COLLEGE PARK, Md. – OK, so the Huskies left Byrd Stadium with questions about their offense. They still need to score more consistently to alleviate pressure on the defense. But, you know, the UConn defense seemingly likes being in that position. And the record shows the D comes through when it has to.
"It's about dominating and creating chaos, which I told you in Week 1," said linebacker Sio Moore, who had seven tackles and two sacks. "Now it's time to start unleashing and putting the warning out."
The Huskies' defense preserved a 24-21 win before 35,491 and former coach Randy Edsall. They beat the Terps and a flu-type bug that bit the team in Connecticut, sidelined starting guard Adam Masters and affected many others. But cornerback Dwayne Gratz, who slept 12 hours straight, was wide awake when he intercepted Perry Hills' first pass.
When Hills' desperation heave into the end zone landed in UConn safety Andrew Adams' hands with 17 seconds to go, the Huskies were on their way to escaping the Mid-Atlantic with a win over the ACC and Edsall, who spent 12 years at UConn and brought the team to five bowls.
"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 and people you have coached. You wish them well and ask them, if there is anything you can do for them after they graduate, to give you a call."
The key for UConn was getting to Hills (10 of 24 for 109 yards, one interception), who faced constant pressure and was sacked six times.
"When you're calling 64 plays and get 205 yards, that's a pretty damn good day," said UConn defensive coordinator Don Brown, the former DC at Maryland who joined the UConn staff before last season.
The Huskies sacked N.C. State's Mike Glennon six times last week, but the Wolfpack escaped with a win.
"They disguised it a little bit more than our scout team did," Hills said.
UConn's offense improved from the N.C. State game. It ran 57 plays for 223 yards, and sophomore running back Lyle McCombs (27 carries, 94 yards, one touchdown) found more room to maneuver than last week (20 carries, 60 yards), but he could have found more.
"I thought the offensive line did a great job today," McCombs said. "Did a great job deciphering the front, picking up their zone blitzes, and we got the running game going a little bit today."
UConn had 153 total yards on the ground.
Quarterback Chandler Whitmer (10 of 16, 68 yards) had his worst day yardage-wise, but he did not throw an interception (he fumbled early on a scramble). He came through on two big third-down conversions on what turned out to be the game-winning drive early in the fourth.
The Huskies had a 14-0 lead in the first half but had to claw out the victory, as the Terps almost pulled it out at the end.
"We're saying make the plays, make the tackles and get off the football field," said sophomore linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who turned in another phenomenal game with 14 tackles, including 2.5 sacks.
With the Huskies leading 24-14 with 8:04 left, the Terps marched 53 yards on seven plays, and Hills scored on a 10-yard keeper.
The Huskies followed with a three-and-out (they were 6 of 15 on third-down conversions) and the Terps, with just over three minutes left, had the ball at their 42.
The Terps got to the UConn 32 and on first down, lost three yards rushing. On second down, incomplete pass. On third, cornerback Taylor Mack blew up a screen for a four-yard loss. The desperation heave followed, which gave way to jubilation on the Huskies' side and made emotions flow on the Maryland side from a teary Edsall.
"That was one heck of a football game today," Edsall said. "I can't fault the effort of our guys put forth today. We had a chance to win the ballgame at the end even with the mistakes and miscues that we had."
The guy who replaced Esdall at UConn was impressed with his team for handling the reunion so well.
"Our guys are pretty grounded," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "They're pretty level-headed. I think they handled adversity well last week. They handled victory very well this week. I think they know it's one game. [UConn's next opponent] Western Michigan barely lost to Minnesota [Saturday], so it'll be another tough game on the road. It was a great team win, exhausting, but I think they handled things the right way."
UConn led 17-7 after a 34-yard Chad Christen field goal in the third quarter, but then Maryland scored on a freak play. Stefon Diggs caught a tipped pass in the end zone for a 29-yard touchdown.
Pasqualoni said there should have been a pass interference call on Maryland, and he will look at the film again.
After that score, UConn had perhaps its best offensive drives of the season, 10 plays, 67 yards and two third-and-7 completions by Whitmer and 21- and 8-yard rushes by Wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings. McCombs finished the drive with an 11-yard scoring run for a 24-14 UConn edge.
Maryland scored on a 19-yard Wes Brown run in the second quarter after a McCombs 3-yard run had put UConn up, 14-0.
The Huskies took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter on Nick Williams' first career punt return. He has two kickoff returns for TDs in his career.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun