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Ambrose's 'audition' is a masterpiece

By Mike DiMauro

Publication: theday.com

Published August 30. 2013 4:00AM   Updated August 30. 2013 9:10AM

East Hartford

It was a one-score game again Thursday night, despite how Towson University kept cutting a swath through UConn's defense. The Tigers had an eight-point lead and were in kill-the-clock mode, second down and six, shadows lengthening and time growing desperate.

That's when Rob Ambrose, Towson's head coach and former offensive coordinator at UConn in the Randy Edsall days, the good old' days now, called a direct snap to running back Terrance West, the kid who finished with 156 yards rushing.

Pause to consider: Screw up that play and maybe the ball is rolling on the Rentschler Field lawn. Maybe Ambrose isn't the hot young coach he is today but the dope who blew one of the biggest wins in school history.

The play's outcome, a few yards, wasn't nearly as significant as Ambrose's spirit, spine and spunk.

And his opinion of the play should resonate with the UConn fandom:

"Anybody that's ever followed how I do this, there's a book, I suppose, that's like the normal thing your supposed to do," Ambrose was saying. "I don't subscribe to that at all. It's whatever is the best for our guys to have the best chance to win. If that means bending the norm a little bit, oh, hell yeah, that's what I'm going to do."

Bending the norm to win the game.

Sure beats Lyle McCombs left, right and up the middle, no?

And if Towson's 33-18 victory over the Huskies isn't enough to move Ambrose's name up the short list of potential future UConn football coaches … if Towson's 201 rushing yards aren't enough … if Ambrose's UConn pedigree isn't enough … that play and that explanation should have the dwindling UConn fan base salivating.

Straight up: It is grossly unfair to speculate such things exactly one game into the season. Sorry. Color this as grossly unfair. But the residual effect of a 15-point loss to an FCS school will hover like cigarette smoke over UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni, who even before Thursday night should have rented here, not owned.

And now? Oy. Towson kicked UConn squarely in the fanny. There was an announced crowd of 30,689 here Thursday, which didn't pass the straight face test. Maybe 25,000 at most. The program's malaise, coupled with Michigan and Louisville left (among others) and even the most ardent UConn advocate must admit the Pasqualoni Watch has more legs than ever.

And maybe the guy on the opposite sideline had his de facto audition Thursday. Rob Ambrose wrote a masterpiece.

"It's nice to be back in this stadium. I love this place," he said. "A good part of my professional career has been spent here. I learned a lot and met a lot of great people and you guys (the media) are some of them. But when the game goes, it's not about me, it's about these guys."

These guys, as Ambrose calls them, won a game here the old fashioned way. Bill Parcells would have wept tears of joy. Towson, which had played Kent State and LSU to relatively close games last season, didn't need a hint of gadgetry. Line 'em up and knock 'em over. The little school that did.

And wouldn't that be a recipe that would work here, too? UConn, on its best day, is never going to be a successful five-wide, throw-it-all-over-the-joint team. But the Huskies sure could be a meaner, stronger, cold-weather, nautral grass team. Rob Ambrose was part of that in the Edsall era, frequently alluding to his days coaching Donald Brown. Now he's got a big, strong team at his alma mater.

"From the beginning of the game I saw we could handle them," West said. "We were prepared for this event today."

Example: 13 plays and 95 yards in the third period.

Example: five sacks to UConn's none.

This was a butt whipping.

"I'm sure in the eyes of some, this will be considered very, very big. But we've played good competition before. We've played well but couldn't get a win. In this history of this, I suppose one day people will one day look back at this as very large thing," Ambrose said. "But the family, in this locker room, we have goals. And for us to reach our goals we had to win."

They did that with an exclamation point. Rob Ambrose, whose team has won 14 of its last 17 now, might have made himself a bunch of money Thursday night.

"He's a great coach. Great, smart … y'all know here," West said. "He prepares us very well. He put this team together. We've just got to prove we can go do it. "He's done his job already. Now we've got to perform."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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