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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    UConn carries winning mentality into Friday’s game vs. UMass

    UConn head coach Jim Mora works the sidelines during a Sept. 24 game at North Carolina State. The Huskies host UMass on Friday night at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. (Karl B DeBlaker/AP Photo)

    Signs of the UConn football program’s transformation are everywhere.

    It’s in players’ willingness to buy into first-year coach Jim Mora’s plan and their commitment level.

    It’s in their competitive spirit on game day.

    It’s in the results through nine games, with UConn (4-5) posting its highest win total since going 6-7 in 2015.

    “I see it every day, because I get to be around them every day,” Mora said. “But it has to manifest itself on the field.”

    Interestingly enough, perhaps the more revealing sign came not after a big win but following a 25-21 loss at Ball State on Oct. 15.

    UConn’s reaction to the frustrating loss in the locker room that day told the story.

    “Very disappointed, a sense of anger,” Mora said of the post-game mood. “A real realization that we let one get away and we had a real opportunity to win and get to .500. At that moment, I realized that while that frustration and sometimes that anger can be agitating, it was a good thing because it meant that they raised their level of expectation and they weren’t going to accept losing.”

    UConn expects to win again on Friday night when it hosts UMass (1-7) at Rentschler Field in East Hartford (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network).

    The Huskies are riding a hot streak, winning three of four, while the Minutemen have dropped five straight and won its only game against Stony Brook, 20-3, on Sept. 17.

    “We’re really confident in ourselves and how we play,” redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Chase Lundt said. “Going into week one, we went out there with the mindset that we’re going to win. From that point on, we’ve taken that approach every week.”

    Starting from the day he was hired last November, Mora began working on developing a winning mindset in a program that had won just four games in the last three seasons.

    “It’s a daily endeavor,” Mora said. “It’s a process you go through from the minute you walk in and start addressing the team that you’re now coaching. It’s the words that you use, it’s the way you talk to them, it’s the inflection in your voice, it’s being demanding yet at the same time still building hope.

    “It’s setting the standard every single day and never relaxing that standard for yourself or for anyone else. More than anything, it’s having the right people in the room. Between our coaching staff and our players, we have the right people in the room so when you make these demands or set high standards or you hold people accountable there’s understanding of why you’re doing it.”

    With three regular-season games left, UConn has a great deal to play for.

    The Huskies have a shot to end a drought of 10 straight losing seasons.

    They’re trying to become bowl eligible for the first time since playing in the St. Petersburg Bowl in 2015.

    “Our program this year is definitely trying to make a transition into what we call the Husky Revolution and try to really present ourselves in a way that people haven’t seen in the past couple of years,” Lundt said.

    A win over UMass would give the Huskies more victories than the previous three seasons combined and a sweep of their New England rivals. They beat Boston College for the first time last weekend.

    Given the struggles of both teams offensively, it could be a low scoring game. The Huskies are averaging 17.6 points per game while the Minutemen score just 12.1 points. Both teams heavily rely on the run but UConn has the stronger defensive unit.

    There’s an added bit of motivation for UConn in the form of last year’s 27-13 loss to UMass in Amherst.

    “RIght now, every game we play is the biggest game that we have,” sophomore defensive back Durante Jones said “The goal for this week is to get to .500. We’ve got to seize the opportunity.”

    UConn and UMass recently extended their series through the 2027 season, adding five games. The Minutemen own a 38-35-2 edge overall.

    “It’s exciting to be part of this game – Connecticut vs. Massachusetts,” Mora said. “I know that it means something to both sides and means something to our players. Massachusetts beat Connecticut last year. I’m not saying that’s a motivating factor for them. This is a different team than last year, but they’re aware of it.

    “Our guys are motivated by the fact that they want to go out and play well and try to win. I think it’s going to be a great game.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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