The UConn football team’s secondary was one of their primary strengths last season, as they won six games and claimed a bowl berth, but it hasn’t always been sharp this season. The Huskies are giving up 298 passing yards a game, including large statistical days to typically stagnant passing attacks, like Maine and Navy, in games earlier this season.
It was a different story Saturday at Rentschler Field, as Head Coach Bob Diaco made a few personnel shifts and the Huskies put the clamps on the Cincinnati offense for a 20-9 win. Diaco talked about the secondary’s performance at his weekly press conference Tuesday.
In the win, star cornerback, Jamar Summers, moved to safety alongside Obi Melifonwu. Meanwhile, Jhavon Williams and John Green handled a majority of the work at cornerback. The changes may not be permanent, but they worked against the Bearcats.
“Whatever best suits the matchups from a week-to-week standpoint will be how we position those players,” Diaco said.
Williams has been an integral contributor for UConn this season, but redshirt-senior, Green, has not seen the field as much. He certainly looked the part Saturday, with seven tackles and a pass breakup against a talented set of Cincinnati pass catchers.
“I thought John Green played really well for as much work as he got. He competed. There’s some small things to coach, some small fundamentals with foot action and body position, but he tried hard the whole time and competed and made some plays. So, with some small little tweaks and corrections fundamentally, our hopes are that he can get on to more plays,” Diaco said.
Behind Green, Williams and the rest of the cornerbacks, the safety tandem of Summers and Melifonwu saw great success. The Huskies were rarely beaten over the top by quarterback Hayden Moore, and they overloaded the line of scrimmage as they held Cincinnati to just two rushing yards, the seventh-lowest total allowed in program history.
Diaco had high praise for Summers’ ability to change positions seamlessly.
“I thought Jamar [Summers] played excellent. He’s really a talented guy with a high level of football intelligence,” Diaco said. “He can see the game, and fit himself into the right spot in the run game and the right spot in the pass game.”
The head coach emphasized the importance of Summers’ selflessness and game knowledge in allowing the defense to function at such a high level.
“There’s a lot more moving parts happening at the safety position then the cornerback position,” Diaco said, talking about the importance of also playing the run game as a safety. “[Summers] is a corner. He’s just a selfless person and teammate, so he’ll do whatever the team needs to do, and he’s got the aptitude, as it relates to football intelligence, to do the safety jobs. He’s really a highly-football intelligent guy. But his future’s at corner.”
For all of Summers’ strengths, he was working alongside Obi Melifonwu, who Diaco called “the best safety in America” at the the American Athletic Conference Media Day in August. Melifonwu leads the team in tackles with 50, with the next closest player being Junior Joseph, with 38 tackles. He has dominated this season, and Diaco emphasized that Summers’ new presence on the back line allowed Melifonwu to run free.
“To have Jamar [play safety] last week, it allowed us to utilize Obi [Melifonwu] to do a lot of other jobs for our team, which is a great thing, because he is a great player.”