Regardless of whether they won or lost, Mora says his players are able to turn the page and begin each week focused and ready to prepare for the next game.
“That’s what you have to have no matter if you’re undefeated or you’ve never won a game,” he said this week, after another close loss to Boston College. “You have to have that consistency of intensity, of work ethic, of focus, of preparation, all of those things that help you get better. And our guys, one of the great things about them is they continue to do that. If they can continue to do that and fight like crazy, then good things are going to happen.”
The frustration at this point for UConn, 1-7, stems from a compilation of mistakes, small errors in game plan or execution, that translate to the scoreboard.
“We know what we have to do to win games,” said junior defensive lineman Dal’Mont Gourdine. “We can’t make mistakes, can’t afford them basically… It’s everything on the field and off the field, just locking into what you need to do at all times. Some off the field things may take part into it too, outside of football just like you’re staying locked-in to what we’ve got to do. And our goal this week, and every week, is to go in and win the game and play our best.”
Since losing to Duke, 41-7 at home, and starting the year 0-4, the Huskies have had four straight games decided by seven points or less – and they’ve been on the wrong side in three of the four.
On Saturday, the Huskies’ defense couldn’t get off the field. Boston College was 10 of 16 on third down and 3 of 4 on fourth, not giving UConn’s offense – though it also struggled – an opportunity to get in rhythm. After the game, safety Malik Dixon-Williams said the defense’s struggle to get off the field came from a lack of urgency and focus.
This week, as they travel to Knoxville as 36-point underdogs against No. 19 Tennessee, focus and urgency need to be top of mind.
Tennessee, led by quarterback Joe Milton III and running back Jaylen Wright, has the 28th-best offense in terms of total yards per game (443.5) and is No. 7 in the FBS in rushing (228.1). Milton, another dual-threat signal caller, has completed 64.8% of his passes for 1,763 yards and has 258 rushing yards on the year, while Wright leads the run-game with 713 yards on 102 carries.
The Volunteers also rank No. 26 in total defense allowing 327.5 total yards per game, 222.4 passing (No. 61) and 105.1 on the ground (No. 19).
“We know it’s gonna be loud, but to be a good football player, to be a good performer in anything that you do, you need to have to be able to cut out the distractions and all that matters is what happens between those lines on that green field,” Mora said. “That’s what we’ll have to be able to do and I’m confident that we’ll be able to go down there and we’ll block out all of the distractions and we’ll focus on what’s important – that’s the 11 guys that they line up and the 11 guys that we line up and the situation that we’re in.”
Return of Rosa
UConn has missed running back Victor Rosa since he sprained his ankle on the first offensive play against South Florida. The team’s touchdown leader last season stayed on the sideline and got back into the game for just one play, but went back out immediately after. He dressed and was active but did not play against Boston College.
Rosa returned to practice and is expected to play Saturday.
He will share carries with Norwalk native Cam Edwards, who accumulated 238 yards rushing on 38 carries (6.3 yards per carry) with two touchdowns in the two games Rosa missed. He also caught six passes for 50 yards and another score.