I meant to write this Coleumn last week after the UConn Huskies football team came up short against the Ball State Cardinals 25-21 in Muncie, Indiana. But thanks to the bye week, there is still time to write my thoughts about the team thus far. Through this article, I want to focus on the game against Ball State, one of two important football games involving teams from Connecticut that took place that day, as well as look ahead to the rest of the season.
The best place to start is by evaluating the team after eight games — UConn has exceeded my predictions. I expected approximately three to four wins, but a two-possession lead in the first quarter of the season as well as an upset win against the Fresno State Bulldogs earlier this month proved that the Huskies would be very different than they were in 2021. Because of that, I had high hopes that UConn would enter their bye at 4-4 and on a three-game winning streak.
The Huskies were in control during the first half, scoring three times on their first five drives. The defense helped support the offense by taking care of business through a turnover on downs on the first drive of the game and holding the Cardinals to 10 points in the first 30 minutes. Once halftime hit however, the team seemed to hit a stone wall, and it all came crashing down from there as Ball State scored 15 unanswered points in the second half for the come-from-behind victory.
UConn had seven offensive drives in the third and fourth quarter and picked up a combined 23 yards with two turnovers and a turnover on downs. Most of their drives stalled out in less than two minutes and the defense struggled to get off the field, whether due to penalties (they had 12 of them) or allowing the Cardinals to convert on third down. It just looked bad.
In a sense, the loss to Ball State looked similar to the Huskies’ loss to the Utah State Aggies in the beginning of the season. UConn, a road underdog against a team who played in a bowl game last season, jumped out to a double-digit lead in the first half before penalties and an exhausted defense took their toll on the team. One turnover after the first quarter changed the entire game, leading to the opposition capitalizing in more ways than one while the Huskies had no answer on offense.
The only major difference between the two games is that everyone expected UConn to get blown out by the Aggies, the defending Mountain West Conference champions, as they were receiving AP votes at the time. People thought they had a chance to win against the Cardinals, and that sentiment seemed to grow as the season progressed and the Huskies won some games.
Defeats like these hurt, especially in a season where UConn is not losing games as often as Monday appears in a seven-day period. Although the team has exceeded expectations in Jim Mora’s first year as head coach and there are several injuries to key positions such as running back and wide receiver, the season is far from over.
Players like Jackson Mitchell, Victor Rosa and Justin Joly continue to impress. Mitchell collected 13 total tackles two Saturdays ago and is now up to 88 on the season. Even with the bye week preventing Mitchell from tackling anyone, that ranks second in the country behind Old Dominion’s Jason Henderson, who has 111 in seven games. With those numbers, there is no doubt that Mitchell will hear his name selected in the NFL Draft in the near future.
Although he did not find paydirt, Rosa earned 72 yards on 17 carries and continued to show his potential to succeed in the college game. He is now third on the team in rushing yards with 269 while having the most touchdowns with four. His willingness, as well as that of Robert Burns, to step up and control the run game shows the depth that the Huskies have when it comes to running the ball.
Joly has made strides in his game since the upset of the Bulldogs in East Hartford, and it paid off as he found the endzone for the first time in his career on a 39-yard connection from Zion Turner in the second quarter. Not only is the freshman connection alive between the two players, but Joly’s talents are starting to emerge, and there is a real possibility that he could be the starting tight end for the remainder of the season.
The Huskies do not have an easy road ahead despite two games in a six-day window. Although the Boston College Eagles got their wings clipped by the then No. 13 Wake Forest Demon Deacons 43-15 this past Saturday, they are favored by 7.5 points against their former Big East foe. Following that matinee clash, UConn is favored in a rivalry game against the UMass-Amherst Minutemen, a team that bested the Huskies in the Bay State for their only victory last season, under the lights on a Friday night.
Then there are the 7-1 Liberty Flames, a team who currently sits two spots outside of the AP Top 25 with 35 votes received. The Flames have torched almost everyone they have faced so far, with the exception of a one-point loss to the Demon Deacons and are looking like a team who could garner national attention before they join Conference USA next season. Although the Huskies appear to have no shot against Liberty, anything is possible in college football, especially on senior night.
Once that homestand concludes, UConn travels again to West Point, New York to take on the Army Black Knights and wrap up their regular season. If the Huskies want to make a bowl game, which would further exceed everyone’s expectations of the team this year, then they would need to at least go 3-1 over their final four games. If that does not happen, the fact that UConn has won three games in a 12-game season for the first time since 2017 should have the fanbase excited for the seasons ahead.
As proven by the game against Fresno State, anything can happen in college football. Whether the Huskies go 3-1 or 1-3 in their final four contests comes down to the work put into practices as well as the effort displayed on the field. Until then, the revolution marches on and the six-second mentality continues in the Heart of New England.