Ta’Quan Roberson fighting again for chance to be No.1 as UConn’s quarterback competition narrows

PUBLISHED August 12, 2023 at 1:27 p.m. | UPDATED: August 12, 2023 at 1:41 p.m.
STORRS – Ta’Quan Roberson left Penn State, where he toiled for three seasons behind the scenes, to break out into a spotlight at UConn. He reached and grabbed his goal one year ago emerging as the Huskies’ starting quarterback.
He led UConn down the field for a touchdown on the first series of the season at Utah State Aug. 27, and had the team moving again, but after gaining five yards on a scramble, his knee gave out as he was tackled near the sidelines.
When the team returned home, coach Jim Mora and his wife drove Roberson home, all in the car fearing what would soon be confirmed: he had a torn ACL and his season was over.
“The first week or two, it was just really bad,” Roberson said. “It was really bad. But just having the guys in the locker room made it much better. I really couldn’t mourn because I had a young guy in my room, Zion (Turner) and I had to help him out.”
As he dealt with the daily grind of recovering from surgery, Roberson gave all he could to UConn’s quarterback and offensive meetings, making his contribution to the 1-11 to 6-7 turnaround.
“Ta’Quan was great,” Turner said. “Even though he dealt with his injury he didn’t stop when it came to us.”
This summer, Roberson, 23, five years removed from leading DePaul Catholic to a state championship in New Jersey and rising to four-star status as a recruit, finds himself back on the field, smiling again, and fighting to reclaim the QB1 job at UConn.
He’s not there yet. Roberson, Turner and Joe Fagnano, a transfer from Maine well-versed on offensive coordinator Nick Charlton’s system, have been locked in competition, with few clues visible at the open practices.
“Everybody accepted me right when I came in, it was straight to work,” Fagnano said. “The guys in my (quarterback) room have been great; we’re always helping each other out.”
If the ball is moving, Charlton said, “that’s the guy” at quarterback. Roberson often reminds him he’s “one for one,” one drive, one touchdown.
Charlton hinted that there is some separation now, and the distribution of reps with the top offensive unit is soon to change. That could suggest Roberson and Fagnano have made it a narrower search with the season opener against NC State less than three weeks away.
“We’re not making any decisions today,” Charlton said. “We’re going to be having some conversations, but we will be changing the reps.”
Joe Fagnano (2), transfer from Maine, has game experience and knowledge of coorinator Nick Charlton's system in his favor in UConn's quarterback competition. (Jessica Hill/Special to the Courant)
Joe Fagnano (2), transfer from Maine, has game experience and knowledge of coordinator Nick Charlton’s system in his favor in UConn’s quarterback competition. (Jessica Hill/Special to the Courant)
Roberson, 5 feet 11 and 205 pounds, appeared in one game as a true freshman at Penn State in 2019, but was the program’s developmental player of the year on offense. In 2020 he appeared in four games, seeing significant time against Iowa, competing 7 of 21 passes.
“He’s an elite passer,” Charlton said. “He can throw the ball second to none. There are not many guys who have the arm talent that he has, especially in that he’s not a 6-4 quarterback. He has (running) skills. I think the game has slowed down quite a bit for him.”
Much is different as Roberson has worked his way through another camp, another competition. The experience of his injury, he said, “brought a different guy out of me.”
“First day back, just being out there,” Roberson said, “the first team period, just being out there behind the line. I completed a pass and I just smiled. Hadn’t done it on almost a year, and it was so much fun to be out there and not watching from the side. When you have major surgery it’s really intense, the rehab process, waking up and doing the same rehab, some people wouldn’t have been able to take it. I just trusted God, trusted the process, trusted our trainers and the guys supporting me, I got through it.”
Just short of one year since the injury, Roberson is just about 100 percent recovered, though he obviously had to start a little behind the others during the spring and early summer practices. Still, he appears to be ahead of where he was last year when he won the job.
“He’s beyond that, very clearly,” Charlton said. “He sees the game a lot faster now, he’s made a lot of progress in the passing game. He’s a student of the game. In terms of applying those meetings to the field, he’s made a tremendous jump. … I just think his passion for the game and his focus has gone up. You can feel that on the field.”
The quarterback competition, though, is different, more complex in 2023, the way Mora envisioned it. Last season, Turner was a true freshman, now he has a season as a starter with several notable victories under his belt. Fagnano, 6-3 and 224 pounds, has a more classic, pro-style quarterback profile. He’s played in 27 games at the FCS level, and thrown 772 passes, completing 461 for 5,655 yards, most of that in Charlton’s system.
“It made the transition even easier,” Fagnano said. “Knowing this offense, being able to run it for a few years now. What makes his offense so great, he’s here day and night, and the way he’s able to do different things with different players, spread the offense out, bring it in tight, he can do so many different things.”
Last season, Charlton had to play it very conservative with Turner so inexperienced and little depth behind him. Now, with a retooled receiving core and stronger competition at quarterback, he wants to open things up.
“At the end of the day, the best man will win,” Roberson said. “We trust Coach Charlton and Coach Mora. That QB room is really tight, we get each other better.”

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