Mountain West Football: First Look At The UConn Huskies
Utah State will host UConn in non-conference play this fall while Fresno State will head to the east coast to square off with the Huskies.
Are the Huskies still pushovers?
Utah State Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
Fresno State Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
The Utah State Aggies and Fresno State Bulldogs will face off with the UConn Huskies in non-conference football action this fall. Are those Huskies ready to win a few more games this fall?
Well, probably not, but hope isn’t lost in Connecticut. A new head coach and a new direction, the will to make independence work in the long run, could lead to a slow but steady turnaround. That may not make the results for 2022 any prettier, but the Huskies have some players who could surprise if the Aggies or Bulldogs decide to sleepwalk.
Location: East Hartford, Connecticut
2021 Record: 1-11
Head Coach: Jim Mora Jr. (first year at UConn; 46-30 overall). It’s been a few years since Mora Jr. has been on the sidelines, but while his stint with the Bruins ended with a thud back in 2017, his wealth of experience should give the Huskies program a shot in the arm.
Finding more consistency on both sides of the ball will be critical, since that was what ultimately betrayed Mora Jr. in his last couple of years at UCLA. The Bruins had substantial splits by SP+ in both 2016 (79th offense, 10th defense) and 2017 (9th offense, 104th defense), though it may be that first finding any kind of pulse is a more basic task to complete. After all, UConn finished 129th in overall SP+ last season.
Jackson Mitchell, LB
Mitchell had a promising season as a true freshman back in 2019, leading FBS defenders with 6.5 tackles per game, but he raised his game after the Huskies’ layoff. He finished 16th in the country with 120 total tackles in 2021 while also finishing second on the team with 6.5 tackles for loss and forcing three fumbles, so you can bet that UConn will expect more of the same as the team improves around him.
— Brendan Hill (@860_productions) January 14, 2022
Ian Swenson, LB
Mitchell is the headliner, but Swenson is no slouch at linebacker, either. In 2021, he finished second on the team with 74 total tackles and also chipped in five tackles for loss, two passes defended, and two sacks, solidifying the middle of the defense as part of a reliable duo.
Cameron Ross, WR
Ross, like Mitchell, emerged as a true freshman in 2019 with 60 catches for 723 yards and four touchdowns, all of which led the offense, but his 2021 was cut short after two games when he suffered a season-ending injury. If he has a clean bill of health, he could be the difference maker that the UConn offense sorely missed last season.
Kevon Jones, DE
Jones was the Huskies’ most disruptive defender throughout last year, pacing the team with 7.5 tackles for loss while displaying a knack for getting pressure on quarterbacks with 11 hurries and two sacks. He’s an athletic edge defender who can surprise if he catches an offensive lineman with flat feet.
Nathan Carter, RB
Carter’s numbers from 2021 don’t pop off the page, but running for 578 yards and two touchdowns on 162 carries isn’t too bad considering the chaos elsewhere on the UConn offense. He had a particularly strong midseason stretch against Wyoming, Vanderbilt, and Massachusetts and he’ll get every opportunity to build upon last year’s successes.
Another constant theme throughout the spring is how impressive RB Nathan Carter has looked. Every observer who comes through Storrs has nothing but praise for the compact, versatile back. Should be the lead horse in the stable—check out the route here #BleedBlue @UConnSI pic.twitter.com/2m5xCAIUhZ
— Ric Serritella (@RicSerritella) April 7, 2022
There’s no point in sugarcoating it: The UConn offense stunk last year. Only New Mexico averaged fewer than the Huskies’ 4.04 yards per play and 0.93 points per drive, meaning it can’t really get much worse, right?
That’s certainly what new offensive coordinator Nick Charlton, formerly the head coach at Maine, has in mind. The good news is that there are a few key playmakers who could easily spearhead that turnaround, like Ross and Carter and Keelan Marion, last year’s leading pass catcher (28 catches, 474 yards, three touchdowns). That trio leads an incredibly young group of running backs and pass catchers, one which only has four combined juniors and seniors.
Only question is, who will distribute the ball? Two of the three quarterbacks who saw extended playing time are gone, but Tyler Phommachanh (three starts, 48.6% completion rate, 4.5 yards per attempt) will have to compete with transfers Ta’Quan Roberson (Penn State) and Cale Millen (Northern Arizona) to win the job outright. Whoever does will have to hope the offensive line can perform a little better, as well, after allowing a 8.8% sack rate which ranked 114th in the country. To that end, three starters, including guard Christian Haynes, return to provide some continuity.
The UConn defense wasn’t great last year, ranking 96th with 5.96 yards per play allowed, 94th in third-down conversion rate allowed, and 111th in red zone touchdown rate allowed, but it was perfectly adequate when compared to the other side of the ball. The Huskies struggled to generate a pass rush (2.9% sack rate, 128th), but weren’t completely devoid of havoc.
A good mix of veterans like Jones, Mitchell, and Swenson could gel with a batch of transfer portal arrivals to fix that. Chief among the new Huskies are defensive end Sokoya McDuffie (28 tackles, 6.5 TFLs, four sacks at Old Dominion) and linebacker Marquez Bembry (Kentucky). If that front seven can get more consistent pressure, it’ll do a huge favor for a secondary that project to be very young.
Senior Trey Wortham (36 tackles, two tackles for loss, two interceptions) did a little bit of everything, but sophomores like Kaleb Anthony, Malik Dixon, and Durante Jones might be more likely to set the tone for the present and the future. It’ll make Lou Spanos’s job a little easier, but the holdover defensive coordinator from Randy Edsall’s staff might be under pressure right away to demonstrate improvement.
UConn is a reasonable bet to start improving within the next year or two, but it is probably still unreasonable to expect them to be much better against the Mountain West than they were in 2021. Utah State and Fresno State should roll.
Utah State 45, UConn 17
Fresno State 49, UConn 14