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    Tuesday, November 29, 2022

    UConn football in holding pattern waiting to learn about bowl fate

    UConn head coach Jim Mora singles to players during the second half of an NCAA college football game against against Liberty in East Hartford, Conn., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)

    The UConn football team is in a holding pattern after a surprisingly terrific regular season ended on Saturday.

    The bowl-eligible Huskies won’t officially know their fate until all of the bowls are announced on Sunday, Dec. 4.

    Until then, they’ll take some well-deserved time off before returning to practice next week.

    As an independent, they don’t have the benefit of having a bowl tie-in like conferences do, so there’s no guarantee they’ll receive a bowl bid.

    Whether the season is over or not, UConn should feel good about what it accomplished this season. The Huskies (6-6) posted their highest victory total since going 6-7 in 2015. They had won only four games in their previous three seasons combined.

    But getting an invitation to a bowl game for the first time in seven years would be a huge boost for the program.

    “We made a goal internally as a team that we wanted to get these seniors to a bowl game,” UConn coach Jim Mora said Sunday. “It was a distance goal. There were a lot of things that we had to do to get there, but it was one that everyone kept in the back of their mind.

    “It wasn’t something that we focused on every week. As a matter of fact, we rarely talked about it at all. If we were able to get a bowl game, it will complete the journey of this season. It will make everyone feel like they accomplished something special. I think it will give everyone a sense of pride that they were able to send our seniors out with a bowl.

    “Then, should we get a bowl, we’ve got to go win it. If we win it, you’ve got seven wins against six losses and you can call yourself a winner. That’s really important to these guys.”

    The Huskies missed some opportunities this season to add to the win column and basically lock up a bowl invitation.

    Take Saturday’s regular-season finale at Army.

    Penalties, turnovers and breakdowns cost them in a 34-17 loss.

    Mora talked to players during a team meeting on Sunday about developing a higher level of mental toughness that will allow them to make momentum-changing plays and finish off games.

    “When you get in the moments where you have to be your very, very best on a particular play or a particular drive, we’re still reaching, still growing and still trying to find that extreme level of mental toughness that’s going to allow us to eliminate those plays that beat us (Saturday),” Mora said. “With all due respect to Army, I feel like we beat ourselves.”

    Judging from recent bowl projections, there’s hope for the Huskies to extend their season.

    Sports Illustrated has UConn facing Toledo in the Myrtle Beach Bowl on Dec. 19 in Conway, S.C., while CBS Sports slots UConn into the Lending Tree Bowl against Georgia Southern on Dec 17 in Mobile, Ala.

    UConn plans to take advantage of the extra practice time until it receives word.

    “We’ll get a week before we find out,” Mora said. “We plan to make the most of that week. Hopefully, it leads to a bowl. If it doesn’t, it gives us extra time to practice and get back to the fundamentals because we won’t be preparing for a game. We’ll be able to spend time on individual technique stuff and not game planning.

    “This will just be football. I think it’s really important to have these days. … It could be a big boost to our program. There used to be a rule where you’re only allowed to have 12 or 15 bowl practices. They don’t have the rule anymore. You can have as many practices as you want and we would take full advantage of that.”

    This will be a weird week for the Huskies without a game to prepare for.

    Mora, his coaching staff and players will all take a break.

    “We’ve been so locked in since the end of July every week, so not to have an opponent this week is strange and a little discombobulating and a little bit out of whack,” Mora said. “The players are off until next Monday morning. I wanted them to get away and spend time with their families and rest, let their bodies heal a little bit and reset their mind.

    “Then we’ll come back that Monday morning and have a team meeting and start practicing with the hope that we get a bowl game.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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