Football: Huskies look to get back on track in East Hartford

UConn football loses its first game of the season to NC State with the score of 24-14 at the Pratt and Whitney Stadium on August 31, 2023. Despite the loss, the popularity of the program saw its greatest resurgence in years, largely thanks to last season’s unexpected success. Photos by grab photographer Connor Sharp.

This Saturday, the UConn football team hopes to put one in the win column for the first time in 2023, this time against Florida International. It has been a trying start to the season, as the Huskies have opened things up 0-2 with losses to North Carolina State and Georgia State.  

The loss to the Wolfpack was expected; though it was a home-and-home series, NC State has performed at a top 25 level these past few years. UConn did well to lose by only 10, four points better than the two touchdown spread. It was discouraging when the Wolfpack was blown out in the fourth quarter of their game against No. 9 Notre Dame the following week, but what was worse was the way UConn played against GA State that same day. 

In a game many fans expected to win, the Huskies looked listless from the start, not managing a touchdown until the Panthers switched up their defensive coverage in the waning minutes. The final 35-14 score makes this look slightly more respectable than the reality, but this was hardly the outcome Connecticut hoped for.  

Another blow during the game came to quarterback Joe Fagnano and his throwing shoulder. He sustained a hard hit on a run, forcing him to make an early exit. It was announced earlier this week that he’s done for the season. The Maine transfer hadn’t impressed in his six quarters of play, throwing for 173 yards and a pick.  

With Fagnano out, in comes former Penn State transfer Ta’Quan Roberson, the 2022 starter and quarterback most expected to start day one. Roberson left last year’s opener against Utah State with a torn ACL, but has since recovered fully. He did well in the second half of Saturday’s game, throwing for 216 yards and two scores, albeit against lax defense.  

“As a team we have to play much better, the guys in this building know that’s not UConn football,” noted Roberson of the FIU game. “It was great to get in the game, but we expect and want a different result…being out there with the guys again, it was a great feeling. It’s something I can’t describe.” 

This week’s challenge comes at Rentschler Field against FIU, a game that UConn desperately needs to win if it wants to make a bowl. The Panthers are ranked No. 110 in the Football Bowl Subdivision by The Athletic, still worse than Connecticut’s No. 94. Just a quarter into the season, FIU is 2-1, having lost their lone Conference USA game at Louisiana Tech by five. The Panthers got off to a fast start with a 14-0 lead after one frame and, 20 minutes into the game, were up 17-3. Afterwards, they went radio silent, as Tech clawed back for a 22-17 win.  

It took FIU until week three to score a second half point, but they still escaped their second contest with a win. That one came against FCS Maine, UConn offensive coordinator Nick Charlton’s previous destination. Neither team managed a point in the fourth quarter in the low-scoring slugfest.  

UConn running back Victor Rosa (22) runs with the ball during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina State in East Hartford, Conn., Thursday, Aug. 31, 2023. The Huskies will need another big game from Rosa as they search for their first win of the season. AP Photo/Bryan Woolston

Last week’s game against North Texas was a totally different story. The teams engaged in a shootout and FIU came out on top with a 46-39 victory. The weak defense and powerful offense made the Panthers look like a completely different squad. Putting everything but wins and losses aside, FIU hasn’t been challenged much. Their highest ranked opponent was Louisiana Tech, who checked in at No. 108. The contest against the Huskies will be their hardest on paper.  

Leading the FIU attack is Keyone Jenkins, who took over for season starter Grayson James. James had a brutal first start that saw him throw the ball 14 times for five completions and an interception. That was enough to give Jenkins a chance under center in games two and three and he has done well. The undersized quarterback has 583 yards on 62 attempts. He’s found the endzone three times, but also has three giveaways. Either way, this has translated to wins, as he’s undefeated as the starter. Jenkins is also moderately effective as a runner. He hasn’t accumulated great stats, but could be in line for a breakout against a UConn team that’s had trouble defending the QB run.  

After sitting out the first two games, FIU running back Kejon Owens broke onto the scene in a big way against North Texas last week. Owens carried the ball just 10 times, but really flourished in each of those chances. He netted 101 yards and found the paydirt thrice, good for C-USA offensive player of the week honors. Look for him to garner more carries this week.  

For UConn, there’s a desperate need for an offensive spark. Maybe the switch at quarterback is the answer, but regardless of what happens, the team needs production. They haven’t been able to produce many long, sustained drives that provide the struggling defense a breather, something that’d be a big help.  

Roberson, a self-described “dual-threat” quarterback, has looked good in his few possessions as a Husky, but will get his first chance to play at Rentschler Field this week. His ability to serve as a steady passer while opening up the run game should help create those more lengthy drives. This will be his first legitimate chance to show fans what he’s really capable of as a college athlete, never having started and finished a game.  

The Huskies’ run attack will also be a key piece to watch for. The group that was the primary catalyst for UConn’s offensive success last year hasn’t been the same through these two games. The three-man committee of Victor Rosa, Brian Brewton and Devontae Houston has just 167 total yards, which puts them in the bottom 30 nationally. Fortunately for them, FIU’s run defense is also in the lowest 30. If the Huskies are going to break out, this is the opportunity to do so. 

Either way, it should be an exciting game for fans. The Huskies have their backs against the wall against an FIU team they beat last year. Games don’t get much more dire than this one. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Net.  

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