Published September 15. 2012 4:00AM
When Randy Edsall was still coaching at UConn, he was excited about adding a home-and-home series with Maryland.
Edsall always liked to test the Huskies with a good nonconference game - especially against an opponent from the Atlantic Coast Conference. He saw recruiting value in spreading the UConn brand in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area, and as he told a media gathering in College Park on Tuesday, "It gave me a chance to come back home and play a game down here."
Edsall's back home alright. He is now Maryland's head coach and will lead the Terrapins against his former team for the first time today when UConn visits Byrd Stadium (12:30 p.m., SNY) for a highly anticipated matchup.
The week leading up to the game has focused on Edsall, his abrupt departure for Maryland and how his ex-players will try to keep their emotions in check when they face their ex-mentor for the first time.
Lost in all that talk, however, is the significance of this game for both teams.
UConn (1-1) is trying to bounce back from a disappointing 10-7 home loss to North Carolina State and realizes the importance of going 4-1 in its nonconference schedule (the Huskies play Western Michigan and Buffalo in the coming weeks) before starting Big East play.
"If we were to take this game any differently it could be a distraction," said offensive guard Adam Masters, a senior from nearby Bethesda, Md. "So we treat this like any other week. ? We want to dominate our opponent no matter who it is. We have to focus on getting a W and getting back on track."
Maryland (2-0), meanwhile, has already equaled its win total from 2011, but with a trip to No. 9 West Virginia on the horizon, the Terps can continue to reenergize their fan base by starting the season 3-0 with a young team featuring 11 freshmen on its depth chart, including starting quarterback Perry Hills.
"We haven't played UConn since I've been here," senior defensive end A.J. Francis said. "The biggest thing is you play Clemson every year, you play N.C. State every year, you play Florida State every year, so you know what to expect from those guys.
"When you play a team like UConn for the first time, you don't know what to expect. You don't know how they play. You don't know how they block. The only thing you can take is on film. It's really big to come out and hopefully get this victory and go 3-0."
Defense will be a major theme in this game. Maryland, led by a front that features Francis and All-American Joe Vellano, has limited opponents to just 1.95 yards per rush. That could cause problems for the Huskies, who averaged only 1.1 yards per rush against N.C. State.
Is this the week UConn finally lets the football fly under first-year quarterback Chandler Whitmer?
"We'd like it to be a big-play offense," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "In the game plan, there are certain plays that we feel can be big plays. Last week we had 15 drives and on 14 of them there was some kind of self-inflicted wound. Only one of the drives came out with big plays.
"From an offensive standpoint, we've got to execute better."
UConn's defense leads the nation against the rush (28.5 yards per game), is third in total offense (158.5) and welcomes back defensive tackle Shamar Stephen from a preseason knee injury, giving the Huskies eight returning starters.
"Experience is the greatest teacher of all and having that experience, you can see why they're playing so well," Edsall said. "They've been there. They understand what's going on. When you have young kids, the more you play them the better they get, and you reap that benefit when they're fourth- and fifth-year seniors."
That's the route Edsall is taking with the Terps, one he hopes leads to similar success down the road.
"The more that these young kids play and the more that the older guys continue to make plays and mentor the young guys, the better we will do," he said.