Why UConn coaches trusted Joe Fagnano with starting quarterback role

UConn football coach Jim Mora crunched all of the quarterback numbers from training camp and once they were in front of him, he trusted his gut. Conferring with the other coaches on his staff, the consensus decision was to make Joe Fagnano the starter.

The competition, with Fagnano beating out returners Ta’Quan Roberson and Zion Turner, was “really close,” Mora said.

“I just want to be clear that it’s not a negative toward the other guys, (but) Joe is very poised. Joe has some height to him, (he) has played a lot of snaps in college football, he’s thrown a lot of passes. In college football I think there’s a strong correlation between the number of snaps you’ve played at quarterback and the number of throws you’ve had and your ability to have success,” Mora said after practice Sunday. “So that was important to us.”

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Previously a starter at Maine, where he learned his then head coach Nick Charlton’s system, now UConn’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Fagnano threw 740 passes and completed 442 over the last four years. Roberson has thrown 31 passes over his career, completed 12, and Turner completed 149 of 258 (57.8% completion) as a freshman for the Huskies last season.

In four career games against FBS opponents, Fagnano is 74-for-137 (54%) with 1,039 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions – including a 445-yard game with five passing touchdowns as a freshman against Liberty in 2019.

“He’s probably played the most games in this system, so just knowing the nuances of the system inherently because of experience I think gives him an advantage,” Mora said, “and it is important, he will change things at the line of scrimmage like you’d like to be able to do now in college football, and maybe see things just a tad bit quicker because you’ve seen it before, you’ve been in that situation before. You hope those things translate to success on the field.”

Mora and Charlton each hope the familiarity, as well as a much deeper group of healthy receivers and tight ends, will give them more options to diversify the offense. Last year UConn ran the ball on more than 64% of its offensive plays.

“Every week’s a little bit different (in) what you’re trying to emphasize, how teams are playing you, what you’re trying to do to attack that. I think that the fact that we’ve got healthy receivers right now and healthy tight ends, and we’ve got more receivers and tight ends that we feel are productive players than maybe we’ve had in the past at this point in the season, is going to help us,” Mora said.

“We’ve got quarterbacks that have been in the system so they have a better understanding of it, so you’re able as a coach to feel more comfortable doing more things, game planning a little bit more specifically. We always have a base package that’s kind of our foundation, but each week being able to add things that are going to try to take advantage of what the defensive scheme presents is really important. We can only do that when you have a group that understands the foundation of your offense.”

Fagnano, a native of Williamsport, Pa., spent much of the spring and the summer getting to know his new teammates. Since he’s been named the starter, Fagnano has taken on more of the leadership role that is natural and necessary for the position.

“It’s not just on the O-line just to be the leaders out there, now it’s like he’s taking it now and we appreciate that from him,” said Christian Haynes, a preseason All-American and the Huskies’ predominant leader on the offensive side of the ball.

“Joe’s gonna show you why he’s out there and why he’s meant to be out there,” linebacker Jackson Mitchell said. “He makes really good decisions, he’s comfortable back there and I believe in him.”