Hardly anybody is giving Connecticut much of a chance against Oklahoma in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. The Huskies are an enormous underdog. But the only head coach who played both teams this year sees things differently.
"I think it's more of an evenly-matched game than what people really think," Cincinnati's Butch Jones said.
Jones' Bearcats actually played the Sooners tougher than they did the Huskies. Cincinnati lost to Oklahoma 31-29 at Paul Brown Stadium on Sept. 25 and fell to UConn 38-17 on the road Nov. 27. That is the only common opponent between the Fiesta Bowl participants.
There will be a lot of talk about the differences between Oklahoma and Connecticut, but Jones sees things the teams have in common.
"I think they match up exceptionally well," he said. "You're looking at two teams who share very similar philosophies. Both teams try to establish the running game and then complement that with great play-action games as well. And then defensively, they have the same type of philosophies."
Jones said UConn's running game and its offensive line match up well against Oklahoma. Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead ran for 169 yards and averaged 8 yards per carry against the Sooners in September, and Connecticut has All-American Jordan Todman, who finished No. 2 in rushing nationally.
"They do such a great job schematically with different formations, unbalanced sets, tight-end sets and leveraged sets," Jones said of UConn. "Their offensive line is big, strong and physical, and Todman speaks for himself. The thing with Todman is he has the ability to make somebody miss, but he also runs with a physical style and a physical presence that creates problems for your defense."
The Huskies' defense will be challenged by the powerful and balanced Oklahoma attack. Jones said he thought UConn's defensive front was very active and "UConn had some of the best linebackers we faced all year. So that gives them an opportunity."
A big factor for Connecticut, Jones said, is dealing with the Sooners' incredibly fast tempo. Cincinnati plays no-huddle and fast tempo as well and still needed a few series to adjust to the pace in that September game.
"I think the whole key will be the beginning of the game, with UConn being able to line up and function against that high tempo," Jones said. "The key against Oklahoma is generating some three-and-outs and being very deep and very sound, just because their tempo causes you some issues. You try to simulate it, but once you get into the flow of the game and the different sets and personnel groupings, it's difficult. I think the first 5 to 8 minutes of the game will be critical."
Jones said he's intrigued to watch the play-action games of both teams, which he thinks could lead to some big plays. And while the Huskies certainly have their work cut out for them, he wouldn't be surprised by a Big East BCS victory.
"There's always something a little special when you go into the bowl game and you're an underdog and you feel like you have something to prove," he said. "I know [UConn coach] Randy [Edsall] will have them ready to go."