UConn defense preps for a tough test: NC State
By PAT EATON-ROBB
STORRS, Conn. (AP) North Carolina State and Connecticut faced vastly different levels of competition in their season openers.
No one knows that more than the Huskies.
Saturday's matchup will be a big step up for the Huskies (1-0), who gave up just 59 yards and three first downs last week in a 37-0 rout of Massachusetts, a team that was playing its first game as a FBS program. NC State (0-1), meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing 35-21 loss to Tennessee, and UConn players understand that most people consider this game a step down in competition for the Wolfpack.
"NC State is going to be one of the better teams that we are going to play all year," UConn linebacker Jory Johnson said. "I know we had a good game coming in, but this one, and the next one coming up (at Maryland) are going to define our team and see how we are really going to be able to play.
"This is going to be a statement game for us."
North Carolina State is hoping for a bounceback after a disheartening opening loss. This is a program that finished 8-5 last season and came into 2012 with 16 returning starters as well as high expectations.
Quarterback Mike Glennon threw four interceptions against Tennessee and All-American corner David Amerson was burned on a couple of big plays. Under coach Tom O'Brien, N.C. State has never finished with a winning record after losing its opener.
"You don't want to go on the road after you've had a tough loss," O'Brien said. "It's going to take a lot for this football team and show a lot about the character of this team how they're going to react to that. Certainly after the game, because of the guys that played for the first time, you'd like to be at home and play somebody that maybe you can get lined up and use it as a practice session or whatever. But that isn't the case anymore in college football."
The Wolfpack will again be without cornerback C.J. Wilson. It was announced this week that he has been suspended by the NCAA for four games because of an academic issue. Junior Dontae Johnson, a converted safety, started in his place and was in on eight tackles against the Volunteers.
UConn also will be short-handed on defense. Coach Paul Pasqualoni said defensive lineman Shamar Stephen will miss his second consecutive game with a knee injury. He will be joined on the sidelines by defensive end Ted Jennings, who injured his left knee last week.
"We'll find out a lot about ourselves this week," Pasqualoni said.
Last week, the Huskies didn't allow their opponent past midfield and came out of the game ranked first in the nation in total defense. Linebacker Yawin Smallwood was named the Big East's defensive player of the week after racking up seven tackles, including 3 1/2 that went for losses, and a sack.
He said the team doesn't expect to duplicate that performance against Glennon and the Wolfpack's three-tailback running game.
But he said the Huskies are out to earn a little respect and prove last week was more about UConn than its opponent.
"We think we're a very talented group," he said. "At the end of the season, we want to be ranked among the nation's top five defenses."
Updated September 7, 2012