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September 15, 2013The hype leading into the game may have been about the return of Randy Edsall, but on the field the Maryland Terrapins (3-0) systematically dismantled the UConn Huskies (0-2) over the course of four quarters.
"It's hard to lose to any team. With Coach Edsall coming back there's a lot of hype about that, but for us it's just a loss. It's 0-2 in our column," senior cornerback Taylor Mack said.
The Huskies played well in the first half and found themselves down only three, 13-10, despite allowing 319 yards of offense from the Terrapins. The key to UConn's success was a number of timely turnovers and two fourth down stops that squashed Maryland's drives on UConn's side of the field. UConn's defense gained some early confidence with a thundering stop on 4th-and-1 from the its 44-yard line with 12:28 to go in the first quarter. Redshirt junior defensive end Angelo Pruitt stuffed Maryland running back Brandon Ross in the backfield for a loss of three.
The 4th down stop by the defense sparked UConn's offense, which took advantage of the momentum and put together a six-play, 57-yard drive for the first score of the game. Redshirt junior running back Lyle McCombs finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown run, but the offensive line deserved equal credit. After McCombs got held up short of the goal line, the entire line converged on the pile of defensive players holding McCombs up and pushed the pile into the end zone. On this play at least it appeared that the beleaguered offensive line, which could not create much running room in the loss to Towson, had come ready to play.
UConn could not sustain that play over the course of the game though. In fact, the running game took a decided turn for the worst after that moment. UConn finished the game with only 34 net yards rushing on 33 carries. For a program that was built on its running prowess, the lack of production against Maryland was a huge disappointment.
"We just weren't able to run the ball," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We are not creating enough space for the backs in there to find a crease, so it's frustrating."
Frustrating is a perfect adjective to describe UConn's night on offense. Although Chandler Whitmer and the offense racked up 383 yards---349 of which came from the passing attack----their lack of ability to run the ball and costly turnovers ultimately doomed them in the second half.
Whitmer set a new personal-best for passing yards in a single game and also had a touchdown, but he threw away two interceptions, the last of which was returned 49 yards for a pick six by Maryland cornerback Dexter McDougle. McDougle also picked off Whitmer in the first quarter with the Huskies driving on Maryland's side of the field.
"I got this vision of at least 10 points in my mind that were totally self-inflicted," Pasqualoni said of the interceptions and other errors. "In a game like this, 10 points is a lot."
Whitmer connected well with redshirt junior wide out Shakim Phillips, who tallied 10 receptions for 178 yards and one touchdown, a 75-yard scamper. He was certainly a bright spot for a reeling UConn team, but one that the team may have to play without against Michigan. At the end of his touchdown run, Phillips injured what Pasqualoni said he believed to be his hamstring. Phillips has had a history of hamstring problems so the team can only hope that their playmaker will return in time.
UConn's defense, which held their ground in the first half, could not sustain their production after halftime. C.J. Brown and the Maryland offense stormed out after halftime and scorched the Huskies' defense time after time with runs off of the read-option and passes into the heart of UConn's secondary. Brown finished with 277 yards on 15-of-28 passing, and also ran for 122 yards on 16 carries.
"We did not make enough plays on C.J. Brown tonight. He had a really big night running the ball. We had a hard time tackling him. I don't think we had a minus yardage play. We didn't have a sack on him," Pasqualoni said. "We knew coming in he was going to be a big player. He made more plays than we made on him."
Brown often found Stefon Diggs, his speedy sophomore wide receiver, for big plays that gouged the UConn defense. Diggs finished with five catches for 110 yards. Brandon Ross also had a solid night despite some fumbling issues, running for 110 yards on 18 carries.
The defense definitely made improvements from their disheartening season-opening loss, but still could not sustain their play for four quarters of action.
"What it really comes down to is just focus," Mack said. "The play is six seconds, probably at its longest, so just focusing in on every play."
The offense also had its bright spots, but did not complete enough drives in scores, especially after the defense created turnovers. On the three turnovers (two fumble recoveries and one interception) that the defense caused, the offense only came away with a total of three points. In a game against quality competition, that is simply not enough to win.
UConn will have to regroup quickly as they take on No. 11 Michigan at 8 p.m. next Saturday, September 21 at Rentschler Field.
"We got an outstanding team, outstanding program in Michigan coming in," Pasqualoni said. "I look at it as another great opportunity."