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Takeaways from UConn football’s upset victory over Fresno State

The Huskies got more than a moral victory on Saturday night

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn football will have no qualifiers on their 19-14 upset of Fresno State on Saturday night.

Even with Fresno State missing their star quarterback and best defensive asset, you’d also have to look past the Huskies’ own multiple devastating injuries to offensive starters and their distinct lack of home field advantage in Rentschler Field. Stripping away all the excuses, UConn earned their second victory of the year through domination at the point of attack, a disciplined defensive performance and the long-awaited rival of skill position players not named Nathan Carter.

Here’s how UConn football tabbed their first victory over an FBS opponent since 2019:

Controlling the line of scrimmage

UConn differed from the typical script for an FBS upset right away. The Huskies straight-up dominated Fresno State on the line of scrimmage: The Huskies outrushed them 183 yards to 30, getting push up front from the offensive line, who created plenty of wide open lanes for the UConn running backs to cut through. They also kept Zion Turner clean for the majority of the night, allowing just a single sack.

It was a similar story on the defensive site of the ball. UConn’s front seven was a disruptive force at the line of scrimmage, with two sacks and six tackles for loss. Sophomore defensive tackle Jelani Stafford had a particularly impressive game, excelling at shedding blocks and making life hell in the offensive backfield with a sack and a tackle for loss.

The defensive line’s ability to handle their business up front allowed the UConn defense to showcase more exotic blitz packages and make life hell for Logan Fife in the backfield. If the defensive like can continue to handle their business in that fashion, it’ll open up more options for Mora down the line.

Opening up the offense

UConn’s injury struggles among skill position players are well-documented and, at least at wide receiver, no one player had been able to replace the production of a Cam Ross or a Matt Drayton. UConn’s offense was hindered by their receivers’ inability to get open down the field at times, and the coaching staff’s unwillingness to call plays that develop down the first at others.

The Huskies were unlikely to develop much of a passing game against the elite defenses of NC State or Michigan, but the opportunity was there against Fresno State and their ability to take it was key to their upset victory. After not even attempting a pass over 10 yards in the last three weeks, Zion Turner completed three passes of 15 yards or more at key points in the game, including a double reverse trick play pass to Kevens Clercius that set up the Huskies’ first touchdown of the day, and another leaping grab from Clercius to set up the go-ahead touchdown.

The offense opened up, and UConn’s offense had just enough juice to secure the win. Hopefully the coaching staff applies a similar strategy going forward.

Answers at running back

With Nathan Carter out for the season, Devontae Houston has been growing into his role as the lead back in Nick Charlton’s run-heavy system facing stiff competition from true freshman Victor Rosa and graduate transfer Robert Burns. On Saturday, he staked his claim as the undisputed No. 1 back with 22 carries for 105 yards and the go-ahead touchdown.

In addition to his touchdown, Houston gashed the Fresno State defense for two other runs over 10 yards. Going forward, Houston seems primed and ready to handle the responsibility of the starting running back position.