The first of two teams from Maryland, each with a UConn coaching connection, arrives as the Huskies try to set an early tone to their important 2013 football season.
The Huskies should be prepared and focused, and if they're not able to flick aside an FCS team in Towson University with relative ease Thursday night, that tone could be one of expectations going downhill fast.
Coming off two 5-7 seasons, a slow start would be a no-no for everyone involved, including coach Paul Pasqualoni, who has much to prove this season.
"No, we can't have that happen," said Yawin Smallwood, the junior middle linebacker, leading tackler (120 in 2012) and captain. "They're going to come in here and they're going to be prepared. They're not going to back down from no one. We know they're not afraid of us. ... The coaches will have us prepared to compete and we're going to compete at the highest level."
UConn must come out looking clean and efficient, playing better than it did last year. It will be another two weeks before the Huskies play again, against Maryland, coached by former UConn coach Randy Edsall.
Two weeks can be a long time, depending how UConn looks Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (no TV, ESPN3.com, WTIC-AM).
Towson coach Rob Ambrose, a former assistant at UConn under Edsall from 2002-08, expects UConn to take his team seriously.
"Whether it's UConn or Syracuse or anything that Paul's got his hand on, every team that he coaches is extremely disciplined, extremely physical, extremely tough, and they're always going to play sound defense, and there's no difference here," Ambrose said. "And to be honest, they're bigger than we are — by a lot. I've got some guys with some size, too, but after they go out I've got the mighty midgets coming in there. We've got to play up. Physically, UConn is better than we are, but so what. Still play for 60 minutes."
If you know Ambrose and if you know his Tigers gave then-No.3 LSU all it could handle at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge last season before losing 38-22, then you know how serious Ambrose is.
And he is serious because UConn is Towson's LSU this season. Towson, Ambrose's alma mater, comes in ranked No.11 in the FCS preseason poll.
The Huskies better be prepared.
While the defense figures to have its hands full watching the play-action pass, the potential use of two quarterbacks and the All-American running back junior Terrance West, it is the Huskies' most sound unit. Despite some key losses from a year ago, the UConn defense should have little dropoff in terms of talent.
UConn must avoid giving up the big play. As good as the defense was last season, it broke down at inopportune times.
The offense must show it can move the ball effectively and consistently, both in the passing and running games. But the No.1 thing the Huskies' offense must do is avoid turnovers.
Taking into account 26 interceptions and 33 sacks, the Huskies wre lucky to win five games. There has been much talk surrounding the offensive line and running back Lyle McCombs in the preseason. Both need to perform better than last year.
"I'm really happy with everything," said senior left tackle Jimmy Bennett. "I feel like the whole team is happy with what the coaches have game-planned for us. Our position is to go out and dominate. We've been at this for a while now. We've got the pass game down pat, run game, techniques — getting into place now. If we see something we haven't seen before [on defense], technique should be able to handle it."
The identity of the team begins to take shape Thursday. Will it be the one that provided enough self-inflicted wounds to keep itself from bowl eligibility the past two seasons? Or will it be one that is ready to move forward and get the program on an upward trajectory?
"Every team is a new team, every team is unique," Pasqualoni said. "There are no two teams in any program that are the same from year to year. I think every coach is hoping that he sees the identity of a good, solid, tough football team: takes care of the ball, plays the game the right way, doesn't do stupid things, doesn't beat themselves, plays well on special teams —punts the ball well, kicks the ball well, covers the ball well, catches the ball on returns."
That about covers everything.
"Those are all things that I want to see, like everybody wants to see them, "Pasqualoni said.dy wants to see them, "Pasqualoni said.