Kevin Mensah stormed his way into the end zone five times as the Huskies earned their second win of the season in a 56-35 barnburner with Umass Amherst.
UConn (2-6) went into the contest with their neighbors to the north as odds-on favorites (according to Las Vegas sportsbooks) for the first time since Week 1 against Wagner. UMass (1-7) is now the first FBS opponent that the Huskies have beat since Tulsa on Oct. 21, 2017.
UConn’s offense began and ended with their workhorse running back Mensah. He turned 19 carries into 164 yards and a whopping five touchdowns, which is now tied for second for the most in school history for a single game. Art Thompkins also put in a great game on the ground, taking 13 carries for 135 yards and a score.
Running the ball is the bread and butter of UConn’s offense, but that doesn’t mean that head coach Randy Edsall doesn’t like to get down with trickery every now and then.
Perhaps sick of all of the chatter about the lack of creativity in his play calling, Edsall dialed up a trick-play with about eight minutes left to play in the third quarter and the Huskies up by a touchdown.
From Massecheusett’s 15-yard line, quarterback Jack Zergiotis took the snap and threw behind the line of scrimmage to Quayvon Skanes. Skanes then delivered a strike to tight end Jay Rose in the endzone for a surprising passing touchdown from the wide receiver/return specialist.
“I just want him [Zergiotis] to keep improving,” Edsall said. “He’s coachable, he’s a competitor and he’s not afraid to work. But there are things in his game, like anybody else’s game, that he needs to get better at and he has work to do.”
Saturday, Zergiotis did his job through the air for the most part. He threw 18-27 for 198 yards, one touchdown and an interception.
Mistakes involving throwing the ball to the other team have plagued the true freshman all season, as his interception total now matches his number of games played with six. The interception stood to be UConn’s lone turnover in the game. Meanwhile, the Minutemen also threw one interception, but fumbled twice.
In fact, all three of those turnovers actually happened on UMass’ first three possessions of the game.
On the fifth play of the game, UMass quarterback Andrew Brito got tackled five yards behind the line of scrimmage, lost the ball and linebacker Ian Swenson was there to make the recovery.
UConn then scored and kicked off to the Minutemen, who lost another fumble courtesy of Jeremy Lucien and was scooped by none other than the wide receiver turned kicker, Mason Donaldson.
UConn then got the ball back and had a 42-yard field goal attempt blocked, but on the very first play of the drive Brito threw a pick into the hands of Oneil Robsinson. The interception was Robinson’s first of the season and the third of the sophomore’s career.
The aggressive start by the defense and special teams to force those three turnovers made the difference in this game, which consequently was decided by three scores.
Freshman linebacker Jackson Mitchell has earned more and more playing time each week and has turned some heads with his great play. Saturday he led the Huskies in total tackles with 13 and won coach Edsall’s defensive game ball. Edsall has been high on Mitchell’s play over the past few weeks, but he would’ve liked to have been in a position to redshirt him this season to maintain another year of eligibility.
“I would’ve liked to redshirt him [Mitchell], but we’re not in that position. This program is not in that position, we have to play the best guys that we have,” Edsall said. “He’s played well, I really like what he’s done. He’s a football player, he has good instincts, he has a good feel for the game, he practices hard and it’s important to him. He’s earned the right to be out there.”
Redshirting talented young players isn’t a luxury that Edsall can afford, but having Mitchell on the field will still be beneficial to the Huskies this season.
Another standout for the Huskies on Saturday was freshman receiver Cam Ross. Ross, who seems to see his body of work increase week to week, caught nine balls for 120 yards, including a 57-yard touchdown. This now marks back-to-back games in which Ross caught nine passes for at least 70 yards.
The Huskies will look to keep the win rolling into their first and only Friday night game of the season. UConn will take on the United States Naval Academy (6-1). Navy is coming off of a 41-38 win over Tulane, who beat the Huskies by 42 earlier this month.
UConn and Navy will play at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler field at 8 p.m. Friday.
Sean Janos is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He tweets @seanjanos.