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Meet the UConn offense, remodeled in the quest to find a passing game

NCAA Football: Liberty at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

UConn had a decent 2022 mostly in spite of its offense, which averaged an unpleasant 4.1 yards per play against FBS opponents with winning records. While the team’s ground game was admirably solid under the circumstances, its anemic passing game was crippling.

Not surprisingly, UConn’s staff did a fair bit of remodeling during the offseason, bringing in a bunch of transfers to makeover many of the skill positions. The Huskies will have a new starting quarterback in Joe Fagnano, who came over from Maine, and reunites with Huskies OC Nick Charlton.

Fagnano was productive with the Black Bears, and perhaps most importantly, took care of the ball. UConn’s 2022 starter at QB, Zion Turner, threw 10 picks on just 258 attempts, so some improvement here would be much appreciated. (And seems likely.)

Two transfers will start at receiver: Geordon Porter (6’1, 195), who has 562 career receiving yards across stints at New Mexico and Arizona State; and Brett Buckman (6’0, 203), who had 763 yards across three years at Delaware. Another transfer, James Burns (5’9, 157), is listed as a backup to returning veteran Cam Ross (5’10, 185). Ross had a nice freshman campaign in 2019, finishing with 723 yards on 60 catches, but has missed most of the time since with injuries.

The Huskies lost their leading receiver from last season, Aaron Turner, to the portal. Second-leading receiver Kevens Clercius (6’2, 212) is back and listed as the reserve behind Buckman.

UConn brought in a couple of tight ends from the portal as well, but despite these Week 1 depth chart shenanigans...

...I’d say it’s a pretty good bet that Justin Joly, who had 18 grabs for 250 yards in 2022, will get the start. Or maybe they’ll find a way to start all seven tight ends. Who knows!

Joly and Clercius are the only returning receivers with more than 100 yards receiving last season.

It’s worth noting that UConn’s receiving corps runs on the small side, with no obvious candidates to win one-on-one matchups on the perimeter. They should be more productive as a group than they were in 2022, but stretching the field may still prove a problem.

UConn’s strength is up front, where it returns both tackles and guards, including senior right guard Christian Haynes, who has earned some second- and third-team All-America honors this preseason.

The Huskies ran the ball twice as often as they threw it in ‘22 and averaged 191 yards rushing per game on 4.7 per carry. That was a more modest 140 yards on 3.8 per carry against the six FBS teams it played that had a winning record, but again, that isn’t terrible production given the circumstances.

UConn returns its top two backs from a year ago in Victor Rosa (141-636-11) and Devontae Houston (84-578-3). Houston is listed as the starter after averaging 6.9 yards per carry last season, but I’d imagine both will be heavily involved.

The big question for Thursday night is what kind of tone this ground game can set, as I expect the Huskies will be more capable in play-action passing situations. If they can effectively run to set up the pass, they’ll probably have some productive drives. If they can’t, then the odds of a rough night increase substantially.