After coming out to a 13-0 lead Saturday against the University of Illinois, the Huskies ultimately fell to the Big Ten opponent, 31-23.
In the season opener versus Wagner, Mike Beaudry was under center for UConn (1-1) in the victory. According to head coach Randy Edsall, Beaudry sustained a minor injury in practice Thursday and held him out versus Illinois (2-0). True freshman Jack Zergiotis, rather surprisingly, started in Beaudry’s place.
Though Edsall doesn’t believe in-depth charts, many probably expected to see Steven Krajewski as the next man up at the quarterback position. However, Edsall said that Zergiotis showed that he had the “it-factor” in practice throughout the week.
“I thought Jack did a hell of a job. There’s something about that young man, he’s got a little bit of the it-factor. There’s some things that we will do to help him be even better,” Edsall said.
Zergiotis went 21-31 with 275 yards, no scores, two interceptions and a fumble lost. The young signal caller was relied on for the bulk of the Huskies’ offense, as yards were tough to come by on the ground. Kevin Mensah and Art Thompkins combined for just 41 yards on 22 carries, with Mensah punching in the lone offensive touchdown for UConn’s offense.
One of the few seniors on UConn’s offense, right tackle Matt Peart, was helped off of the field with an injury on the second play of the game. Peart is not only the leader, but also the anchor on the Huskies’ offensive line. His presence was certainly missed, as there was nothing done in the rushing game and Zergiotis took five sacks.
Though Zergiotis had three turnovers and no scores, he displayed qualities on the field that were especially impressive by such an inexperienced player in his first collegiate start. The kid has a rocket for an arm and put a lot of zip on every ball that he threw. Stellar arm strength and quick release are two things that are hard to teach. From here, Edsall will look to improve Zergiotis’ pocket presence and minimize costly mistakes.
“There’s just something I see in the kid in how he handles himself, how he goes out and plays and he has a strong arm,” Edsall said. “There’s just something. When you’re in our position, you see it and you feel it.”
Edsall also clarified that Zergiotis will be the starting quarterback going forward and that “there is no quarterback controversy.”
Less than four minutes into the game with the score still at 0-0, cornerback and defensive captain Tyler Coyle jumped a short out route, intercepted the pass from Brandon Peters and took it to the house. The pick six by Coyle was the first UConn pick six since October 2017, when who else but Coyle recorded one against Temple. Coyle seemed to be on the exact same page as Illinois’ offense, as he effortlessly jumped the route in stride and took off with the ball.
“That was one of the top route combinations that they like to run. I saw the split, I knew it was coming and I made a play,” Coyle said.
After Coyle’s house call, Jacobs didn’t make very many more mistakes in this game. He threw 24-35 with 227 yards and all four of his team’s touchdowns. Jacobs was able to spread the ball around, hitting nine different receivers throughout the game.
Six different players also recorded carries for Illinois. They spread the ball around very effectively, just as they did in their season opener against Akron that they won 42-3. Illinois got their playmakers out in space and punished the Huskies for any missed tackles they had.
“Being focused on each and every play will make the difference for us. We’re making some plays when we need to, but then there’s plays that we don’t make that we should make,” linebacker D.J. Morgan said.
Morgan led the team in tackles last week against Wagner with eight, and did so once again Saturday with 11. He also strip-sacked Peters and recovered the loose ball. The graduate transfer from Notre Dame is trying to lead by example with his ability to attack the ball carrier and make tackles.
UConn has a bye week this upcoming weekend, then will play on the road versus the University of Indiana on Saturday, Sept. 21. Indiana is currently 2-0 and has to play a very good Ohio State team while UConn is on bye. Edsall will look to use the weekend off to prepare his guys for their first road game of 2019.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.