This past Saturday, the UConn football team put together one of their only encouraging performances of the year. After starting their year 0-5, they lined up against 3-2 Rice, who beat Big 12 Houston earlier this year and sported former 5-star J.T. Daniels as their starting QB. After the Huskies put themselves into a 14-0 hole after one quarter, the team returned to their 2022 form. That team won six games, beat the opponents they needed to and showed determination. This year’s squad looked the opposite through 5.25 games. That was until things took a complete 180.
All of a sudden, the defense was making plays, just as they had in 2022 when they anchored the Huskies. There was the strip sack of Daniels that gave the Huskies’ offense the ball at the goal line. Then came LB Jackson Mitchell’s scoop-n-score. Aside from a missed pick, this defense was capitalizing on nearly every error that Rice made. It didn’t matter that the Owls outgained UConn by 155 yards.
Then came the offense. It wasn’t the prettiest effort, nor was it a world-class performance, but they did what they needed to for the victory. Part of that included not making mistakes. As things seemed to spiral in the early portion of the season, mistakes were seen aplenty. Whether it was an untimely penalty or a failed option pitch, the team almost always found a way to lose momentum. Not Saturday.
It also helped that they were able to establish a passing attack. Still settling in during his first few FBS starts, QB Ta’Quan Roberson showed some flashes but largely looked unimpressive until the Utah State game that ended in a loss. Against the Owls, he tossed two scores, both of which were explosive plays. There are many words that have been used to describe the Connecticut offense through five games, but explosive was not one of them. One touchdown was a dart from 41 yards out to WR Cam Ross, a player who’s looked good at times but has had trouble staying healthy. The other was to TE Justin Joly, who took a pass in the middle of the field, made a man miss and took it to the house. This mix of defense and offense came out of nowhere in Houston, Texas.
But was it really out of nowhere? Coach Jim Mora has been feeling “hopeful” for a few weeks about this team, and he’s expressed it since the Duke loss.
“It was the resilience of the players,” Mora noted on the victory. “There’s been something about them these past couple weeks that I’ve seen that other people haven’t seen because of the results on the field. I’ve seen in their actions, their attitudes, the way they come to work every day, the way they practice, the way they treat each other that told me that regardless of our record, we were doing things right.”
Maybe it has been like the proverbial boiling pot of water, where even though you can’t see the water bubbling, it’s still heating up. Either way, though the Huskies have disappointed so far, they do have a chance now to be the team they want to be for the last half of the campaign.
A bowl game is likely out of reach unless they get a bid with five wins. Their next game comes at home against South Florida (3-3), a team that beat Rice by 13. This is a must-win matchup, a tone-setter for the rest of the year. If they win this one, their path towards five wins is crystal clear. Their three other winnable contests come on the road against Boston College (3-3) and UMass (1-6) and at home versus FCS Sacred Heart (1-6).
The two games preventing a six-win season are at James Madison (5-0) and No. 19 Tennessee (4-1). These two teams have beaten opponents comparable to and better than Connecticut, and to add insult to injury, they come on the road. Maybe there’s a chance to steal a win against James Madison, but that’s still a longshot. Regardless, to even be able to discuss the team potentially winning five games after their dismal start is exciting. The Huskies were looking at a potential 1-2 win season. Now, after a bye, they’ll get the opportunity to show everyone whether the Rice game was a blip or a sign of true progress.