When Maryland coach Randy Edsall gazed out at Byrd Stadium’s football field Saturday, he saw the white and blue Connecticut colors of his past.
He saw a potent, blitz-happy Huskies defense led by players he once recruited and overseen by a former Maryland coordinator he had tried to retain.
It must have been an odd sensation for the former Huskies coach — and, it turned out, an emotional one — watching his former players beat up on his current ones.
Connecticut sacked Maryland quarterback Perry Hills six times and running back Lyle McCombs rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown as the Huskies (2-1) held on at the end to deal the Terps (2-1) their first loss of the season, 24-21.
Afterward, Edsall’s voice was thick with his emotion and his eyes filled with tears as he recounted seeing players from two teams representing different chapters in his life — an experience akin to watching siblings compete for the same prize.
Edsall coached the Huskies for 12 seasons until being hired by Maryland after the 2010 season. “I have emotions,” Edsall said. “I don’t think you’re human if you don’t have emotions. It was good to see some of those guys and wish them well.”
Said Connecticut coach Paul Pasqualoni: “Randy’s fine. I know Randy. I was in the same room with Randy every day for four years. Coaches move around in this day and age. It’s nothing unusual about that.”
Among the players Edsall encountered after the game was senior linebacker Sio Moore, a leader of a Huskies defense that limited Hills to 109 passing yards and knocked Maryland out of field-goal range with the Terps trailing by three points in the final moments.
“I went up to [Edsall] after the game and told him I love him,” said Moore, who was credited with 2 ½ sacks. “He is one of those guys that really saw something in me when I didn’t know I had anything in me myself, so I really appreciate him giving me the chance.”
Trailing by 10 points, the Terps cut the margin to 24-21 when Hills ran 10 yards for a touchdown with 4:39 left.
Following a punt, Maryland took over on its 42 with 3:29 remaining. The Terps moved to the Connecticut 32 on a 10-yard, third-down reception by Stefon Diggs, who had 223 all-purpose yards and scored his first collegiate touchdown.
But Maryland lost 3 yards on a Hills keeper and lost 4 more yards on a reception by Kevin Dorsey. Dorsey also had a drop during the series. The Terps were left to try a desperation, fourth-down heave from the Connecticut 39 that fell incomplete.
“If I had just caught the one I missed, we would have been in field-goal range regardless. That one pass would have had us in range,” Dorsey said.
Said Edsall: “The two-minute offense has been one of the things that we haven’t been good at, even in practice. Hills will learn from this game.”
Connecticut’s defense — with its multiple blitz packages and looks — was fashioned by Don Brown. Brown was Maryland’s defensive coordinator when Edsall was hired by the Terps. Brown was initially retained by Edsall, but soon left for Connecticut to be closer to his family and New England roots.
Under Brown, Connecticut’s defense entered the game ranked first in the nation in rushing defense and third in total and scoring defense.
Maryland did not make a first down until early in the second quarter when Hills ran for 8 yards and Connecticut was assessed a late-hit penalty. Hills was hit harder in the game than he has been so far this season.
Brown “brings people in [to blitz] pretty much every play,” said Maryland offensive lineman Justin Gilbert. “He throws some things in there we’ve never seen, and we needed to pick up on it earlier.”
Hills, a former Pennsylvania state-champion wrestler, seemed to make a point of quickly picking himself up off the turf after being hit.
Hills said that Edsall approached him after the game. “He said, ‘It’s a team sport, you can’t put it all on yourself.’ I hate losing. I’m not going to ever accept losing. This whole week I’m going to prepare like I’ve never prepared,” the quarterback said.
Maryland, which travels to West Virginia on Saturday, missed a chance to go 3-0 for the first time since 2001.
“I know these guys and they’ll get better,” Edsall said.
Connecticut capitalized on a Maryland turnover to take a 17-7, third-quarter lead. On first down, Hills was sacked hard by linebacker Yawin Smallwood and his fumble was recovered by Angelo Pruitt at the Maryland 23. Chad Christen followed with a 34-yard field goal.
The Terps trimmed the deficit to 17-14 early in the fourth period. Maryland faced a fourth down but retained possession — getting the ball on Connecticut’s 29 — on a facemask penalty. Hills followed with a desperation heave that was tipped by wide receiver Marcus Leak and caught in the end zone by Diggs — his first career touchdown — cutting Connecticut’s lead to 17-14.
“I saw that the ball was in the air and I ran over there in case it was a tipped ball,” Diggs said. “I never thought my first collegiate touchdown would be that way.”
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