Sooner or later it was bound to happen. Football Championship Subdivision member Towson was eventually going to pick off a Football Bowl Subdivision member. Unfortunately that time came Thursday night at The Rent in East Hartford at the expense of the UConn (0-1) football team as the punch-less Huskies got steamrolled 33-18 before a crowd of just over 30,000.
For a team coming off back to back losing seasons with their head coach on the proverbial hot seat, this was not the kind of season opener that the UConn football program envisioned. Critical turnovers, untimely penalties, a porous defense and a lackluster offense all contributed to the loss that had the frustrated UConn faithful heading for the exits midway through the fourth quarter.
Third year UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni pretty well summed up the effort, “I don’t know an area where we did play well (Thursday night).”
The game resembled so many others in the two year tenure of Pasqualoni with one glaring exception. UConn’s typically stalwart defense joined the offense and special teams in futility as Tiger junior running back Terrance West (36 carries, 2 TD) ran all over the Huskies front line netting 156 yards on the ground and rushing for the 44th and 45th touchdowns of his career.
Said Pasqualoni, “One of the strengths of our team here over the past couple of seasons had been our run defense and West, by himself, had 156 yards. That was very, very disappointing.”
West wasn’t the only story, as Tiger quarterback Peter Athens (13-20, 192yds, 1TD, 1Int) took advantage of UConn’s single coverage when the Huskies moved additional defenders into the box try to stop the run by throwing for 192 yards and a touchdown.
“We over committed so much to the run”, said the UConn coach, “(Towson) completed some balls and there’s a couple of plays in the secondary we didn’t make.”
West and Athens alone bested UConn’s total offense as the Huskies could only muster a paltry 287 combined yards for the night.
After UConn took early lead with a 31 yard Chandler Whitmer (16-28, 206yds, 2TD, 1Int) touchdown pass on the their second possession of the first quarter, Towson came right back on a four play, 66 yard drive to knot the game at seven. West rushed for 39 yards on two carries in the drive before Athens hit Sidney Ruffin for a 23 yard TD pass.
UConn went three and out on its next two possessions with Whitmer throwing an interception on the first play of the third possession giving Towson the ball on the UConn 29. Two plays later Towson took the lead for good.
The Huskies weren’t finished as UConn marched right back down field only to be held to a field goal after a first and goal on the Towson one. Running back Lyle McCombs was stopped on three straight carries and a ‘Too many men on the field’ penalty pushed the Huskies back to the Towson six, bringing out the field goal unit.
Towson (1-0) took a 13-10 lead into the half and UConn already looked like a beaten team. Things only got worse as Towson engineered a 95 yard drive early in the third quarter that ate up over seven minutes with Athens punching in a one yard keeper for the score.
After two more UConn punts and a turnover on downs West scored his first TD in the fourth and the majority of the UConn fans had seen enough.
The UConn diehards that stuck it out to the end still had a glimmer of hope, albeit very dim, after a late touchdown pulled UConn within 26-18 with just under four to play. The defense held the Tigers to a three and out but freshman return man Brian Lemelle fumbled the ensuing punt, eventually leading to West’s second touchdown and leaving many more questions than answers for UConn going forward.
Asked about evaluating where his team is right now Pasqualoni would only say, “We’re gonna take a look at the (game) film.”
Towson will savor their first program victory over an FBS opponent, while for UConn, the taste will be anything but sweet as the Huskies will have to wait over two weeks before getting a shot at redemption when they host former UConn head coach Randy Edsall and his Maryland Terrapins on September 14.