The start of the college football season is always a special time. Not only does every program have a clean slate, but the hope and optimism within fanbases across the nation is palpable. For a Huskies program that has seen more down years than not over the last decade, you could say the anticipation for what this version of UConn Football looks like is the highest it’s ever been.
Jim Mora and The Revolution will put their first showing together on the road on Saturday, looking to make a statement that this is not the program of old. Will it be perfect? Not by any means. Will it be better? Undoubtedly.
Offensively, Nick Charlton brings experience, confidence and a system that will give playmakers a chance to be successful. His ability to not only gameplan, but make in-game adjustments is going to be a huge benefit coming off last year.
And while the staff has not revealed a starting quarterback, it’s been a battle during the close of camp between Penn State transfer Ta’Quan Roberson and true freshman Zion Turner. Roberson, only a sophomore, brings a good arm and also the ability to get out of the pocket and run. He’s had experience at the top of college football, thrown into the fire on the road against No. 3 Iowa a year ago. He will not be rattled in the opener and with an entire spring and camp working under a new offense, he will be ready should his number be called.
Turner, on the other hand, came into camp as a true freshman from Florida football power St. Thomas Acquinas and immediately turned heads. His knowledge of the game is apparent and he rarely makes the same mistake twice. A three-year starter, three-time state champion and one-time national champion, Turner is a winner, losing only four-games in his entire football career.
Either player will be helped with talent across the skill positions. Running backs Brian Brewton and Devontae Houston bring speed and versatility, while Robert Burns and Nate Carter bring more of the power and balance.
At receiver, Keelan Marion is the top target, looking to build off a very productive freshman season. Even with the loss of Cam Ross to a season-ending injury, Marion will be helped with the addition of transfers Nigel Fitzgerald and Dajon Harrison, to a group that includes Kevens Clercius, Aaron Turner, Matt Drayton and Jacob Flynn. If Fitzgerald is fully healthy, he will certainly be a useful target in the red zone.
There are playmakers across the board on offense and that’s not even mentioning top tight end Brandon Niemenski or running back Victor Rosa, who could get some touches as a true freshman.
Defensively, Mora will run the show from a play calling perspective and while not ideal to have a change this late in the game, it’s not entirely unusual for a head coach to run a unit. It’s true it’s typically done by offensive coaches, but Mora’s experience and track record should not be cause for concern.
He spent his entire NFL career on the defensive side of the ball, half a decade as defensive coordinator with the 49ers and those results led to his first head coaching position in the league. He’s seen it all, at the highest of levels and while he will need to wipe off some of the rust of being in game situations, Mora should be just fine.
He will be aided by a strong front-seven, which includes an influx of transfers at the first two levels. Linebackers Marquez Bembry and Brandon Bouyer-Randle, as well as defensive linemen Sokoya McDuffie, Jelani Stafford and Kayode Oladele are newcomers to keep an eye on. They add to a defense that already has Jackson Mitchell cemented in the middle of the unit. One of the nation’s top returning tacklers, Mitchell, a junior, has only gotten bigger and faster this offseason. He’s a student of the game and the way he goes about his business reminds Mora of some of the greats he’s been around, including several that now call Canton home.
The secondary will be aided by the strong front, but they will have to handle things on the backend for the defense to show significant improvement. Cornerbacks Kaleb Anthony and Tre Wortham will need to be strong on the outside, while fans should be confident in what they have at safety in Durante Jones and Malik Dixon. Transfer Chris Shearin brings experience and playmaking to the unit and should see a lot of time should the Huskies throw five DB’s on the field.
Saturday at Utah State is step one in The Revolution. It won’t be a finished product, but what it will be is a team that goes out, competes and gives everything they have until the final whistle. The talent has improved dramatically, the coaching has improved dramatically and the competitiveness should be improved dramatically. As the roster has gotten closer to a level playing field, who knows, if things fall right, a few bounces go their way, maybe the Huskies could be riding home cross-country victorious, thinking about their home opener and what that atmosphere would be.