What a loss. They happen. The way it happened is the problem.
This game was supposed to be a tone setter for the Huskies, in a positive way. With Maryland and Michigan coming into the stadium on successive weekends in September, a smooth operation against a lesser division opponent was expected.
Well, so much for expectations. The Huskies lost to a 1-AA team for the first time since 2001 – Eastern Washington.
The Tigers All-American junior tailback Terrance West played like an All-American, consistently carving up one of the nation's top defenses against the run for 156 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns, including a five-yard burst with 16 seconds left in which he broke through a pair of open field tackles to get in and close out the scoring.
"That was very, very disappointing," said Paul Pasqualoni, the Huskies' third-year head coach. "We didn't play well there. I don't know of an area where we did play well in."
How about that?
Towson outgained UConn 393-287, owned the Huskies in time of possession (36:23 to 23:37) and when the tough got going the Tigers got going on third down. They were 7 of 16. By contrast UConn was 4 of 13.
Yes, the offense struggled. They couldn't add to their first quarter touchdown a 31-yard scoring strike from Chandler Whitmer (16 of 28, 2 TDs) and second quarter field goal by Chad Christen (22 yards) and they still trailed 13-10 at the half.
Why? Well because the defense had problems, too – big problems.
"They made the third down conversions, they made the big catches," junior linebacker Yawin Smallwood said. "They just moved the football on us. We've got to get better than what we showed today. We worked hard all spring, all preseason for this moment and we didn't come out and display the kind of football we wanted. It hurts and as a leader of this team I have to make sure guys are ready for this next game."
After the Phillips score, Towson answered in four plays and covered 66 yards when the Tigers went to turbo back Sterlin Phifer, who scored on a 23-yard catch and run with 2:51 to go in the first quarter.
The Huskies offense probably not realizing it was in a dogfight went back and forth on possessions before the defense looked like it was ready to set a tone by stopping West on a fourth-and-2.
If you're wondering how the play-calling went it was better than last year with the understanding too much was not going to be revealed in this one with Maryland and Michigan coming in on Sept.14 and 21.
After the West stop, the Huskies went to a receiver screen that was set up nicely for Shakim Phillips. But defensive tackle Jon Desir was in the way, tipped the ball and then picked it off at the UConn 29.
Turbo covered that distance in two plays, a 24-yard scamper around the end and a five-yard scoring run. The Tigers missed the extra point and had a 13-7 lead. UConn drove 75 yards to the Towson 1 before running back Lyle McCombs (17x76) was turned away twice and Whitmer overshot Deshon Foxx. On came Christen.
The 13-10 score held up at the half but not for long. Former UConn quarterback/receiver/quarterback Leon Kinnard, who left the program two seasons ago, caught a 39-yard bomb over his head on the Tigers' second series that ultimately led to a 1-yard scoring run by quarterback Peter Athens.
That score ended a 13-play, 95-yard drive that lasted 7:35 against a team that was supposed to be bigger, faster and stronger than the Tigers.
"We've got to evaluate it and see exactly what we've got to do up front," Pasqualoni said. "I thought the kids tried. We just didn't play well enough."
Whitmer seemingly had more time in the first half to pass than he did in the second. He was sacked five times. He found Phillips for a couple of scores, including the Huskies last one, and he hit Geremy Davis five times for 100 yards. But after the hot start (four catches, 82 yards through first two quarters) Davis didn't see the ball again until the fourth quarter.
Whitmer was running for his life quite a bit in the second half. Pasqualoni said Whitmer may have had problems seeing over the rush. Whitmer said no.
"No, that's not the case, just trying to find windows to throw the ball and trying not to make bad plays worse," Whitmer said. "If I can get out there and get rid of the ball, whatever I can do to not do something catastrophic out there and just keep drives going but I've never had a problem with that. Obviously I can make throws. I did it tonight. I'm confident in my abilities. We just have to come back and watch the film."
The only good thing the Huskies pulled off was a 21-yard TD pass to Phillips with 3:29 to play that saw West score just before it on a six-yard run and after it on a five-yarder, set up by a muffed punt by freshman Brian Lemelle.
It was that kind of night – against an FCS team.