Football: News and notes from Bob Diaco’s pre-BYU press conference

UConn football head coach Bob Diaco on the sidelines during the Huskies' game against Temple at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut on Sept. 27, 2014. UConn opens its 2015-16 season tonight against Villanova at 7:30 p.m. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

On Monday, UConn football head coach Bob Diaco held his weekly press conference prior to the upcoming game against BYU. 

UConn will play BYU Friday night for just the second time in program history. The first meeting came last season when the Cougars defeated the Huskies 35-10 at Rentschler Field in the season opener. 

BYU (2-2) opened as a 17.5-point favorite over UConn (2-2). 

So what did Diaco have to say on Monday about BYU and his team leading up to Friday’s game? Here are some of the highlights.

Diaco sounds off on last year's BYU game

Diaco certainly remembers BYU from last year. The Cougars came into the Huskies’ home turf and beat them down. Diaco said that the Cougars “beat the snot out of UConn” last year.

So what does he remember most from that game?

“They were big, physical at all positions,” Diaco said. “The offensive line is giant. Their defense front is giant. The wide receivers are gigantic. They wear you out. They have a model for how they want to play. The safeties are tenacious, tough, high collision players. Thinking back to the game [from last year], that’s what I remember. They were a physically imposing group in all three phases.”

BYU gained 515 yards of total offense last year against UConn. 

Heading out West

Going out to Provo, Utah to play BYU will be the longest regular season road trip in program history for the Huskies. Storrs to Provo is approximately 2,000 miles away. 

Diaco said adjusting to the different time zone is going to be a challenge for the Huskies this week.

“I don’t think there’s much to do I think you try to get on the west time zone situation,” Diaco said. “You go out there, you eat dinner the day before a little bit later and just deal with it. And then you go to bed on what the clock says out there even though it’s a little bit later. Just try to assimilate into that culture in that terrain right away. I think that’s the best thing to do and not overthink it. And listen, what 18 to 22-year-old is in bed at 10 o’clock? I think they’ll be fine.”

Ron Johnson mystery solved

Despite being listed as the No. 1 running back on the two-deep depth chart, sophomore Ron Johnson didn’t play much against Navy on Saturday. Johnson played a few snaps in the first quarter, but that was it. He didn’t have any rushing attempts. 

Sophomore Arkeel Newsome carried the load for the Huskies on the ground, racking up 69 yards on 14 carries. Newsome also caught five passes for 78 yards. 

“I think that what happened, mostly, was that the game became we’re going to throw the ball to get caught back up; I think that was the biggest tilt in participation,” Diaco said. “Outside of that, Arkeel was the starter, he had earned that up to that point. And he had done a nice job. So there was a few other factors that were a catalysts for it but I’m not sure any one of them is bigger than the conduct of the game.”

Diaco also said that Johnson has to do a better job in the passing game, whether it is catching passes out of the backfield or pass protection. 

Johnson is listed as the No. 1 running back on the two-deep leading up to the BYU game.

Diaco OK with Shirreffs running 

So far on the season, Shirreffs ranks third on the team in rushing with 115 yards. 

There have been a couple times this year where Shirreffs has run for first downs and ends up taking a hit on the play because he didn’t slide with his feet first. 

When asked today if he gets nervous when Shirreffs takes off from the pocket, Diaco said that he trusts his quarterback to make the right decisions in the moment. 

“If he runs and gets a first down, I’m happy. If he runs and there is an open guy down field then I’m not,” Diaco said. “He’s got to just go with the natural tendency that he feels is appropriate at that time. I think he’ll be the first to tell you that he probably dropped his eyes a little too soon on a few of the plays where the protection was there, the pocket was there.”

“Just give it another heartbeat and your inside or outside breaker would of come open. So I think he has to handle that piece and grow to that next step, but I’m not going to second-guess, me personally, his natural tendency. Then were going to create a decelerator and I don’t think that’s fair.”


Matt Zampini is sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.zampini@uconn.edu. He tweets  @Matt_Zamp.