In the not-too-distant past, before the two programs went their separate ways in the college football hierarchy, a win over Holy Cross for the UConn football team was considered a great coup.
After all, in a series that began in 1916, it took the Huskies until 1980 to earn their first win in Worcester. No, the neighbors didn’t play every single season, but that 18-17 thriller remains to this day UConn’s only win at Fitton Field.
As UConn enters Saturday’s game against the Crusaders at Pratt & Whitney Stadium, it is back in the same position. The Huskies would truly love to celebrate a win over Holy Cross, and would make no apologies for the festivities that follow.
The Huskies (0-1) are coming off a truly painful 45-0 thumping at Fresno State, and are anxious for victories of any kind. UConn did not play any games in 2020 and was hoping to restart the program with a thunderous victory. Instead, it was a mere dud.
“It’s tough after training for two years to have that happen, but it’s only one game,” quarterback Jack Zergiotis said Tuesday.
Indeed, all of the Huskies who spoke with reporters Tuesday via zoom insisted they’re not getting too down about the result from their opener. In fact, many still have high hopes for the season.
“None of our heads are down, that’s for sure. All of our heads our high. We know what we have to do,” safety Diamond Harrell said. “We want come out and be 12-1, try to get to that bowl game. But we have to worry about Holy Cross first.”
Harrell’s expectations sounds a bit like hyperbole but it’s a view surprisingly shared by many of his teammates.
And that’s after the UConn offense went through a game with more punts (11) than first downs (nine), set a program record for lack of yardage (107), and didn’t move the ball inside the Fresno State 40-yard line.
“We have some tweaks here and there, but to the fans, don’t give up. It’s just the first game. We have 11 more,” running back Kevin Mensah said.
A win over Holy Cross (0-0) might mean more to Mensah than to some of his teammates. The senior running back grew up in Worcester and is anxious to send the Crusaders back to their shared home with a loss.
It’s a meeting between opposite divisions in the current college football landscape, however both programs have enjoyed a fleeting moment in the sport’s national spotlight. Holy Cross went to the 1946 Orange Bowl. UConn went to the 2011 Fiesta Bowl.
Both games feel like they were played a lifetime ago.
Holy Cross is still winning games, and doing so rather consistently, but does so at the FCS level.
UConn is not winning games at the FBS level, but would take a victory of any kind at this point.
UConn coach Randy Edsall, like his players, has confidence that things will turn around.
“We have the people that we have. We’re putting the best people we have on the field,” Edsall said. “These kids are going to be all right. They’re going to be fine. It’s a long season.”
JONES WILL RETURN
After not making the trip with his teammates to California, defensive end Kevon Jones is expected to return this weekend to play Holy Cross.
Edsall has not specifically described the incident that caused Jones to be punished, but the coach hopes it’s Jones’ last infraction.
“He has too many sins. Self-inflicted wounds. I just hope that moving forward he can just limit those decisions that he makes that aren’t in his best interest,” Edsall said of the 6-foot-2, 247-pound junior. “I hope those are all behind him now.”
As for a UConn defense that struggled in plenty of areas in its opener, the arrival of Jones to the lineup is a welcome sight.
“It is going to be good to have him back. He has a chance to be a force for us out there,” Edsall said.
UConn has won 14 of its 17 home-openers at Pratt & Whitney Stadium. … UConn is 10-19-1 in its history against Holy Cross. The Huskies won the last meeting 27-20 in 2017. … Holy Cross’ last game against an FBS foe came two seasons ago. It lost to Navy 45-7 on Aug. 31, 2019. … Holy Cross has four players with Connecticut ties on its roster. Linebacker Anthony Leo and long snapper Adam Guillemette both attended Loomis Chaffee in Windsor. Offensive lineman Sam Milberg is a Westport native and defensive back Hunter Burns is from Milford.