UConn Football Nearly Stuns Wyoming

Since the UConn vs Wyoming Football game ended in dramatic fashion earlier this evening, I have been trying to put into words the rollercoaster of emotion that I’ve felt since the game kicked off at 3:30pm in East Hartford. Coming into the game there was reason for a glimmer of hope following a strong 2nd half at Army, but realism sets in quickly when you see the -30.5 betting line and remember that the game was already out of hand during the 2nd half last week. The Huskies started strong on both sides of the ball, but as a fan, I’m sitting on my couch waiting for the big mistake and the irreversible change in momentum that crushes my spirit.

The game stayed close and winded towards halftime at 13-3. The UConn defense held strong against a Wyoming offense that scored 95 points in their last 2 games and the glimmer of hope in me grew a bit with each passing minute. The Cowboys grabbed a touchdown in the 3rd quarter to make it a 3pt game and just like that, the hope dwindled and the dread of inevitable doom crept back into my mind. The clock ticked down and the 4th quarter began with UConn still in front. I asked myself “Is this actually possible? Nah, they will still lose by 20+.”

A UConn field goal extended the lead to 6 with just over 11 minutes remaining and the hope grew a tiny bit. Then, 10 plays, 77 yards and 4:39 of clock time later, the UConn lead was erased with a Cowboys touchdown. It felt like that was the moment it would all unravel and in my head I believed the final score would be ugly and not reflect how close this game was in reality. My fears were unfortunately proven legitimate when on the first play of the next drive for UConn, Tyler Phommachanh is intercepted and under 3 minutes later, Wyoming scores a touchdown and is up 8 with 3:34 remaining in the game. I’m reasoning with myself at this moment that a close loss is still an incredible accomplishment, and it is given the state of the program, but I’m dejected.

Then comes a gutsy, penalty-aided drive down the field by a freshman QB playing in just his second game ever at the collegiate level in an attempt to tie the score and send the game into OT. There were a lot of incomplete passes and less-than-ideal throws, but the confidence to grab the game by the cajones and try to drag the offense down the field for the tie was amazing to watch. Every member of the bench was cheering and jumping and engaged in every second, a new feeling at UConn. When fellow freshman Nate Carter crossed the goal line with :04 on the clock, I ran around like someone just lit me on fire. The Huskies were just a 2pt conversion try away from tying Wyoming and sending the game into OT. This was a game the Huskies were not supposed to even be competitive in according to, well, everyone. The only people that truly believed this was possible were the players and coaches and even some of them I bet doubted it at times.

The screen pass on the 2pt try was tipped and read perfectly by the Cowboys defense, ending what would have been a miracle finish. Although the loss stings and was absolutely heartbreaking, the biggest takeaway was a massive heaping bowlful of hope, something that has been completely missing from this UConn Huskies program for years. There is definitely still a rebuild afoot, but maybe, just maybe, they have found a QB to build around. Tyler Phommachanh showed some real moxy and skill and rebounded from mistakes well. Oh yeah, and he’s only a freshman with 120 minutes of collegiate football on his resume. He will continue to improve and grow, hopefully avoiding some of the ‘young’ mistakes he made today into the future.

For tonight, I’m going to bed a proud UConn alum and fan with more hope that the last 3 halves of football are an indicator of a future trajectory that isn’t straight into the ground. There will be a lot more to say about this team that isn’t just doom-and-gloom over the next several weeks and for that, I’m grateful.

UConn vs Wyoming Football Preview – Saturday at 3:30pm ET (CBSSN)

The odds have improved for the UConn Huskies as Wyoming roles into East Hartford on Saturday. Ok, so maybe that’s a bit misleading, but after spending 2 weeks as 33.5pt underdogs, they are getting the 3pt home field advantage and are only 30.5pt underdogs this week. They do come into this game with some slight momentum however, after a 21pt 2nd half against Army on the road, outscoring the Black Knights to close out the game. Was it a sign of things to come for the Huskies or a mirage in the desert of sadness? Only time will tell.

Wyoming

This has been an interesting 3-0 start for the Cowboys. They opened the season with a low-scoring victory over Montana State; down 7-3 going into the 4th quarter but won 19-16. Their next two games were significantly more offense-heavy with another 1-score win 50-43 against Northern Illinois and a blowout 45-12 over Ball State. It seems like their offense is more in line with their last few games, putting up big scores with a fairly balanced attack. In all 3 games, the Wyoming QB Sean Chambers has thrown for right around 200 yards and now has 5 TDs to 1 INT on the season. They balance the attack with some running by Chambers, but primarily RB Xazavian Valladay touching the ball 15-20 times per game. They have also leaned a bit on RB Titus Swen this season as a 2nd option.

The Wyoming defense is a bit of a head scratcher. They held Montana State to 16 in their first game, a team that scored 45 and 52 in their other 2 games this year and then the Cowboys allowed 43 to a Northern Illinois team that upset Georgia Tech in their first game 22-21 and couldn’t score more than 10 against Michigan, granted the Wolverines are a top-25 team. As a team, they have 10 sacks in 3 games so they know how to disrupt an offense. Just 2 of their sacks have come from linebackers, the rest from the meat of their defensive line which could definitely play a factor on Saturday with UConn’s offensive line having trouble protecting at times. Keep an eye on seniors DT Ravontae Holt and DT/DE Victor Jones (both from Sacramento, CA), who have a combined 5 sacks on the season.

Offense

There are a lot of changes on the depth chart on offense this week, but most are to align the chart with what we actually saw on the field against Army last week. Freshman QB Tyler Phommachanh is listed as QB1 for the first time, even though that became obvious when he played the entire game last week. He gained momentum in the 2nd half and began to get his legs under him, both literally and physically. All three receiver slots swapped starters this week with freshman taking those roles. One of Phommachanh’s favorite targets WR Aaron Turner jumped WR Jahkai Gill, WR Keelan Marion moved ahead of WR Heron Maurisseau, and WR Kevens Clercius passed WR Cameron Hairston. Same at RB, where freshman RB Nate Carter moved past senior RB Kevin Mensah.

It’s clear Lou Spanos is focused on the future by starting a freshman in almost every situation possible, even over established upper-classman. He wants to see if Phommachanh can develop chemistry with his classmates and create a core group going forward, which is a smart strategy. If they do develop as a group and stick around, Spanos or the next head coach can recruit around them, rather than needing to truly rebuild from nothing. This should be an interesting game for Phommachanh because the Wyoming defense has given up some yards on the ground, allowing 244 to Northern Illinois, including a 75 yard rush. If UConn can complete some passes to keep the defense honest and they unleash the run with Phommachanh and Carter, they could at least prevent the game from being a blowout before halftime and maybe even have a respectable time of possession number.

Defense

There were a few changes on the defensive depth chart this week as well, following a similar trend to the offense. Senior S Diamond Harrell has been dropped in the pecking order and freshman S Durante Jones and freshman S Malik Dixon will man the two-deep slots.

Every match-up is a tough one for this UConn defense, but this should be interesting to watch. The Cowboys balance their attack quite well without relying too heavily on 1 player. QB Sean Chambers has only thrown 72 times in 3 games despite the team putting up 40+ twice, but he makes smart decisions and rarely turns the ball over. They lean slightly more on the run, but that is partially a product of their recent blowout over Ball State when they took a 31-0 lead into the locker room at half (39 rushes to 23 pass attempts). RB Xazavian Valladay has 54 rushes this year for 245 yards, averaging a solid 4.4 yards per carry and his backup, RB Titus Swen, has touched the ball 24 times for 116 yards (4.6 yards per carry). Chambers also definitely factors into the run game with 29 carries and 125 yards on the season.

Overall the offensive opponent this week is solid, but doesn’t appear to be explosive like some of UConn’s past match-ups. If the defensive line can get some pressure and be strong against the run, it could force more from the Wyoming passing game than they want and make it a bit more interesting.

Special Teams

There was some expected movement on special teams this week. Freshman Aaron Turner has moved ahead of Jahkai Gill as punt returner and after a really nice week in the kick return game, freshman Brian Brewton has officially taken over that role. After just 1 return before Saturday for 15 yards against Purdue, Brewton had 4 returns for 142 yards, including a 96-yard return for a TD in the 3rd quarter. It was a nice spark for the Huskies and if he can provide an occasional solid return and set the team up in decent field position, it will significantly help the offense put points on the board. He’ll be backed up by Robert Burns, who had 1 return for 18 yards against Army.

Prediction

Wyoming 49, UConn 24

While I think UConn shows more in this game and has some offensive success like the 2nd half of last week, they just don’t have enough to overcome the balanced attack of Wyoming. However, I do think there is a path for UConn to hold down Wyoming in the run game and force Chambers to throw more, which could force a turnover or two. I think a big success for this Huskies team would be to keep the game within 1-2 scores at halftime and stay within striking distance as late into the game as possible. Other than the Holy Cross game, they haven’t gone into halftime with even a chance to keep it close in the 2nd half yet this season. A close game would allow Phommachanh to experience the pressure and show the coaches how he performs when the game is actually still within reach. I expect at least 1 big play between Phommachanh and Turner this week as their chemistry continues to grow.

UConn vs Purdue Football Preview – Saturday at 3pm ET (CBSSN)

The first game in the post Randy Edsall 2.0 era will be a tough one for the Huskies. The Purdue Boilermakers roll into East Hartford, CT fresh off a win at home against Oregon State and are, understandably, 33.5pt favorites on the road. The first ever match-up between these two teams features the interim UConn head coach Lou Spanos in his first game at the helm. The first 2 games of the season were uninspiring and embarrassing, leading to the “stepping down” of Randy Edsall as head coach, so now is the time for a clean slate and hopefully some glimmers of hope for the future. Let’s take a look at the match-up.

Purdue

The Boilermakers are filled with experience on the offensive end. They have 9 returning starters on offense and are led by their junior QB Jack Plummer. They have an extremely potent passing attack which was on display in week 1 as Plummer completed 29 of 41 attempts for 313 yards and 2 TD, including a 50-yard game-sealing TD with 2 min left. His backup is 5th year Aidan O’Connell who threw for over 300 yards per game last year. The receiving core is very talented and showed it in week 1. Plummer completed passes to 8 different players and threw for over 40 yards to 5 of them. Three receivers averaged 20+ yards per catch, which will likely increase even more against the Huskies weak secondary. The run game is good, if not great, but it doesn’t need to be great with the pass-first attack.

The Purdue defense is solid, but not as impressive as their offense. They have a new defensive coordinator, Brad Lambert, who was the former Marshall Thundering Herd defensive coordinator. He’s aiming to turn around a D that was at the bottom of the Big Ten the last few years. DE George Karlaftis has the potential to wreck havok in the backfield against the suspect UConn offensive line. In his last full season in 2019, Karlaftis had 54 tackles (17 for a loss) and 7.5 sacks alongside a forced fumble. He’s projected as a 1st round talent in the 2022 draft and a player worth game-planning around.

UConn Offense

The big news this week with the coaching change is the switch from QB Jack Zergiotis as the starter to QB Steven Krajewski. Given the relative ineffectiveness of Zergiotis through 2 weeks, it makes sense that Spanos would give Krajewski a chance to take the starting job and maybe gain some momentum on offense. The other half of the battery is also changing this week with freshman C Christopher Fortin taking the starting job from junior Sidney Walker now that he is healthy. It’s worth watching early in the game if there are any issues with the snap given a new QB/C tandem.

For RB, Robert Burns has fallen off the chart, leaving Nate Carter as the backup for Kevin Mensah. The receiving core will look a little different with the likely season ending injury to their #1 receiver Cam Ross against Holy Cross. The Hartford, CT native Jahkai Gill will take Ross’s spot and brings far less experience with just 1 catch for 5 yards this year. He also has the odd distinction of being listed as a sophomore on ESPN, but as a senior on the UConn website, which is just odd.

I’m hopeful Krajewski can get some momentum and lead the Huskies offense down the field a few times on Saturday, but I’m not holding my breath. A new coach and new QB against a tough Big Ten team is a tall task for a team that couldn’t beat FCS Holy Cross one week prior.

UConn Defense

The defense appears to be lined up similarly to last week. They have the toughest task this week trying to hold down the pass-first offense of Purdue. This game has 60+ points against potential, which is terrifying. The UConn defense can take a big step forward this week if they can limit the big plays. In each of the first 2 games they allowed at least 1 huge 2nd half play to the opposing offense that was completely avoidable with solid tackling and smart angles. It’s likely that Plummer will have some success, but if the D can contain the deep passing game and be solid tacklers, they will have something to build upon going forward.

The other thing I’m watching in this game is the reaction of the defensive players after giving up a big play. It’s seems to snowball once they give up a big play, with the D struggling to regain composure and get a stop. To me, that’s at least partially coaching, which was reshuffled this week.

UConn Special Teams

Not much to report on special teams, except now that Jahkai Gill is a starting receiver, I expected him to do less in the punt return game. He is still listed as the punt returner along with Aaron Turner, but I assume he’ll see fewer punt returns if he’s getting more offensive snaps. Although the way the Purdue offense can score, I’m not sure how many punts there will be to return.


Prediction

Purdue 42, UConn 17

Purdue might just be overlooking the Huskies with a huge match-up vs #9 Notre Dame next week, but luckily for the Boilermakers, it won’t matter. Purdue’s strengths are UConn’s weaknesses which is a recipe for disaster. The air-attack will be damaging to the big-play prone Huskie secondary and I wouldn’t be shocked to see 3+ 40-yard plays against the UConn D. The Boilermakers take a 2+ TD lead in the first half and never look back. Krajewski does some promising things, but makes a few mistakes in his 2021 debut.

3 Takeaways from UConn Football’s Embarrassing Loss to Holy Cross

After beginning the season in difficult conditions against a very good Fresno State team and getting blown out, everyone was looking forward to facing a much easier FCS opponent in Holy Cross. The home opener was sure to be more interesting and maybe even get the Huskies into the W column, but Holy Cross had other plans. After a tightly contested first half, Holy Cross made a 3rd quarter statement and pulled away for the upset over the Huskies. Let’s look at 3 major takeaways from the game.

Jack Zergiotis Pocket Awareness and Mistakes

Overall, QB Jack Zergiotis made some better throws and showed off his talent more in this game after a weak performance at Fresno State. That being said, he again made some major mistakes leading to Holy Cross points and complete momentum shifts. For the 2nd straight week, Zergiotis was strip-sacked leading to a defensive fumble recovery. Last week the defense took the ball for a TD, this week their subsequent drive resulted in a TD. In both cases he was completely unaware of the pressure he was under and chose to leave the ball unprotected, which is just asking for trouble.

This week Zergiotis had a major problem with interceptions as well. He threw 3 INTs, including 2 in the 2nd half, and halted any chance of a comeback the Huskies had. He needs to clean up the mistakes if he wants to have any success at the collegiate level. If he turns the ball over 4 times against the Crusaders, how bad will it get against better FBS defenses?

While frustrating, he did throw for 174 yards and appeared to have some great chemistry with freshman Keelan Marion hitting him for 2 TDs including a 50-yard strike and a nice back of the end zone catch. This was a big step forward from game 1, but is overshadowed by the mistakes.

Disappointing Running Game

This one makes me scratch my head more than anything else with this team. The Huskies have one of the better RBs in recent history within a program that has produced some solid RBs and for some reason, can’t get any consistent running game going through 2 weeks. Kevin Mensah was poised to carry this offense in 2021 and to this point, he’s been a flop. In 2 games he has rushed for 109 yards on 32 attempts, a mediocre 3.4 yards per carry.

RB Nate Carter hasn’t exactly been lighting it up either backing up Mensah. He has gained just 38 yards on 13 attempts, an even worse 2.9 yards per carry. The issue seems to be with the offense line run blocking, which hasn’t been good. Against Fresno State, it makes sense why the line was outmatched, but to not be able to open holes against an FCS opponent is concerning. Usually one of the big differences between FCS and FBS teams are the offensive and defensive lines. It was clear on Saturday that UConn’s offensive line didn’t have a significant advantage over the Holy Cross defensive line and now 2 weeks in, run blocking is a clear weakness on this team.

If the running game continues to struggle, it will get harder for Zergiotis and the offense to have consistency and balance and we’ll see more single-digit scoring totals this year than we want.

Defense Giving Up the Big Play at the Wrong Time

For whatever reason, the Huskies defense continues to give up big plays to the opposing offense at the most inopportune times. The biggest in this game was the 76-yard scramble by Holy Cross QB Matthew Slutka. The Huskies defense missed several tackles on the 4th quarter run that led to a TD and a 10-pt lead for the Crusaders, putting the game away. Tackling fundamentals seemed to be missing and point to a lack of execution. I’m not sure if the coaching staff is not getting through to the players or the players are just making mental mistakes, but they will have a hard time winning anything if they continue to allow average quarterbacks free reign.

Even the best offenses can’t overcome continual scoring pressure from the opposing team and this is definitely not the best offense. The defense needs to contain the opposition and limit the quick-hitters to give themselves the best chance to hand the ball back to the offense without allowing points. If they held Sluka on that drive, they would have had a chance to give Zergiotis the ball back in a one score game with a chance to tie or win in the 4th quarter.


It was certainly not the result the Huskies wanted and it really puts the idea of a completely defeated season back on the table. Randy Edsall needs to get his team settled and prepped for a tough home matchup with Purdue on Saturday at 3pm.