Initially, I planned to spend this Coleumn writing about how the fans should not give up hope for the University of Connecticut football team and the Husky Revolution despite the injuries and tough losses they endured over the past few weeks. Everyone from running back Nathan Carter to quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson to wide receivers Cam Ross and Nigel Fitzgerald suffered season-ending injuries.
Entering the contest, the Huskies had lost three straight games and surrendered 148 points to power five schools currently in the AP Top 25. UConn scored 10 points in that same stretch, and I expected them to get smothered. This blowout loss would mark the end of the first half of the Huskies’ slate. Fortunately, the second half of the schedule is much smoother as there’s only one more power five school for the Huskies to face — Boston College at the end of the month.
After a shocking 19-14 win against the Fresno State University Bulldogs Saturday, all of those storylines can be thrown out the window. The Huskies overcame their struggles and fought until the bitter end for a win that shocked everyone from sea to shining sea.
I want to break down two things about this game in particular: my reaction as the game progressed and what this game means to the program.
The best place to begin is with the trick play. UConn’s lead had come (26-yard field goal in the first quarter) and gone (87-yard punt return for a touchdown with missed tackles aplenty) by this point, but this is where the real fun started.
With the ball past midfield and six minutes until halftime, Cale Millen took the snap at quarterback. One thinks he could have broken out for a run given his speed, but he handed off the ball to Aaron Turner. Turner then lobbed the pigskin over to Zion Turner and found Kevens Clercius open for a 39-yard connection.
Those trick plays normally involve a non-quarterback connecting with the quarterback like Braxton Berrios did to Zach Wilson for the New York Jets, but Z. Turner’s deep ball kept the Huskies’ drive alive and impressed everyone. Talk about a trick play indeed.
Another field goal from Noe Ruelas and a clutch fourth down stop by the defense had the Huskies down 7-6 with 1:57 until the intermission. I honestly thought that UConn could have gone into the break with the lead given the momentum on their side. A strip sack and subsequent recovery by Fresno State in their territory dashed all of those desires. Even then, the Huskies took some momentum after Ian Swenson grabbed his first career interception.
When the Bulldogs found the endzone in a little over two minutes to begin the second half, I thought the game was over and they would sweep the home-and-home series in a dominating fashion. Fresno State had marched 62 yards down the field with an offense woken up by some halftime speech and exhausted the Husky defense.
Tre Wortham’s first interception of the season (following another lost Husky fumble in enemy territory) made things more interesting. UConn started the drive in the redzone following the return and needed six plays to walk into the endzone as Z. Turner lofted a pass to A. Turner for a five-yard score. I remained unsure if the Huskies would complete the comeback because of the Bulldogs’ newfound defense and Jake Flynn dropping the potential game-tying two-point conversion attempt, but still proud about the effort.
The 95-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter changed the entire game. UConn needed to recover after a holding call wiped out a 50-yard QB run during the previous drive and the defense contained Fresno State’s offense. The Huskies had their backs against the wall several times on third down, but they always found a way to convert, whether it came from a Robert Burns rush or a Z. Turner connection with Justin Joly.
Even when things were bleak, a second Z. Turner to Clercius deep connection put the Huskies in enemy territory. After finding their way into the redzone on a QB rush down the middle, Devontae Houston finished the job with a 17-yard touchdown rush toward the right sideline to send the stadium into a frenzy and give UConn the lead. Down by five points with three timeouts and 2:18 on the clock, the Bulldogs needed a touchdown to salvage the game.
Even during that drive, my heart started beating because of the suspense on the playing field. The same thing happened back in February when the UConn men’s basketball team scored five points in 25 seconds to upset the then No. 8 Villanova University Wildcats at the XL Center. I remained so in shock after the final buzzer that I did not even storm the court with the rest of the student section, I just sat there and happily hugged people.
Fresno State could have easily rallied back — Zane Pope stood wide open in UConn territory on fourth and 13 following an aggressive Jackson Mitchell sack on third down. The ball found Pope’s hands, but he dropped the catch and the drive came to an emphatic thud. Excitement flooded both my mind and the stadium, but the game was not over yet.
After burning a timeout with 24 seconds left, UConn faced a fourth down situation in Fresno State territory where a turnover on downs would give the opposition one last shot at a game-winning play. The Huskies’ decision to go for it paid off as Burns rushed seven yards down the middle for the game-sealing first down.
The Huskies had done it. The only people who stormed the field were the enthusiastic players on the sidelines as they relished a shocking come-from-behind victory, one the program itself had not witnessed for so long.
I mentioned in the preview that whoever won the third down battle would win the game. I did not expect to be correct. UConn finished 8-17 on third down and improved to 36-89 (40.45% conversion rate) on the season. Fresno State went 0-7 and fell to 14-41 (34.15% conversion rate).
Even Fresno State, a shell of what they were last year, made costly and undisciplined mistakes. The first turnover they allowed came after Fife’s pass attempt slipped out of his hands and Pryce Yates fell on the ball. The Bulldogs capitalized on their two fumble recoveries by throwing interceptions in less than five plays both times. The Bulldogs committed six penalties for 75 yards, half of which involved grabbing a facemask and giving the Huskies 45 free yards. On top of that, they had less than 200 yards of total offense and 14 first downs while allowing 313 yards and 20 first downs.
This is a feel-good victory for the football program not just because they were 23.5-point underdogs. UConn defeated an FBS opponent for the first time since the 2019 season, one other than the University of Massachusetts since 2017 when they beat the University of Tulsa 20-14. For the first time ever, the Huskies defeated a team from the Mountain West Conference, one that had shut them out 45-0 last season.
UConn won two games in a football season for the first time since 2019, one of which came on the road. That remains the last streak standing as the Huskies have not grabbed a road victory since that game against the Minutemen three seasons ago.
The event hosted 20,952 fans and the student section featured less students than the first two home contests, but there were plays throughout the second half when the fans created a hostile atmosphere. Somehow, it got loud enough to the point where Fresno State desperately burned a timeout on a third down play. This must have been what Dan Orlovsky meant when he called Rentschler Field someone’s “worst nightmare.”
All good things must come to an end though. With that win now in the past, the Huskies now focus on a road matchup with the Florida International University Panthers. FIU is not to be taken lightly given that they upended New Mexico State University 21-7 this past Saturday. The Huskies need to make sure they do not fall victim to the trap game after such an impressive win despite opening the week as a four-point favorite.