The UConn football team scored nine points without recording a touchdown and allowed 104 behind three pick-sixes on the road against the No. 18 Tennessee Volunteers and the James Madison Dukes the past two weeks. It took two drives versus the Football Championship Subdivision Sacred Heart Pioneers for the Huskies to exceed that point total and get their first touchdown in three weeks.
Getting on the board via kicker Joe McFadden’s 50-yard field goal during their first possession, redshirt junior quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson laced a perfect deep ball right into wide receiver Cam Ross’ arms for a 46-yard score with 5:45 left in the first quarter. UConn never looked back after those two drives, snapping a four-game skid in a 31-3 victory over the Pioneers at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
“You are supposed to protect your home field,” senior defensive tackle Jackson Mitchell explained about the team’s second victory of the year. “To come in here and have a dominating win like that was big for us.”
Unable to move the chains on third down with a minute left in the first, the Huskies went with a run to the right to get the first down on fourth and one. On the very next play, Roberson found tight end Justin Joly in the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown as Connecticut exceeded their point total from each of their previous three games and went ahead 17-0 with 38 seconds left in the first.
Even with quarterback Rob McCoy’s 27-yard scamper down the middle nearly tripling his team’s total offense, Sacred Heart struggled to cross midfield following the Huskies’ first punt of the afternoon in the second quarter. Once the Pioneers did so on their ensuing possession five minutes later, however, they could not be kept off the board as kicker Sam Renzi capped off the 5:16 drive with a 24-yarder down the middle.
Driving down the field in the two-minute offense, redshirt freshman wide receiver Kylish Hicks caught his first career touchdown reception as UConn took a 24-3 advantage, their largest halftime lead of the season, into the locker room. Out of the intermission, running back Victor Rosa rumbled down the field for 40 total yards on three consecutive snaps before the Huskies punted for the second time.
Sacred Heart, two weeks removed from a one-score win over the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils, looked somewhat stronger in the third quarter. Even with a 28-yard sack and an intentional grounding penalty prematurely ending their second possession, the Pioneers gained as many first downs in those two drives as they had the entire first half.
Getting the ball back 86 seconds after McFadden’s 42-yarder hooked right of the uprights in the fourth, Connecticut quickly got into opposing territory and crossed the 30-point mark once graduate wide receiver Brett Buckman made a defender blink twice for Roberson’s fourth touchdown. Sacred Heart converted on fourth down with 30 seconds left, but a majority of the 19,053 fans had left as the Huskies won their third straight against FCS competition, all hailing from the Nutmeg State, dating back to 2021.
Blowing out the Pioneers by 28, UConn’s largest margin of victory since head coach Jim Mora took over, felt like a way of letting out 11 weeks of heartbreak and anger for a program that entered their 2023 Rentschler Field finale at a disappointing 1-9. Despite recording 183 more yards than Sacred Heart and scoring on each of their first three drives, Mora felt like the Husky offense could have performed better versus an in-state FCS foe.
“I wanted them to score more points,” Mora sternly stated. “I felt like our offense stumbled in the first half. We should have had 38 [points].”
Even with the numerous struggles, Connecticut put together one of their stronger offensive performances of the season. Roberson threw more than two touchdown passes for the first time in his five-year collegiate career, finishing the afternoon with four scores and 201 yards, 159 of which came in the first half. Four different receivers caught the redshirt junior quarterback’s touchdown passes, with Ross’ wide-open reception from 46 yards out being the longest passing play of the afternoon. The offensive line, led by Senior Bowl selection Christian Haynes, helped Rosa and Cam Edwards each average at least 6.5 yards per attempt and combine for 164 rushing yards on 23 carries.
Four of redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Pryce Yates’ six total tackles, including the 28-yard sack, resulted in the Pioneers picking up negative yards. Redshirt junior Dal’Mont Gourdine recorded the other sack of the day while four different defenders finished with four total tackles and at least two stoppages by themselves. Even without a turnover, the Huskies’ defense came up with eight third-down stops, did not allow a touchdown for the first time in 15 games and saw the field for 21:21.
Mitchell led the defense for the seventh time in the 2023 season, finishing with 11 total tackles and moving into third in program history behind John Dorsey and Lawrence Wilson with 431 in his career. Playing in his 21st and final contest at the Rent, the Ridgefield native reflected on his time at UConn as well as the Senior Day festivities, despite the contest feeling like any other game.
“To go out there in my last home game feels a little rewarding,” Mitchell commented postgame. “It was nice to be out there [for senior day], especially alongside guys like Eric [Watts] and Chrisitan [Haynes] that have also been here for five to six years.”
Now 2-9, the Huskies’ 2023 campaign concludes at McGuirk Alumni Stadium in Amherst, MA, on Saturday versus the 3-8 UMass-Amherst Minutemen. Kickoff in the 77th all-time meeting between both programs and sixth at the Football Bowl Subdivision level gets underway at 12 p.m. on ESPN+ and the UConn Sports Network on ESPN 97.9 FM.