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.

UConn at Vanderbilt Football Preview – Saturday at 7:30pm ET (ESPNU)

After a surprisingly solid performance last week against Wyoming for UConn Football, all eyes have shifted to this weekend’s game at Vanderbilt. It’s not terribly shocking that Vanderbilt hasn’t shown much of anything in their 1-3 start to the 2021 season, as they were picked to finish last in the SEC East this year. That being said, coming off a 62-0 loss against #2 Georgia last week, the Commodores will be ready to right the ship against a weaker Huskies team. Even the worst SEC team is still better than most other teams on UConn’s schedule.

The odds-makers clearly liked what they saw from the Huskies last week, as they roll into Nashville just 15pt underdogs. This is still a tough match-up for the Huskies, but they at least have some confidence and maybe even a little swagger for the first time this year. Can UConn win their first game of the season on the road against an SEC opponent? Let’s take a look.

Vanderbilt Commodores

Overall the Vandy offense has been just okay this season. They were able to break 200-yards in the passing game in their opening loss to East Tennessee State and in their lone win at Colorado State, but struggled more through the air in their last 2 games at home against Stanford and Georgia. The Vandy starting QB Ken Seals is good, but certainly not great with a 52.8% completion percentage on the year and a 4.6 average in yards per completion. He’s also thrown 3 TDs and 4 INTs, which is less than ideal, even against tougher opponents. When you average it out, they have only thrown for a tick above 162-yards per game this year, but I expect to see another 200-yard performance against the Huskies. Their running game has also been okay, with 2 games above 100-yards rushing, one of which was a shining star performance of 247-yards in their loss to Stanford 2 weeks ago. If we see the best version of QB and RB, then they could put up some points on UConn, but that’s a big if.

The Commodores defense has not produced much pressure on the QB this season and haven’t forced a lot of turnovers. As a team, they have just 1 sack (split between LB Michael Owusu and DL Daevion Davis), 2 INTs and 1 forced fumble. They have deflected 16 passes, but overall the stats are pretty lackluster. For comparison, the mediocre UConn defense has 7 sacks and 3 INTs on the year, albeit against lesser opponents overall. Vandy has allowed an average of nearly 37 points per game (skewed slightly by the Georgia game) and have allowed at least 21 points to every opponent thus far in 2021. All-in-all, the UConn offense should have an opportunity to at least move the ball a bit and put some points on the board on Saturday.

UConn Offense

A big headline coming out of the Wyoming game was the emergence of an offensive identity for the Huskies. QB Tyler Phommachanh showed flashes of ball movement and driving down the field and even more importantly, an ability to bounce back from mistakes or stalled drives. It’s a low bar, but it was enjoyable to see the ball stay with the offense for more than 3 plays most drives and actually see an occasional great throw. While he wasn’t perfect, Phommachanh threw for 171 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT, including a beautiful double flea flicker 42-yard TD strike to TE Jay Rose in the 1st quarter. In back-to-back weeks, Phommachanh has shown the ability to hit a big play on occasion, which is critical in opening up the opposing defense.

The run game was solid in the loss to Wyoming as well, with Nate Carter rushing 10 times for 65-yards and Phommachanh calling his own name 12 times for 36-yards. If they can establish more of a consistent running game it will help Phommachanh in the passing game and vice versa. The offensive line allowed 3 sacks and 15 QB hits last week, which needs to be cleaned up a bit. Some of that will happen with a young and mobile QB under center, but the key right now is to protect Phommachanh and give him as much time as possible to make plays happen.

UConn Defense/Special Teams

The defense for the Huskies showed some moxy last week. They pulled in 2 INTs to help hand the ball back to the offense and they held the Wyoming QB Sean Chambers to his lowest output of the season (149-yards). Where the team needs to improve is in the run game. The Huskies allowed over 200 yards on the ground last week and needs to get tougher up front. In addition, they didn’t get a lot of pressure on the QB and while that’s definitely related to the large number of rushes Wyoming had, it’s still a concern going into Nashville. They did get 2 sacks, but combined with only 1 other QB hit isn’t enough, even against a heavy-run team.

On special teams, Keelan Marion is now listed as the starting punt returner instead of Aaron Turner this week, which frankly makes sense with Turner getting more attention on offense. He had 6 catches last week to lead the Husky receivers and you want to protect him a bit going forward by giving him fewer special teams touches. Although to be fair, there was only 1 punt return opportunity against Wyoming, so it’s not exactly a big workload either way. In his one chance last week, Marion did have a 31-yard return, so he deserves the look.


Prediction

Vanderbilt 28, UConn 24

This may be wishful thinking (or jinxing it), but nothing about this match-up with Vanderbilt is scary for UConn. Vandy has a solid team with some talented players, but no real standouts who need to be accounted for on each play. In some ways that can be more difficult to predict and gameplan for, but in other ways it allows UConn to establish their identity early and just play their brand of football (the one from the Wyoming game, not before). I think the home field advantage and a Saturday night game for the Commodores will carry them to victory, but just like last week, I think UConn will stick around and surprise some people. The keys to the game for UConn are ball security and not getting buried in a hole early. If they play smart football and the game stays close, UConn could be in business.

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.

First FCS Points of the Season for UConn Football

It’s been a rough 2021 season thus far for the UConn Huskies Football team. Through just 4 games, the year has been punctuated by shutouts, inept offense, big plays allowed on defense, and coaching turnover. However, the 2nd half of Saturday’s game at Michie Stadium against Army, finally showed a few glimmers of hope that all is not lost (yet).

Coming on the heels of adding Offensive Analyst Noel Mazzone to the coaching staff, the Huskies made a surprising move this week starting their freshman QB Tyler Phommachanh. Phommachanh appeared on the depth chart this week for the first time this season as the backup QB with Jack Zergiotis and Micah Leon, but most were still expecting Steven Krajewski to take the reins. While the game started a bit shaky for the freshman, getting no help from his receivers, the 2nd half showed the potential of the Stratford, CT native.

While the Huskies would have lost this game regardless, a few awful drops in the first half would have led to big plays and maybe even TDs. If those catches are made, UConn would have put points on the board early and had some more confidence and momentum. That being said, the defense looked completely lost against the triple-option of Army and it felt like they could do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted, which is not ideal.

Overall, Phommachanh looked better than his stats would make you believe. He finished 11 of 26 for 109 yards and 1 interception, but made several nice throws that decent receivers would have caught. He also made his collegiate debut on the road at Army in front of 25,000+ fans, which is not an easy venue for a young kid. He did run 11 times for 73 yards and 2 TDs, which is a huge asset for this team going forward.


I love the decision to go with the freshman at QB. It’s clear this season is going absolutely nowhere, so why not see what you have in these really young kids. We already saw more spark from Phommachanh than Zergiotis and Krajewski combined thus far, so it’s worth riding the wave and seeing if he can develop into a decent FBS QB. If he can continue to grow and learn, then in a year or two this offense might actually be putting up points with regularity. With the personnel of the Huskies, a QB who can take off and run when there is a hole will prove to be critical over the next few years.

While you never want to lose 52-21, outscoring Army in the 2nd half 21-10 is a significant step for the Huskies. Between the 97-yard kick return from freshman Brian Brewton or the perfect 50-yard pass to freshman WR Aaron Turner, it looked like real football from UConn. I’m hoping that in 3 years we are all looking back on this game as the beginning of this group jelling, sticking around, and continuing to improve year-over-year to bring UConn up to a respectable level. And hey, UConn beat the spread for the first time this season.

UConn at Army Football Preview – Saturday at 12pm ET (CBSSN)

Another week, another rough matchup for the UConn Huskies football program. UConn will hop on buses and head to West Point, NY to play Army on Saturday as 33.5pt underdogs, and rightfully so. The 2-0 Black Knights began their season with a blowout on the road at Georgia State and squeaked by Western Kentucky by 3 in a high-scoring battle last week, after a 21pt 4th quarter from the Hilltoppers. Army has to feel pretty confident they will be 3-0 as UConn rolls into town this weekend.

Army Black Knights

The Black Knights are known for their triple option offense, which generally is difficult for UConn to handle. As the name suggests, it creates 3 potential running options for the offense on any given play – a QB run/keeper, a classic RB handoff run, or a toss outside to a RB or WR. Army has 4 players who have 10+ rushes on the season already, including 3 with 90+ yards and 6 players with a rushing TD this season in 2 games. QB Christian Anderson has already run for 174 yards in 2 games (averaging 4.7 yards per carry), while passing just 8 times (6 completions) for 117 yards. He’s their primary runner, with RB Jakobi Buchanan as RB1, who has rushed 29 times for 99 yards. They also use RB Tyrell Robinson and RB Anthony Adkins in the option game, both of whom can keep a defense off balance.

The biggest issue when facing the triple option is play awareness and adjustment to the action, which can be harder for younger, less experienced talent like UConn. If they limit the amount they throw the ball like the first few games, that will help the secondary play the run and hopefully limit the amount of big explosive plays from Army. We’ll likely see multiple 12-18 play drives from Army as they get 3-5 yards each play and keep moving the chains down the field. It’s not always pretty and fun to watch, but it can be very effective.

On the defensive side of the ball, Army has a few very talented and dynamic players, most of whom are sophomores or juniors. Junior LB Andre Carter II has been a beast to begin the season with 4.5 sacks in 2 games, including 3 in their season opener against Georgia State. He will be a challenge for the offensive line along with their 2nd leading tacklers senior LB Arik Smith and sophomore LB Spencer Jones. In the secondary, junior DB Marquel Broughton and sophomore CB Jabari Moore both have 2 passes deflected and an INT each on the season so far and CB Julian McDuffle leads the team in tackles with 10.

Offense

After another goose-egg last week vs. Purdue, the UConn offense has a lot to prove this weekend at Michie Stadium. The offensive depth chart has basically remained the same, but interestingly, the backup QB role is now listed as an OR situation between redshirt junior Micah Leon, freshman Tyler Phommachanh and sophomore Jack Zergiotis. I’m not sure if this is intended to be a statement to Zergiotis about his status on the team or a chance to recognize that the other two QBs have been putting in the work in practice. To me, it says that Lou Spanos isn’t afraid to make a change if needed and put in who he feels could perform the best at any given moment regardless of where they are on the depth chart. Given the lack of offensive production, why not throw all darts at the board and see what sticks.

I’ve said this before and I’ll probably have to say it again, but UConn needs more production from their running game. It’s been disappointing and flat so far in 2021 and a strong run-game can open up the passing game and give whoever the QB is time to throw and separation for the receivers. A net-gained rushing yards of 331 and 2.4 yards per carry between 4 RBs, 2 QBs, a WR and a TE is embarrassing in 3 games. Compare that to opponents who have gained 639 yards on 4.3 yards per carry against the Huskies over that stretch in just 26 more attempts.

Defense

This will be a potentially tough match-up for the Huskies on defense. For a D that has had some trouble giving up big plays in the run and pass this year, they will need to be smart and hold their assignments in the run game. The Army offense has rushed 134 times in 2 games for 597 yards and 8 TDs and will be looking for more of the same on Saturday. Getting stops on 3rd down and getting off the field will be the key for this defense and their stamina through the full 60 minutes. With long drives and small chunk gains, the Army offense will wear down the defense, especially the lineman and linebackers leading to larger and larger holes as the game wears on.

If the UConn defense can limit the long 10+ play drives and force a handful of punts, they will have a chance to at least look respectable. Army’s offense doesn’t score quickly and in bunches, so some early scoring will put pressure on the triple option and perhaps force a few more passes than in previous games. Although QB Christian Anderson is capable of making a throw when needed, forcing him to throw more often and pushing him out of his run-first preference is definitely to UConn’s benefit. I’m not sure UConn is talented enough to accomplish that, but it should be a focus.

Special Teams

Not much to see here, but worth noting that the punt team could play an important role if the game progresses as we expect. We know the UConn offense will stall at times, and with an Army team that likes to pick up small yardage per play on long drives, pining them deep in their own zone on punts can swing the field position battle and give UConn a better chance for stops. Basic statistics show that it’s harder for a team to go 80+ yards than 60+ yards on a drive, so being able to swing field position when they’re not able to score will be beneficial.


Prediction

Army 42, UConn 14

This will finally be the week that UConn beats the spread (by a little) and shows some semblance of life. They will still lose big, but the offense will finally put some points on the board against an FBS opponent and have a little more balance. The key to this game for both teams is sustained drives and in the end UConn’s defense will be exhausted in the 4th quarter and give up and extra TD or two making the final score even uglier. QB Steven Krajewski will establish himself with an 150+ yard passing game and cement his role as QB1.

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.