From Clean And Crisp To Bedraggled, Just Like That

Diaco's Look Is A Winner, But Team Doesn't Follow Through

EAST HARTFORD — He charged onto the field in a white dress shirt as clean and crisp as this new season. Yes, as clean and crisp as his new coaching era.

The White Knight, Bob Diaco, looked like a million bucks.

At midfield, a facial facsimile of the new Huskies mascot was painted on the Rentschler Field turf. Blue eyes blazing, yes those eyes sure painted a fierce-looking debut.

Then the 2014 football season started.

Poof! And splat! Or is it splat and then poof? One or the other.

The Huskies did not look clean or crisp in the first half of this opening night 35-10 loss to Brigham Young in front of 35,150 fans. The Huskies did not look fierce in that first half either.

Taysom Hill was a mountain far too great to climb. UConn couldn't sack BYU's terrific quarterback. UConn couldn't stop him. He beat UConn with his feet. He beat UConn with his arm. He ended up passing for three touchdowns, going 28-for-36 for 308 yards. He ran for 97 yards and two touchdowns. He accounted for 405 of 513 total yards if you're keeping score at home. Diaco called Hill one of the most prolific quarterbacks in America and he is.

By the time the first half had finally ended, the Cougars not only had a three-touchdown lead, they had amassed 329 yards of offense. This one was over at intermission.

It took Diaco 25 minutes to emerge after the end of the game, but there were times during his relentlessly upbeat post-game remarks you could have sworn the Huskies won 10-35.

They did not.

Diaco praised BYU. Diaco thanked the fans. He talked about the music. He talked about helping a player tie his tie and did you get a chance to see how his fellows looked? "Looked great," Diaco said. He spun and spun.

"I'm pleased right now," Diaco said.

"We're a better team than we were four hours ago," Diaco said.

He did briefly turn to reality.

"You can't start a football game like that and think you are going to win, c'mon," Diaco said.

Then it was back to happy, happy, happy.

"I hope you enjoyed watching those [four] running backs play tonight," Diaco said.

The Huskies rushed for 71 total yards.

"Big picture, at the end of these three weeks we need to be a better team than when we started, and we will be. That's what's going to happen. It's about the process."

Ah, yes, the process.

"We've built a foundation," Diaco said. "I hope you got a chance to see some of the foundation tonight. I hope you did. You can look at the scoreboard and maybe not feel it, but if you watched the game you saw the strain and the grit and the toughness the players displayed.

"You didn't see 12 guys on the field, 10 guys on the field, delay of game, guys jumping, didn't see a lot of guys misaligned or out of their stance. You didn't see guys walk off and walk on the field. The foundation is built. And it's strong. We put a coat of a paint on and the only way we're going to put another coat of paint on is play in the game."

Look, I respect the process. But, with respect to the paying fans, I respect the scoreboard, too. This wasn't an exhibition.

If you watched the game you also saw some other things.

A team doesn't want to cough up the ball the first time it touches it on offense. Max DiLorenzo did exactly that. One play later, BYU had a 14-0 lead when Hill found Mitch Mathews behind Obi Melifonwu. Obi got played like an oboe on that one and it didn't help that he had taken two penalties on BYU's 15-play, 75-yard opening scoring drive.

In camp, Diaco called Melifonwu, "the most talented safety I've ever been around." He might be. He was not on this August night.

The second thing you don't want is for your quarterback to make a costly mistake when you are trying to regain any sort of momentum. Starting quarterback Casey Cochran moved UConn 35 yards into BYU territory on the second possession, including a nifty 18-yard screen to freshman Arkeel Newsome of Ansonia, only to badly overthrow a pass intended for Deshon Foxx. Craig Bills picked it off.

The third thing you don't want when you finally do get some momentum is to see it immediately frittered away. And that's what happened shortly before halftime on what BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall called the most important drive of the game. UConn turned a BYU turnover into a touchdown run by redshirt freshman Joshua "The Not So Ancient" Marriner. Yet it took just 90 seconds for Hill to lead the Cougars on a five-play, 69-yard touchdown drive capped by a 35-yard touchdown pass to Terenn Houk to make it 28-7 heading into the break.

"I won't say air out of the balloon," Diaco said of the reaction to the early onslaught. "I don't think that happened, but you definitely can look into a young man's eyes and see kind of a glaze go over him. In five minutes, it's like the train is totally off the tracks.

"But we got the train back on the tracks."

Did you see that second half? Diaco asked. The Huskies went toe to toe with BYU, he said.

"Nobody gave up," Diaco said.

He talked about how he played 25 defensive players in the first half. He played 25 offensive players in the first half. BYU took an incredible 15 penalties for 150 yards, but UConn had eight for 90. For the most, Diaco insisted they were not lazy-minded infractions.

I'm having a tough time getting the two-quarterback thing. Don't like it. Both guys had their limited successes, but when Cochran was pulled mid-drive in favor of Chandler Whitmer after Cochran had moved the ball down to the BYU 17. Whitmer got sacked twice, a feeble fake field goal run by holder Blake Feagles produced nothing and a promising drive ended in tatters.

The Huskies also were down 14-0 in the second quarter before they started getting the ball to Geremy Davis. And they started pouring it to him.

There were critics there in Twitter Land and at least one of them is an NFL cornerback who played for the Huskies. Tweeted Darius Butler: "We're down 21 going into the 4th. BYU is in uptempo/no huddle n we're in 22 personnel [two running backs, two tight ends] n running the ball. I don't get it."

But let's be honest. In the loss, this didn't have so much to do with play-calling. Diaco has to keep recruiting better players. Diaco has to continue to develop what he has. He should. I believe he will. But Friday night, ESPN, BYU, the Huskies weren't ready for prime time.

The good news is next week is Stony Brook. And they will be keeping score.

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