A year ago, UConn came into the 2022 season with a record of 4-32 over their last three seasons and a seven-year bowl game drought looming over the program. Expectations could not have been lower as the program had been relegated to among the worst teams in college football since departing from the American Athletic Conference. First-year head coach Jim Mora was tasked with rebuilding a program back to the prominence it once had in the early 2000s, an era that saw Connecticut appear in five bowl games over a seven-game span.
Last season, the Huskies battled through injuries and AP-ranked opponents en route to a slow 1-4 start. Following three straight losses by 30+ points, the program sparked new life into their season, pulling off one of the greatest upsets in team history with a 19-14 comeback win against Fresno State. UConn would ride that momentum and rejuvenated confidence from the fan base to victories over Florida International, Boston College, UMass and 19th-ranked Liberty on the final week of the season to finish 6-6 and clinch their first bowl game appearance since 2016.
The impressive 2022 season from the Huskies has raised expectations for 2023 to heights the program hasn’t seen since the 2000s. Through two weeks in the season, Jim Mora’s squad lost 24-14 to an impressive NC State team in front of a record crowd at Rentschler Field and lost 35-14 on the road in an uninspiring effort to Georgia State to begin the season 0-2.
Will Connecticut football return to a bowl game for their second season in a row? Or is the 0-2 start just the beginning of things to come for Connecticut in 2023?
CJ: After making a bowl game despite starting 1-4 last season, how can anyone quit on this team with Mora at the helm? Last week’s 35-14 loss to Georgia State was one of the worst displays of football in the Mora era. The quarterback situation has yet again been impacted by a season-ending injury with UMaine transfer Joe Fagnano going down to a shoulder injury in the second quarter of the Georgia State game. While Connecticut turns to Ta’Quan Roberson in an attempt to solidify the quarterback position, the defense has been shredded by mobile quarterbacks, and their run game (which was supposed to be the strength of this team) ran for 50 yards on 31 attempts this past weekend. With that being said, I’m not concerned about this team. UConn has a very winnable game at home this weekend against an FIU team that they rolled past on the road last season. The Huskies have thrived at home in the Mora era, and three straight home games are exactly what this team needs. Roberson impressed in the second half when relieving the injured Fagnano, throwing for over 200 yards and 2 TD. With Fagnano’s status in doubt for this Saturday’s contest against FIU, Roberson could be in a position to lock down the quarterback job and jolt some confidence back into this season with a big game in front of a home crowd. Connecticut still has extremely winnable games against UMass, FCS-level Sacred Heart, Utah State and South Florida this season. This season is far from over.
Gavin: I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but things aren’t looking good for the Huskies to have the same success they had last year. One of the most concerning issues I’ve noticed so far is Connecticut’s poor performance in the first half of both games this season. Aside from their opening drive against NC State, the Huskies have produced very little offense in the first half. In their two games this season, Connecticut has averaged 100.5 yards per game and 3.5 points per game in the first half. This is a significant difference compared to 160.8 yards per game and 10.2 points per game the Huskies scored in the first half in 2022. This is a team that cannot afford to be down early in the game, especially due to the struggles we’ve seen on defense. This was important for Connecticut in arguably their biggest win last season against Liberty. They started off with a 14-3 lead at the end of the first quarter, which helped them keep the game close until the very end. Last week’s game against Georgia State gave me little hope that the Huskies will be able to do that against a tough opponent, which will most likely be necessary if they want to live up to their expectations and make another bowl game. While I hope the Huskies prove me wrong, I just don’t see the team that played the way they did over the weekend making a bowl game this season.
CJ: I absolutely agree that in the first half of games, the offense has been extremely ineffective to begin the season. While I do argue that UConn will be okay, another poor showing against an inferior Florida International team will most likely change my mind. With that being said, I truly believe that the turnaround of this season will come from the trenches. Our offensive line returns four starters from last season, a unit that surrendered just 17 sacks all season and led the way for our run game to rack up 184 yards per game (36th in FBS). With all the returning talent we have up front and the dynamic running back tandem of Victor Rosa and Devontae Houston I truly believe that our ground game is going to explode the rest of the season and that our performance on the ground this weekend against Georgia State was just a fluke. On the defensive side of the ball, our secondary has held its own with just 149 yards per game surrendered, but this unit has been torched by mobile quarterbacks, and that’s something to keep an eye on as the season continues. There are significant playmakers on both sides of the ball and if this team can figure out the passing attack and stifle the ground game, the remaining schedule isn’t overbearing enough for this team to not reach six or more wins on the season.
Gavin: I see what you’re saying, but I’m not sure the UConn run game we saw against Georgia State was a fluke. The run game clearly struggled against Georgia State but aside from Rosa’s 71-yard touchdown run against NC State, the Huskies had 25 carries for 89 yards in their season opener. The run game has been lackluster in both games this season and while big touchdown runs are nice to have, Connecticut can’t be relying on that in order to stay in games. UConn’s ground game was very important to their success in 2022 when they averaged 191 rushing yards per game. This year, the Huskies are averaging only 105 rushing yards per game, meaning that they haven’t been nearly as productive as they were last season. Seeing such a significant drop in rushing production has me really concerned that the run game won’t be able to help the Huskies win games the way they did last season. Lastly, I feel like much of the Huskies’ struggles last season had to do with the team’s adjustment to a new coaching staff. After everyone was able to adjust to Mora’s coaching, they were able to turn their season around with the win against Fresno State. However, with most of the coaching staff returning from last year, the same can’t be said for the struggles that we’ve seen in the first two games this season. While the Huskies do have some winnable games left this season, including this week’s game against FIU, this team has not convinced me that they can win some tough games and make it to a bowl game.