College Park, Md. — UConn had a lot to deal with heading into Saturday’s game at Maryland.
Several Huskies, especially on defense, were battling some kind of flu making its way through the team. They also were trying to rebound from a tough 10-7 loss to North Carolina State and had to face their former coach for the first time.
Despite all that, Connecticut did just fine. Lyle McCombs and Scott McCummings both ran for touchdowns, and Nick Williams returned a punt for another score as the Huskies defeated Maryland 24-21.
The defense played especially well, as Connecticut (2-1) limited Maryland (2-1) to 205 yards of total offense and never trailed.
“I would say that I’m proud of the team in the sense that we had the flu, and we had guys a little bit under the weather,” Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “Some of them couldn’t play and some of them played. We had to get a great performance out of the defense . (and) I told the kids it was a really good team win.”
The Huskies entered the game ranked third in the country in total defense and scoring defense, and they made life tough for Maryland and freshman quarterback Perry Hills.
They pressured Hills constantly and sacked him six times, led by linebackers Yawin Smallwood (14 tackles, 2 ½ sacks) and Sio Moore (seven tackles, 2 ½ sacks). Hills completed 10 of 24 for 109 yards with one interception and one touchdown.
“Coach always tells us that there is going to be adversity, but we stepped up and played throughout,” said defensive tackle Ryan Wirth. “We got the “W,’ and that’s all that matters.”
The biggest issue might have been the Huskies going against former coach Randy Edsall. He left after the 2010 season in a move that upset some, but both teams spent the week playing down any extra motivation coming from this meeting.
It was no different after the game, as Moore talked about his meeting with Edsall in a positive tone.
“I went up to him after the game and told him I love him,” Moore said. “He is one of those guys that really saw something in me when I didn’t know I had anything in me myself, so I really appreciate him giving me the chance.”
Edsall also showed a bit of emotion in his postgame press conference, his voice cracking a few times when talking about his feelings toward his former team.
“We went through the week and conducted business as usual,” Edsall said. “When the game was over, you go over and say hello to the people you have worked with, any people you have coached. You wish them well, and you tell them that if there is anything you can do for them after they graduate for them to give you a call.”
Maryland’s defense, which came into the game ranked ninth nationally, also played well. It held Connecticut to the 223 yards and limited the big plays.
Maryland Freshman Stefon Diggs Nearly Did Enough To Win The Game By Himself. He Accounted For 223 Yards — 98 on kick returns, 68 on punt returns and 57 on receptions — including a 29-yard touchdown pass from Hills in the fourth quarter.
But the Huskies took a 14-0 lead early and never looked back, even though they had a tough time with the Maryland defense.
Connecticut opened the scoring on Williams’ 58-yard punt return, and Chad Christen’s extra point gave the Huskies a 7-0 lead with 7:05 left in the first quarter.
They took advantage of a short field to score their second touchdown, gaining possession at the Maryland 36 after the Terrapins were forced to punt from their 4. McCummings’ 3-yard run seven plays later made it 14-0 with 12:35 left in the half.
Maryland’s offense finally awakened on the next possession. A key play came on fourth-and-4 from the Connecticut 37, when Hills completed an 18-yard pass to Diggs.
One play later, Wes Brown ran for a 19-yard touchdown, and Brad Craddock’s extra point cut the lead to 14-7 with 10:24 remaining in the half.
Smallwood sacked Hills and forced a third-quarter fumble that Angelo Pruitt recovered for the Huskies at the Maryland 23. They couldn’t pick up a first down, but Christen kicked a 34-yard field goal with 3:29 left in the quarter for a 17-7 lead.
After a 75-yard drive, Maryland made it 17-14 on the second play of the fourth quarter when Hills threw the 29-yard touchdown pass to Diggs on third-and-10. The Terrapins’ Marcus Leak tipped the pass and Diggs grabbed it for a touchdown to make it 17-14.
But the Huskies answered on their next possession, driving 76 yards to take a 24-14 lead on McCombs’ 11-yard touchdown run. McCombs rushed for 94 yards overall.
Hills ran for a 10-yard touchdown that cut the Connecticut lead to 24-21 with 4:39 left.
After getting the ball back following a Huskies punt, Maryland reached the Connecticut 39 before its drive stalled with 17 seconds left, all of which clearly frustrated Hills, whose team faces No. 9 West Virginia next Saturday.
“I have to watch the film, get better, improve and put it behind me,” Hills said. “I don’t accept losing, don’t like losing. But I promised my team and everyone that I’m going to prepare like I’ve never prepared before to get ready for this next game.”