Takeaways from UConn’s opening football season loss to Utah State

UConn Football’s 31-20 loss to Utah State on the opening weekend of the season was competitive all the way, despite arbitration controversy and injuries to key players on offense. The Huskies held their own against the defending Mountain West champions, a clear improvement from their 49-0 humiliation against Fresno State in Week Zero of the 2021 season.

There are many positives that UConn football will be able to take from the first game of the season, and even more areas of improvement for the team to work on next week against Central Connecticut State.

Overall a great result.

Dan Madigan: While the loss was hard to swallow late in the quarter because the Huskies were so close, Jim Mora and the team defied all expectations and had a chance to tie the game in the fourth quarter. UConn was a 24-point underdog before kickoff, but wasn’t trailing by more than 10 until the Aggies’ final score put them up 11. There was real competition in almost every facet for significant stretches, a huge improvement on previous seasons. . It’s only been one game, but it’s clear that Mora has already made a difference for this team from a roster and strategy perspective.

Aman Kidwai: Beat Syracuse, in my opinion.

Roberson, Marion injured

Madigan: The strong performance against Utah State was marred by injuries to starting quarterback Ta’Quan Roberson and wide receiver Keelan Marion, who were both hurt in the first half and expected to miss significant time. While true freshman Zion Turner seemed solid as a replacement and Tyler Phommachanh is coming back from his torn ACL last season, these two injuries definitely impact the ceiling on what this team can accomplish this year.

Kidwai: Losing Marion after also losing Cam Ross before the season started is a huge blow to the receiving core. Things may still be fine due to decent depth at the job, but losing those top-tier talents is extremely unfortunate. At QB, the Huskies now turn to Zion Turner. Offensive coordinator Nick Charlton was probably already planning on running the ball a lot, and now UConn’s passing attack is even weaker. They’re lucky to get a tune-up opportunity next week against CCSU before facing the meat of the schedule.

Nathan Carter is real

luke swanson: The running back’s 190 yards rushing was the most by a UConn running back since David Pindell’s last season with the Huskies, and his elite 9.5 yards per carry kept the Huskies’ offense running well even after his starting quarterback left the game.

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Despite being listed as the No. 2 running back on the depth chart, Carter led the team in rushing as expected, and made the most of what the offensive line gave him. Charlton’s running offense was basic but well-crafted, mixing power and trap concepts with a touch of zone blocking, and Carter hit the hole decisively, making smart cuts and breaking tackles in a way we saw glimpses of in the 2021 season. Carter will continue to be the Huskies’ lead running back and primary offensive weapon going forward.

Madigan: Watching Carter cut through defenders and start big runs reminded me a lot of some of the great UConn offenses of yore. He is clearly benefiting from an improved line game and has the speed, strength and vision to take advantage of reaching the second level. I’m excited to see him continue to develop this season, and I think he has the potential to be one of the best running backs to come through Storrs in years.

The offensive line is a mixed bag.

Luke: Let’s start with the good: UConn’s offensive line was pushed to the front in the running game for the first time in years, especially on the interior. New starting center Jake Guidone and guard Christian Haynes were maulers up front, paving the way for Carter to put up eye-catching numbers. The starting running back was often five yards down the field before meeting a Utah State player on inside runs, but it’s worth noting that it was more difficult when he ran out of tackle.

The Huskies’ offensive line struggled a lot with pass blocking. After Roberson left the game, Zion Turner had the pocket conscience of a freshman, but the offensive line had him struggling a bit. Turner was not sacked, but was frequently rushed in the pocket and forced to throw on the run and crosscourt, setting up two interceptions.

Jackson Mitchell legit

Luke: Jackson Mitchell has been a tackling machine at the center of some really bad UConn defenses, ranking third in the country among true rookies in tackles in 2019 and leading the team in tackles with 120 in 2021. The stalwart middle linebacker could have left the program easily. with the departure of Randy Edsall last year, but he stayed with the team and showcased his talents to a national audience on Saturday.

Mitchell led both squads with 16 tackles and seven solo tackles, tying his career high. The junior was all over the field, losing blocks and making life difficult for the Utah State running game. Mitchell wasn’t the only player thrown into a starting position too early in his freshman year in recent seasons, but he is carving out a career as a leader on UConn’s defense and should continue to do so the rest of the season.

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Kidwai: Mitchell is showing the true potential of the NFL. If he can keep it up, his structure and athleticism make him an attractive prospect for the next level.

Zion Turner is living on the edge

Luke: Pushed into starting position in his first college game, Zion Turner learned some hard lessons Saturday with a sub-.400 completion percentage and two interceptions. However, he was throwing on the run for much of those snaps and the offensive line fought to protect the true rookie, letting him make awkward throws through his body.

Despite inconsistent pass protection, Turner had some solid throws, including one in a tight window for the second touchdown of the day, showing off the arm talent he displayed at St. Thomas Aquinas and in flashes in fall camp.

If Turner is the starting quarterback going forward, the rest of the season will continue to be a learning experience for him. Mora and his staff have until the week of the North Carolina state game to decide whether he will continue as the starting quarterback or redshirt this year.

Noe Ruelas has a boot

Madigan: With starter Joe McFadden out for the season with a knee injury, Noe Ruelas has shown he’s up to the task. With UConn down 10 in the fourth, Mora went to Ruelas twice and the kicker delivered, making 47 and 54 shots from the field, the latter of which was the longest in UConn FBS history. He also sent all of his kickoffs through the end zone for touchbacks.

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