The Connecticut football team, coming off a 21-0 conference loss to Temple Friday night, is now enjoying a bye week.
Sorry, enjoying isn’t the right word. There is nothing enjoyable about UConn football at this point in time. Recovering or regrouping would be more accurate portrayals of this week’s activities… and there isn’t much time for that either, with only two games remaining and all hopes for a bowl appearance extinguished.
“The team needs a break,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said after UConn (3-7, 1-6 American) lost for the sixth time in seven games. “They’re in central nervous system shock.”
UConn has become a hot mess. There is extreme disorder. There is an extraordinary level of dissatisfaction.
The players are suffering more than they let on. Everyone associated with the UConn program – from the school’s administration, to the coaching staff and the fan base – needs a break from this season. Back-to-back losses in less than in a week by a 62-3 margin can have that type of impact.
In could take a long time and a lot of winning before UConn’s dwindling fan base has the patience to return. The crowd at Rentschler Field Friday night was announced as 22,316 (ticket sales) but actually might have been closer to 12,000 or 14,000. It was an embarrassing sight on national TV.
On top of that, Diaco chose the short week to make dramatic changes on offense. Offensive coordinator Frank Verducci was demoted from his position as offensive coordinator and David Corley called signals for the first time in his career during the Temple game.
Then Diaco thickened the plot a little more with his decision to burn freshman Donovan Williams’ redshirt. Going up against a Temple team that is positioning itself for the AAC championship, the Huskies had an offensive coordinator who had never called plays for an entire game and a quarterback making his collegiate debut.
The result was predictable. The Huskies finished with 160 yards of total offense (compared to 431 for the Owls) and were shut out for the first time since Nov, 22, 2014.
Diaco never billed it as a quick fix. There never was not an announcement of the quarterback change, just a lot of rumors and the sudden appearance of Williams on UConn’s first possession.
“As a new quarterback and Coach Corley as a new offensive coordinator, we still have a lot to learn,” said Williams, who completed 12 of 21 passes for 69 yards. “But he and I are going to grow stronger over the years and the offense is going to get a lot better. I’m excited for the last three games, just to finish up the season strong and learn as much as I can.”
The kid handled it was well as he could. He was under pressure all night against Temple. He kept the ball 16 times, gained 101 yards, lost 35 and settled for 66, He was sacked five times. It was the same type of experience Bryant Shirrefs endured through the first nine games of the season.
This pattern shows that the real problem is the offensive line. That has been UConn’s problem for several seasons. That goes back to recruiting, and it’s on Diaco and his staff.
Diaco says he gave serious consideration to burning Williams’ redshirt. Let’s hope he did because it’s a big deal. It’s such a big deal that Williams and his parents might not have been thinking clearly.
Williams wants to play. His parents want to watch him play. However, they were blinded by the magic promised by Diaco. It could have been different, but we don’t even know what to believe from the narrative of Williams rising to the top,
The fact that Williams is expected to develop into a fine quarterback makes it all the more curious. Williams said he felt he was ready to play sometime in October. Diaco says the staff decided to “activate” Williams after a 42-14 loss at Houston on Sept, 29.
Diaco almost pulled the trigger prior to the East Carolina loss, but did not. Williams recovered from a leg injury and was cleared to participate just before the East Carolina game.
I was not at the East Carolina game, but Jeff Jacobs of The Hartford Courant has reported that Diaco twice denied after that game that he had any thought of playing Williams this season.
“I’m not going to burn Donovan Williams’ redshirt with three weeks to play in a season that’s been spectacularly depressing,” Jacobs quoted Diaco as saying,
Yet, that’s exactly what Diaco did just a few days later.
Diaco took 50 minutes to arrive in the interview room after the Temple loss. Perhaps he spent part of that time coaching Williams to say the right thing, There’s no proof of that, but UConn players unfortunately are not allowed to answer questions as freshmen. Diaco waved that restriction Friday night,
The moves Diaco made last week were highly selfish. All the blame has been put on the offense. Diaco hasn’t put any of the burden on the defense, which is his responsibility. Making so many changes on the offensive side during a short week had no chance of being successful.
It was obvious early in the season that UConn was not fit for a bowl game, but Diaco was in denial. Williams was used by the program on the lark that the program could catch fire.
As UConn took the field Friday night, Diaco told ESPN sideline reporter Molly McGrath that the quarterback change is “a big move for our future.”
After the game, it was a different story.
“The main intention was to beat Temple,” Diaco said.
“Don’t get it twisted. The first priority wasn’t the future. That just happens to be a spectacular byproduct. We believe Donovan, and that change gave us the best opportunity to beat Temple.
“Donovan is going to be a great quarterback. He’s smart, tough, big, fast, has got an awesome arm. And he’s a leader. It’s super exciting. I know it’s a miserable loss and a miserable season, but every day he shows up to quarterback the team, we’re getting better … He is going to have three spectacular opportunities and experiences, four weeks [with the bye] to prepare and run an offense. This is getting ready to get better.”
Anybody else confused?