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UConn football 2023 position preview: Quarterbacks

Ta’quan Roberson returns from injury to a competition with the guy who started most of last year and a third new contender.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Welcome to the start of our football season preview! Keep an eye out on the blog and the Husky Football Forum newsletter for more preview content coming up in the next few weeks.

Despite minimal turnover at the position from last year, UConn football is in the midst of a QB competition. Redshirt junior and Penn State transfer Ta’quan Roberson was in pole position for, and eventually won, the starting job in August of last year and showed promise in camp as well as in his limited time on the field, but tore his ACL on the second drive of the Huskies’ season opener.

In his place, Zion Turner, a true freshman from Thomas Aquinas HS in Florida, stepped up to helm the UConn offense. Head coach Jim Mora Jr. didn’t ask much of his true freshman — over three-fourths of his throws were at receivers nine yards or shorter from the line of scrimmage.

Turner has a strong arm, but due to injuries at wide receiver, his pass-catchers more often than not failed to generate the separation down the field needed to generate big plays. The offense was limited in 2022.

While Turner deserves credit for the six wins and bowl appearance that the Huskies achieved, statistically, his performance (1407 passing yards, 5.5 yards per attempt on 57.8% completion) wasn’t enough to secure him the guaranteed starting spot going forward.

So, after a season on the sidelines, Roberson seems primed to take the reigns of the offense once again. The former Nittany Lion is more of a running threat than Turner and should add another facet to UConn’s offense with his legs — opposing defenses will no longer be able to key as much on Devontae Houston or Victor Rosa.

“The guy [Roberson] never blinks, he just has a resilience about him,” Mora said. “He has a great mindset. I’ve never seen anything bother him.”

Roberson will also have (hypothetically) more targets down the field, with the return of 2019’s leading receiver Cam Ross, Kevens Clercius, and the leading pass-catcher for New Mexico in the 2022 season, Geordon Porter arriving as part of a transfer class that also includes Brett Buckman from Delaware and James Burns from Austin Peay. That position group’s performance will determine whether the UConn offense will open up, or if the Huskies will lean even further into the run game.

“We have to become more consistent running the football, but I think everybody knows that just becoming more efficient and consistent in the passing game is what’s going to help us,” Mora said.

Mora and his staff also hit the transfer market to bolster depth under center. Joseph Fagnano transferred to UConn this offseason with two years of eligibility remaining, following his former head coach, now offensive coordinator, Nick Charlton from Maine. Reports from camp suggest that he appears to have the skill set to compete for starting duties or possibly serve as the primary backup.

Fagnano is fairly mobile, but his real skill came from running the Black Bears’ pass-happy offense. The Williamsport, Pennsylvania native completed 59% of his 772 pass attempts in 27 games, throwing for an impressive 46 touchdowns for the Black Bears. Fagnano is steady with the ball in his hands, throwing just 12 touchdowns over his four seasons in Orono.

2022 recruit Tucker McDonald is the second new face in the quarterback room. A Wachusett Regional High School product, McDonald is a dual-threat quarterback who is comfortable throwing on the run, with 2,544 passing yards, 434 on the ground, and 47 total touchdowns in his senior year. The Huskies secured his commitment in 2022 over Boston College, Western Kentucky, and Rutgers, and view him as an important piece for the future.

UConn’s quarterback room will hold the key to just how efficient their offense can be in year two under offensive coordinator Nick Charlton. If Roberson can slot in after injury and spearhead even an FBS-average passing attack, the Husky offense will be in a much better spot than in 2022.