Football: Huskies fall apart against No. 21 Dukes 

The UConn football team plays against USF in a tight battle at the Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford Conn. on Oct. 22, 2023. The UConn Huskies put up a good fight holding the lead for 2 quarters, but fell short in the 4th quarter losing the game 21-24. Photo by Siham Nedloussi/The Daily Campus.

Coming into Saturday’s matinee against the No. 21 JMU Dukes football team, nobody expected the UConn football team to win. Given their track record against ranked competition (average -45-point differential), few even expected it to be close.  

James Madison entered the game 9-0, but hadn’t destroyed every team they played. UConn came in 1-8, but was competitive in many of their losses. Even then, the Dukes emerged with a 44-6 victory. 

UConn quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson put together his second straight performance with over 200 yards, but hasn’t thrown a touchdown since Oct. 21. The New Jersey native has 32 incompletions and three interceptions across his past two games. 

It’s been tough sledding for Roberson and the Huskies as a whole. A slow start to the year was expected to turn around after they beat Rice on the road, especially given how winnable some of the games were. Instead, they dropped their next pair by 10 combined points and then had to travel to face ranked competition.  

They’ve been competitive against teams in the bottom half of the FBS, which is something, but the overall results have resembled the struggles UConn football fans have gotten far too used to over the past decade. Coach Jim Mora seemed to be a miracle-worker last year when he brought the team to 6-7, but he hasn’t been able to recreate the magic. It feels like every break last year’s team caught to achieve six wins has gone the other way this season. Even with any breaks, it was hard to picture the Huskies winning Saturday’s game.  

Regardless, they held their own early on. With JMU receiving the opening kick, Connecticut forced a punt after a handful of allowed first downs. Following an excellent reception by Cam Ross for 44 yards, UConn kicked it back.  

Connecticut’s “bend, don’t break” style of defense did just that on the next possession. They sustained a 12-play series that took the Dukes into the red zone, but made the stop and forced a field goal. The Huskies tried to fake a punt to running back Victor Rosa on the next drive, but they didn’t manage to convert. Once again, the defense held JMU to three points.  

UConn went three-and-out again, which finally proved to be too little offense to keep the secondary well-rested. Dukes quarterback Jordan McCloud connected with Reggie Brown for an 80-yard house call, which was just the start of the gunslinger’s incredible day.  

McCloud tossed 37 passes and completed 33 for a whopping 89% completion rate. Those 33 catches totaled 457 yards and four scores. To put these numbers into perspective, he averaged over 12 yards per attempt. Brown had an excellent outing in his own right, tallying 202 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in the victory.  

Down 13-0, the Huskies tacked on three points via a Noe Ruelas field goal. Ruelas was last year’s starting kicker, but was benched to start this season. Since then, he’s replaced season starter Joe McFadden, who hasn’t looked like his old self after recovering from ACL surgery. Connecticut did well to trail by just 10 at the half, but needed more offensive energy if they wanted a chance to win.  

On just the second snap of the third quarter, Rosa took a handoff and ran seven yards, but lost the ball in midair. Thanks to the halftime breather, the defense held the Dukes to just three, but the offense needed to do something soon.  

James Madison rattled off a four- play drive for a touchdown and the Huskies went three- and- out. Shortly after, Brown completely lost UConn defensive back Lee Molette III on his second score of the day, this time for 55 yards. Connecticut answered with a solid series of plays that made it all the way to the Dukes’ 10-yard line, but Roberson couldn’t find a receiver on fourth down. Going for it there was likely the right choice, but it was too little, too late.  

It didn’t help the cause when JMU marched down the field on the next series to increase the lead to 31. The final nail in the coffin was a Brent Austin pick-six to make it 44-6. There were times in the game where UConn looked like they could have played their way into it, but they weren’t able to take advantage of any such opportunities.  

A number of strong plays, including some trickery on a toss to star tight end Justin Joly, brought the Huskies to the JMU 13-yard line. Breakout running back Cam Edwards, who was the passer in the trick play, rushed for no gain and Roberson missed a throw. Staring down a fourth-and-five situation, Mora elected to try a chip-shot field goal to close the gap to 10 points instead of attempting a touchdown to make it a one-score game. Ruelas nailed the kick, but the Huskies still faced a 16-6 deficit. That’s where the wheels fell off.  

The Huskies will get their best remaining chance for a win this Saturday against Sacred Heart. It’ll be senior day against one of the worst teams in all of Division I football.  

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