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UConn football earns the win over CCSU, 28-3

The first win of the Jim Mora era came at home in a game that was close at first before the Huskies broke out in the second half.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

In head coach Jim Mora’s first game in Rentschler Field, UConn football dispatched Central Connecticut State, 28-3. Though UConn comfortably won the game with a big second half, things were tight early on.

UConn botched multiple scoring opportunities, with two turnovers in Central Connecticut territory and a blocked field goal in the first half, along with a handful of drops preventing the Huskies from keeping drives going. But a strong performance from Nathan Carter on the ground and better defense in the second half helped the Huskies pull away for their first multi-score victory over an FCS team since 2011.

Carter finished with 23 carries for 123 yards and a touchdown in the game along with 18 receiving yards. Despite making some mistakes, freshman quarterback Zion Turner turned in a solid performance, completing 14-of-22 pass attempts for 172 yards, two touchdowns, and one pick.

After starting the game trading punts, UConn got good field position on its second drive thanks to a long punt return and eventually got into the red zone before Zion Turner was strip-sacked. The Huskies’ next threatening drive came early in the second quarter, driving down to the Central 35, where placekicker Noel Ruelas had a field goal attempt blocked.

Central took advantage of these mistakes and a shaky UConn secondary, driving down to the 18 yard-line and kicking a field goal to go up 3-0. The Huskies responded immediately with a suffocating 11-play, 80-yard drive, running behind Carter and Brian Brewton before Turner made a nice throw to tight end Brandon Nieminski for the score to make it 7-3.

UConn had the opportunity to take control of the game heading into halftime with another long drive that featured plenty of Carter off-tackle runs, but it would end with Turner throwing a tipped interception in the Blue Devils’ end zone.

In the second half, UConn turned the screws on a lagging Central Connecticut defense. Four of the Huskies’ five second-half drives ended in scores, and three of them lasted for 5-plus minutes of game time. Meanwhile, the Husky defense shut out the visitors in the second half.

Despite holding on to the second-half shutout, the Husky defense did have some help. Central Connecticut drove down to the UConn 4 yard-line to start the 3rd quarter, but a field goal attempt dramatically pinged off the left upright. UConn seized the opportunity, driving 96 yards down the field, with Carter running in the final 17 to make it 14-3. CCSU seemed to have lost steam at that point.

As the defense held strong, the offense either wore down CCSU or started to find its way. Either way, the run game was clearing up and some opportunities came up in the passing game as well. A 42-yard catch-and-run by Aaron Turner converted a 3rd and 17 play that kept an eventual touchdown drive alive. Turner threw a nice back-shoulder fade to walk-on-turned-scholarship receiver Jacob Flynn to put the Huskies up 21-3.

UConn got another late score, this time with Victor Rosa, a freshman from Bristol Central High, finishing another long Husky scoring drive with an 11-yard touchdown run. Brewton and Devontae Houston saw lots of action out of the backfield, proving that Jim Mora’s squad has multiple threats at running back. Brewton had 62 rushing yards and 17 receiving yards, while Houston had 41 rushing yards and 18 receiving yards (which I’m pretty sure were a shovel pass); both demonstrated big-play ability.

Overall, it would have been nice to see the Huskies show out a little stronger in the first half but they acquitted themselves nicely by taking control in the second half. UConn is now 1-1 and next week will host a longtime rival in the Syracuse Orange at Rentschler Field. Kick-off is at 7 p.m. next Saturday and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.