Football: Huskies take on Ball State in search of third straight win 

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UConn football battles past Fresno State to capture a 19-14 victory during a Saturday afternoon on Oct. 1, 2022 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. This win marks the Huskies’ first FBS victory since defeating UMass in 2019. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk/Daily Campus.

The UConn football team last won three consecutive games in 2015 when they beat East Carolina University, Tulane University and the then-No. 13 University of Houston. Led by head coach Jim Mora, the Huskies hope to change history as they travel to Muncie, Indiana and take on the Ball State University Cardinals in the hopes of winning their third straight game.  

UConn is in this position after a 19-14 home upset of the Fresno State University Bulldogs and a 33-12 domination over the Florida International University Panthers in Miami last weekend. This will be the Huskies’ last game before their well-deserved bye week. 

Despite their offense clicking on all cylinders, UConn paid a price in rushing for 295 yards and three touchdowns. After collecting a career-high 135 yards, Devontae Houston will be unavailable this week with a sprained ankle. The loss of a team’s top three running backs would derail any offense, but the Huskies have depth in Victor Rosa. Rosa, who scored two touchdowns in the first half, is expected to make his first career start while Robert Burns backs him up. 

In addition to his speed and his arm, quarterback Zion Turner proved he can be a good receiving option on trick plays. Although Turner does not collect as many yards as the average collegiate quarterback, he finds ways to connect with his wide receivers while missing as few passes as possible.  

Despite the contributions in the air, these past two games have been less about Aaron Turner and Kevens Clercius and more about Justin Joly, who gained 96 yards on eight receptions during that span. Joly has emerged and stepped up his playmaking abilities and is bound to have another breakout game this weekend. 

Although the defense allowed more yards than UConn generated on offense, they have made significant strides in limiting the opposition from scoring. Over their last two games, the defense has allowed two touchdowns with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Jackson Mitchell, Ian Swenson and Tre Wortham have been at the forefront of the Huskies’ efforts.  

Mitchell is the anchor as his 75 total tackles are second in the country behind Old Dominion University’s Jason Henderson entering this week’s games. He also has four tackles for a loss and a career-high 2.5 sacks, showing that he can be a versatile player wherever he is put. Swenson has contributed in multiple ways as well through his 1.5 tackles for a loss, .5 sacks and lone interception. No one has had the ball in his hands defensively more often than Wortham, who has three picks in his last two games and is hungry for more. Together, with shutdown defensive tackle Eric Watts (five tackles for a loss and three sacks) and Brandon Bouyer-Randle (3.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions), UConn can contain anyone. 

Ball State (3-3, 2-1 MAC) enters this matchup on a two-game winning streak of their own. Their wins have come via close decisions against Mid-American Conference foes, beating Northern Illinois University 44-38 in double overtime at home and surviving a scare from Central Michigan University with a 17-16 win. This will be the fourth meeting between the two schools with the Cardinals leading the all-time series 3-0 and taking the last game 24-21 in the Nutmeg State back in 2002. 

UConn football battles past Fresno State to capture a 19-14 victory during a Saturday afternoon on Oct. 1, 2022 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. This win marks the Huskies’ first FBS victory since defeating UMass in 2019. Photo by Sofia Sawchuk/Daily Campus.

John Paddock is the passing game for Ball State. Through six games, Paddock has 1,660 yards for 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He has four great options to throw the ball to, especially tight ends Tanner Koziol and Brady Hunt. Koziol and Hunt have fewer receiving yards combined than top wide receiver Jayshon Jackson (the tight ends have 443 while Jackson has 496 on 42 receptions), but the two tight ends do their most damage in the end zone as they have eight combined touchdowns. While Jackson has lit up the gridiron for the wide receivers, Yo’Heinz Tyler is a great secondary option with his 344 receiving yards and single touchdown. 

Like the passing game, the running game relies on one single player. That person is MAC West Division Offensive Player of the Week Carson Steele, a sophomore with 610 yards and five touchdowns through half the season. Steele has rushed for over 100 yards in a game four times and the Husky defense needs to contain him if they want to keep the Cardinals off the board. 

The defense does not have any big names that stand out from the crowd, but they have two aggressive tacklers in Clayton Coll and Jordan Riley. The two know how to stop plays as they have over 40 tackles individually and a combined 88 total tackles with three of them for a loss. Ball State also has a guy that brings the pressure up front in Cole Pearce, who has 6.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Despite the lack of nationally renowned stars, the Cardinals can bring the heat on defense through their 30 tackles for a loss, nine sacks and four interceptions as a team. 

This will be a game between two evenly matched squadrons despite Ball State being favored by 9.5 points at home as The Athletics’ Chris Vannini has the Huskies ranked 109th and the Cardinals 102nd. The key in this contest is going to be converting on fourth down. UConn is 5-10 and Ball State is 5-11 on such chances with both marks exceeding 45%. As proven in weeks past, choosing to go for it and converting the down will alter the result of the game, and whoever is more successful in that situation walks out of Muncie with a win. 

Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15 on ESPN3. If you do not want to watch another subpar production on the broadcast, you can listen to the game on the UConn Sports Network on 97.9 FM. 

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