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The Post-Game Spread: UConn flops, again
The Huskies fall to 0-3 and enter dicey territory.
Welcome to The Post-Game Spread, our take on the recap story.
Fear has replaced hype very quickly as the primary mood surrounding UConn football. The preseason hype survived Week 1 but took a big hit in Week 2 and any remaining hope waltzed out the door as FIU took a 24-3 lead into the halftime break on Saturday.
This doesn’t look like a bowl team. It may fall well short of that goal.
Being 0-3 at this point is not the worst situation for UConn. But the way it has gone down falls far below preseason expectations.
The Huskies do not look like a team capable of winning. They make way too many unforced errors and give up too many big plays. We’re seeing dropped passes, muffed punts, undisciplined penalties, long kick returns, and poor execution on quick passing plays. In the last two games, they’ve been outscored 45-3 in the first half.
UConn’s best remaining chances for wins are against Sacred Heart and UMass in the final two games of the season. Beyond that, it has opportunities at home against Utah State (Sept. 30) and USF (Oct. 21). But it might be optimistic to call them coin flips; USF has a transfer-filled roster that just played Alabama close.
Looking at upcoming road games, Rice (Oct. 7th) recently beat cross-town rival Houston. Boston College (Oct. 28) lost by two against No. 3 Florida State at home. James Madison (Nov. 11) went 8-3 last year as a new FBS member and is 3-0 to start 2023. Tennessee (Nov. 4) was ranked 11th in the country before losing at Florida but still looks like the toughest game of the year.
UConn has…kept it kind of close against a mid-tier Power Five team in Week 1. The offense has scored 14, 14, and 17 points in three games, with the last two coming against teams not known for being tough defensively. Georgia State just beat Charlotte, 41-25. FIU allowed North Texas to score 36 last week.
“Our offense has not been anywhere close to what it needs to be to win football games,” head coach Jim Mora said.
“You’re not gonna win football games in college scoring 17 points. We’ve scored six touchdowns and kicked two field goals in three games. In today’s world of college football, that’s abysmal,” he later added.
The Husky defense is prone to giving up big plays, as Georgia State and FIU have revealed. Mora’s defense shut out FIU in the second half to give UConn a chance, but the failures of the first half loom very large, especially a 45-yard touchdown pass and the 25-second, 80-yard drive that ended with a 64-yard touchdown pass right before halftime.
Those points ended up being the difference in the game.
A roster that appears to be more talented than last year’s seems to have regressed. That’s on the coaches. Mora has taken accountability for the Georgia State and FIU losses. He’s saying the right things. But what will accountability look like?
Up next, UConn hosts Duke, a top-20-ish team, and it could get ugly. Based on this start to the season, the outlook is not great, for this game or the rest of the season.
Stats & Facts
The Panthers were moving the ball at will to start. After the first quarter, both teams ran 15 plays each. FIU had 149 yards (9.93 yards per play) and UConn had just 69 yards (4.6 yards per play).
Ta’Quan Roberson started off 1-for-5 on his passing attempts and went into halftime 4-of-14 with UConn averaging 3.6 yards per play.
FIU’s true freshman QB Keyone Jenkins threw for 284 yards with two touchdowns while completing 56 percent of his passes on the day.
Devontae Houston got going early and often. He carried the rock on three consecutive plays on the first drive, going for 16, 27, and 10 yards to set up the Husky field goal and finished with 129 rushing yards on 19 carries (6.6 ypc) along with 37 receiving yards on a screen-play for a touchdown.
After gaining 294 yards in the first half at 9.48 yards per play, FIU’s offense was held to 70 yards in the final 30 minutes as it was shut out.
Defensive lineman Jelani Stafford scored the first UConn touchdown. He’s been in on offensive short-yardage packages as a fullback, punching it in early in the 3rd quarter and finishing with three carries. It capped off an eight-play, 82-yard march set up by long completions to Brett Buckman and Justin Joly.
UConn allowed 17 unanswered points in the second quarter. While the offense wasn’t getting anything going, the defense got gashed by two big plays for touchdowns, which ultimately made the difference in the game.
FIU had some travel woes that had them getting into Connecticut after midnight the night before the game. They still got off to a fast start on Saturday.
FIU fumbled four times without losing the ball once.
Despite all of this, the Huskies had a chance to tie the game. Taking over on its own 22 with 5:54 remaining, three straight Devontae Houston rushes for 21 total yards made it 2nd & 5 from the Husky 43. A Roberson keeper was stuffed and then he scrambled for a short gain due to pressure on third down. With just over three minutes left in the game, Mora made the decision to punt on 4th & 3 from the UConn 45.
This strategy ended up working out. George Caratan’s punt was fair caught at the 7-yard line. FIU even fumbled on third down, giving the Huskies a golden opportunity, but the Panthers recovered and punted, setting up another chance for UConn.
Mora defended the punt by explaining that when the defense is making stops and the offense can’t get first downs and has struggled all year, “that’s what a smart football person does.”
The next UConn drive started with 2:41 left from the FIU 48. A nice Houston run for 14 yards on first down and a defensive pass interference moved the Huskies up to the FIU 17. A false start moved them back to the 22, and two straight passes to Buckman set up 4th & 4 from the FIU 11.
On the next play, Roberson scrambled around and hit a diving Justin Joly in the end zone for a play that was ruled a touchdown after review. Unfortunately, it came back due to a holding penalty and on 4th & 14 Roberson’s throw was complete but didn’t cross the sticks. Cam Ross was tackled on the nine-yard line to seal the game.
Pros & Cons
Allowing zero points in the final 30 minutes is definitely better than the alternatives. An offense may be playing conservatively in the third quarter when the team’s up 21. But in FIU’s three fourth-quarter drives when it was up by seven, surely the visitors were trying to add to their lead. UConn forced two three-and-outs and a missed field goal.
Devontae Houston’s performance is a huge bright spot for the Husky offense. If he and Victor Rosa are moving it, there is a version of this attack that can be successful. Houston is a really great runner in space.
UConn did a good job of getting Justin Joly involved. He pulled in a modest four receptions for 34 yards but had nine targets and was getting the ball in a variety of ways. Joly did have two drops, but he also caught the potential game-tying touchdown that came back due to a penalty. He almost got into the end zone earlier on a 17-yard screen that set up Stafford’s rushing TD.
Coming back in this game is a good sign for UConn’s resilience and character. The best hope for this team is that the assembled talent executes at a higher level and that Roberson can improve at this early stage of his development as a starter.
Caratan’s punts were booming once again. He had a nice one for 64 yards at the end of the first quarter and averaged 45 yards per punt.
Roberson and the offense got a bit more going in the second half.
Much of what has already been said belongs here, but no need to repeat ourselves. We’ve got more.
The UConn defense was atrocious in the first half. It’s remarkable that they pitched a shutout in the second, but FIU was getting whatever it wanted in the first quarter and then busted it open in the second.
UConn’s wide receivers have not been difference-makers. Geordon Porter was billed as a potential No. 1 outside WR but has not made an impact. Brett Buckman is the team’s leading receiver with 174 yards on 16 receptions and one touchdown.
The Husky offense needs to sharpen up its passing attack and find a way to make defenses respect the deep ball, otherwise everything else is predictable and easy to defend. Against FIU, UConn had 118 yards after catch on 180 receiving yards; neither Roberson nor Fagnano have been successful with their intermediate or deep attempts. Against Georgia State, they combined for 96 yards in three quarters.
Mora indicated that Rosa had back spasms which prevented him from playing more; he had nine carries for 34 yards.
UConn has only forced one turnover in three games.
FIU averaged 18.9 yards per pass completion.