After a 45-0 blowout on the road at Fresno State on Saturday, game #2 can’t come quickly enough. The Huskies will play at home for the first time this season, and the first time in nearly 2 years, when they host the FCS Holy Cross Crusaders at noon on Saturday. Despite it being an FCS opponent, this will still be a tough match-up for the young Huskies, but certainly should be a winnable game. Odds-makers are understandably skittish on the Huskies, setting them as just 2.5 pt favorites, which essentially means it’s a toss-up game with UConn having the home field advantage. Let’s take a look at some depth-chart changes for the Huskies and preview Holy Cross.
The Crusaders are opening their season in East Hartford, so we haven’t had a chance to see them play yet this football year. They played an abbreviated spring season in early 2021 and were pretty solid winning the Patriot League with a blowout of Bucknell. They made the FCS playoffs, but got smoked in the first round 31-3 by South Dakota State. Unfortunately for the Holy Cross offense that scored 22.5 points per game last year, their starting QB, Connor Degenhardt, graduated, and they will likely start the only QB on the roster with experience, Matthew Sluka. That could be a problem for UConn, because Sluka is a dual-threat QB and they always give the Huskies trouble.
Other than at QB, it’s hard to know much about this Holy Cross team given the short 4-game season in the spring and nothing yet in the fall. In terms of skill and talent, the FBS Huskies should have an advantage on the FCS Crusaders, but I’m not sure the gap between the programs is as large as UConn would like. The Holy Cross coach, Bob Chesney, has helped make the Crusaders a perennial playoff team in FCS in his short tenure, bowing out in the first round the last few years.
Going into week #1 and the Fresno State game, it was nice to have a real depth-chart from Randy Edsall after refusing to actually submit one in 2019. That being said, there was a lot of ‘OR’ in the chart making it hard to really analyze who was going to be the starter at several positions until seeing the team on the field. As it turned out, there was no real QB competition and Jack Zergiotis was, and still is, the leader of this offense. He certainly didn’t call his family after the game and brag about his 12/24 61-yd performance, but he was also facing a tough secondary in Fresno State. He got little-to-no help from the running game, making it tough to find open receivers.
Speaking of the running game, Kevin Mensah was an ‘OR’ last week on the depth chart, even though it was assumed, correctly, that he is the RB1. Mensah amassed just 31-yards on 11 carries, while freshman RB Nate Carter ran the ball 8 times for just 10-yards. This week, Mensah is RB1 and Carter is an ‘OR’ with graduate transfer Robert Burns for the backup spot. Burns rushed 3 times for just 5-yards last week, but appears on the depth chart for the first time. The lack of anything in the running game is also a product of a weak offensive line, which should have an easier time this week against a weaker Holy Cross line.
The defense was surprisingly good to start last week’s game at Fresno State, basically matching the Bulldogs in the first quarter. Unfortunately, once they started to bend, they broke in half. They were plagued in 2019 with giving up big plays at inopportune times and that reared it’s ugly head again on Saturday. My biggest concern with this defense is inexperience in the secondary and a lack of confidence when things start to go south. When they were playing well early, their body language and confidence was evident, but as soon as they began to give up a big play or two, they got shaky with fundamentals and you could tell they were thrown off their game. I’ll attribute some of that to rust, but have concerns going forward.
This week there is one starter at every secondary position vs last week when there were more ‘ORs’ on the depth chart than I’ve ever seen. At corner, the only definite start last week, junior Jeremy Lucien, remains in that spot and is joined by fellow junior Tre Wortham, who took the job over sophomore Myles Bell. The safeties are senior Diamond Harrell and freshman Durante Jones, beating out redshirt sophomore Jalon Ferrell and redshirt freshman Malik Dixon. It will be interesting to see if having defined starting roles will help instill confidence in the younger players.
The defensive line had a hard time getting much pressure on Fresno State QB Jake Haener. Some of that is because Haener is very talented and is able to get the ball out quickly, but it’s another concern going into week #2. In order to protect the secondary, the Huskies need to apply some pressure to the QB and force him to potentially make mistakes. This week, they will need to work on containing the dual-threat QB and keeping him from ripping off a big play with his legs. It’s a tall task given what we saw in week #1.
There hasn’t been a lot of changes on special teams this week. Freshman Haydn Kerr and Joe McFadden are still listed as ‘OR’ this week after Joe McFadden appeared to take over the role last week with 8 punts to Kerr’s 3. That will be an interesting battle to watch as the season progresses, with McFadden also being the place kicker. In the return game, freshman Devontae Houston is no longer in the ‘OR’ category for kick returns and has won the job over fellow freshman Brian Brewton, while Cam Ross remains the punt returner.
UConn Huskies 24, Holy Cross Crusaders 21
This is a tough match-up to predict given all the unknowns on both teams, but I think the home crowd will lift the UConn offense to 4 scores and the defense will do just enough to hold off a late surge from the Crusaders. I expect this will be a fairly even game throughout with some back and forth scoring at times. Even though an FCS opponent should provide a fairly easy win on the schedule, UConn has had moments of struggle against them in the past. This will be the first of 2 or 3 wins for the Huskies in 2021.