Not what they wanted, of course. Ambrose, the architect of a program that has won 29 games the last three seasons, was adamant that he wished his young team could have learned those lessons while still winning the game. Unfortunately for the defending NCAA runner-up, that wasn’t to be as CCSU drove 80 yards in 11 plays over the final four-plus minutes, punching in on a one-yard run with 36 seconds left for the final 31-27 margin. Central Connecticut benefitted from a roughing the kicker penalty that extended the drive, then got a 34-yard pass play on fourth and 13 to get inside the 10-yard line. CCSU scored two plays later after it seemed Towson had the game all but won multiple times.
“They got a bucket of (cold) water dumped on their head, and, truth be told, that’s probably exactly what we needed,” Ambrose said. “We kinda got spoiled a bit, all those wins with a bunch of guys who don’t play here anymore. We build something new every year. I would have liked to get that (lesson) with a ‘W.’ Good football programs find a way to get better between weeks one, two and three and I expect us to get better and expect us to go in there with an attitude.
“I want them to practice to prepare to win. We practice to practice instead of practicing to win. We found out that if we don’t do that consistently, we won’t win. That has settled in a little bit. These guys now have better understanding of what we can be. That game is over and we don’t wear it anymore. We take it and we move forward.”
The loss dropped the Tigers from No. 7 to No. 19 in the latest FCS Coaches Poll, as Towson remains one of six Colonial Athletic Association schools ranked. It enters the West Virginia game with an 11-game road winning streak, including consecutive playoff victories at No. 2 Eastern Illinois and No. 3 Eastern Washington in the quarter and semifinals last season, respectively. Towson beat Connecticut 33-18 in East Hartford to open the season last year.
“We went up against a better-than-expected, better-than-publicized Central Connecticut team that came to play,” Ambrose said. “We hung with them and played hard. Didn’t necessarily play smart. We made some critical errors that kept us from having a win. We have to find a way to regroup and refocus. We are out of the frying pan and into the fire against one of the best West Virginia teams in the last couple years.”
Towson, like Alabama, is breaking in a new quarterback and a new linebacking unit that is surrounded by experience along the line and in the secondary. Redshirt freshman linebacker James Sims led the Tigers with 14 tackles against Central Connecticut, and sophomore running back Darius Victor rushed for 105 yards on 19 carries as Towson rode the rub game. Quarterback Connor Frazier, behind an inexperienced offensive line, completed 14 of 26 passes for 125 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. The junior also ran for 80 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 13 carries.
“We did an admirable job running the ball against a defense that was giving multiple looks against a young offensive line,” Ambrose said. “But we have to get a lot better in a lot of aspects of our game for us to put enough points on the board to win.”
Especially against a West Virginia team that, barring the self-inflicted errors, might have scored 30-plus points against the second-ranked Crimson Tide. Multiple dropped passes, missed tackles and other miscues cost WVU anywhere from eight to 11-plus points, and that’s a primary issue that must be addressed this week as the Mountaineers look to clean up several areas of play. West Virginia attacked the Tide effectively for portions of the game, but often were forced to trade touchdowns for field goals, ultimately leading to the first opening-game defeat since 2003.
“I’ve seen what they were and what they were becoming with what Dana (Holgorsen) has been doing there,” Ambrose said. “The scheme seems to fit. I knew they would give Alabama a run for their money. I don’t care about preseason rankings; I think at the end of the year, people are going to find out West Virginia is an extremely good football team. Like us and West Virginia, what we were last year is not what we are this year. Each year is different, and for West Virginia, that’s something to be happy about.
“(Holgorsen’s) offense evolves. What you see, there are always basics to it, but there are always tweaks, always new bells and whistles. It keeps thinking. They still have great speed and they are still dynamic and they still spread you out and use their players to the best of their ability, and that’s the sign of a good coach.”
Not that Towson will be intimidated. The Tigers, frankly, haven’t much to lose in trying to pull the upset. Both teams will enter with quite a bit to prove, though how much West Virginia can really cement in terms of demonstrated ability to execute is debatable.
“No matter who you are playing, as many great players as they have, the can only put 11 on the field at one time,” Ambrose said. “We have had some success, but I don’t know of we’ve played anyone with the caliber of talent that West Virginia has now. Whoever graduates and goes to the NFL, they seem to replace them with someone just as big and fast and strong. Bringing back the 3-3-5 defense – I thought that was gone when (former coordinator Jeff Casteel) left and went to Arizona – that’s going to cause troubles for anybody. That’s been a staple for West Virginia over the years. For a staff that just put that in, they are doing a good job already.”