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The Post-Game Spread: UConn falls to NC State
It was a respectable showing by the Huskies but also revealed that plenty of work needs to be done.
Welcome to the Post-Game Spread, our take on the game recap!
The UConn Huskies acquitted themselves nicely despite a 24-14 loss in their season opener against NC State, a team that beat them 45-10 a year ago. This isn’t a
Sunday Friday morning rationalization — UConn showed plenty of signs of life, and even strength, against a quality opponent to start the season.
Emotionally, Thursday night’s season opener delivered great highs and lows.
The stadium atmosphere was lively; the Huskies’ first drive was brilliant, they made some big plays across the evening and stayed competitive into the fourth quarter against a Power 5 opponent. The student section was full well before kick-off and it got loud in big moments, like Victor Rosa’s 71-yard touchdown to make it a three-point game with two minutes left in the third quarter.
But the defensive performance left a lot to be desired. NC State got what it needed most of the time, converting 8-of-15 third-down attempts and only punting once in the first half. The visitors gained 48 yards or more on each of their three other first-half drives (touchdown, field goal missed, field goal made).
The Wolfpack also got 96 rushing yards and two rushing TDs from QB Brennan Armstrong, a UVA transfer who was very evasive. A good amount of his runs seemed to come on passing plays that broke down where he slipped away from pressure.
Offensively, UConn clearly has a lot to work on but it also should be noted that this NC State defense is seriously good. It’s either the second-best or best defensive unit the Huskies will face all year. They were stuffing UConn on early downs and forcing passing situations that the Husky offense was not advanced enough to do any damage on.
Next week, the Huskies visit Georgia State, who just got all it could handle from URI, whose QB threw for over 400 yards with 4 TDs in an upset bid that came up just short, 42-35. Kick-off will be at 7 p.m. on Saturday, September 9th in Atlanta, Ga.
Stats & Facts
The announced attendance of 36,526 is UConn’s largest home crowd since the Michigan game in 2013 and the largest for a home opener since 2010 against Texas Southern.
Joe Fagnano’s stat line in his first start: 14/26, 113 yards, 1 INT. The pick came at the very end of the game, and 48 of those passing yards came in that final garbage-time drive as well.
NC State had an advantage in total plays offensively, 72-53, but actually was very close to UConn in yards per play, just below the Huskies at 5.1 compared to 5.2 YPP. The Wolfpack had almost 50% more first downs than the Huskies as they used a run-heavy attack to rack up 209 ground yards and leave with a win.
NC State’s average third-down distance was 4.6 yards, while UConn’s was 7.4. Jim Mora brought this up thematically in his post-game press conference as an issue that hampered them.
In addition to his great rushing performance, Brennan Armstrong also had an efficient passing day, completing 65% of his 26 attempts for 155 yards as NCSU averaged 9.1 yards per completion.
In seven drives through the third quarter, NC State was successful (score or FG attempt) on all but two drives, with three touchdowns. They turned it over on downs with 11:28, giving UConn the ball with a 10-point lead, but the Huskies were unable to mount a serious comeback effort late.
After a successful first TD drive, the Huskies punted four straight times, scored a second TD on the long Rosa run, and then punted on two more drives with their final one ending with Fagnano’s pick. There were two three-and-outs and three other drives with fewer than 20 yards gained. We need more info to determine if this is more about NC State being great on defense or UConn being not so great offensively. But it’s not a good look.
UConn’s sack-adjusted run average is 7.1 yards per carry, which is quite good.
Sacks and turnovers were at a minimum all game, with three total sacks for both teams and one interception at the end serving as the only turnover. With seven penalties overall, just one for NC State, it was a pretty clean game.
Two pass interference calls helped NC State go 91 yards downfield for the touchdown that made it 17-7. This didn’t decide the game, but both could have easily not been called as the throws were not exactly on target.
Pros & Cons
Victor Rosa’s 99 yards on nine carries. He had two touchdowns, neither one a gimme, and got over 100 yards from scrimmage on the day thanks to his two receptions for eight yards. It was a tremendous showing for the hometown kid to open the season at the Rent.
Despite Fagnano’s disappointing statline, he managed the first drive really well, hitting two quick passes upfield and gaining 25 yards on the ground, including two keepers for over 10 yards each. In the second quarter, he made a nice play to side-arm a pass to Devontae Houston for a gain of 10. He has a strong arm and better prospects against the likes of Georgia State and FIU — the Huskies’ next two opponents.
Grad transfer LB Noah Plack led the charge to earn half of the Huskies’ only sack, while Jelani Stafford had a nice TFL as well. Pryce Yates and Jackson Mitchell led the Huskies in TFL with 1.5 each. The D also forced a turnover on downs to give UConn a shot of life late in the game.
It bears repeating: this is a high-quality opponent. NC State may not be as good as it was last year, but it’s still the kind of team that wallops the Huskies in 2021 and also beats them pretty badly in 2022. After Tennessee, this is probably the second-toughest opponent on the schedule overall.
UConn beat the Vegas spread by four and the S&P spread by around 25. This opener offers a lot to build on for those hoping on UConn’s continued improvement: it’s due to rise in objective measures of national reputation such as efficiency.
Fagnano missed on a handful of throws and had some passes hit the hands of his receivers. The box score only has one drop by Cam Ross but one seemed to hit Geordon Porter in the arms and one or two other plays were incomplete on seemingly catchable balls. Some passes appeared to be thrown too hard.
UConn’s tackling left a lot to be desired. NC State’s offense was finding its skill position players in space and letting them get to work — NC State’s receivers had 99 yards after catch out of 155 receiving yards. Armstrong didn’t have a completion over 19 yards on the day and the Wolfpack didn’t really need to break a sweat to win the game.
Justin Joly was UConn’s leading receiver, but 25 of his 38 yards came on one catch in the final drive. The Huskies did not get the ball to their outside receivers very much; they totaled five receptions for 45 yards.