A year ago, UConn was one of the Group of Five true success stories. Jim Mora Jr. took a chance, attempting to resurrect his coaching career by taking over one of the least successful programs in college football.
In the three seasons prior to Mora’s arrival (there was no UConn football in 2020 due to COVID), UConn was 4-32. The Huskies were 3-21 in their last two years in the American Athletic Conference and 1-11 in the first year as an independent in 2021.
Mora had enjoyed success coaching both in the NFL and college. He led the 2004 Atlanta Falcons to an 11-5 record and an appearance in the NFC Championship game. In six years as UCLA’s head coach, he was 46-30.
Still, there were many questioning Mora for taking such an undesirable job.
Yet Mora, who turns 62 in November, turned in one of his most impressive coaching performances. He took a 1-11 team and guided the Huskies to the Myrtle Beach Bowl, where they lost 28-14 to Marshall to finish his first season 6-7.
So that set up some fairly high expectations for this year (possibly a winning record?) but it hasn’t gone that way so far.
At least until this past week.
This season began with a so-called good loss, falling 24-14 at home to North Carolina State.
While NC State may not be a world-beater, the Wolfpack are 4-2 with losses to Notre Dame, 45-24, and Louisville, 13-10.
The opening game with the Wolfpack drew 36,526 fans, the largest home crowd at UConn since a 2013 game with Michigan drew 42,704.
What has hurt the Huskies is losing potentially winnable home games to FIU, 24-17, and Utah State, 34-33.
The loss to Utah State was truly heartbreaking. UConn got to within 34-33 on a 1-yard run by Jelani Stafford with 40 seconds left, but the Huskies’ PAT was blocked.
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Against FIU, the Huskies got down 24-3 and made a comeback that came up short.
The other losses were at Georgia State, 35-14, and at home against Duke, 41-7.
So a season that was spiraling downward at least received a temporary reprieve with last week’s impressive 38-31 win at Rice.
That is a Rice team that earlier this season beat Big 12 newcomer Houston.
Against Rice, it was another game in which the Huskies had a slow start, falling behind 14-0. This time, they were able to recover.
What’s more impressive is that they faced one of the better quarterbacks in the AAC, Rice’s J.T. Daniels, who threw for 362 yards and two touchdowns but had one interception.
UConn QB Ta’Quan Roberson completed 15 of 19 throws for 215 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions for the best game of his brief UConn career.
After transferring from Penn State, he earned the starting job last year but suffered a season-ending injury in the second series of last year’s season opener against Utah State.
Roberson has completed 60.3% of his passes for 970 yards, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions.
Sophomore running back Victor Rosa has led the ground game with 399 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
The one stat that tells the story of UConn’s season is scoring. The Huskies are averaging 20.5 points while allowing 31.5 points per game. UConn is 115th out of 130 teams in scoring offense and 105th in scoring defense. That’s not a good combination.
The Huskies have a bye this week and then will have a difficult path in an attempt to finish .500 and become bowl eligible.
Here is UConn’s schedule:
Oct. 21 vs. USF (3-3)
Oct. 28 at Boston College (3-3)
Nov. 4 at Tennessee (4-1)
Nov. 11 at James Madison (5-0)
Nov. 18 Sacred Heart (1-5)
Nov. 25 at Massachusetts (1-6)
Assuming the Huskies lose to Tennessee, then they would have to run the table against everybody else. Last year, the Huskies did beat Boston College, 13-3.
The game against USF, a matchup of one former and one current AAC team, will be the key. This is a game that could go either way. And if the Huskies win and gain momentum, who knows?
Last year, UConn became bowl eligible following a three-game win streak.
Late-season heroics will be needed again, although the odds won’t be in the Huskies’ favor.