Published September 15. 2013 4:00AM
East Hartford - Pre-game talk focused on the return of former UConn coach Randy Edsall.
Post-game chatter will likely center on the dismal direction the Huskies are heading after a 32-21 loss to Maryland on Saturday night before 38,196 fans at Rentschler Field.
The Huskies are 0-2 to start the season for the first time since 2002 when Edsall walked the sidelines. UConn fans booed Edsall, who fittingly wore black, and his Terrapins when they ran on the field before the game.
More potential trouble lies ahead for UConn, as it hosts No. 11 Michigan (3-0) next Saturday.
"I look at it as another great opportunity," UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "I think the players will be fine. We will look at the film and get back to work."
The game started to slip away when Maryland cornerback Dexter McDougle returned an interception 49 yards for a touchdown to extend his team's lead to 27-13 with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
"The pick-six really hurt us at that point," Pasqualoni said. "We've just got to make more plays and can't give up those plays."
On that play, quarterback Chandler Whitmer was under heavy pressure, taking a bone-jarring hit from 310-pound Darius Kilgo. Whitmer threw two interceptions and was sacked five times but also threw for a career-high 349 yards and completed 29 of 46 passes. His main target, red-shirt junior Shakim Phillips, had career highs in receptions (10) and receiving yards (178) and caught a 75-yard touchdown pass.
UConn's feeble running attack managed only 34 yards on 33 carries.
It was a mixed bag for the UConn defense. The Huskies forced three turnovers and stopped Maryland twice on fourth-down attempts. But they allowed a bushel of plays of 10 yards or more.
The Huskies were outgained 501-383. The high-powered Terrapins came in averaging 581.5 yards per game.
"This was a very explosive team we played tonight," Pasqualoni said. "At times, I was encouraged. I thought the effort the guys gave at times was very, very good."
Maryland (3-0) relied on its dynamic duo of double-threat quarterback C.J. Brown and electrifying wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Brown piled up 122 rushing yards and 277 passing yards while Diggs had five catches for 110 yards and a touchdown.
UConn failed miserably at accomplishing its pre-game goal of limiting long plays.
The Huskies had more than two weeks to prepare for Maryland after losing its opener to Towson 33-18 on Aug. 29. They were confident that they had corrected their problems.
Apparently, they were wrong.
UConn was fortunate to trail by just 13-10 at halftime.
The Huskies came up with several key defensive stops to keep within striking distance, including holding Maryland twice on fourth-down conversion attempts in UConn territory and stalling a few other drives.
Take the last drive of the first second quarter.
Maryland mixed a potent running and passing attack to move the ball from its own 11 to deep into UConn territory. A defensive breakdown allowed receiver Lavern Jacobs to spring free for a 48-yard pass play that reached the UConn 3.
But the Huskies forced the Terrapins to settle for Brad Craddock's 21-yard field goal as time expired.
Whitmer had some success throwing the ball, passing for 145 yards in the first half. But he also was sacked three times, twice on big third-down plays, and threw an interception. He was sacked five times in the season-opening loss to Towson.
Whitmer led his team on a six-play, 54-yard scoring drive on UConn's second possession. Lyle McCombs fought his way in from the 5-yard line for a 7-0 lead.
The lead lasted until early in the second quarter when Brown bolted 41 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
A 20-yard punt set up Maryland's next score. Craddock converted a 29-yard field goal for a 10-7 lead.
UConn quickly answered, as Whitmer completed three passes to help set up a first and goal at the 10. But, on third down from the 8, linebacker Marcus Whitfield came flying in and sacked Whitmer. Chad Christen's 33-yard field goal tied the game at 10 with 2:09 left.
The second half belonged to the quick-strike Terrapins. Diggs caught a 12-yard touchdown pass to complete a four-play, 80-play drive that took just 1:27 and pushed the lead to 20-10.
Christen converted his 10th straight field goal dating back to last year, making a 34-yard field goal to cut the gap to 20-13.
It was one of the few second half highlights for the Huskies.