There was a lot to get excited about in East Hartford entering Saturday’s contest despite the UConn football team having an 0-1 record. Seven days earlier, the Huskies put up a fight against the Utah State Aggies, a team receiving AP votes, losing by just 11 points. It was clear from their first offensive drive that this team differed from years past, as proven by UConn’s ability to stay in the game after a disastrous second quarter. With this kind of performance, it was not a matter of if but by how much the Huskies would beat the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils.
Husky Nation showed up in troves to witness a team no longer known as the punchline of an overused joke. Eighteen thousand, seven hundred and eighty-two fans attended UConn’s home-opening loss against the College of the Holy Cross in 2021; 22,442 fans bought tickets and attended this year’s home opener. Although the difference in attendance seems minimal given the stadium’s maximum capacity of 40,642, it had an effect on the game’s overall atmosphere.
The Huskies felt different in the first half, but they still made mistakes that hinted at iterations of years past. Whether it was turning the ball over twice in the red zone or allowing the Blue Devils to take a 3-0 lead on a productive second quarter drive, UConn found themselves walking into the snares of a trap game. Despite trailing for 5:30, UConn entered the half with a 7-3 lead. The Huskies may have led by four points, but it was better than being down at the break. The Huskies found their footing in the second half, reaching the endzone three times and preventing CCSU from scoring once. Not only did the UConn defense do its job, but a bounce of bad luck on the Blue Devils’ first drive of the second half tilted momentum in the other direction.
This all added up to a 28-3 victory that marked the first time UConn beat an FCS institution by more than 10 points since 2011. Whatever head coach Jim Mora said in the locker room at the break worked because the team turned into a well-oiled machine for most of the second half. If the Huskies play like they did in the final 30 minutes for more games than not this season, then do not be surprised if they finish with anywhere between four to six wins.
Give credit to CCSU, they looked and played like the better team throughout the first half despite trailing in most offensive categories. The strategy for staying in a game for as long as they did was in their defense. The Blue Devils consistently forced the Huskies to turn the ball over and carried momentum into the break after an endzone interception with a second left. Even though the result shows otherwise, CCSU forced the Huskies to make numerous mistakes despite being unable to capitalize off most of them. CCSU even contributed to the impressive fan turnout as they had their own student section opposite of the packed Husky student section and their spirit team working with UConn’s on the sidelines.
Zion Turner showed signs of improvement. In his first career start, Turner went 14-22 for 172 yards with two touchdowns, an interception and a fumble loss. The most impressive number from that game is 150.2, which was Turner’s passer rating, nearing the perfect passer rating of 158.3, a definite improvement from his rating of 66.0 that he posted against Utah State.
There were times when Turner played like a true freshman, whether it was on the strip sack or some errant passes, but most times Turner looked like a third-year starter. After the game, he discussed with the media about how he took accountability for his mistakes and how he will learn from them to improve, signs of someone who is maturing to the collegiate style of play and developing faster than expected.
He was not the only big playmaker. Weeks ago, Jacob Flynn was a walk-on, working tirelessly for reps and a chance to make a name for himself. Saturday, he collected his first career receiving touchdown on a full scholarship and got mobbed by his teammates in the endzone. Flynn has a nickname of “sweet feet” and his touchdown catch was the cherry on top of a sugary cake.
With the Huskies icing the game late in the fourth quarter, running back Victor Rosa got to see the field for the first time ever. Rosa, a Bristol Central High School alumnus and former teammate of UConn men’s basketball freshman Donovan Clingan, made the most of his time. On just the second carry of his collegiate career, Rosa evaded multiple defenders and plowed his way into the endzone for his first career touchdown — a ten-yard rush to the left side. Like Turner a week earlier, Rosa gave the coaches a lot to like.
“I think we will see more and more out of Victor Rosa,” Mora commented after the game. “He proved something to us [Saturday].”
Rosa contributed only a small fraction to the running game’s pie. UConn rushed for 274 yards on 54 carries with two touchdowns to boot. Nathan Carter ran for 123 yards, his second game reaching the century mark this season, and found the endzone once. His 313 total rushing yards over two games currently lead the nation. Brian Brewton had the best game of his career by rushing for a career-high 62 yards on 10 carries.
Jackson Mitchell, the Ridgefield resident, led the defense with seven total tackles despite not at his best. With 23 tackles through the first two weeks of the season, Mitchell has steadily improved his draft stock and continues to look like a future second-day draft selection.
For months, UConn football has called themselves the Husky Revolution. As I wrote about in my Coleumn two weeks ago, I have bought into that mantra as it turned the team culture upside down. At Saturday’s game, Husky Nation learned about a new slogan: The heart of New England. It will take some time, but given the recent season-opening loss to Rutgers University from Boston College’s football program, I can be sold on this belief.
Dan Orlovsky, a Bridgeport native and arguably the greatest quarterback in UConn’s FBS era, joined the revolution with wise words about the program and culture in the opening video. If you have not checked it out, I recommend that you do. The video got the people fired up, but would have made more of a lasting impact if the marching band did not play over it. Ignoring the coordination error, I walked away from that video feeling energized for this season. This is more than a marketing strategy by the athletic department, this is the end goal of Mora’s masterplan to bring UConn football back to relevance.
Even during their tumultuous and downright bad years, the Huskies continue to represent the Nutmeg State in college football. With Saturday’s victory against the Blue Devils, UConn extends their winning streak against an in-state opponent to 28 seasons. The last time a fellow Constitution State foe defeated the Huskies was in 1994, when they lost 28-17 to the Yale Bulldogs at the Yale Bowl.
If the win against CCSU was the appetizer, then Saturday’s game under the lights against the Syracuse University Orange is the main course. The last time these two schools met, Syracuse stomped all over the Huskies 51-21 at the newly named JMA Wireless Dome in 2018. Although the Orange took down the University of Louisville Cardinals this past Saturday 31-7, the revitalized culture of UConn’s football program and its eager fans excited to witness history at Rentschler Field will make it hard for Syracuse to walk out of East Hartford with the win.
UConn football did a lot of things right and had a lot of things they need to work on as all 10 of their remaining games are against FBS opponents. Above all else, the Huskies made Connecticut proud of the football team that played on the gridiron and brought back a sense of state pride to those who attended. UConn football may not be back yet, but this is only the beginning of something special.