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UConn Football Season Review: Grading the offense

The Husky offense dealt with a lot of injuries but still ended the season with plenty of positives despite struggling at times.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn’s offense certainly wasn’t the primary engine behind the surprise success of this season, but it certainly didn’t hurt the Huskies much either. UConn ranked down in the triple digits in yards per game and points per game, but kept mistakes to a minimum and played opportunistically in order to be effective.

The Husky offense was conservative, but that paid off in other areas of the field: They took care of the ball tremendously. UConn came in at No. 32 in the country in turnover margin per game, and threw just two interceptions in wins on the year.

Here are some grades for the various aspects of the offense:

Playcalling: B+

As a first-year play-caller at UConn, Nick Charlton was dealt a poor hand straight off the bat. With injuries to his starting quarterback, running back and top two receivers, the offense would have a different look than he envisioned heading into the first game.

Charlton turned to an extremely run-heavy offense, passing the ball less often than all FBS programs besides the service academies. The run schemes, to their credit, were solid and impressive, mixing power run schemes with a heavy dose of off-tackle zone. When UConn did pass the ball, it was usually a screen or a short one-read passing play.

This style of play operated to UConn’s benefit in wins, but left them vulnerable in losses. UConn’s defense gave them something to work with in upset wins over Boston College and Liberty, but in losses to Army and Ball State, two winnable games, the Huskies’ offense was unable to keep up as their opponents scored multiple times in the second half.

Quarterback: B

Thrown into the starting job not even one full game into the season, freshman Zion Turner did everything that the UConn offense required of him, give or take. The raw numbers don’t pop off the page. In fact taken in a vacuum, they’re seriously ordinary. Turner completed 60.4% of his passes (140-for-231) for just 5.4 yards per attempt, throwing nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.

It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Turner, slowly developing chemistry with his wideout corps that was just as green to him as he was in FBS football. But as the season wore on, Turner connected on more downfield passes and started to play a key role in winning UConn games: A 62-yard go-ahead touchdown pass to Justin Joly against Boston College and a game-winning drive culminating in a 30-yard bullet to Kevens Clercius against Liberty. Turner also progressed in his decision-making over the year, becoming a weapon running the football on read options.

What UConn’s offense will look like next year, with the remainder of their receiving corps and running backs returning, remains to be seen. Turner might need to step up again as the Huskies attempt to run it back with greater talent out wide, with potential quarterback room competition a big question mark.

Running Backs: A

The running backs faced a ton of injuries but still performed quite well. Sophomore Devontae Houston and true freshman Victor Rosa more than adequately filled the hole left by Nate Carter, who missed most of the season with an injury after separating his shoulder, while Miami transfer Robert Burns came into his own down the stretch in his second year with the program.

Houston stepped into the starting running back role after Carter’s injury and immediately provided a big-play threat for the Huskies that was absent from their receiving corps. He carried the ball 79 times for 538 rushing yards at 6.8 yards per carry, with over half of his total yardage coming 15-plus yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He was also a weapon in the passing game, leading all Huskies in yards from scrimmage and leading the running backs in receptions out of the backfield.

Rosa was the only UConn running back healthy for the entirety of the season, and performed tremendously as a workhorse back, especially when you consider that around this time last year he was taking handoffs for Bristol Central High School. He led the team with 591 yards rushing and nine rushing touchdowns, using his strength and low center of gravity to 403 yards after contact.

Burns impressed many at fullback including his head coach, who called him “the best fullback in the country,” and a player with an NFL future. Burns exceeded as a blocker and in short-yardage situations, but broke off a few long, field-flipping runs against the likes of UMass, Ball State, and Liberty, where he had a career-high 104 yards rushing.

The Husky rushing attack was their main route of offense during the season, proving invaluable in their six-win season.

Offensive Line: A+

The offensive line was the best position group on the team and was the key reason that UConn got to six wins. The offensive line excelled in run blocking, protected Turner reasonably well when they decided to pass, and provided an overall steady platform for the Huskies’ offense to operate on.

Dartmouth transfer Jake Guidone proved the most impactful offseason addition for the Huskies, anchoring the offensive line from the center position. Christian Haynes developed into a legitimate NFL prospect at right guard, and returning starter Noel Ofori-Nyadu made possibly the biggest leap from 2021, combining with Guidone and Haynes on the interior to provide an intimidating run-blocking threat. At the offensive tackle positions, Colorado transfer Valentin Senn and Chase Lundt kept Turner mostly clean; the whole unit allowed just five sacks on the year.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C

Although decimated by injury with the loss of Cameron Ross and Keelan Marion, UConn’s wide receiving corps failed to make the same impact on the offense that the line and other skill position groups were able to. Freshman tight end Justin Joly and slot receiver Aaron Turner were the standouts from the season, but the remainder of the pass-catchers, including a bunch of incoming transfers, failed to make a meaningful impact on the UConn offense.

After being named a backup to start the season, freshman Justin Joly was the first pass-catcher to develop chemistry with his freshman counterpart at quarterback. Joly had two touchdown catches on the year, both showed off his impressive athleticism with a 30-yard touchdown catch and run against Ball State and a Moss-ing against Boston College that led to a 62-yard touchdown run.

Sophomore Aaron Turner was the main outlet on screens and short passes from the slot, and this steady diet of targets made him the Huskies’ leading receiver with 465 yards and three passing touchdowns.