Dom Amore: Nothing to see here, UConn’s adventure to Big Ten country was about what was expected

·4 min read

Jim Mora had to know there would be days like this. He had to know that this day in particular could be like this.

But for a coach that had success in the NFL and UCLA, days like this are a new experience.

“I’ve never been beaten 59-0, ever in 35 years,” Mora said Saturday, after Michigan pummeled the Huskies by that score before 109,639 at The Big House. “So this is new territory. It’s hard to find good things.”

This game played out as expected, however. Michigan was a 47-point favorite, and there was never a doubt the Wolverines would get there. When Alex Orji, the fifth of six quarterbacks the Wolverines used, scored on a 10-yard run early in the fourth quarter, the lead was 52. And the Huskies were swamped and never got close to scoring.

“I’ve never had a day like this, I don’t like it and those guys [the players] don’t like it,” Mora said. “They were the ones out there spilling their guts on every play.”

Emblematic of that, Nate Carter, UConn’s best offensive weapon, tried to return to the game with a second-degree shoulder separation before Mora decided enough was enough.

UConn (1-3) was much more competitive the last time it came here, in 2010, losing 30-10, and very competitive when Michigan came to the little house, Rentschler Field, in 2013. The score was 24-21. Under Jim Harbaugh, Michigan has re-established itself as one of the top programs in the country, ranked No. 4 with championship aspirations. UConn has fallen far and has much work to do before its independent program can be taken seriously in a game like this.

“Michigan has 140 players who are big, fast, strong, physical,” Mora said. “Well coached, they play with violence, the play with energy, they don’t miss tackles, they challenge you. They’ve got speed all over the field. It’s like they had an army down there, and they’re all great players.”

There could be at least two more games like this, against NC State next week and Fresno State the week after that, before the schedule lightens a little bit. Meantime there is no reason for Mora’s players to be embarrassed or ashamed; there aren’t many teams in the country, even among ranked teams, that can hang with Michigan.

“The way they entered the locker room afterward,” Mora said. “Not joyous, but determined. They’re not defeated. And so we have to build on those things. What we asked them to do at halftime, and I said this when I first got the job, there will be times when we have to evaluate this team based on our effort and our willingness to compete when times are tough, and that’s what I asked them to do.”

Michigan paid UConn $1.8 million to come out to the Midwest and take this beating. That’s the way college football works, but it doesn’t make it any easier to watch. UConn got six first downs, Michigan 26. UConn got 110 yards in total offense, Michigan 465, and, well, you could go on for there.

The injury to Ta’Quan Roberson, an experienced quarterback, has forced the Huskies to force-feed freshman Zion Turner into situations like this. He completed 4 of 16 passes for 17 yards.

“This is not the situation we wanted him to be in,” Mora said. “But this is the situation we find ourselves in, so we have to continue to work really hard to find things that he’s comfortable doing, that work for them. It would be easy to say that Zion is overwhelmed. Maybe because of experience, but I don’t think emotionally he is.”

As the game got out of hand, 38-0 at halftime, Mora started to play more of his younger players. The Huskies have a large number of transfers who are supposed to hold things down until they’re ready, but now, Mora said, he’s ready to start “force feeding” more of his freshman.

This is going to be a long process, if Mora is to succeed where his predecessors failed. There will be days like this, and they will be hard to take, especially for a coach not conditioned to it.

“He’s a great coach,” Harbaugh said. “UConn is really lucky to have him.”

Barring unforeseen changes in fortune, like joining a major conference, UConn will probably never have such a roster, a 140-man army of elite athletes. It’s for Mora and the Huskies to win the fights they can win.

“We don’t want to lay down, we want to keep our attitude high,” said linebacker Brandon Bouyer-Randle, a grad student. “We’re making strides to be a good team, be better than we have in the past, and that’s the main goal we have instilled in our brains, the entire team. We just played the No. 4 team in the country, but we’ve got a long season and we’re optimistic about what we can do.”

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com