to Morgantown was a 66-21 defeat in 2007.
"It will be a tremendous challenge going down there, playing them in Morgantown," Edsall said. "It is a very difficult place to play."
The Huskies (4-2, 1-1) will still hope to build on their win over Louisville, which featured 153 yards rushing and three touchdowns from Andre Dixon. The senior was quiet last year in the shadow of star Donald Brown, who has since moved on to the NFL while Dixon has topped 90 yards in five of UConn's six games.
"He is a good football player," Stewart said. "He will run over you, around you. He is fast and he is tough. At 202 pounds, 6-foot-2, he is a big back."
He'll have a tough matchup, however, against a West Virginia run defense that ranks seventh nationally, allowing 80.2 yards per game.
UConn's defense, meanwhile, forced four turnovers last week - the sixth straight game it has caused at least two. Turnovers have been a problem for West Virginia, which has 17 giveaways in its last five games.
Posted: 10/21/09 12:40PM ET