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Despite losing the Myrtle Beach Bowl, the 2022 season ends with optimism
The bowl game did not go well but it included some bright spots and hope remains strong for a better future for this program.
Trailing 21-0 after a first half packed with offensive blunders in a postseason exhibition game, UConn could have given into the same temptation that befalls many bowl teams even before a ball is snapped: They could have easily folded and let Marshall continue to stomp on them.
Add to that a 10-play, 79-yard Thundering Herd touchdown drive early in the third quarter, during which the Huskies lost linebacker Ian Swenson to a targeting call and an ejection from the final game of his college career. The score was 28-0 in the third quarter.
What followed is a testament to the Huskies’ resilience, a trait that they’ve demonstrated all year.
Rattling off two straight touchdowns in the third quarter to make it a two-score game with plenty of time left showed what the Huskies were made of. They were playing to win this game.
“Just no matter what the score was, we needed to keep fighting. We can’t fall under pressure and we have to execute. We were planning on coming back,” running back Victor Rosa said after the game.
Following Marshall’s back-breaking touchdown drive at the beginning of the second half, Rosa, quarterback Zion Turner and the rest of the UConn offense kicked into gear in a way we didn’t see at all in the first half, where Cade Millen started a few drives in relief.
Turner used his legs to pick up a first down to start off the drive, and a 15-yard penalty from Marshall extended it further. Turner then connected with Keelan Marion on a 32-yard completion down the sideline, setting up Victor Rosa for a 14-yard run where he reversed field to get into the endzone.
The next drive played out similarly, with a completion to Cam Ross to set up another touchdown where Rosa showed great vision to make it 24 yards to the house for his 11th touchdown of the season.
UConn would keep fighting still, and it looked like there was a real possibility of them narrowing the 14-point deficit even further. Marshall’s ill-advised attempts to air it out — considering how effective their run game had been — finally worked against them when Malik Dixon-Williams made an acrobatic interception to give the Huskies the ball back.
Penalties deeply hurt the UConn comeback effort. The game had been chippy up until that point — the Swenson ejection was well-deserved by his and Mora’s own admission, and the two teams combined for well over 210 penalty yards. On UConn’s drive following its second touchdown, a series of pass interference non-calls went Marshall’s way, incensing Mora and leading to UConn’s head coach getting a penalty himself.
“It was terrible, terrible, terrible. I’ve coached for 35 years and I’ve never seen a call like that. It wasn’t why we didn’t win the game, but things could have been better,” Mora said.
UConn’s following drives ended in a turnover on downs on a 4th and 13 and a last-ditch heave from Turner that ended in an interception, but the furious second-half comeback left a few positives for Mora and UConn fans.
“It was an extremely disappointed locker room and, to me, that signals progress. There was nobody who was just satisfied with making a bowl game, we came to win. It seemed like there was a lot not going our way and I’m proud of the way our guys fought,” Mora said. “I think we made a step forward in terms of our mental toughness, and that will be a big focus for us going forward.”
This team has good players and a young roster. The culture is strong, and many great additions are coming via freshman and transfer recruiting. We have reason to confidently believe this will be a better team in 2023, and that’s something we have not been able to do for any of the last five years.