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UConn Football Weekly: QB preview & schedule discussion

We wrote up a preview of UConn’s quarterbacks this season, and recorded a podcast to discuss takeaways from the 2022 schedule.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Hello and welcome to the UConn Football Weekly, a newsletter that will also be available here on The UConn Blog as a weekly article.

Despite the down years, UConn football has had some pretty solid players under center recently. Bryant Shirreffs was one hell of a gamer. David Pindell was an electric playmaker. CT native Tyler Phommachanh was doing quite well as a true freshman in 2021 until an ACL injury abruptly ended his season.

Last year’s opening day starter, Jack Zergiotis, transferred to FCS Merrimack and the QB who played the most snaps for UConn in 2021, Steven Krajewski, has transferred to Georgia State. UConn added three quarterbacks to the roster since Jim Mora took over: two transfers and one freshman. As a result, the QB room is about as promising as it has been in recent memory.

If we had to make a prediction today, Ta’Quan Roberson is the most likely Game One starter, mostly because Phommachanh has not yet been a full participant in practice. Roberson was a big pickup for Mora this offseason and joined the team in January in time for spring ball.

Here’s a rundown of the quarterbacks currently on the UConn roster, listed by projected playing time this season:

Ta’Quan Roberson - Redshirt Sophomore

The Penn State transfer made quick work of Steven Krajewski in spring practice; Krajewski, a rising junior, saw the writing on the wall and announced his intention to transfer shortly after the spring game.

Roberson was a highly-touted recruit out of high school, ranked the No. 4 quarterback in New Jersey by Rivals and ESPN in the class of 2019. His height at 5-foot-11 was a concern, but he was praised for his arm strength, accuracy, and smarts in the pocket.

He never got to show it at Penn State, sitting behind starter Sean Clifford. Roberson appeared in just four games over four seasons for the Nittany Lions and didn’t set the world on fire when he did.

One of dozens of Power 5 quarterbacks taking advantage of the transfer portal in order to see more playing time, Roberson has shown some of that lost promise this spring, with both Mora and his receivers praising him for his accuracy and ability to elude pass-rushers, along with his leadership abilities.

He’s the starter — at least while Phommachanh, his primary competition for the job, recovers from his ACL tear last year against Vanderbilt.

Tyler Phommachanh - Redshirt Freshman

Based on the 2021 season alone, Tyler Phommachanh was the best quarterback in a lackluster UConn QB room, but you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that from stats alone.

The Stratford, CT native, who retains freshman status due to only playing in three games last season, threw for 321 yards with a 48.6 completion percentage, one touchdown, and two interceptions, and ran for 92 yards on 24 attempts, with two rushing TDs.

While these numbers don’t jump out, look at how they were achieved.

In his first career start as a true freshman against an experienced Army defense that was dominating UConn’s offensive line, Phommachanh took the lion’s share of the carries (three more than every other Husky ballcarrier combined) and rushed for 60 yards and two scores on 5.5 yards per carry. In a close loss to Wyoming, his arm was more effective, throwing for 171 yards and a score. Against Vanderbilt, he was very effective in the air and the ground before suffering a season-ending injury.

The two big questions surrounding Phommachanh this season are his health and his improvement. A torn ACL can be a major setback to development, and while the team currently seems to be confident he’ll be available for the season opener, it’s possible he’s not quite 100% either. The addition of Ta’Quan Roberson—who plays a similar style to Phommachanh—might mean he loses his starting spot.

In any case, it’s been a while since UConn has had a freshman quarterback this promising. By my count, the last freshman QB to have as much impact as Phommachanh was Casey Cochran in 2013, before his career was cut short by injuries.

Optimistically, Phommachanh can use last season’s three-game cameo as bonus experience while he begins his freshman year in earnest in 2022. But as we’ve seen in the past, a major injury can be more disruptive than expected. If he’s going to push to win the starting job, it’s probably going to have to happen during the season.

Cade Millen - Junior

Millen joined the Huskies as a transfer from FCS Northern Arizona, after starting his collegiate career at Oregon in 2019. He’s going to bring experience and a strong pedigree to the QB room and could push for backup duties, you never know.

The Washington native was a three-star recruit out of high school, and his father Hugh played in the NFL after a distinguished career at the University of Washington. Cade has not played much though, only attempting 15 passes in his time at Northern Arizona.

Jacob Drena - Sophomore

Drena joined the team out of Southington high school as a walk-on in 2021. He made an appearance in the Houston game to end the season and is most likely to continue as a depth player for this program going forward.

Zion Turner - Freshman

The 6-foot-1 freshman is likely to redshirt this year but brings a lot of promise to the roster as the first high school signal caller added by the new staff. A three-year starter at St. Thomas Aquinas, a powerhouse high school program in Florida, Turner led his team to two state championships and a national championship, only losing two games during that time.

In the second episode of the UConn football podcast, we follow up the team-by-team schedule preview with some of our overall thoughts on the 12-game slate. We ranked the most winnable games and picked out a few potential road trips for fans to consider. For Season Two of independence, it’s a pretty solid schedule.

We also had no choice but to discuss the wheels of conference realignment spinning once again. UConn is in an interesting place, perhaps less eager to make a move than a lot of other schools, but still needs to be mindful of the constantly-changing landscape and how it may affect the Husky athletic department.

If you missed the first podcast episode, on the current state of the program, you can check it out here!