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Behind Enemy Lines: Connecticut

Previewing Maryland's Saturday evening visit to Hartford with the folks from The UConn Blog, SB Nation's Connecticut Huskies site.

Connecticut beat Maryland, 24-21, at Byrd Stadium a year ago. In the Edsall Bowl II, the two teams will meet again Saturday.
Connecticut beat Maryland, 24-21, at Byrd Stadium a year ago. In the Edsall Bowl II, the two teams will meet again Saturday.
Mitch Stringer-US PRESSWIRE

As part of Testudo Times' 2013 football coverage, staffer Alex Kirshner is corresponding with opposing teams' beat writers and SB Nation bloggers for each week on the Terrapins' schedule. This week, we check in with blog manager Aman and football editor Andrew Callahan of The UConn Blog, SB Nation's Connecticut Huskies site. Alex answered some questions for The UConn Blog, too, available for viewing on Friday.

Here we go:

Testudo Times: Randy Edsall's been a target of plenty of criticism since he left Connecticut and came to College Park. All things considered, would the Huskies be better off with their old coach still at the helm, or are you happy with Paul Pasqualoni?

Aman: The Paul Pasqualoni era has been a dumpster fire. Two straight 5-7 seasons, two straight losses to Western Michigan and zero bowl appearances don't really continue the tradition of decency that Randy Edsall had developed here in Storrs. When Pasqualoni took over, we were coming off of an admittedly slightly undeserved BCS appearance and definitely looking at a quasi-rebuild but still it's hard to believe Edsall wouldn't have done better.

When news broke that Pasqualoni would be taking over as head coach, I would say the fan base was underwhelmed with such an uninspired decision from since departed AD Jeff Hathaway. When the news came out later that we lost a big time booster as a result, and that the Connecticut High School Coaches Association wrote a strongly worded letter in favor of Pasqualoni (who used to coach CT High School), we weren't very pleased. The implication with the latter being that we’d be able to mine all of the talent Connecticut had to offer if we hired Pasqualoni… I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the value of that one over finding a quality head coach.

TT: Tell me about Pasqualoni's offensive and defensive systems. What should Maryland fans expect him to deploy against the Terps?

Andrew: Offensively, you're going to see a no-huddle one-back spread attack that utilizes a lot of the pro style concepts you saw a year ago. Our new offensive coordinator T.J. Weist was employed as the wide receivers coach at Cincinnati for the previous three seasons, and he's brought a good deal of energy to the unit. Unfortunately, it hasn't produced yet, but you're dealing with a small a sample size as possible. The reason the playbook was blended with the (*cough* archaic) schemes from years past was to lessen the learning curve in the off-season. Defensively, things look much the same from years past. The unit doesn't have the same depth, but the playbook it abides by is a base 4-3 scheme that is very multiple. Plenty of pre-snap disguise and blitzes from various angles, as the team will also rotate to a three-man line frequently on passing downs. Traditionally, the defense has been very stout against the run, and in pass coverage expect a high dosage of man coverage. Then again, this may change given the talent the Terps have on the outside. The play-calling was highly conservative in the opener against Towson, so for a preview of Saturday night, your best bet would be to look back at a tape of last year's game.

TT: Towson's a program on the upswing, sure, but what's the mood around the team after a home loss to a team like that?

Aman: Catatonic. After all of the aforementioned failures thus far in the Pasqualoni era, to start off season three with a loss to an FCS school, at home no less, is completely unacceptable. The loss itself wasn't as bad as the fact that it wasn't even close. We went from being cautiously optimistic about this season to wondering if we'll even win a game.

In the press conference on Tuesday, the team and Pasqualoni all have said that they’ve moved on and are ready for Maryland. I would say that too if I had just suffered an embarrassing loss at the hands of an FCS school and was staring down a full slate of FBS competition. Is it basketball season yet?

TT: What kind of quarterback is Chandler Whitmer? His numbers seem solid yet unspectacular. Is he a significant threat to Maryland?

Andrew: He's a pocket passer with a mediocre arm, decent mobility and wildly inconsistent pocket presence. Last year, he stood in and delivered balls downfield knowing full well he'd take bone-crushing hits. Yet, two weeks ago, he looked like he was seeing ghosts against Towson and subsequently left a lot of clean pockets prematurely. He's not a threat you'll need to gameplan around but, when Whitmer is in rhythm, he's a very capable quarterback.

TT: Where on the field are the Huskies the strongest?

Andrew: Offensively, running back Lyle McCombs is the team's best asset, and the Husky starting wide-outs aren't far behind. They're very steady and reliable. None would start for top-tier programs, however middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood very well could. He's a very talented hitter with good range and instincts who's received national recognition. Smallwood enjoyed a phenomenal game at Byrd Stadium a year ago, but is unlikely to do so again on Saturday night because the talent around him in the front seven has declined significantly.

TT: Where, conversely, are they the weakest?

Andrew: Secondary and tight end— particularly when the team is forced to dip into its depth at those positions.

TT: What matchup are you most looking forward to watching closely on Saturday?

Andrew: Stefon Diggs against the UConn secondary. While we just indicated this will be a tremendous mismatch on paper, it will be very interesting to see how the UConn coaches plan to limit him. As mentioned, the Husky defensive playbook can get very creative and cornerback Byron Jones is not only the team's second-best defender behind Smallwood, he's by far the most athletic. To be fair, Jones is, like almost anyone else you'll see this year, incapable of consistently covering Diggs. But, it's the one matchup that's likely to decide the game. On the flip side, the battles between the Maryland secondary and Husky wideouts Geremy Davis and Shakim Phillips should be very even.

TT: Lastly, what's your score prediction?

Andrew: Maryland pulls away late, 30-20.

Aman: I'd love for us to hand Edsall his second loss at our hands, but sadly, I think we lose 28-13, and it won't even be as close as that looks.