As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team opponent preview each week over the spring/summer. This week, we’re previewing Syracuse’s matchup with Connecticut on Sept. 10 with three major storylines.
There’s not really any way around it- the UConn Huskies football team was one of the worst teams in the country last year, and the worst of the last couple of years at that. Sporting a 10-50 record since 2016, the club’s only brief respite from losing was the 2020 season in which they decided not to play any games due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Upon their return last year, they won a single game against Yale en route to a 1-11 record. Their coach retired after the first two games of the season, both losses. They were the 129th ranked scoring offense in the nation, at a paltry 15.6 points per game. They were the 123rd ranked scoring defense, giving up 38.5 points per game. UConn football was truly at rock bottom.
ENTER JIM MORA, JR.
The obvious upside of a rock bottom football team is that there is nowhere to go but up. New head coach Jim Mora cited that fact in his introductory press conference. The former NFL head coach of the Atlanta Falcons had success previously in the NCAA with the UCLA Bruins from 2012-2017, and saw a young football team with potential to rise.
Mora was actually hired during the previous tumultuous season, coming onboard in early November but rather than taking head coaching duties from the interim Lou Spanos, Mora joined as an assistant, which allowed him to focus on recruiting for next season.
That’s the type of savvy move that hiring a former NFL head coach can give you, and it’s paid off as Mora has signed the Gatorade Player of The Year out of Connecticut running back Victor Rosas, as well as a three star QB prospect out of Ft. Lauderdale high school football powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas, Zion Turner.
QB COMPETITION UNDERWAY
On the topic of quarterbacks, UConn also welcomes in former Penn State back-up Ta’Quan Roberson through the transfer portal. Roberson saw limited time as a Nittany Lion, completing just 11 of 28 passes for 85 yards and a score, but has ability creating with his legs and a good deep ball.
Tyler Phommachanh and Steven Krajewski also return to the fold as the two shared starting duties last year, but given the anemic offense their spots are hardly guaranteed. The incoming freshman Zion Turner has a real chance to compete for the starting job against Roberson, as he sports elite athleticism for a player his age and chose UConn over offers from LSU, Miami, and Texas A&M specifically because of coach Mora and his work turning Brett Hundley into the all-time leading passer at UCLA.
With a QB room sporting a good mix of experience, youth, and talent, the Huskies are in good position to get better play under center in 2022, under the experienced eye of Mora.
CAN THE DEFENSE TAKE A STEP UP
Another positive for UConn going into next season is Moras’ decision to retain interim head coach Lou Spanos as defensive coordinator. Spanos held the post since 2019 for the Huskies until 2021, when he was pressed into action as interim HC following the retirement of Randy Edsall. Spanos went 1-9 for the rest of the year, essentially keeping the ship afloat with a roster devoid of much talent.
Defensive tackle Travis Jones, the lone bright spot for the Huskies defense last year is off to the NFL draft but he leaves behind him another solid player in outside linebacker Kevon Jones. Jones has 151 tackles in his three years at UConn and figures to be a key cog in Spanos’ defense.
Spanos has a long history of success coaching linebackers going back to his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers coaching Hall of Famer James Harrison and Joey Porter. He also got career best seasons out of London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo in Washington, and turned Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Myles Jack into NFL talents during his time at UCLA.
With Spanos able to focus again on the defense, and with Jim Mora able to bring in some higher-end talent thanks to his resume in college and the pros, the UConn Huskies look certain to increase their win total by a handful of games over their dismal previous season.