Aug. 28—The Jim Mora era of UConn football began with promise Saturday, as the visiting Huskies jumped out to a 14 point lead after the first quarter on heavily favored Utah State. But an all-to-familiar fizzle followed, as the Aggies scored 24 straight points in the second quarter to take a 10 point lead into halftime en route to a 31-20 victory Saturday at Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium in Logan, Utah.
While the loss was "bitterly disappointing" for head coach Jim Mora, the Huskies defied expectations after kicking off the game as 24-point underdogs.
"We hate to lose. We didn't come here to lose," Mora said after the game. "So we don't feel good about that and there's a real disappointment in that locker room. These young men have been through a lot. They made a tremendous commitment to what we're trying to do here. Every single one of them — they're very great group of young men. They have a lot of heart. And it means it means the world to them to go out there and perform and win and so they're disappointed, but we're not discouraged."
Utah State, coming off an 11-3 season and a Mountain West Conference Championship, received the opening kickoff. After surrendering a first down, UConn forced a punt and proceeded to march 79 yards for the game's opening touchdown. Carter rushed for 13 and 52 yards on the first two plays of the drive and caught a 10-yard pass from starting Roberson to set up a fourth and 1. Mora kept the offense on the field and quarterback Ta'Quan Roberson picked up first down to set up first and goal.
Carter finished the game with a career-high 190 rushing yards on 20 attempts.
Three plays later, Roberson, who was named the starting quarterback Saturday morning, punched it in from one yard out to give UConn a 7-0 lead.
UConn then forced a turnover as linebacker Jackson Mitchell ripped the ball from Utah State's Pailate Makakona as the Aggies approached the red zone. But Roberson went down with a right knee injury on the following drive after being tackled near the sideline on a 5-yard scramble. He limped off the field and did not return.
The Huskies turned to true freshman Zion Turner, who completed a shovel pass to Devontae Houston for 5-yards and a first down on the first play of his collegiate career. Four plays later, Turner was picked off by Utah State safety Hunter Reynolds, but the freshman redeemed himself soon after. UConn's defense forced a three-and-out before a 44-yard rush from Carter led to a 13-yard touchdown strike from Turner to last year's leading receiver, Keelan Marion.
Marion stayed down after the play, clutching his shoulder. He did not return.
Roberson and Marion could both be done for the season.
"It doesn't look good for either of them," Mora said. "It is always important that we reserve declaring what the injury is until we get an MRI or an x-ray in the case of (Marion), but I would say at this point it doesn't look very positive for either of those guys."
The Huskies' wide receiver corps was already short handed, as the unit lost Cam Ross to a season-ending foot injury in the final weeks of fall camp.
The Huskies' defense then forced an Aggie turnover on downs. Carter got the ball to start the next drive but had it stripped out of his hands 19 yards down field. The Aggies recovered the loose ball and the momentum swung back to the home team.
"I did what I had to do to help the team," Carter said. "I can't give any credit to myself, the coaches and the o-line did an amazing job. ... I caused a fumble in the second quarter that changed the momentum of the game, and that can't happen. Regardless of what the stats were, I have to do better."
After Carter's fumble, the UConn offense punted four straight times while Utah State scored 24 unanswered points to take a 24-14 lead into the locker room.
"We had a tough second quarter," Mora said. "The energy on the sideline didn't feel right for a little bit, but the players were able to self-correct, and I think that is a really good step for us going forward."
After a scoreless third quarter, UConn placekicker Noe Ruelas, a Hall High graduate, nailed a 47-yard field goal with to cut the Huskies' deficit to 24-17 with just under 14 minutes remaining.
Defensive back Tre Wortham ripped the ball away from running back Calvin Tyler Jr. on the ensuing Utah State drive and, after it bounced several yards downfield, Chris Shearin fell on it to give the ball back to UConn.
Turner led the Husky offense down the field and Ruelas cut their deficit to four with a 54-yard field goal with 10:09 remaining.
"(Ruelas') kickoffs were outstanding, he is dependable as a PAT guy and his field goals were great," Mora said. "Every time he goes out there and does something like that his confidence grows and so does everyone's confidence in him."
Turner finished Saturday completing 12 of his 31 passes for 109 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
"It looks like (Turner) will be our starter now," Mora said. "He is a winner, we know that. He was thrown into the fire a little bit today on the road in a hostile environment, not expecting to be in early in the game. I didn't see him hesitate at all. It was evident in his demeanor why he has been a winner in his career."
Utah State responded with a 13 play, 75 yard drive that took 4:09 off the clock and ended with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Logan Bonner to Brian Cobb to give the Aggie a 31-20 lead.
Turner threw his second interception on the Huskies next possession and the Aggies ran the clock out.
"I have said since I got here, this will be a program that competes to the bitter end and this will be a program that people are proud of and people respect," Mora said.
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