1,815 days ago, the University of Connecticut football team defeated the University of Tulsa 20-14 at Rentschler Field for its second straight victory. It would be the last time the Huskies won consecutive games until this past Saturday, when they beat the Florida International University Panthers 33-12 on a summer-esque evening in Miami.
FIU grabbed the ball first and nearly became the fourth team in five weeks to score a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. FIU found themselves in this position after Grayson James ran for 11 yards and connected with Ross Fournet for 19. The Panthers tried to run up the middle on third down, but they fumbled the ball and Jackson Mitchell ended the drive with his second fumble recovery of the season.
The Huskies took full advantage of the turnover by marching down the field, which included a 30-yard run from Devontae Houston. Victor Rosa capped off the 11-play, 75-yard drive with a five-yard rush into the endzone that put UConn on the board.
FIU found themselves in Husky territory on the ensuing drive after James found Jalen Bracey for 26 yards, but they turned the ball over again as Tre Wortham leapt into the air and nabbed his second interception of the season four plays later. UConn carried its possession over into the second quarter as Zion Turner completed several passes, highlighted by a 21-yard connection with Justin Joly. The Huskies appeared to settle for a 27-yard field goal after coming up short on third down, but the Panthers ran into the kicker and Rosa made them pay for their mistake with his second touchdown of the game.
UConn nearly scored on its third drive as Houston sprinted for an 80-yard touchdown on the first play, but a holding penalty wiped that score out of existence. Instead, the Huskies punted the ball away and the defense (as well as an offensive pass interference penalty) forced FIU into a 3rd and 33 situation with no chance to convert the down.
Noe Ruelas emphatically ended the half with two field goals in the final 75 seconds. His first came from 26 yards out after a 55-yard run from Houston put the offense deep into Panther territory, and his second from 35 yards sent UConn into the intermission up 20-0. The Huskies found themselves in this peculiar position after James threw his second interception right into Wortham’s grasp.
FIU ended a three-quarter scoring drought against UConn’s defense in the third quarter when Lexington Joseph converted on fourth down by going 47 yards into the endzone on the first drive of the half. The Huskies responded with a vengeance as Rosa dashed 61 yards down the right sideline down to the opposing two yard line and the offense did another trick play that saw Cale Millen connect with Turner in the endzone for his first career receiving touchdown.
The Panthers responded by rolling into the redzone once again, but the UConn defense limited them to just a field goal. Up 26-10 with 15 minutes to play, the Huskies appeared to be in control. UConn tried to make sure of that with another defensive stop in the red zone. FIU had themselves a first and goal at the Connecticut seven-yard line, but incompletions on third and fourth down put the possession back into the Huskies’ hands.
The Panthers got two points back on that drive and made it a two-possession game as a bad snap and fumble led to a safety. FIU made it to midfield in response to that event and gave themselves a chance to cut in further, but UConn’s defense regained its senses and forced James to throw three incompletions on four plays that forced a turnover on downs.
Millen rushed for a 49-yard house call and Brandon Bouyer-Randle broke up a short pass on fourth down to ice the Huskies’ dominant 21-point victory, their largest margin of victory over an FBS opponent since 2015 when they beat the University of Central Florida 40-13 in Orlando.
The run game shined under the hot Floridian night. In his return to his hometown, Robert Burns ran for 34 yards on seven carries. Houston finished with 135 yards while Rosa picked up 89 with two touchdowns as the team pounded the ball for 295 total yards. UConn has had someone rush for 100 yards in four out of their seven games thus far.
In his first game back in his home state of Florida, Turner went 14-19 for 102 yards. In the receiving department, Joly continued his breakout campaign by picking up 62 yards on five receptions while Aaron Turner picked up 33 yards on five of his own receptions.
While Mitchell finished with nine tackles and a fumble recovery and Wortham nabbed two interceptions, the rest of the defense contributed with three tackles for a loss and two sacks. Mitchell currently ranks second in the country in total tackles with 75.
As for the Panthers, James finished 28-43 with 256 passing yards and two interceptions while Joseph led the team with 109 rushing yards and a touchdown. FIU finished with seven more yards than the Huskies, outgaining them 409 to 402, while the defense forced eight tackles for a loss and two sacks.
Not only did UConn grab at least a three-win season for the first time since 2017 when they finished 3-9, it also ended its 11-game road losing streak dating back to 2019 against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. This is also the team’s first win in the Sunshine State since 2015, with five games played between victories.
The Huskies play their eighth and final game before their bye against the Ball State University Cardinals in Muncie, Ind. hoping for their third straight win. This will be the first meeting between the two schools since 2002, and kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15 on ESPN3.