On Nov. 27, 2021, 12,685 loyal fans witnessed the UConn football team get smothered by the then No. 24 University of Houston Cougars 45-17 to conclude their abysmal 1-11 season. 280 days later, those same fans and many more will watch a revived team that they can be proud of.
The Husky Revolution, led by Head Coach Jim Mora, prepares to go to war in their home opener against the CCSU Blue Devils. Coming off a tough 31-20 loss to the Utah State University Aggies, one which saw them allow 24 unanswered points in the second quarter after building a 14-0 lead, the Huskies look to play better than they did against a team receiving AP votes.
With Ta’Quan Roberson out for the year after suffering a torn ACL, the starting quarterback duties fall into the hands of Zion Turner, the true freshman who went 12-31 with 109 yards and a touchdown in his debut last Saturday. Having been prepared for the starting role in practice this week, expect him to improve off those numbers and demonstrate why he was a winner at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida.
Nathan Carter is the running game. If Carter is unable to exceed his career-best 190 yards that he ran for last Saturday, then perhaps he can dash into the endzone and put points on the board. Should the Huskies opt for a QB run play, expect Turner to share the rushing responsibility with Cale Millen, the Huskies’ new backup play-caller.
The receiving corps did not make as much of an impact as they would have hoped for last weekend partially because of Turner’s 19 incompletions. Keelan Marion may be out indefinitely with a broken collarbone, a big loss to the offense as a whole, but in his place comes the Old Dominion University transfer Nigel Fitzgerald recovering from a hamstring injury. Joining him on the field is the top line of Aaron Turner and Kevens Clercius, both of whom had three receptions apiece last Saturday.
Jackson Mitchell is the defense’s top star, and his 16 tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery had him looking like a potential second day draft selection next year. If he has a strong showing against CCSU, then Mitchell will prove why he deserved to be on the Butkus Award watchlist and increase his draft stock.
Behind Mitchell, the Huskies have a stable of backs in Ian Swenson and Malik Dixon, both of whom had over 10 tackles each and helped end numerous Aggie drives. Donovan Branch is expected to make his collegiate debut after missing the last game with an injury. After a strong summer camp, expect the freshman to pressure the quarterback into making bad throws.
The key for the defense is stamina. The Aggies hung the Husky defense out to dry during their second quarter rally, scoring on four out of their six drives in the frame, and it proved to be the difference in the game. If the Huskies want to win, they need a full 60-minute effort from everyone regardless of who runs the show on the sidelines (remember, they have not named a defensive coordinator to replace Lou Spanos).
On the special teams side, George Caratan aims to land more punts deep within enemy territory and give his team’s defense the upper hand. Fans also get to witness a booming Noe Ruelas kick for the first time. Against Utah State, Ruelas drilled kicks from 47 and 54 yards out and helped his team’s comeback efforts in the fourth quarter. Beyond field goals, Ruelas has a powerful leg during kickoffs, as proven by the six touchbacks he produced. Although the goal of a kicker is to pin the opponent as far back as possible, sending one beyond the endzone helps display his might.
As for returning the football, expect Devontae Houston and Brian Brewton run it back on kickoffs. UConn had no punt returns despite the Aggies punting twice, so one has to wait to see who the Huskies use as their punt returner. Who knows, it could be one of Houston or Brewton. There should be no problems as their opponent’s special teams defense allowed 8.6 yards per punt return and 18.8 yards per kickoff return in 2021.
CCSU begins their 2022 campaign projected to finish fourth in the Northeast Conference. The Blue Devils went 4-7 in 2021 and all of their wins came in conference play behind a 4-3 record. A matchup that usually happens in college basketball, this is the first time these two schools square off against each other since 1995, a game UConn won 54-9.
This will be UConn’s only game against an FCS opponent this year and the first since they beat Yale 21-17 for their only victory of the 2021 season. The Huskies went 1-1 against FCS schools last year, losing to Holy Cross in their home opener last September.
CCSU returns their starting quarterback, Romelo Williams, after he threw for 1,452 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. He is going to be the main man, but backup quarterback Shon Mitchell is back and providing some depth for the Blue Devils. Mitchell threw for 739 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions, but will take turns taking snaps with Williams. On the ground, Nasir Smith returns for his super senior season having logged 607 yards with two touchdowns in 2021. Aaron Dawson finished second on the team with 400 yards, but he transferred to Valparaiso University.
The Blue Devils have one key question mark in their receiving corps. Tyshaun James, the team’s leading receiver last year is gone, which leaves sophomore Isiah Williams and his 243 career receiving yards in charge. With him as the number one weapon, who becomes the number two option? Both junior Kyren Petteway and sophomore Erik Surratt posted over 150 yards receiving last season, but one of them needs to provide an offensive boost to help CCSU compete with the big dogs.
Defensively, Jahlil Brown and Chizi Umunakwe return for their senior seasons, looking to improve off their 109 combined tackles and three combined sacks from 2021. Behind them, Jonathan Cabral-Martin looks to have a breakout season after posting 47 tackles in his freshman campaign and Tyler Boatwright wants to pick up where he left off after collecting two fumble recoveries, 26 tackles and an interception. Joining Umunakwe and Cabral-Martin on the All-NEC Preseason Team is Craig Wood, who helped the offense average 329.5 total yards per game.
The Blue Devils scored 21.1 points per game compared to their 25.9 points allowed in 2021. CCSU collected 198.4 passing yards and 131.1 rushing yards a game, signs of a balanced attack, while moving the chains 19.5 times on average. Defensively, they recorded 23 sacks and 684 tackles while averaging 12.4 yards on their nine interception returns.
The deciding factor will be the special teams. While UConn enters a perfect 2-2 on field goal attempts on the season, CCSU converted 10 out of their 16 field goal attempts in 2021, which is a 62.5% success rate. When a kicker misses kicks, one fears that the one or three lost points will come back to haunt them. The kickers need to be on the money every time they go for a field goal, especially since the weather will not play a factor when the ball is in the air.
Kickoff for the Huskies’ only in-state battle of 2022 is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 3, at 12 p.m. Fans who are unable to attend the game can watch it on The CW Network or listen to it on 97.9 FM.