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Davis: Did Diaco wait too long to push reset button at UConn?

Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire

The week that was in Connecticut started with an embarrassing loss to East Carolina on the road.

“Pathetic,” UConn coach Bob Diaco said after walking the Pirates’ plank in a 41-3 loss Saturday.



Those were his words. Diaco couldn’t stop himself. Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs chimed in with an honest assessment by saying, “That was embarrassing.”

If that didn’t deliver the message, Diaco cleared it all up by saying, “This is like a Molotov cocktail of ugliness right now.”

UConn football has been bad this season, falling far short of the season goals that were so optimistic since last season’s bowl appearance. After losing three in a row and five of six, Diaco has taken measures that can only be described as a reaction rooted in panic.

The rest of this week featured coaching staff alterations, schedule changes, criticism of the media, closed practices and quite a shroud of secrecy. That’s a pretty full week for anyone, whether it would be Alabama or UConn. It has created a massive state of uncertainty, especially during a short week of preparation for Friday night’s home game against Temple.

Last Saturday may not have marked the biggest margin of defeat in Diaco’s three seasons at UConn, but it certainly felt like the most demoralizing setback of his tenure. It was a true train wreck in athletic terms, a complete failure on offense and defense.

A loss to Temple eliminates any bowl possibility. UConn (3-6, 1-5 American) must win out in the regular season, defeating Temple, Boston College and Tulane to reach the six-victory minimum to become bowl eligible.

Diaco has placed the blame squarely at the feet of the offense. On Sunday, offensive coordinator Frank Verducci was relieved of his play-calling duties and demoted to coach tight ends and the offensive line. Running backs coach David Corley was promoted to Verducci’s spot.

The Huskies have been boring, predictable and unproductive on offense.

UConn’s offensive national rankings continue to slip with each game. The Huskies are 126th out of 128 teams in scoring (18.3 points a game), 113th in rushing (126.56 yards) 64th in passing (234.7 yards) and 106th in total offense (361.2 yards).

That indicates a massive problem that begins at the top. That means Diaco. Corrections should have been made in the early weeks of the season, after a 24-21 win over Maine or a 28-24 loss at Navy. A 13-10 win over Virginia at home could have served as a spark but a 31-24 loss to Syracuse followed instead.

UConn’s starting quarterback against Temple remains a mystery. On Tuesday, when Diaco’s weekly press conference was held (one day later than originally scheduled), Corley said that would not be addressed. Practices were closed for the remainder of the week and players and coaches were not allowed to talk.

Diaco, however, has made comments of dissatisfaction with Shirreffs in recent weeks. Tuesday, you might say he threw him under the bus.

“There’s a very good amount of accountability that needs to rest on the quarterback,” Diaco said. “It’s been pretty underwhelming for the better part of the year … We’re all focused on that position this week and excited about creating some things for that position to improve.”

October 08, 2016: UConn Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs (4) on the phone with the coaches in the booth as the Cincinnati Bearcats take on the UConn Huskies at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. (Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire)

October 08, 2016: UConn Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs (4) on the phone with the coaches in the booth as the Cincinnati Bearcats take on the UConn Huskies at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT. (Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire)

Shirreffs, UConn’s two-year starter, did not play well against East Carolina. Reserve Garrett Anderson replaced him in the second half. They continue to be listed 1 and 2 on the UConn depth chart. Either one could start Friday. Perhaps it will be redshirt freshman Brandon Bisack.
Would Diaco yank the redshirt year of freshman Donovan Williams at this late stage of the season? There has been speculation that could happen.

A source indicated that all four quarterbacks have taken turns taking reps this week in practice. The source also said things have gone well under Corley this week. Who knows what that means?

Corley has never been a coordinator before. He was a four-year starter at quarterback at William & Mary and played in the Canadian Football League. He came to UConn in 2014 after three seasons at his alma mater coaching running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Is this Corley’s tryout for next season? Nobody is looking that far down the road yet.

Diaco says Corley has had success as a “trigger-puller and offensive driver.” Now he needs to be a miracle worker. And Diaco says Corley has made the best in-game suggestions of anyone on the staff. Who knew?

UConn has limped along on offense this season with problems at every position except wide receiver where Noel Thomas plays with all the poise and talent of a future NFL receiver. Corley has a lot to address and not much time to do it.

It would be unfair to judge Corley on one game, especially when no one knows what changes have been implemented this week. The real burden falls on Diaco, who was signed in May to a two-year extension that would keep him at UConn until 2020.

Is he still welcome that long? That’s a discussion for another time. First, the Huskies must survive the final three games of the season. After this past week, that won’t be easy.

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