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Meet your new starting QB: Joe Fagnano
The Maine transfer won the starting job in an open competition with the two starters from last year.
UConn head coach Jim Mora has named Joseph Fagnano the starting quarterback for the 2023 season opener against NC State. The exact rest of the depth chart has not been revealed, but Ta’Quan Roberson and Zion Turner are ostensibly the backups.
Most years, at UConn but also at many schools, the backup sees some meaningful playing time. It bodes well for the Huskies to have solid depth at the position.
For fun (not really), here’s a list of UConn’s Day One starters and the person who ended the season as the leading passer, by year.
2022 - Roberson, Turner
2021 - Jack Zergiotis, Steven Krajewski (Phommachanh also started games)
2020 - No season (National Champions)
2019 - Zergiotis, Zergiotis (others started games)
2018 - David Pindell, David Pindell (The last time a QB started and ended a season for UConn, Pindell was the lone bright spot on a 1-11 team)
2017 - Pindell, Bryant Shirreffs
2016 - Shirreffs, Donovan Williams
2015 - There’s a New Shirreffs in Town (Bowl Season)
2014 - Chandler Whitmer*, Chandler Whitmer (*Diaco named Whitmer and Casey Cochran co-starters, with Tim Boyle also in the room. Cochran retired, Whitmer played the majority of snaps, and Boyle’s in the NFL now after having his career sidetracked by multiple UConn coaches)
2013 - Whitmer, Casey Cochran
Sorry to make you go through that. Yikes. Anyway…
What does this mean for UConn’s offense?
In 2022, UConn’s offense ran the ball 513 times and threw the ball 276 times. A handful of those runs may have been on passing plays, but that’s roughly a 65/35 split.
Offensive coordinator Nick Charlton came to UConn after seven seasons at Maine, including the last three as head coach and a year before that as the offensive coordinator in 2018. As OC, Charlton’s unit averaged 26.5 points per game as the Black Bears made it to the semifinals of the FCS Playoffs. They ran the ball 496 times and had 486 passing attempts, a nearly even split.
In 2019, the team did not fare as well, going 6-6, but increased its scoring to 29.3 points per game. The offense was nearly perfectly balanced once again (397 runs, 392 passes).
That season, Fagnano made his college debut as a redshirt freshman. The Williamsport, PA native started six games, notching some impressive performances including five passing TDs against Liberty in his first start and at least two TDs and 30 points in the next four starts including four TDs against Albany. He completed 67 percent of his attempts across the season as he finished with 16 TDs and three interceptions.
In 2020 and 2021, Fagnano played a total of eight games with COVID-19 precautions playing a role in addition to an injury in the fall of 2021. In the Spring 2021 season, Fagnano threw for eight TDs and one interception while earning Second-Team All-CAA honors.
This is the magic Fagnano and Charlton are hoping to re-capture at UConn. The next year the Black Bears went 2-9 and the offense took a step back in the wake of Charlton’s departure. Fagnano still managed a respectable 15 TDs with six picks, while displaying some running ability, with three rushing TDs and 296 yards on the ground. He had two years of eligibility remaining as a transfer.
So, what does UConn’s new starting QB bring to the table? And what might the offense look like? To find that answer, we went to some Maine film and highlights for this two-part article.
The Fagnano File
CT Insider caught up with Fagnano’s high school coach to get an understanding of the new UConn QB’s early years.
"You guys are going to be pleased with the young man that he is," said Chuck Crews, who coached Fagnano at Williamsport Area High in Pennsylvania. "He is a leader and a winner. He does all of the little things and at the same time, he is not out there as a me, me, me guy…a great teammate."
Crews recalled Charlton’s visit to meet Fagnano and secure his commitment. “He left there knowing that a great quarterback had fallen into his lap."
In terms of a scouting report: "You are going to love his pocket presence, his eyes are always down field. He moves so instinctively in the pocket, and when he takes off he has some wheels.” Fagnano shared his own thoughts on his playing style in a preseason interview earlier this month.
Here’s a look at some 2022 highlights and top performances.
Against Monmouth, we see two nice touchdown passes from Fagnano. He hit his receiver in the corner for Maine’s first score and found a tight end over a safety for the second. Fagnano also completes a very long (looked like 70+ yards) pass to set up a short TD run.
One of the most promising things about Fagnano’s record is his play against FBS programs, including the 5 TDs at Liberty in 2019 and a 35-10 win over UMass in 2021. At Boston College last year, he threw for 289 yards with two TDs despite the loss.
Fagnano may have had his best performance of 2022 in a 28-27 loss to Stony Brook. He completed 62 percent of his 45 attempts for 314 yards and two touchdowns.
These numbers may not jump off the page but they are a vast improvement from previous UConn quarterbacks against comparable opponents including BC and FCS programs. Go look at the QB stats for the Huskies in their FCS games, and be encouraged by what Fagnano could accomplish with (hopefully) more talent around him at UConn.
We’ll take a deeper look at Charlton’s scheme at Maine and Fagnano’s capabilities in a follow-up article. But we know that both are used to running more balanced offenses. Even though the Huskies are expecting to be more run-heavy this year, we can maybe expect the ratio to be closer to 50/50 than 65/35, especially with a proven passer like Fagnano.
From the new UConn starter, we’ve seen a strong throwing ability, the desire to hang in the pocket to make throws, and good mobility in the pocket. He brings a new element to the offense but his familiarity with Charlton also portends a larger leap in sophistication for the attack than previously expected.