UConn held UMass to 59 total yards of offense.
"We just were all on the same page," UConn cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson said. "We had our assignments down and we had a good week of practice and it really showed."
It was late in the first half before UMass recorded a first down. They were held to only three first downs for the game, tying a defensive record for UConn. UMass did not have an offensive snap in UConn territory.
Coach Paul Pasqualoni and the Huskies know the challenge will be much different this Saturday (noon, Rentschler Field) when the Huskies the talented and experienced Atlantic Coast Conference team from North Carolina State.
"I thought on defense we showed signs of being a team that could be athletic and could run," Pasqualoni said during his Tuesday press conference. We were a little bit further ahead experience wise and we are working hard up front.
"With the N.C. State offensive line, with four seniors, they've got about 100 starts between them. This will be, by far, our biggest challenge up front."
The athleticism Pasqualoni talked about was on display as UConn cornerback Dwayne Gratz, who forced the only turnover for the Huskies' defense, returned a 37-yard interception for a touchdown in the second quarter. The standout for UConn's defense was middle linebacker Yawin Smallwood, who finished the game with seven tackles, including 3.5 for loss and one sack. Smallwood was named Big East Defensive Player of the Week.
"He knows what he's doing," Wreh-Wilson said of Smallwood, a redshirt sophomore. "For a young kid in the middle linebacker position, he puts a lot on display. He does a good job of preparing. One thing he does is he runs to the ball and he brings a lot of energy to the defense."
Smallwood, from Worcester, Mass., started all 12 games last season for the Huskies at middle linebacker and finished second on the team in tackles with 94.
"He's beginning to look like a middle linebacker," said Pasqualoni. "He has a much better sense of what the role is and what the job description is. He played with confidence. Good news is he's a sophomore. Usually it takes years to become good at that position. He's making progress, he's got a ways to go, but he's got himself going in the right direction."
After their performance the Huskies are ranked first in the nation in total defense, fourth in passing and fourth in rushing. But UMass was playing its first FBS game. That certainly won't be the case Saturday against North Carolina State. Although the Wolfpack lost 35-21 to Tennessee in their opener, N.C. State finished with 407 yards of total offense.
"I feel they are a pretty balanced team, but they like to throw the ball a lot," said Smallwood. Wolfpack quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 288 yards on 27 of 46 passing. He threw one touchdown and four interceptions. "I feel our corners, linebackers and D-line is going to have to apply pressure on him all day."
In a conference rich with quarterback talent, Glennon is among the very best in the ACC.
"Number one he has talent," N.C. State coach Tom O'Brien said of Glennon. "He has a great arm. He has become a much better decision maker. He can make all the throws that have to be made. I think one of the things he did well [against Tennessee] that he didn't do a year ago was movement in the pocket. He used to almost be a statue back there. Now he has a better feel for the rush. When people didn't contain, he was able to get out and get us a few first downs with his legs."
Glennon, 6-foot-6 and 232 pounds, is a graduate student at N.C. State playing his fourth season at quarterback for the Wolfpack. Last season he finished 3,054 passing yards and 31 touchdowns.
"I just know he's a big guy who can throw the ball," Smallwood said. "He has a sound set of receivers around him and a talented offensive line. He's going to have a lot of targets. As a defense, we're going to do our best to apply pressure on him and make him uncomfortable the whole game."