UConn vs Holy Cross Football Preview – Saturday at Noon (CBSSN)

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.

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.

Offense

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.

Defense

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.

Special Teams

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.


Prediction

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.

Goose Eggs for UConn Football in their Return to Play

After a 637 day break since they played in a live football game, UConn began their season in the red hot sun of Bulldog Stadium. Unfortunately for UConn, the only thing that was red hot was the Fresno State offense and the game went as expected (or worse), ending in an absolute blowout 45-0. While it definitely feels like a continuation of the awful play in the 2-10 2019 season, there were reasons to be more optimistic about this season than in the past.

Let’s start by acknowledging that this Fresno State team is very talented and clearly better and deeper than UConn at almost every position. QB Jake Haener and RB Ronnie Rivers are both NFL prospects and they showed their talent once they settled in. This was never expected to be a close game, it was a 4 TD spread after all, but it’s still jarring and surprising to see a 0 on the scoreboard.

My biggest takeaway was the complete ineptitude of the offense. I was most excited to see what the offense could muster after the long layoff and they looked almost the same as when we saw them last: stagnant and unable to sustain drives. After the game Randy Edsall said “I’m not going to do what’s the most prettiest or the sexiest.” That’s fine, no one expects a high-flying, air-it-out passing attack, but you have to move the ball and score points. RB Kevin Mensah has had a great career, but if there is no chance a QB can complete a pass, there will be no holes to run through.

It felt as though QB Jack Zergiotis was struggling to place the ball with any accuracy. Twice in the game he had a WR breaking away from the defender and all he needed to do was put the ball in the vicinity and he missed both times. On one hand, he was pretty close to throwing for 2 TDs, but on the other hand, he couldn’t even hit an open receiver in space. I’m not sure if it was a timing issue, or just an issue of downfield accuracy for the QB, but both are potentially fixable issues with a little work. If he hits the first one of those plays, the momentum and feel of the game shifts dramatically. Momentum and confidence are huge on a young-ish football team.

The defense looked better than I expected despite allowing 45 points. The first quarter was a nice balance of stops and some pressure on Haener. They held the prolific Fresno State offense at bay for a while, which was somewhat of a surprise. However the inexperience shone brightly through once the scoring tidal wave began to hit. There was a clear shacking of confidence once the Fresno State offense began rolling and there were a ton if missed assignments and bad angles leading to big plays. That’s to be expected with such a young secondary. There will be mistakes, probably lots of them, but it won’t matter if the UConn half of the scoreboard still reads 0.

All-in-all it was good to see UConn back on the field in a real game that counts. No one with any sense thought UConn would win this game, so in that respect it went exactly as expected. Saturday against FCS opponent Holy Cross will be the real test of whether this team can put this game behind them and move forward. If the offense struggles against a weaker Holy Cross team, then the white flag begins it’s ascent up the flag pole and we’re in for a lot of pain this year.

UConn at Fresno State Football Preview – Saturday at 2pm (CBSSN)

On Saturday afternoon, UConn football will make its long-awaited return to the field after a almost 2-year hiatus. Since becoming the first FBS school to cancel their 2020 season in wake of the COVID pandemic on August 5th, 2020, Randy Edsall has been looking ahead to the 2021 season and getting back on the field. Edsall has been a busy man since they last played a game, mostly working to improve the roster on the recruiting trail and replacing the wave of 19 transfers who left the program at the end of 2019 after a 2-10 season. Without a lot of information and a host of new faces, let’s take a look at the season opener on Saturday for the Huskies.

Overview

The first game will probably look pretty familiar to anyone who has seen UConn play over the last several seasons. The Huskies travel to Fresno State to play the Bulldogs as nearly 4 TD underdogs (-27.5). The Bulldogs are expected to contend for the Mountain West Conference (MWC) Championship this year and return to their regularly-scheduled bowl appearances. Over the last 10 seasons, they have made a bowl game in 6 of them, including winning the MWC 3-times over that span.

Fresno State is led by a pair of seniors on the offensive side of the ball. RB Ronnie Rivers, who has a career average of 5.2 yards per carry, and QB Jake Haener, who complete 64.7% of his passes in the shortened season last year while throwing for 2,000+ yards and 14 TDs. With the over/under set at 62.5, the experts are predicting a lot of offense and some shaky defense on both sides, making the offenses the focus of the day.

Offense

The Huskies have some familiar names on offense as well. They are led by senior RB Kevin Mensah, who despite all the Ls in his career, has amassed 2,619 yards and 19 TD in 35 games, including back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons in 2018 and 2019. He’ll line up beside either a sophomore QB, but which one remains unknown. QBs Steven Krajewski and Jack Zergiotis have been battling for the starting job all spring and Randy Edsall refused to name a starter when the depth chart was released. I think Zergiotis is likely to see the first snap of the game, but after that, who knows.

The QBs will have at least 1 really strong target in the passing game in WR Cam Ross. He was a surprise star in his freshman season, leading the Huskies with 60 catches and 723 receiving yards. The #2 receiver is another sophomore (red-shirt), Heron Maurisseau, who had just 10 catches for 113 yards in 2019, but has had a few encouraging moments that make me think the potential is there. The other receiving option is senior Southington-native Jay Rose, who has just 278 yards on 28 receptions in his career, but had his best season in 2019.

Defense

It’s a very young defense for the Huskies, with just 1 senior and 4 juniors in the starting lineup, so frankly, I’m not sure what to expect except lots of opponent yards. The line has size, starting DTs are a combined 613 lbs, and may be the most solid grouping on that side of the ball. The secondary scares me quite a bit, but I’ll reserve judgment until I can see them more in a live game. It may be tough to really judge the D in week 1, but hopefully there will be positive signs pointing towards the future.

Special Teams

There isn’t much to say here except they are very, very young – sense a theme? The Huskies have 2 kickers and 1 punter on the depth chart for the game and all 3 are true freshman. Joe McFadden is the starting kicker against Fresno State and the punter is listed as Haydn Kerr or Joe McFadden, so that will be interesting to watch. I’m guessing there will be a number of punts in the game, so lots of work to go around.


Prediction

Fresno State 49, UConn Huskies 21

While the first game of the season is normally difficult to predict, this one is especially tough. Between a huge turnover at the end of 2019 and a full season hiatus, I’m not sure whether to expect a young hungry UConn team looking to prove themselves or a rusty, continuation of the last few seasons with sloppy play throughout. Overall I don’t expect much this season and especially don’t expect much at Fresno State in week 1. I think the Huskies barely miss covering the -27.5, but they don’t get completely embarrassed.