Not how the football Huskies wanted to start 2013....
EAST HARTFORD, CT: Okay, this is going to be interesting.
As we venture into the Division I football scene with live coverage all season of UConn football, boy have we stepped into something.
The University of Connecticut Huskies kicked off their 2013 campaign with an ugly 33-18 loss to Division I-AA Towson.
On Thursday night, rankings or conferences didn’t matter to the Tigers who simply came in and had their way with an UConn team that simply did not look any different from last year’s team that posted a 5-7 record for the second straight year.
If you didn’t know better, you would have thought the Tigers were the D-1 and the Huskies the D-1AA.
Towson head coach Rob Ambrose’s story and his past with UConn is well known and the former assistant was happy to make his return to Storrs.
“I love this place.” Ambrose said. “I met and coached a lot of great players here and it’s a great environment to play in.”
In his post-game press conference, Ambrose brought two players with him who greatly affected the outcome of this opener.
Junior running back, Terrence West and lineman Jon Desir led an all-around effort by a team that was inspired from the get-go.
West lived up to his billing that said he was a going to be an issue for the Huskie defense to deal with and his was; and the “D” didn’t.
After watching his star running back carve his way to a 156 yard night on 36 carries, Ambrose warned his future opponents about West.
“I tell you, he’s not done yet, he’s only going to get better.” Ambrose said.
Desir came up with a huge turnover when he batted a Chandler Whitmer pass at the line of scrimmage in the second quarter and grabbed it between his legs on the way down for the INT.
UConn went up late in the first quarter on a 31-yard touchdown strike from Whitmer to Shakim Phillips (who added a second late in the fourth) but the visitors got even on their next series with a 4-play, 66 yard drive that ended with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Peter Athens (13-20-1, 192) to Sterlin Phifer.
Phifer dove from the five and hit the pylon for the Tigers first points.
Towson has a two-headed running attack with Phifer and West, and the duo broke the 200-yard mark for the game (203).
The Desir pick led to a five-yard run by Phifer midway through the second quarter and gave the visitors a lead they would not relinquish.
The Huskie offense, a major focus point during the off season and pre-season, looked good on their first scoring drive but had trouble running the ball.
Lyle McCombs gained 80 yards on 17 carries but 22 of those came on an amazing run that ended with the red-shirt junior crawling on his hands to the one-yard line late in the second quarter.
With a first and goal, the home team seemed poised to tie things up but a critical illegal substitution penalty knocked them back to the six and they had to settle for a 22-yard field goal from Chad Christen.
It was 13-10 at the half in favor of the Tigers and it felt a little like last season when points were at a premium for the Huskie offense and the defense was keeping them in the game.
A killer drive in the third quarter by Towson exposed the UConn defense during a 13 play, 95 yard push to the end zone and defined this game.
The Tigers ate 7:35 off the clock and when Peter Athens went in from a yard out, Towson was up 19-10.
Towson placekicker D.J. Soven missed on his two extra point tries and was replaced in the fourth quarter but his misses left the door open for UConn.
The Huskies got back to within eight at 26-18 when Whitmer and Phillips connected over the middle for a 21-yard scoring play and the home team still had a chance when they forced a Tiger punt with under two minutes to play.
Any thoughts of a game tying drive went by the boards when freshman punt returner Brian Lemelle fumbled the ensuing punt and this one was in the books.
What does it mean for the Huskies and head coach Paul Pasqauloni going forward?
It means they have an extra week before playing another former coach (Randy Edsall) and Maryland on September 14 before facing a monster in Michigan the following week.
In a year that they cannot afford to go 5-7 again, the start was not what they hoped for but it’s going to take us on an interesting ride.