Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Diaco not concerned about UConn's ability to rush the passer

BYU quarterback Taysom Hill had plenty of time to pass
during the Cougars' season-opening 35-1 win over UConn
I won't even attempt to guess the number of words that UConn football coach Bob Diaco uttered while answering questions from the media during yesterday afternoon's press conference. However, one 11-word reply to a question of mine caught my attention more than anything else he said to us.

"We are not going to have a problem rushing the passer," Diaco said when I asked if the defensive line showed the ability to get into the backfield during preseason camp.

There were many things to take out of the season-opening 35-10 loss to Brigham Young but at the top of the list in my eyes was the inability of the front three or front four (depending on the defensive alignment) to generate pressure.

UConn's lone sack came when BYU quarterback Taysom Hill stumbled and fell as Jefferson Ashiru and Cameron Stapleton were closing in. The duo split the sack and the only other tackle for a loss was recorded by linebacker Graham Stewart.

The starting defensive line combined to make one solo tackle (although starting defensive end Angelo Pruitt was not credited for tackle he made on opening drive of game). Let's be honest, many times defensive schemes are set up for the defensive line to occupy blockers so the linebackers can make plays so making a big deal out of the tackles recorded by the defensive line can be a fruitless exercise. That is certainly how the UConn defense is set up but still, I was expecting to see more from the line. Not only were sacks hard to come by but so were pressures. It often looked like Hill could have opened a book, read a few pages, then could look up and pick out which receiver he'd like to throw to. Making matters worse is he also seemed to have plenty of running room when he tucked the ball and took off I was curious if the defensive line got spooked by Hill's ability to take off and make huge plays with his legs. Diaco said that certainly played a role.

"When the defensive line starts to attack creases get created and (Hill is) a guy who was incredibly proficient at finding the crease and being a hard guy to tackle with a foundation of speed and power," Diaco said. "He runs like a big back so inevitably, shortly thereafter, what the defensive linemen what they start to do, they stop the attack, the start to decelerate and now they aren't pushing on the blockers, they are looking in the backfield, looking for him and which way he is going to go. That is probably what it looked like. It doesn't take long for it to happen. You are 305 pounds, you give it all you've got to rush and then all of a sudden you have to put your brakes on and have to chase the guy across the field. He redirects and then you are chasing him across the other way and the next play you are 'OK, I am not doing that again,  let's see where this guy is coming.' It is a teaching moment."

That led to my follow-up question regarding whether he saw the ability to generate a pass rush in the days and weeks leading up to the BYU game.

"We are not going to have a problem rushing the passer but we are a no-crease defense," Diaco said. "We believe in, we don't see any difference in horizontal separation and vertical separation so our defense plays differently. We are not an up the field defense, we don't believe philosophically that is what keeps the points down."

The good news for UConn is that Stony Brook quarterback John Kinder ran the ball nine times and finished with negative 34 yards rushing when the four sacks recorded by the Bryant defense are factored in so it looks like the Huskies will be facing a one-dimensional quarterback who only runs as a last resort similar to the quarterbacks they square off against daily in practices.

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