Football: Diaco talks latest close ending, Syracuse showdown

UConn Football Coach Bob Diaco introduces the fall 2016 incoming football players on Signing Day on Feb. 3, 2016. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

University of Connecticut's football head coach, Bob Diaco, took questions from the media during his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon, covering a variety of topics on the heels of an exciting win over Virginia this past weekend.

It’s no secret that the offense has struggled at times this year, although they have put together crucial late drives to help the Huskies win two of their first three games. Diaco gave an interesting answer when asked about the lack of production from the offense, which is averaging 19.3 points per game so far against poor defenses, and has only scored 17 points in the first half.

“I think that our program is built in a way … to keep the points down. Just in general, the point totals are down with how the whole program operates,” Diaco said.

The third-year head coach did admit that the offensive totals have been disappointing.

“We haven’t quite gotten the production on offense that we’re looking for. That’s just a fact. You know it, I can’t hide from it, everybody watching the games knows it. So, we’re all hands on deck there and supportive of that unit. And that’s probably the main reason why these games, in a lot of instances, as many as there are, are so close as they are,” Diaco said.

One reason the offense may not be living up to its potential so far may be the slow start of shifty running back Arkeel Newsome, who was a major playmaker for UConn last year. Newsome rushed for just 2.7 yards per carry in the opener against Maine, and picked up just 20 yards from scrimmage the next week against Navy. Newsome was heavily improved in the win over Virginia, running 13 times for 77 yards, and Diaco acknowledged that the back needed to receive even more chances to make plays going forward.

“We have to get Arkeel the ball,” Diaco said of Newsome’s role. “If he’s going to touch the ball 13 times, then he needs to do all the kickoff returns, because that’s not enough. He needs the ball more than that.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Diaco seemed generally pleased with the way his defense performed against Virginia, praising their week-to-week adjustment from defending Navy’s triple-option offense to defending the Cavaliers’ more conventional scheme. The team will face another shift in tempo this weekend, as they take on a Syracuse team that just matched an ACC record with 105 offensive snaps in a loss to University of Southern Florida last weekend.

“They’re operating a very, very fast rate,” Diaco said of Syracuse’s offensive speed. “It’s like defending two games.”

Acknowledging the unique paths that defenses occasionally take to slow down speedy offenses, such as laying down on the field to stop the clock, Diaco indicated that his team would be playing clean on Saturday.

“They’re in total charge of how fast they go,” Diaco added later. “There’s nothing tactically that the defense can do within the rules.”

For all the improvements that Diaco is looking to make, his team is 2-1 despite some sloppy play and some shaky finishes, and they could be easily undefeated with a touchdown on the goal line against Navy. That’s more than enough to look at the glass half full.

“I’m definitely an optimist,” he said. “I’m a realist, I’m an optimist, I’m a realist. But, as I look at it critically, I’m more inclined to say we’re closer to a play away from 3-0.”

Associate Managing Editor Stephanie Sheehan contributed to this article.


Tyler Keating is associate sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu.

Stephanie Sheehan is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at stephanie.sheehan@uconn.edu. She tweets @steph_sheehan.