UConn raises level of competition with 'Pack

UMass was merely an appetizer.

Today, UConn gets to taste its first main course of the 2012 football season when North Carolina State visits Rentschler Field at noon (SNY).

The Huskies took care of business against a BCS newcomer last week, thoroughly dominating the Minutemen 37-0, but NC State - which lost its opener to Tennessee 35-21 in the Georgia Dome - arguably features the most talent UConn will play all season.

"NC State is going to be one of the better teams that we are going to play all year," UConn linebacker Jory Johnson said earlier in the week. "I know we had a good game coming in, but this one, and the next one coming up (at Maryland) are going to define our team and see how we are really going to be able to play."

Johnson, one of UConn's senior leaders, even went as far as calling it a "statement game" for the Huskies. That might be taking things a bit far, but there's little doubt a victory over the favored Wolfpack could put the Huskies on the path to a special season.

"This will be a real challenge for us," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We'll have to play smarter than we did last week if we turn the ball over three times against this team, we're going to have a lot of problems.

"We're going to have to play smart and not beat ourselves."

UConn overcame those mistakes - two Chandler Whitmer interceptions and a Lyle McCombs fumble - by scoring defensive and special teams touchdowns and holding the UMass offense to a mere 59 total yards and three first downs.

The Husky offense, however, was just OK, and OK won't be good enough against NC State.

Pasqualoni, for one, will be curious to see how his offense responds against a bigger, faster and more talented defense today.

"I think we learned that we've got to do a little bit better job throwing the shorter passes," he said. "And I think we learned that we're going to have to run the ball better. Our consistency, yards per attempt, was not really what it has to be."

The Huskies rushed for 147 yards as a team, but averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.

UConn will face an NC State team that looks to bounce back following its loss to Tennessee. The Wolfpack, who expect to contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, couldn't recover from an early 22-7 hole against the Volunteers as 6-foot-6 quarterback Mike Glennon, who passed for over 3,000 yards and 31 touchdowns a year ago, threw four interceptions (he threw only 12 during the 2011 season).

Glennon also has the luxury of having four senior linemen protecting him.

"You don't want to go on the road after you've had a tough loss," NC State coach Tom O'Brien said. "It's going to take a lot for this football team and show a lot about the character of this team how they're going to react to that."

He also expects to get the best UConn has to offer.

"I have great respect for the coaching staff there," O'Brien said. "I know they have a lot of guys who played in a BCS bowl a few years ago, so they've got some experience. They're not going to be intimidated by NC State coming up to Hartford, Connecticut."

• The game is not sold out and tickets will be available at the Rentschler Field ticket office. UConn will be without two key defenders, starting tackle Shamar Stephen and reserve end Teddy Jennings. Both have knee injuries.

c.banning@theday.com

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