Football: Huskies take on UMass in critical rivalry game 

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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.

Last season, the UConn football team trekked to Amherst, Massachusetts, and lost to the UMass Minutemen 27-13. The Huskies scored 10 points in the first quarter, but their offense sputtered to the tune of one field goal the rest of the game while the Minutemen earned their first (and only) win. 

There are numerous differences to this year’s contest taking place in East Hartford, Connecticut. UConn is 116th in the Massey Ratings while UMass is dead last at 131st, but the most notable change is in the head coach. Don Brown is in his second stint in Amherst and used to be the Huskies’ defensive coordinator under Paul Pasqualoni. On the other sideline is Jim Mora, who has led UConn to as many wins this season than in any of the past four seasons combined. 

Mora has commanded the sidelines without a defensive coordinator, but the defense has heated up and allowed less than 20 points in three of their last four games. The most impressive performance came last week when they surrendered three points against Boston College while forcing five turnovers and recording five sacks. 

Leading the way is Jackson Mitchell, one of 15 semifinalists for the Butkus Award as college football’s top linebacker. Mitchell’s 100 total tackles are tied for second in the country with Akron’s Bubba Arslanian while his 4.5 sacks and six tackles for a loss are second on the team. After a weekend that saw him stamp his name on almost every defensive category, Mitchell’s case to be an All-American continues to increase. 

But Mitchell is not alone in his efforts. Ian Swenson is second on the team in total tackles with 62 despite securing less than 10 in each of his last four games. When Swenson does not stop plays, Durante Jones and Brandon Bouyer-Randle can. Jones is coming off a strong game where he secured his first interception of the season while collecting eight total tackles. 

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 defensive line is just as effective. Eric Watts and Pryce Yates both shined last weekend as Watts recorded 2.5 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks while Yates had three tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Their ability to bring the pressure up front will leave the opposition struggling to decide on whether to pass the ball or run it. 

On offense, Zion Turner could be getting some significant help. Mora said earlier in the week that there is a chance Cam Ross could play, which would boost a competent receiving department led by Aaron Turner and Justin Joly. Zion Turner has never had a 200-yard passing game in his career, but that could change if Ross and Keelan Marion are active. 

Speaking of returning players, there is also a chance that Devontae Houston comes back after missing the last two games. Like Ross, Houston would bolster the run game as he is second on the team with 350 yards. Although he is listed at the top of the depth chart, expect Victor Rosa and Robert Burns to carry the ball as well. 

The Minutemen (1-7) enter with the same amount of wins they had in 2021, with their only win of this season coming against the Stony Brook Sea Wolves back in September. UMass enters on a five-game losing streak, most recently falling to the New Mexico State Aggies 23-13, and are about to begin a three-game road trip that includes a game against the Texas A&M Aggies in two weeks. 

The Minutemen have had four quarterbacks under center, and none of them have over 300 passing yards. The only one with over 200 is Gino Campiotti, who has 257 and the team’s only passing touchdown. Campiotti has thrown six interceptions in seven games played, but he is also an efficient scrambler as he leads the team with 380 rushing yards and two touchdowns. 

Ellis Merriweather knows how to beat the Huskies, as he rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns in their last meeting. He may have just 324 yards this year, but he has the experience to win. After Merriweather is Kay’Ron Adams, who had his best game last weekend after rushing for 72 yards and a touchdown. Those two are formidable, but they need open spaces if they have any shot of competing. George Johnson III has been the star of the receiving department as he has 254 yards in eight games. When he is covered up, Cameron Sullivan-Brown, who has UMass’ only receiving touchdown, awaits on the other side. It may not be a top-tier duo, but they do their job. 

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.

Linebacker Jalen Mackie, defensive back Jordan Mahoney and lineman Marcus Cushnie are the defense’s go-to guys. Mackie stops plays in their tracks via his team-leading 56 total tackles, 10 of which are for a loss, and 2.5 sacks. Cushnie holds up the defensive line with his eight tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. Mahoney is an underrated ballhawk as he has three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. All three of them can simultaneously bring the pressure on the field, and UConn needs to make sure that their offense is up to par. 

This is a winnable game for the Huskies — especially since they are 15.5-point favorites — but the key in this contest will be red zone offense. UConn enters having scored on each of their last 14 visits, while UMass has converted 12 of their 14 attempts. Since both teams average under 20 points per game, converting points on red zone chances will be critical and are going to mark the difference between winning and losing. 

Regardless of the outcome, this will not be the last meeting between the two institutions. On Monday, the two schools agreed to extend their rivalry until 2027 with next year’s meeting taking place at a to-be-determined neutral site. Kickoff for the 76th all-time meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Rentschler Field, and the game will be broadcasted on CBS Sports Network. 

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