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East Hartford – There were times Friday night, evidenced by 15 penalties and two turnovers, where it wasn’t clear Brigham Young was actually playing better football than UConn. But the Cougars sure had better players. That old thing. Talent. The great deodorant.
Sayeth BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall: “That was a lot to overcome, obviously self-inflicted, but at the end of the day, our offense deserves credit for still putting points on the board.”
There’s your difference: One team was talented enough to overcome its shortcomings. The other wasn’t.
And after all the pregame flutters of emotion, the dreaming, the hoping … they kicked off at Rentschler Field. Brigham Young was hardly great. But good enough to post a 35-10 victory. That’s where it ends for most of us. Where it always does: the scoreboard.
It was a little after 11 p.m. that UConn coach Bob Diaco entered the interview room, still radiating more energy than Connecticut Light & Power, even at a late hour. After what had to be, on some level, a deflating outcome. Diaco remained a beacon of buoyancy. As one scribe suggested, it was like UConn won 10-35.
But it left me wondering if Diaco’s measures of progress are different than ours. Sure, he wants to win. But maybe he knew it wasn’t necessarily realistic against a team of superior talent at virtually every position. Put it this way: BYU was missing several starters because of suspension, killed itself with penalties and turnovers … and still averaged 7.02 yards per play. They were THAT much better. Hell, Texas A&M averaged 6.9 undressing South Carolina a night earlier.
Diaco thanked the fans for coming and beseeched them to “keep it up.” He reiterated the progress made. Some of his observations:
n “Things are changing. I hope you saw it. Everybody is upset we didn’t win. Everybody wanted to win. Everybody tried hard. We’re going to. This football team is getting better. It gets better every day. We got better tonight.”
n “There’s so much to improve on. You can’t start a game like that (down 14-0 early) and think you’re going to win. Come on. But they fought hard. … From where I was standing, it looked like they were locked in. Nobody gave up. Everybody grinded till the end. They were excited. They were excitable.”
n “If you watched the game, you saw the strain and the grit and the toughness (from) the players. You didn’t see 12 guys on the field, 10 guys on the field, delay of games. You didn’t see guys moving. Guys jumping. You didn’t see a lot of guys misaligned. You didn’t see guys out of the stance. You didn’t see guys walk on and off the field. You didn’t see them not celebrate positive things. The foundation is being built and it’s strong.”
There was more. When he was asked why he opted for a field goal in the third quarter down 28-7, Diaco said he wanted to get kicker Bobby Puyol “work from the right hash.” Some people are going to read that and spit out their Maxwell House this morning. Why would you pay good money to watch what could be perceived as watered down expectations?
Which, again, invites the question: Is the talent here so bad that Diaco, at least against a superior opponent, isn’t measuring progress by the scoreboard the way the rest of us do? That’s it’s “infancy,” in his words?
Then there was this gem later:
“When I’m thinking about the whole night, one of the most proud moments that I saw was Ellis Marder coming down the alley to make a beautiful tackle. He’s working on tackling. It’s a moment I know about. Ellis coming down and making that tackle after he’s worked so hard at a job that he’s not sure right now he’s great at was an awesome moment.”
Think about that. We’re talking about a Division I football player lauded for making a tackle. Which he’s not good at. It’s almost surreal.
This much I know: Diaco isn’t an idiot. He knows he’ll be judged by wins and losses. Again, I wonder: Did he think it wasn’t realistic? He might want to clarify some of this with the fandom.
His positive energy is to be lauded. Even envied. But the scoreboard counts. They were out-talented Friday night. Maybe by a lot more than most of us realize.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.