Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Young receivers coming of age for UConn

One of the biggest differences in Saturday's game at Central Florida was that when given a chance, the UConn receivers, running backs and tight ends caught the catchable passes while the UCF skill position players struggled to come up with even the most routine of catches.

True freshman receiver Hergy Mayala's first official catch (he had one negated due to penalty) was a tremendous grab of a low throw. Sophomore tight end Alec Bloom had a couple of difficult grabs including one when he took a major hit and Arkeel Newsome showed off his hands on the dazzling 58-yard catch and run.

"There is no better feeling that seeing a receiver make a catch on a bad ball and catch every good ball," UConn sophomore quarterback Bryant Shirreffs said. "I don't know how many drops that we've had this year but it has been really minimal, that is very encouraging as well."

UConn has 19 catches from its three true freshmen receivers (16 by Tyraiq Beals, two by Aaron McLean and the one by Mayala. That number figures to grow with each passing week.

"Those four freshmen wide receivers, Hergy, Tyraiq, Aaron and Frank Battle (who is redshirting) that is a special group," UConn coach Bob Diaco said.

Diaco was encouraged by what he saw from players who typically don't see time in games as the Huskies emptied their bench playing most of the players who are not redshirting.

"I think the best thing about games like that for us is we like to play the players who prepare so you get a game like that and Chris Lee plays almost 20 plays, Trey Rutherford plays almost 20 plays, Danny Oak plays, Vontae Diggs played a ton of plays, you've got all the corners, Brice (McAllister) played, Ellis Marder played almost as much as Andrew (Adams) and Obi (Melifonwu). To think that we got James Atkins and Sheriden Lawley plays in the game, that is how you get better. On defense we played a lot of guys anyway. We are still a young team, when you think about it, if you think about it on offense we lose one player (guard Tyler Samra), everybody back on offense is back again and some of them for two more years.

"I was very impressed watching that next man in offensive line come in and specifically study (Trey) Rutherford, (Steve) Hashemi, (Dan) Oak in particular and you can get real excited. The other guys performed well also but those three in particular had some real nice strain plays and (against) their top defensive line."

According to the game by game participation chart in the UConn notes, Atkins, Lawley, Oak and Jalen Stevens saw their first action of the season but so many other players who have been on the field for special teams saw their first time on either offense or defense.

A lot of players were brought up during today's press conference and the player who drew the most praise from Diaco was reserve cornerback Javon Hadley.

"I feel like Javon Hadley, when you look at the total picture, it is spectacular the work that he has done," Diaco said. "No negative conversations on any level from anyone in academics, in strength and conditioning, in the community, on campus, just zero so I have been so impressed with him growing up and working to really move forward to achieving the personal goals that he has. There is probably not a more improved person and player on the team than him over the course of the last year and a half."

On the negative side of the ledger, I had to ask Diaco about the seven pre-snap penalties.

"Each one has some kind of explanation but they all stink and that is why third down looks like third down looks," Diaco said. "You look at the stats and say 'they are having trouble on third downs.' We aren't having trouble on third down, nobody converts third down and 12, who converts third down and 12? Anybody have a percentage on third down and 8 and more? What is it, 13 percent? It might even be less than 16 percent, you are not going to make it so you start your drive at first down and 15, or 1st and 20, you can't do that because you are not going to win on third down. That happened way too much which was a direct impact on the third down success percentage."

Diaco chose his words carefully when asked about the four-game series between UConn and BC since the Huskies have not officially announced the games with BC which begin next year.

"All I can say on that, we as employees can't speak about contract that aren't executed so I don't believe that one is," Diaco said. "To play regional teams is awesome so as many times as we can play a Syracuse, a Boston College, Pitt, West Virginia, Penn State, Rutgers, Maryland, these are great games for our fans, our team and for our university to play in."

I asked him for his reaction to the news of Steve Spurrier stepping down at South Carolina, effective immediately.

"He is a Hall of Fame coach, somebody who has led programs that don't read (about off the field issues)," Diaco said. "Basically everybody's got something here or there, there are a lot of guys and a lot of moving parts but you don't read about his teams doing the wrong things, you very rarely read about his players doing the wrong things. I never felt what it would have been like to be coached by him but I would anticipate it would be a pretty good feeling, a pretty high class operation just based n the production and lack of problems. The proof is in the pudding, he is a Hall of Famer and somebody that as young coaches, we all try to emulate."


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