398 days ago, UConn quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson suited up for his first career start. It was a blistering August day in Logan, Utah as the Huskies faced off against Utah State in both teams’ season opener. After trying two passes and running the ball into the end zone for a score, tragedy struck. Roberson tore his ACL and his season was over just as soon as it started. The Huskies and then-freshman quarterback Zion Turner went on to lose that game. This Saturday, Roberson gets his revenge opportunity with the chance to show the Aggies what they missed out on the last time the two teams met.
This year, the game will be played in East Hartford, Connecticut, but neither team has started the season on the right foot.
Starting with Utah State, they haven’t quite been world beaters. The Aggies opened their campaign at No. 25 Iowa and played the game from the back seat. They found themselves with just three points at the half and six points after three frames. Down 24-6 with less than two minutes left, a touchdown and two-point conversion made the score look better, but wasn’t enough to make an actual difference.
They followed that up with a 78-28 whomping of Idaho State. They struggled to start, tied 7-7 after a quarter. A 44-point second quarter did the job with 27 points scored in a 2:27 span which included a pick six.
Utah State’s two games since haven’t been nearly as impressive. They lost to still undefeated Air Force by 18 after trailing 32-7 at the half. The game was over almost as soon as it started, with the Falcons jumping out to a 29-0 lead. From there, they took their foot off the gas as the Aggies swapped quarterbacks.
Utah State did well to overcome another sluggish start at home against James Madison, a future opponent for the Huskies. The Aggies trailed 38-14 late in the second quarter, but came back to tie the game at 38. They ultimately had their chances to win, but ended up throwing a late pick that sealed their fate.
Though Cooper Legas started the season for Utah State, he was benched midway through the Air Force contest, with freshman McCae Hillstead stepping up under center. Legas only had three scores in his two games and change, which shrinks in comparison to Hillstead’s seven. Hillstead also has 235 more yards. He gets sacked more and takes more risks, but it’s led to more success, with 2.4 more yards per completion.
Hillstead’s favorite target is Terrell Vaughn, as the pair have connected for three touchdowns in fewer than two games. Vaughn is an explosive receiver with six scores on the year, which leads the nation. He’s one of the premier pass catchers in the whole country and is third in receptions per game with 9.5. With Vaughn as a primary target, look for UConn to focus heavily on shutting him down defensively.
Even though running back Davon Booth has twice as many carries as backup Rahsul Faison, only 47 yards separate the pair. Look for a variety of different backs to get involved on the ground, with Booth serving as the primary option.
For UConn, things need to turn around quickly. The past three games have been pitiful for the Huskies, with their opponents outscoring them in the first half 72-3. Utah State has proven to be a better second-half team, so UConn really needs to jump out quickly and shut things down in the second half.
Everything starts and ends with Roberson. The Huskies’ starter has notched 500 yards in three games and has an abysmal quarterback rating of 11.6. He does have a 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio, but many of these more meaningful stats have been during garbage time. He’s playing against a Utah State secondary that likes to gamble and has a high number of takeaways, but also has allowed a lot of yardage.
The pair of targets Roberson needs to focus on includes Brett Buckman and Justin Joly. The two account for 31 of Connecticut’s 65 total receptions and over 50% of the team’s air yards. Buckman is one of the two remaining players on the Huskies roster with a receiving touchdown this year, with running back Devontae Houston making a departure from the team earlier this week. The passing game has been sparsely utilized, something that hasn’t boded well for the team.
With Houston gone and an earlier transfer by third-string running back Brian Brewton, even more pressure falls on running back Victor Rosa in the running game. Rosa works well in a committee, especially with how run-heavy the Huskies are, but will be forced to see out a workhorse role on Saturday. Cam Edwards will back him up with Jalen Mitchell also contributing, but Rosa will be the catalyst.
With an offense ranked second-worst in the country in scoring, the Huskies need to take on more aggression if they want to win. Playing it safe doesn’t win games and hasn’t so far. They’re playing an Aggie defense built to give up big plays, so taking advantage of that will be key. Also, the more they stay on the field, the easier it will be for the defense to remain well-rested and lock down. Everything builds on itself in football, but putting that first brick down has seemed impossible so far.
The 12 p.m. matinee will kickoff on CBS Sports Network and will finish off a three-game homestand.