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    Thursday, April 18, 2024

    A healthier UConn will have more offensive weapons at its disposal for bowl game

    UConn running back Victor Rosa (22) runs for a touchdown during the second half of the Huskies’ victory over Liberty on Nov. 12 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
    Former Bristol Central standout Victor Rosa, seen here speaking to the media after Wednesday's practice in Storrs, has been a key contributor to UConn's success after taking over a starting role due to injuries. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    Storrs – Nick Charlton is having an interesting and challenging first year as UConn assistant head coach/offensive coordinator, to say the least.

    First, Charlton saw his starting quarterback, Ta`Quan Roberson, suffer a season-ending knee injury in the first quarter of the season opener at Utah State on Aug. 27. First-team wide receiver Keelan Marion also left the game with an injury, joining another pass catcher, Cam Ross, who started the season on the inactive list, on the sideline.

    Then, as if the Huskies had been cursed, their top three running backs — Nate Carter, Brian Brewton and Devontae Houston — also lost time due to injuries.

    They patched it together, reserves filled in admirably and they won six games to earn their first bowl bid in seven years despite playing most of the season with a true freshman at quarterback (Zion Turner) and at running back (Victor Rosa).

    It’s one of the remarkable stories in a remarkable turnaround season for the Huskies.

    “We didn’t want to make excuses about where we’re at,” Charlton said after Wednesday’s practice. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to win games and nobody cares. We certainly lost some guys. We lost the starting quarterback 10 plays into the year and Zion stepped up. And when the rest of these guys went down, other people stepped up.

    “When you look at Victor Rosa and what he did, that’s a credit to him and the coaches that worked with him. We just had to figure it out and find a way. This team has a lot of resolve, honestly.”

    The Huskies (6-6) are finally getting healthy again just in time to face Marshall (8-4) in the Myrtle Beach Bowl on Monday. They’ll leave for Conway, S.C., on Thursday.

    They’ll have more offensive weapons at their disposal as Houston, Ross and Marion will be available. Brewton could potentially play.

    The injuries forced Charlton to make some big adjustments and go deep into the depth chart.

    “We’ve really had to fit the scheme to who our players are and who we’ve had,” Charlton said. “To get a couple of guys back will certainly be meaningful to the offense.”

    Marion has been limited since returning and appeared in only five games. Ross has seen spot duty while playing in only the last two games. When healthy, Houston has been productive, rushing for 538 yards and three touchdowns in nine games.

    Brewton is still recovering from an elbow injury that limited him to four games.

    “Brian has really made some progress the last couple of days, so we’ll see,” Charlton said. “At first, it was trending towards we didn’t know, but he’s looked pretty good. We keep joking with him that he’s got the fresh legs out here.

    “... Devontae’s fine, he should be good. Obviously, he’s been a little banged up this year. Keelan is getting back into it and trying to get his wind back, that’s the biggest thing. Cam is in the same category. We’ve got to see how many reps we can get out of them but we do expect them to play.”

    UConn’s offense has done surprisingly well considering the adversity, averaging 19.8 points per game. They’ve relied heavily on their running game, ranking 32nd in the nation in rushing yards per game at 194.9.

    Credit the offensive line, which turned from being a question mark entering the season to the team’s best unit. Redshirt junior guard Christian Haynes earned a spot on the Associated Press All-American third team.

    “They’ve completely set the tone,” Charlton said. “They’re extremely well-coached. They do an outstanding job. They’re the core and the base of our offense. I’m very proud of them, because when we got here, it was all about the offensive line couldn’t play and that we needed to get guys.

    “I tell you what, those guys have got a lot of resolve and a lot of confidence and they’re playing at a high level.”

    A tough runner, Rosa plays much bigger than his 5-foot-10, 198-pound frame. The 2021 Connecticut Gatorade Player of the Year from Bristol Centeral, Rosa’s piled up a team-high 561 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in five starts.

    “He was fifth on the depth chart coming into this thing and he just kept fighting his way up,” Charlton said. “We knew there was something there, clearly.”

    Rosa is just happy to contribute to the team’s success.

    “Coming in here, I knew I had to earn my role, so I knew it was going to be a challenge from the start,” he said. “I’m just grateful to be in the spot that I’m in today. I came in here with the mindset that I will make an impact. I’m glad I can make an impact.”

    News and notes

    Haynes on winning UConn’s first All-American honor since running back Jordan Todman in 2010: “It’s just a blessing, a blessing in disguise. Praise God and praise my teammates, too. I wouldn’t say I was surprised because I put in the work. I was just pretty excited to see the UConn name out there.” … Charlton pointed out that Turner has won the most games as a starting quarterback at UConn in the last seven years. “If we get this one (Monday), it will be 12 (years), so I’m very proud of him.” … Rosa and his best friend Donovan Clingan, a former high school basketball teammate, are both enjoying productive freshman seasons. Clingan is a backup center for the third-ranked Huskies. “That was our plan since day one, that wherever we ended up at the next level, make an impact and do our thing. We’re proud of each other and proud to see ourselves succeed at this level.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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