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 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 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.

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.

Yellow Jackets Stung By Big 2nd Inning

Stephen Slade / Courtesy of UConn

Georgia Tech starter Zac Ryan’s day started off well with a quick first inning (line out, single, pop out, caught stealing). It looked like he was on his way to a solid outing against the UConn Huskies, then the 2nd inning happened. It started with a Joe DeRoche-Duffin single and opened up from there until the Huskies had knocked Ryan out of the game after just 1.2 innings and hung a 7-spot on the scoreboard.

The Huskies looked strong behind freshman starter Tim Cate and held the 7-run lead until the 6th inning, then things tightened up inning by inning. Georgia Tech scored 1 run in the 6th and 7th and then 2 in the 8th to shrink the UConn lead to 3 runs. Thankfully, UConn’s closer Patrick Ruotolo finally closed the door after allowing 2 more runs to shrink the lead to just 1 run. The Huskies and Coach Jim Penders walked away with the program’s first NCAA Regional win since 2013 and 7th overall.

With Georgia Tech in the rear-view mirror, UConn moves on to the winner’s bracket and a Saturday evening (6pm) matchup with #1 Florida, the regional host. On the mound for Florida will likely be junior lefty AJ Puk. Puk is projected as a top 5 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft (potentially #1 to the Phillies) and his 6-7, 230 lb frame and 95+ mph fastball (touching 99 at times) are intimidating. Puk had a very good year for Florida with 90 Ks and a 2.88 era.

UConn will counter with their lefty ace, junior Anthony Kay. Kay has had a nice year for the Huskies finishing with a 9-2 record, 2.46 era and 108 Ks. He pitched well in the AAC Tournament, winning MVP after a nice outing in the final against Houston on short rest. Kay didn’t pitch in game one of the NCAA Regional to get an extra day rest, so he should be rearing to go on Saturday night.

This is an incredibly tough game for the Huskies, but they have their best pitcher on the mound. Anything can happen.