A short 400 days ago, UConn Football traveled to California to take on Fresno State in the grueling heat to open its 2021 season. In what would evidently be one of the final knives in the coffin of coach Randy Edsall, the Huskies got routed 45-0. The Huskies haven’t forgotten about that game.
“We had a sour taste in our mouth after what they did to us last year,” noted running back Devontae Houston. Linebacker Ian Swenson added “It feels awesome to beat the team that killed us last year.”
This time, the Huskies forced the Bulldogs to play in their element. The blistering August sun was replaced with a clammy October day. Another change was that UConn came out on top thanks to late game heroics and an extra bit of strength that came with the White Out Cancer Game.
“It was a good win against a good opponent,” coach Jim Mora said. “It was fun to see our offense pick up steam as the game went on. We got some takeaways which is good for our young defense. I’m excited for these young guys. A game like this confirms for me who these guys are.”
The Huskies started the game without much offensive intensity, going three and out on their opening drive after returner Victor Rosa couldn’t hold onto the kickoff. Fresno State and new quarterback Logan Fife then began to march down the field in an all too familiar way. A sack was overturned by an Eric Watts facemask and a pass two plays later went for 23 yards into the red zone. On the next play though, Fife dropped back and went to make a throw, but completely lost the football on the transfer from one hand to the other. Pryce Yates fell on the ball, giving UConn another life.
The squads traded three and outs, but a Rosa 25 yard punt return combined with a Bulldog facemask penalty gave the Huskies the ball at the Fresno 32. Houston took a pair of carries for a first down and another Fresno facemask got the ball into the 10. The Huskies couldn’t manage six, but were able to pick up three points on a Noe Ruelas kick.
The Bulldogs responded with a promising-looking drive, but they couldn’t get it done, punting it back to UConn in opposing territory. The Huskies gained 30 yards, but couldn’t hold onto the ball, kicking it right back to Fresno.
On a play that felt reminiscent of last year’s game in Fresno, Bulldogs returner Nikko Remigio bounced off a series of Huskies defenders and spun around a few others, bringing the kick 87 yards, all the way to the house to take a 7-3 lead.
The Huskies stayed composed though, marching down the field. Houston again proved his toughness, going for a 22 yard run, even with a shoulder strain. A few plays later, offensive coordinator Nick Charlton went deep into his bag of tricks. He started the play with backup quarterback Cale Millen under center, handing it off to wideout Aaron Turner. Turner ran laterally, flipping it back to starting quarterback Zion Turner, who had been lined up as a receiver. Turner launched the ball 39 yards to a wide open Kevens Clercius who caught it deep in the red zone. After this, UConn couldn’t do much else, settling for another field goal.
The next three possessions featured great defense, with the Huskies forcing a turnover on downs, Zion Turner fumbling the ball and Swenson grabbing a pick off a tipped pass. That interception ended the half, with the 23 point underdogs trailing by just one.
The Bulldogs came out of the half angry. It took just five plays to get them into the end zone, leaving the Huskies to stare at an eight point deficit with 28 minutes of football left. The first six plays of the drive were encouraging, with the Huskies getting all the way to the Fresno 29 before Houston coughed up the football on a rush, giving it right back.
Fife and his offense didn’t make it very far before he passed it right into the eager arms of Tre Wortham, who returned the ball all the way back to the Bulldog 19. Rosa and running back Robert Burns’ combined efforts got the ball to the Fresno five yard line, before Zion Turner found Aaron Turner for a short touchdown connection. They couldn’t convert to tie it up though, leaving the score at 14-12.
Five consecutive punts gave UConn the ball at their own five yard line in what was almost a do or die situation. They had eight minutes to make magic happen. The well-executed, methodical drive was off to a great start after Clercius pulled in a tough grab over a Fresno State defender for a 40-yard gain. Freshman wide receiver Justin Joly gained 10 on a catch and Turner scrambled for 11 yards. Rosa took a pair of handoffs to get to the 17 before Houston found a hole and ran into the end-zone with 2:20 left.
“I felt like through the game [Turner’s] confidence started to grow,” Mora said of the 95-yard drive. “I felt like we were going to go down and score. The momentum was starting to transpire to us making plays”
UConn needed one final stop. Fife connected on a one yard pass, and then left one incomplete to make it third and nine quickly. On the next play, the pocket collapsed and Jackson Mitchell got to Fife for the massive sack. On fourth and 13, Fife sailed the ball to Zane Pope, who saw the ball slip through his fingers and onto the turf, just like the Bulldogs’ hopes to win the game.
A first down was all UConn needed to ice the game. The senior leadership of Burns got them there on a seven-yard, fourth down rush to bring home the sweet victory.
The game was the first FBS win in the Mora Era and the Huskies first since beating UMass back in 2019. Looking back even further, it’s the first non-UMass FBS win since 2017. It’s been a tough road for the program and they’re not there yet. But already winning a game like this, things already feel like they’re ahead of schedule. They’ll get another chance to win next week when they travel to FIU in a game they should be favored in…