EAST HARTFORD – The UConn football team may have had a new offensive coordinator calling the shots Friday, and following a surprise game day decision, a new quarterback as well, but it was the same old story.
The Huskies (3-7, 1-6 The American) posted just 160 total yards as they were shutout 21-0 by American Athletic Conference rival Temple on a chilly night at Rentschler Field. Friday was the first time UConn had been shutout since Nov. 22, 2014, when Cincinnati routed the Huskies 41-0. The offense has not scored a touchdown for ten consecutive quarters.
“Everybody’s disappointed. I take full accountability, I’m responsible for all of it. What I had meshed together, considering the challenges of the season, proved to be a strain that was too great,” UConn head coach Bob Diaco said after the game.
Following a disastrous 41-3 loss to East Carolina last Saturday, Diaco shook up his staff by demoting offensive coordinator Frank Verducci and promoting running backs coach David Corley to the position.
On top of that change, Diaco benched starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs in favor of freshman Donovan Williams, who had yet to play in 2016 and was previously being redshirted. As a result, Williams lost his redshirt eligibility, and therefore he will enter the 2017 season as a sophomore.
“Don’t get it twisted, the first priority wasn’t the future. That just happens to be a really spectacular byproduct. But Donovan, and that change, we believe gave us the best opportunity to beat Temple,” Diaco said.
The Williams decision stood in stark contrast to Diaco’s words after the loss to East Carolina, when he said that he would not “burn Williams’ redshirt with three weeks left in the season.”
Diaco fully explained the story and his reasoning after the loss to Temple, stating that the original plan was to activate Williams after UConn’s loss to Houston on Sept. 29. After coming to that decision, Williams suffered a lower leg injury, and he only came off the injured list the week before the East Carolina loss. Diaco “had no intention” to force Williams to play, but Williams wanted to, and so the coach made the decision to make him eligible, and make him the starting quarterback.
“Donovan is the quarterback, and he’s going to be a great quarterback. I mean, he’s smart, tough, big, fast, he’s got an awesome arm. Awesome arm. And he’s a leader. He’s a driver,” Diaco said.
Williams was put into a difficult position in his first career game, compounded by changes behind the scenes with Corley taking control of the play calling, and he struggled. Williams completed just 12-21 passes for 69 yards, as the pocket was under siege all night long. He had very little time to look down the field for open receivers, and was hit very frequently, leading to two fumbles.
“[Williams] was under spectacular duress, and was on the run almost as he was receiving the snap,” Diaco said. “[The offensive line’s play] is a huge part of the issue, and very solvable, because we have players that are very physical and athletic, and want to be good, and want to compete. That group has been underwhelming.”
Williams had his moments, including an explosive 43-yard run in the first quarter where he flashed his speed. But overall, it was another miserable performance from an offense that has seen the wheels come off in recent weeks. Since taking a 16-14 lead over UCF into halftime on Oct. 22, UConn has scored just three points in ten quarters.
With Corley and Williams newly installed, the repairs begin now.
“Me as a new quarterback and Coach Corley as a new offensive coordinator, we still have a lot to learn,” Williams said. “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.”