UConn’s Impressive New Head Coach: Jim Mora, Jr.

When UConn announced the signing of their new head coach on Thursday, opinions began flying. The hire seemed to be met with mixed feelings, some wanting a younger coach to grow with the program and others liking the veteran hire with proven experience. My first reaction? Surprise and excitement. My feelings after sitting with it for a day or so? Surprise and excitement. Let the Jim Mora, Jr. era at UConn begin.

Regardless of your initial feelings on Mora, he comes into Storrs as the most accomplished UConn head coach of all time and the one with the most impressive resume. He joins the elite company of Nick Saban at Alabama and Jim Harbaugh at Michigan as the only active coaches who have multiple 10-win FBS seasons and were head coaches in the NFL. That doesn’t mean Mora will be successful in turning around the struggling Huskies program, but it does mean he’s been there and done that. He’s seen all levels of football and has a proven track record of developing college players and handing them off to the NFL, which is a huge bonus in recruiting.

One of the biggest knocks on Mora and a concern of mine, is that he has been out of the coaching game for the past 5 years. While that could mean he is a little out of touch with the current high school recruit, it could also mean he comes into the job renewed and refreshed, ready to take on the massive challenge of rebuilding a program that has completely lost it’s way. At 59 (almost 60), Mora comes into the job with a 46-30 FBS record in his 6 seasons with UCLA, bringing them to 4 bowl games and winning 2 in his first 4 seasons with the Bruins. That was following 4 years as a head coach in the NFL, 3 with the Falcons and 1 with the Seahawks (along with some assistant coaching work in between).

“I was brutally honest about the opportunity and the challenge. I needed to make sure he was fully committed, fully aware, fully prepared to take this on. He will come in with his eyes wide open.”

UConn Athletic Director David Benedict

Mora is coming to UConn with an understanding of the current situation. He mentioned that he started following UConn when Randy Edsall decided (was forced?) to leave and has been watching closely since. “From what I’ve watched on TV, I see a team that’s going through a really difficult transition but is continuing to fight for each other, play hard, demonstrate effort and a good attitude. That’s something we can build on.” Working with the current team, Mora understands that recruiting will take time and is critical. It doesn’t make sense to pursue top-rated players day one, but rather focus on local prospects in order to stabilize the program, taking advantage of recruiting opportunities when they present themselves.

“A team that plays with great discipline, great toughness, plays with a passion that jumps out at people whether in stands or at home watching on TV. Elite effort at all times. I want people to be proud of our football team.”

UConn Head Coach Jim Mora, Jr.

Mora has a plethora of experience on the defensive side of the ball as a defensive coordinator for 49ers and a defensive backs coach for the Seahawks, Saints, and Chargers. He will expect discipline, which is sorely needed at UConn right now, especially on defense, and will hopefully be able to develop some of the young talent on that side of the ball. My hope is that Mora will instill a belief in the players that if they play hard and within the rules, they will continue to grow and improve, even if the wins aren’t piling up in year 1 or 2. There is a reason Mora has a 5-year contract. This program will take quite a while to turn around and raise to the level we all hope and expect.

The fact that a UConn program that hasn’t had a winning record since their 2010 Fiesta Bowl season and hasn’t had more than 3 wins since 2015 can attract a name like Jim Mora, Jr. is a testament to the commitment of Athletic Director David Benedict. When he took the football program independent, there were a lot of skeptics, but he has put together some pretty impressive schedules of opponents the next few years and has now found the man to revive this program. Regardless of whether Mora was your first choice for the next head coach or not, it’s hard to argue that the Huskies are not in a better place today then they were a few days ago. There is at least some reason for optimism.

Was Edsall the Problem for UConn Football?

After the UConn Huskies Football team lost a last second heartbreaker on Sunday on the road at Vanderbilt, I couldn’t help but be impressed with the gutsy performance. This UConn team looks completely different over the past 10 quarters and is starting to show signs of life and hope for the remainder of the season and next season. While I thought the failure at the beginning of the season was due to inferior talent, in reality, it was inferior coaching?

The beginning of this season was historically bad for the Huskies. Through the first 3 games of the season UConn was outscored 132-28 and scored 0 pts against their 2 FBS opponents. It appeared the Huskies just didn’t have the talent to compete with anyone and the sky was definitely falling in Storrs (you can see my reaction after 3 games here). Then, Randy Edsall “retired” early, Lou Spanos took over and things began to shift.

The beginning of the Spanos era looked a lot like the Edsall tenure with a 0-pt first half against the Army Black Knights at Michie Stadium. Apparently another 40-pt deficit was what pushed UConn over the edge and they come out in the 2nd half motivated and ready to role. Since halftime of the Army game, UConn has outscored opponents 71-64 in 10 quarters. If it wasn’t for a missed 2-pt conversion against Wyoming and a last second Vandy FG, UConn could be 2-4 instead of 0-6. They have beaten the spread 3 straight games, in one case by 30+ points and have energy and offensive creativity.

The most likely explanation for the shift is the Edsall to Spanos transition. Unlike Edsall, Spanos is high-energy and exudes confidence that is contagious. He’s not afraid to make a bold play call on offense and air the ball out as needed, the opposite of Edsall’s uber-conservative run-first offense that was both boring and ineffective (i.e. three rushes up the middle and punt). The more creative offense has clearly allowed the players to feel more ownership and use all their talents on the field. That’s a critical piece when you aren’t recruiting SEC-caliber guys in the program – maximize the skills of the players on the field.

Spanos rightly made the switch at QB and RB to freshman in order to look toward the future. The switch was significant and has proven to be correct, but what’s most interesting is what happened when starting QB Tyler Phommachanh went down with an injury on the 2nd drive against Vandy. Senior Steven Krajewski came in and for the most part, played well. It seems like a small thing to have a backup QB play well in a game, but it shows that despite being jumped on the depth chart by a freshman, Spanos made sure Krajewski was ready to go and had the confidence to perform and lead a big comeback in the 4th quarter. That’s a product of leadership and a player’s confidence in his coach, something that seemed to be missing over the last several years.

While Edsall did a lot for this program early on in the FBS transition, his performance as a coach at times near the end of his first tenure and the entirety of his second tenure was poor, at best. His inability to adapt his style to his personnel surely cost UConn wins over the years and the rash of transfers away from the program during the last 5-years is a gigantic red flag. A few is normal, but 25+ transfers after the 2019 season was just sad and telling as well as stunting for a programs development. If you were a manager of 100 employees and 25% of your direct reports left around the same time, maybe it’s worth looking in the mirror and taking time to update your resume.

With a winnable game on Saturday against UMass, UConn will hopefully take the next step and get a W under Lou Spanos and continue to grow toward next season and a new head coach. There is certainly a lot more hope and confidence on the Huskies sideline than at any other point over the last few years with Randy Edsall gone and as a fan, the product on the field is significantly more enjoyable to watch. Now that the program is pointed in the right direction, every step is a step in the right direction.

132-28 Just Three Games In

Going into the 2021 College Football season, I had reasonable expectations for the UConn Huskies football team. I expected to see some improvement after taking a season to rebuild during the COVID pandemic last year and begin to see signs of life going into the following season or two. My pre-season guess was 2-3 wins and more competency on both sides of the ball as the younger players matured throughout the year. Somehow, even with 2-3 win expectations for the season and just 3 games into a 12-game campaign, I’m already disappointed. It’s going to be a loooonnnggg fall and winter for the Huskies.

Through 3 games, my best guess was that the Huskies would be 1-2. I absolutely expected losses at Fresno State and at home against Purdue, because the UConn program doesn’t have the talent to compete with programs like that at this point, sadly. Getting shutout in both and having no run game was certainly a bit surprising, but definitely not shocking. The abysmal performance against FCS Holy Cross, however, was a gut-punch to the program that frankly doesn’t have much gut to punch.

Being outscored by 104 points in any 3-game stretch is just embarrassing and pathetic, especially when one of the teams is in a lower division, FCS. No offense to Holy Cross, but even a shitty UConn team should be able to beat them by 2 scores at a minimum and their flat performance perfectly describes the Randy Edsall era. During his 2nd stint with the program, Edsall ‘led’ the Huskies to a 6-32 record, continuing the spiral into oblivion rather than stabilizing and beginning the long rebuild. Of those 6 wins, 3 were against FCS opponents (Holy Cross in 2017, URI in 2018, and Wagner in 2019) and all three of those games were decided by 1 score.

What has this UConn Huskies program accomplished since the BCS Fiesta Bowl appearance in 2010? Have they done anything to earn a spot in FBS? I am in no way advocating for a drop to FCS, but it’s getting harder and harder to hold that line with each passing year. Since the 2012 season, UConn has won more than 3 games 1 time and that was the 2015 6-7 team that lost to Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl under Bob Diaco. Since 2015, the program hasn’t even sniffed a bowl game or a winning record (and even with 6 wins in 2015 they didn’t have a winning record).

There is at least some renewed hope with the “stepping down” of Randy Edsall, but there is a a solid chance this team pulls a completely defeated season like the 2008 Detroit Lions (led by former UConn QB Dan Orlovsky). I thought the program had already hit rock-bottom, but now am wondering if the worst is yet to come. The mammoth issue going forward, even if you bring in a top coach and recruiter, is how long will it take to truly rebuild and transform this roster. It’s not like the Huskies are one or two pieces away from being a contender, they need help at almost every position on the roster.

For anyone who has even casually watched a game or followed the team over the last decade, nothing I’m writing is even mildly surprising or even new. This team is bad and they have been for a long time under a series of bad coaches and limited talent. For more reasons than I can count, UConn will never be a national power program. All I’m asking for, and all most fans are asking for, is a competitive team that has a chance to make a low-level bowl most years. Those are pretty low expectations that aren’t even close to being met.

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.

The Randy Edsall 2.0 Experiment is Finally Over

In what felt likely an oddly timed announcement, Randy Edsall declared to the world after losing to FCS Holy Cross that at the end of the 2021 season he would be retiring as the UConn Football coach. Then, just days later, it’s announced that Edsall is stepping down as the head coach effective immediately in a “mutual decision” between Athletic Director David Benedict and Edsall. Like his first tenure with the Huskies, the ending of UConn and Edsall 2.0 is messy and odd. There is one thing Edsall is consistently good at: leaving programs in unceremonious ways.

As a fan of the Huskies football program, I’m not unhappy with the turn of events the last few days. I was relieved when I heard the news that Edsall would retire at the end of the season because frankly he’s done absolutely nothing to turn this program around in his second stint as head coach. There was so much hype and hope after canceling last season and seemingly taking the surprise extra time to work on fundamentals and strengthening the players within the program. There was a buzz around recruiting within the new independent schedule and it appeared as if we might see an improved team in 2021, even if there was still plenty of room for growth. Unfortunately, the first two games proved that there has been very little, if any, progress to show for the year without games. In some ways, they took a massive step backward.

From my vantage point, it feels like Edsall realized his job was on the line after getting blown out by Fresno State and losing in embarrassing fashion to FCS Holy Cross, so in an effort to save face by putting an end date on his career and controlling the narrative, he made the retirement announcement. It wouldn’t shock me if David Benedict wasn’t pleased with that move and made it clear that the product on the field wasn’t acceptable. Benedict was probably planning, or at least considering, letting Edsall go in the short term and gave him the choice to step down and leave gracefully or be fired. If I’m the AD at UConn after Saturday’s performance, Edsall’s on the next bus out of town.

Ultimately, a change needed to happen and the quicker it happens, the quicker the program can begin to rebound and get a new head coach with a new direction, hopefully a successful one. For now, defensive coordinator Lou Spanos will lead the Huskies, presumably at least until the end of the season. Benedict now gets a chance to at least see what Lou can do as head coach to determine if he should be seriously considered for the permanent gig. Who knows what the future will hold, but the present is messy.

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.

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.

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.