UConn football ends its season with a 6-7 record after losing the Myrtle Beach Bowl to Marshall, 28-14, at Brooks Stadium in Conway, South Carolina.
While the Huskies made their much-anticipated return to the postseason for the first time since 2015’s St. Petersburg Bowl, where they also lost to Marshall, ugly turnovers on two early drives led to two Marshall touchdowns that put them in a very quick 14-0 hole.
Prior to the giveaways, the game got off to a promising start for Jim Mora’s squad. Marshall got the ball first and though the offense moved 35 yards downfield, Ian Swenson forced a fumble on quarterback Cam Fancher, recovered by Durante Jones.
Unfortunately, on the very next play — the UConn offense’s first from scrimmage — Zion Turner fumbled as he tried to pitch on an option play and Marshall recovered to get the ball right back. The Thundering Herd reached the end zone two plays later to make it 7-0.
After two more drives where the Husky offense went nowhere (8 plays, 18 yards), Turner turned the ball over again. On an botched screen pass, he back-peddled away from pressure and sent the ball into the arms of Marshall defensive lineman Damion Barber Jr., who ran it back to the end-zone for a pick-six.
Mora pulled Turner for Cade Millen, who failed to provide a spark for the UConn offense. Turner was back after two Millen drives.
Meanwhile, Marshall pounded the rock with ease. Rasheen Ali and Khalan Laborn combined for 99 rushing yards at halftime, highlighted by a 38-yard run from Ali to set the Herd up for their third touchdown of the day to go up 21-0, which would be the score at halftime.
The Huskies’ offense sputtered to life upon Turner’s return. A 28-yard run by Devontae Houston set UConn up nicely for a field goal in Marshall territory, but Noel Ruelas missed the 47-yard attempt wide left.
Just before halftime, Turner spun his first deep ball of the game to Keelan Marion for a 37-yard pickup and would pick up another first down to the Marshall 17 on a screen to Justin Joly. But UConn went for it on fourth down and failed to convert, walking away with zero points yet again.
The defense held strong after the turnover-driven touchdowns and kept the Huskies alive to cut the lead down in the third quarter. After Marshall had a soul-crushing 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive to make it 28-0, Turner connected with Marion again on a 32-yard pass down the sideline, setting up a 14-yard run by Rosa that got the Huskies on the board.
UConn’s defense tightened up against Marshall’s rushing attack, forcing another punt on the next possession. This time, Turner connected with Cam Ross for his first reception of the game to get the Huskies into Marshall territory, teeing up Rosa for his second touchdown of the game, a 24-yard cutback to the house, making it 28-14.
UConn looked poised to make it a one-score game in the fourth quarter when Malik Dixon-Williams grabbed an interception on Marshall’s ensuing drive. But a 10-minute drive from the Huskies ended with a turnover on downs. UConn was moving the ball but an unsportsmanlike penalty called on Mora sent it back. The defense forced a third three-and-out to get one more chance for the Huskies, but Turner threw an interception in the end zone.
While this game featured many twists and turns, the two teams were fairly even in terms of overall performance. Marshall had 303 yards of offense to UConn’s 316 and the two teams’ yards per play were only 0.1 apart. Neither team played very well; offensive execution in particular was lacking, but that was to be expected considering this was a matchup of run-first, defensively strong squads. The four turnovers and 10 penalties (for 115 yards) really hurt UConn.
Mora and his staff will look to retain the positive momentum of this year’s five-win improvement into an offseason where a lot will change between now and the next time the Huskies take the field. The team has already made a change at running backs coach. The defensive coordinator position remains vacant, and Mora’s staff is no doubt active on the recruiting trail trying to bring in as many competitive transfers as possible.
Next up, the early national signing period begins December 21, at which point the Huskies will officially begin welcoming class of 2023 players to the team.