On the back of a 6-6 regular season and a bowl appearance in its first year under head coach Jim Mora, the UConn football program entered 2023 with a rejuvenated fan base that was starting to believe in the direction it was headed.
UConn fans flocked to Rentschler Field in impressive numbers for the season-opener, a not-so-bad 24-14 loss to NC State. But plenty of fans decided, after a performance Mora deemed “pitiful” at Georgia State, not to come out for what many had chalked up as a win before the year began. Boo birds shooed the program off the field at halftime Saturday as it faced a 24-3 deficit to FIU, the team on the other side of UConn’s only road win last season.
Mora didn’t hide his disappointment – he used the word seven times in his seven-minute postgame press conference – calling the offense “abysmal” and saying he’ll need to dissect the whole operation.
He also made a promise to the fans, the players and the university, that he wouldn’t let the program descend to what it was before his arrival: five straight seasons with three wins or less, 10 consecutive losing records.
“I will not let this program descend back to what it was,” Mora said. “I promise you that. I promise our fans that.”
But now, losing two games the optimists counted on as wins with its toughest opponent, nationally-ranked Duke, coming to East Hartford next week, the work is cut out for UConn to save its season.
“As heartbreaking as it is to lose and to sit here 0-3, we don’t have any time at all to feel sorry for ourselves,” Mora said. “We’ve got to learn from what happened (Saturday), we’ve got to adjust from the things that we learned, and we’ve got to put them into action. Because words don’t matter, actions do. And right now, our actions have not been good enough to win football games.”
UConn’s offense is one of the worst in the nation in scoring (No. 124 of 130 programs with 15 points per game), and in yards gained (114th with 314 yards per game).
Consistently playing from behind, the offense has scored just 10 first half points in the three games combined.
“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, I mean, that’s abysmal. And I’m just being honest. And that’s on me, I’m the head coach. I’m not blaming the offense, I’m blaming myself. It’s not okay,” Mora said.
“We’re gonna evaluate every single player and every single play and every single call, every single practice rep and every single defense we put our scout team in. And we’re gonna figure it out, but there’s not a lot to be pleased with on the offensive side of the ball.”
The defense came out in the second half on Saturday inspired. They kept FIU off the scoreboard, forcing five punts and a missed field goal, and gave the offense good field position. UConn had a great chance at tying the game after its defense forced a three-and-out inside the FIU 10-yard line and the offense started in plus territory near midfield with almost three minutes left.
But nine plays later, with a second holding penalty on the drive wiping away a touchdown catch by Justin Joly, Ta’Quan Roberson‘s completion on fourth-and-14 to Cam Ross was short of the first and UConn turned it over on downs.
“We have to call a play that gives us a chance. Cam got jammed up, he’s got to fight through it and he’s got to get to the sticks and we’ve got to then make the catch,” Mora said. “So this loss falls on all of us but I’m gonna go back and I’m gonna tell you: as bad as it seems right now, this team will recover. We will fight back. We will not let people down that jumped on and supported us after the six-win season last year which I remind everybody, we all said wasn’t good enough.”
After Duke, which is ranked 18th in the country after wins over Clemson, Lafayette and Northwestern, UConn has just three more chances to win at home: Utah State (1-2), South Florida (1-2) and Sacred Heart (0-3) late in the season.
The Huskies travel to Rice (2-1 with shootout wins over Houston and Texas Southern) on Oct. 7 with a off week before hosting USF, and will then play four of its last five games on the road. Four of UConn’s remaining nine opponents have won at least two of their first three games, including No. 23 Tennessee, who the Huskies will visit in early November.
“Who likes to lose?” running back Devontae Houston said after accounting for 47.5% of UConn’s total offense Saturday with 126 yards rushing and 37 receiving. “Obviously it’s upsetting, you know. We came out slow. Anytime you come out slow versus anybody in FBS football it’s gonna be hard to come back.
“We’re not gonna quit. Ultimately it comes down to the locker room, as long as we believe in each other it ain’t about anybody on the outside. We’d love to have everybody on the outside believing in us but ultimately it comes down to us. Everybody in that locker room, we know we’re gonna keep working, we’re gonna keep going.”