GUEST POST: Patrick Mayhorn's Non-Conference Previews: UConn
Following a one-win season, the Huskies have plenty of growing to do.
SITE STUFF: As I mentioned last week, I’m taking time off this month, but there’s still plenty of content in the pipeline thanks to a heavy-hitting lineup of guest posters.
We continue with a look at week three foe UConn from Patrick Mayhorn, whose outstanding work you can find at The Outside Zone and Flipping the Field. He’ll use his Group of Five expertise to preview all three of M’s non-conference opponents for us this month.
UConn’s lone victory in 2021 came by six points over a 5-5 Ivy League team. When the Huskies, led then by interim head coach Lou Spanos, toppled Yale 21-15 on Oct. 16 it was considered an upset. The Bulldogs entered the game as 3 ½-point favorites despite a 2-2 record with losses to Holy Cross and Dartmouth.
Though naming an FCS team the favorite over their FBS counterpart may look foolish in retrospect, it’s hard to blame to bookmakers.
UConn entered that matchup with an 0-7 record, more than a month removed from the long-awaited resignation of head coach Randy Edsall, who lasted two games into the 2021 season. The Huskies had been blown out of the water by Army, Fresno State and Purdue, beaten by two scores by a one-win UMass squad and toppled by 10 points by that same Holy Cross squad that beat Yale by a field goal just two weeks after dispatching of UConn.
To win a single game was a minor miracle, but it certainly wasn’t a turning point. UConn mustered 13 points against Middle Tennessee State, one touchdown against Clemson and 17 apiece against UCF and Houston to end the season. Their foes generated 44, 44, 49, and 45 points, respectively.
UConn’s 2021 campaign was less a year of growth than it was a mercy killing for the Edsall era which, despite his initial departure in 2010, spanned just about every moment of UConn’s history at the FBS level in the hires that succeeded him and in his eventual return in 2017.
The last of Edsall’s influence has just about washed out of the building with UConn’s surprise hiring of Jim Mora, formerly of UCLA. Mora has never coached east of Atlanta. He has no prior ties to the school or the area. He garnered the job through a budding friendship with athletic director David Benedict that culminated in the two spending a week together at Benedict’s Idaho cabin. Really.
He’s certainly a step in another direction. And he certainly seems to be enjoying himself, although he’s no stranger to the media games and may be pulling more joy from largely being left alone than he is from taking the reins of a roster with four wins since 2018 – three against FCS schools, one against UMass.
He insists, though, that he’s exactly where he wants to be. In interviews with just about every national outlet he could get a hold of, he’s made a point of his children being grown and out of the house, allowing him a clean slate to focus the psychotic amount of energy on recruiting needed to successfully run a football program. He’s spoken of being a changed man, learning dozens of lessons from his 37-16 stint at UCLA that ended with an unceremonious firing between the final game of the regular season and the bowl game (friend of the site Jedd Fisch coached against and lost to Kansas State in his wake). And he’s spoken of UConn being a level closer to his speed.
“Not even for a heartbeat,” Mora said during UConn’s spring game when asked if he’s had any moments of doubt about his new undertaking. “I mean, we have a lot of work to do. A ton of work to do, developing the men on our team. But I have not had one single moment when I have not been having fun. I think the future is very bright. It’s going to be a process to get there, but thankfully I’m working with a group of guys that’s excited to work to get there.
“Their attitude is outstanding; their work ethic is outstanding; the way they talk to each other is outstanding. The culture we’re building is really good. We have to keep developing the players we have and adding talent, but I’ve had more fun with this team than any team I’ve ever coached, so far. So far. We’re undefeated.”
That last part? About being undefeated? It’s not likely to last for very long. UConn opens the season in Logan, Utah against the defending Mountain West champion Utah State Aggies, returns home to play Central Connecticut State and Syracuse, and then makes the trek out to Ann Arbor to play the Wolverines.
To claim one of those games would be a positive development, and to claim another through the eight matchups that will follow would be a successful campaign. This staff hasn’t been around long enough for 2-10 seasons to be seen as a negative, especially with a two-deep packed to the brim with true sophomores and set to replace just about every veteran who helped them along as freshman a season ago. When you go 1-11, though, it’s hard to be too upset about any departures.
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