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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    With Turner in charge at QB, UConn is a win away from being bowl eligible

    UConn quarterback Zion Turner (11) hands the ball off to fellow freshman Victor Rosa during a Sept. 24 game against North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

    Like his UConn football team, freshman Zion Turner has experienced a major growth spurt this season from his unexpected debut in the season opener until now.

    Turner turned a potentially overwhelming situation for a first-year player into a valuable learning experience after being thrust into the role as starter when Ta’Quan Roberson suffered a season-ending injury in the first quarter at Utah State on Aug. 27.

    “This is everything that I wanted,” Turner said. “It was exactly what I needed to get me to where I am now and to know the things that I need to do better. ... I’m definitely very grateful to be in the position that I am in now and to be able to learn and to get the experience at such a young age and such a young point in my career.”

    Thanks in part to Turner, the Huskies (5-5) are in a great position, needing just one win in the remaining two games to become bowl eligible.

    UConn hosts No. 19 Liberty (8-1) at noon Saturday (CBSSN) at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, then visits Army on Nov. 19 in the regular-season finale. The Huskies have won four of their five games.

    Both opponents present significant challenges, starting with Liberty, which is coming off a huge win at Arkansas and riding a six-game winning streak.

    “It’s just a really, really good football team,” coach Jim Mora said. “It’s a heck of a challenge. Our guys love the challenges and this is another one of them. It will be fun to see what happens on Saturday.”

    With 10 games under his belt, Turner is more capable of handling a big-game situation than earlier this season. He has the right mindset, playing loose and having fun while trying to make the most of opportunities.

    “I’ve definitely grown a lot, especially with getting acclimated to the speed of the game,” Turner said. “High school is definitely different from college. I’m just picking up defenses more and learning the game, studying my mechanics and things like that.”

    Turner has proven that he’s up to the challenge after leading the Huskies their most wins since the 2015 season.

    While his passing statistics don’t jump out – he’s thrown for 1,023 yards and eight touchdowns, Turner’s done a good job managing the offense. He’s limited mistakes, throwing only four interceptions.

    Turner realizes he’s far from a finished product, pointing to things like decision-making, recognizing defenses and getting protections right as areas that he needs to improve on.

    For the Huskies to pull off the upset Saturday, they’ll likely have to surpass their season passing average of 105.8 yards per game against a strong Liberty defense that leads the nation in sacks (3.78) and tackles for loss (9.3) per game. The Flames are also eighth in turnovers gained with 20. Defensive end Durrell Johnson is the player to watch.

    “We have to be better at my position specifically,” Turner said. “It starts with me if we’re going to get this passing game rolling.”

    UConn continues to rely heavily on its running attack to power the offense, averaging 187.6 yards on the ground and ranking 38th in the country in that department. The Huskies are getting healthier at the position with Devontae Houston, Robert Burns and Victor Rosa all expected to be available on Saturday.

    “We’ve run the ball well, but they play the run well,” Mora said. “I’m not overstating when I say this is arguably the best defense that we’ve faced. … We have to be balanced.”

    The underdog Huskies are looking to do the unexpected once again on Saturday while playing in their last home game.

    They’re 0-3 this season and lost 10 straight overall against ranked teams.

    Those three games gave the Huskies confidence despite the lopsided losses.

    “We have a little more belief that we can compete just because we’ve gone through that and we’ve seen what it’s like to play that caliber of opponent – Syracuse, N.C. State, Michigan and now Liberty,” Mora said. “We’ve had a little bit of success after that and I think that builds some confidence that we can get this done. It’s going to take everything we’ve got.”


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