Crossing the midpoint of one of the toughest stretches in college football scheduling this year, the UConn football program will face its second consecutive ranked team in No. 12 NC State on Saturday. In the Huskies’ last two games against Power Five programs, Syracuse and No. 4 Michigan, excitement around the “Husky Revolution” has taken a few steps back.
UConn has been outscored 107-14 in its last eight quarters of football, including the 59-0 blowout the Huskies were on the wrong end of last week.
This stretch, which continues in Raleigh, N.C., on Saturday and then home against Fresno State Oct. 1, features two ranked teams in the Wolverines and the Wolfpack, and two on the fringe in the Orange and the Bulldogs. Relief should come Oct. 8 at Florida International University – a game that the Huskies have a good chance of winning if they can field a team.
“With a young team and a new staff, it would have been wonderful if we could maybe ramp it up, but it is what it is, and we’re not gonna shy away from it,” UConn first-year head coach Jim Mora said. “Like I’ve told you many times before, I love challenges. And this is certainly a challenge.”
Additional challenges include the rapidly thinning depth chart that has featured several significant changes as the Huskies have been outclassed and overpowered, getting beaten down by opponents. As the game progressed against Michigan, Mora began replacing his healthy starters with younger players looking to develop what depth the Huskies do have in preparation for another tough bout Saturday.
“That’s not the situation you want to put young guys in, you’d like (the score) to be flipped so you can get young guys time,” Mora said. “But it was an opportunity to get players that we’re going to count on this year and in the future snaps against a good opponent.”
This week’s “good opponent” is NC State – here is how to watch and what it would take for UConn to keep it close:
Site: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, N.C.
Line: NC State by 38.5
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Weather: Partly cloudy, 76 degrees
TV: ACC RSN (YES, NESNplus) – Evan Lepler, James Bates, Lauren Jbara
Radio: UConn Sports Network from Learfield, ESPN 97.9
Online: The Varsity Network App – Mike Crispino, Wayne Norman, Adam Giardino
Current record (2021 result): UConn: 1-3 (1-11), NC State: 3-0 (9-3)
Series: NC State leads 2-0
Last meeting: Sept. 8, 2012 – NC State 10, UConn 7
Mora on NC State: “NC State is a fantastic football team. You watch them play, they don’t have holes. They’ve got the preseason ACC Player of the Year (Devin Leary) at quarterback, they’ve got two running backs (Demie Sumo-Karngbaye and Jordan Houston) that are as good as any you can find in the country ... they’ve got tight ends that they do a great job of using. Experienced receivers, they have size and go up and high point the ball and then they’ve got an athletic, physical offensive line. Defensively, they pull that tree down. They bring a lot of pressure, they play very fast and know what they’re doing.”
What it would take for a UConn upset:
1. Get separation from receivers at the line of scrimmage. NC State’s rushing defense is eighth in the nation, allowing just 68.7 yards on the ground per game, so UConn’s game plan to this point in the season is almost sure to fail. The Huskies will need to break out of their comfort zone, take some risks, and try to move the ball through the air. The Wolfpack’s passing defense is near average in the FBS, if not a bit below, but UConn’s passing offense has been one of the worst in the nation through four games.
Missing their top two receivers, Cam Ross and Keelan Marion, the Huskies have struggled to get open long enough down the field for true freshman Zion Turner to make completions. This week, UConn will be without Nigel Fitzgerald, an Old Dominion transfer who injured his PCL at practice on Tuesday, and Nate Carter, one of the few bright spots who was near the nation’s leaders in every rushing statistic before separating his shoulder in the game against Michigan last week. Without Carter, offensive coordinator Nick Charlton will lean mostly on Devontae Houston and true freshman Victor Rosa, as well as Robert Burns in the run game. Receivers Jake Flynn, Aaron Turner and Kevens Clercius will be top targets on Saturday.
2. Clean up special teams miscues. UConn’s struggles on special teams have come in every facet of the game. The Huskies have had a punt and two field goals blocked, and one punt was returned for a touchdown by Michigan. UConn returners have muffed punts on multiple occasions as well. UConn punter George Caratan will likely need to help the Huskies in a major way on Saturday in the field position battle. He’s landed five of his 23 punts this season inside the opponent’s 20-yard line (32nd most in the FBS), and has tallied an average of 41.2 yards per punt. Rosa was tabbed kick returner against Michigan with the injury to Brian Brewton but returned just one for 20 yards. Dajon Harrison, a receiver who transferred from Texas, is listed as the top punt returner for NC State though he has struggled so far this season.
3. Slow down Devin Leary and Demie Sumo-Karngbaye. While the UConn receivers have struggled to create separation, the Husky defense has struggled negating that space from opposing pass catchers. Against UConn, opponents have completed 69% of their pass attempts (78-113) for 1,032 total air yards. Leary, who Mora noted as the Preseason ACC Player of the Year, is a capable passer though not the sole focus of the Wolfpack offense. The junior has completed just over 59% (48-81) of his passes through three games this year for 570 yards, five touchdowns and just one interception. Sumo-Karngbaye, the main back in NC State’s running back room, has totalled 203 rushing yards on 35 attempts, good for 5.9 yards per carry. The sophomore’s threat extends out of the backfield as well with 102 receiving yards, though 93 came in the team’s season opener.
4. Limit the injuries. The list is long enough. UConn has lost at least five starters from the season-opener, not including Ross and placekicker Joe McFadden who were injured in the preseason. Those starters: QB Ta’Quan Roberson, WR Keelan Marion, RB Nate Carter, RB Brian Brewton and DE Collin McCarthy.