Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Diaco gives his take on chaotic end to UConn/Navy game

Heading up to Storrs for today's football press conference to preview Saturday's home game against Virginia I knew there would be plenty of questions about the way the Navy game can to an end and boy where there ever.

Perhaps the most noteworthy thing to come out of his question and answer session was that originally a pass play was called on the final play but the offensive players wanted to win the game with a power running  play.

There was actually a light hearted moment when Diaco, in the midst of giving his thoughts on what led to the decision making asked "You want me to keep going." The reply was an emphatic "yes" from the media in the room so he continued.

"From the 1/2 yard line, we call the play you are all wondering why we didn't call," Diaco said. "The launch pad wants what they want which is awesome. They want to muscle the opponent into the end zone and win the game. They are both good calls so we obliged the group and called the play they wanted call and then time expired."

I wasn't sure what Diaco's tone was going to be since he was understandably criticized for his team's inability to get more than one play off in the final 17 seconds after junior tailback Ron Johnson was stuffed on a 2nd and goal play. He stood at the front of the room and didn't shy away from answering any question on how the game ended.

"I take full accountability for not having another play," Diaco said.

"If you are looking for somebody blame, I am standing here ready to take it."

Diaco said that a different personnel package was in on a play from the 1/2 yard line than if the ball was spotted at the 2 after a catch on the sidelines by Hergy Mayala which resulted in burning the final timeout.

"It was tight again, it would have been at 1," Diaco said of UConn getting the ball snapped before a delay of game penalty was called. "I called a timeout at 3 (seconds left on the clock) it would have been at 1 but I think he would have gotten it off."

What was interesting was that despite those quotes above, Diaco never actually admitted to making the wrong decision other than saying if he had a chance to do it again, he would have done it differently. Even that was not during a moment where he questioned whether the right play was called but because it was the right way to proceed but simply because the play they tried was not successful.

"I take accountability for the fact that we played 146 plays, we definitely could have played 147," Diaco said. "Whether the 147th would have been incredibly productive or not, punch it into the end zone, we are cheering and hugging, that is written in the stars. Could we have played 147th play?

"Absolutely the offensive team wanted to run the ball. If the players want to believe they can execute a play, isn't that better than believing that they can't? I am excited about that. That is great stuff. That is an awesome thing to take accountability, have a swagger  believe that you can get something (accomplished). My only regret is we didn't get a chance to do it two times in a row."

Diaco went back to what he said after the game when he highlighted the risks of throwing the ball because it could be tipped at the line of scrimmage (something I don't recall happening previously during the game).

"You want to throw a pass there so you get two downs but if it got batted and intercepted at the
line of scrimmage, you'd be the biggest idiot in the world," Diaco said. "You are on the half yard line, I just watched a Super Bowl where they did that, what did all of those papers (write) at the end of that game? If we punch it in on the half yard line, it is one of the greatest comebacks in UConn football history and being that we didn't, we should have thrown the ball there. I don't have a crystal ball.

"It was well thought out; it didn't work out, I wish since it didn't work out, would we have done things differently? Absolutely, who would say no to that. There is not a moment of a lack of understanding, that never happened."

Diaco said there was consideration of putting the ball in the hands of Bryant Shirreffs, who set a UConn single-game record by completing 89 percent of his passes and is also a threat to run the ball in before the decision was made to run Johnson, the Huskies' most physical tailback, behind senior offensive linemen Richard Levy and Andreas Knappe.

"Whether you agree or disagree, I can explain in great detail way why we do what we did," Diaco said. "Some of these conversations end up being what came first, the chicken or the egg? If it works, you are really smart and if it doesn't you really aren't smart so all I can speak to is my reality and I don't mind doing that.

Diaco had good news to report on two of the players who missed the Navy game. Senior linebacker Omaine Stephens and offensive guard Tommy Hopkins both have lower-leg injuries and while Diaco stopped short of calling them day to day, there are both getting closer to returning to the field.

"He (Stephens) is on his way back," Diaco said. "Tommy (Hopkins) is on his way back. Tommy isn't necessarily day to day, I wouldn't put him day to day but we are really pleased with his progress. He is definitely on his way back."

While he wouldn't commit to staying with Tyraiq Beals ahead of Arkeel Newsome to return kickoffs alongside of Brice McAliister, he said he liked what he saw from Beals (with the exception of the one kickoff he fumbled).

There will be more on this later this week but I missed a couple of milestones as Noel Thomas had his 100th career catch (the 18th player in program history to hit triple digits).

Also, senior safety Obi Melifonwu is up to 247 career tackles putting him three away from being 27th player in program history with 250 tackles. I have to look it up but there is a chance that Melifonwu and Jhavon Williams can be the first set of defensive backs in the same class at UConn to combine for more than 400 tackles as Williams is up to 118.

I also did some checking and Matt Walsh's 11 solo tackles made his the sixth UConn player since 2008 with at least 10 solo tackles in the game and the others (Sio Moore, Andrew Adams, Lawrence Wilson, Scott Lutrus, Greg Lloyd) either played in the NFL or made it onto an NFL practice squad.

Here's the list.
Sio Moore 13 vs. West Virginia 10-29-10
Andrew Adams 12 at Memphis 11-29-14
Lawrence Wilson 12 vs. Syracuse 11-28-09
Scott Lutrus 12 at South Florida 11-23-08
Greg Lloyd 12 at Pittsburgh 10-10-09
Matt Walsh 11 at Navy 9-10-16Sio Moore 10 at South Florida 12-4-10
Lawrence Wilson 10 vs. Louisville 10-23-10
Lawrence Wilson 10 vs. Louisville 10-17-09
Scott Lutrus 10 vs. Oklahoma 1-1-11


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