UConn's starting QB decision for Jim Mora a matter of "trust your gut"

STORRS — Joseph Fagnano won the UConn football team's starting quarterback job. Ta'Quan Roberson and Zion Turner didn't lose it.
Coach Jim Mora made that clear Sunday as the Huskies continued preparations for Thursday's opener against North Carolina State at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field.
"We keep track of everything," Mora said. "Sometimes the way it looks in practice to the naked eye is not the reality of the situation. All those guys competed hard, competed well. They competed against each other and supported each other along the way.
"At the end of the day after compiling all of the statistical data, you still trust your gut. We've been doing this for a long time. As a staff there was a consensus at this point that we wanted to go with Joe. We have a situation here where we have three guys who have played in Division I games. We have three guys who can go in and get it done. That's a luxury."
Fagnano (6-foot-3, 224 pounds from Williamsport, Pennsylvania) transferred to UConn in the spring from Maine, where he played under Huskies' offensive coordinator Nick Charlton. He completed 57.1 percent of his passes (208 for 364) for 2,231 yards and 15 touchdowns with six interceptions for the Black Bears a year ago. He also ran 93 times for 296 yards and three touchdowns.
In 27 career games for Maine, he was 461-for-772 passing (59.7 percent) for 5,655 yards with 46 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He rushed for 535 yards and five scores.
"Joe's very poised," Mora said. "Joe has some height to him. Joe has played a lot of snaps and thrown a lot of passes. There's a strong correlation between the number of snaps you've played, the number of passes you've thrown, and your ability to have success. That was important to us.
"He's got a very calm demeanor, a strong and quiet leader. If things are not going well he can keep his composure well. I things go well he stays steady. I'm excited to see him go out and play Thursday night. I think he's going to play well and we'll do a great job of supporting him."
Roberson was the opening-day starter against Utah State a year ago but was lost for the season with a right knee injury on the second possession. Turner started the remaining 12 games as the Huskies won six and earned their first bowl bid since 2015.
Mora announced Fagnano as the starter on Wednesday.
"Now that we know who the starting quarterback is, he's taking on more of a leadership role," UConn guard Christian Haynes said. "We really appreciate that from him."
One factor that should work in Fagnano's favor is the Huskies' experienced offensive line led by All-American Haynes. Four starters return while redshirt sophomore Yakiri Walker will take over at center.
UConn rushed for an average of 194.4 yards per game last season. Devontae Houston, who averaged 6.9 yards per carry, and leading rusher Victor Rosa top the depth chart.
"We feel very confident going into the season," Haynes said. "We've played a lot with each other and jelled. And Yakiri, he's played a lot, too. We don't want to be just a good offensive line, we want to be a great offensive line."
Cam Ross, who has missed most of the last two seasons with foot injuries after making 60 catches as a freshman in 2019, tops the depth chart at receiver along with graduate transfers Brett Buckman (Delaware) and Geordon Porter (New Mexico).
Justin Joly, who caught 18 passes and scored two touchdowns as a freshman, is No. 1 at the tight end position.
"We hope we can be a little more diverse," Mora said. "That we got healthy receivers and healthy tight ends right now, and more of them, is going to help us."
Linebacker Jackson Mitchell, end Eric Watts, and safety Durante Jones will be the mainstays on defense, which made progress in Mora's first season but needs to do more if the Huskies want to be bowl-bound again.
"Even from the first day of camp last year to this year you could see the improvement all over the field," Mitchell said. "We've brought in more transfers and young guys who have gotten bigger, stronger, and got more experience. Year 2 should be good. And we're in the same system again so we have a better understanding of it."
North Carolina State was 8-5 (4-4 ACC) a year ago, losing to Maryland in the Duke's Mayo Bowl. The Wolfpack rolled to a 41-10 win over the Huskies in Raleigh on Sept. 24.
Brennan Armstrong, a transfer from Virginia, will start at quarterback for North Carolina State Thursday.
UConn is 11-3 in season openers in its East Hartford home since 2002.
"We're hoping to go out and play well against a really good football team," Mora said. "Last year they had a lot of success against us. We want to go out and play to our potential. I'm sure there will be some nerves. I'm sure there will be some anxiety. But I'm proud of the way these guys have prepared and worked to get to this point."
Mora has known John Pagano since he was six-years-old. They worked together for the New Orleans Saints.
So when Mora had the opportunity to bring the 26-year NFL coaching veteran here as a special assistant to the head coach, it was an easy call.
"We go way back," Mora said. "Our families are really close. We have similar backgrounds.
"He's a tremendous defensive mind, tremendous football mind. He's had a lot of success at the NFL level as a defensive coordinator in San Diego and Oakland and as a position coach in other places he's been. He spent some time with us in the spring and he bonded with our staff. Our players really took to him. He gave them great advice whether it was about football or about life. He had a willingness and desire, and he's passionate about football, and wanted to get back closer to it. So we took the opportunity to hire him."
Pagano most recently served as the outside linebacker coach with the Denver Broncos in 2020 and 2021. He served as a senior defensive assistant and outside linebackers coach for the Houston Texans during 2018-19. Before that, Pagano was the then San Diego Chargers' defensive coordinator from 2012-16 and the Raiders' assistant head coach in 2017.

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