Finish successfully: At least UConn did that
Storrs — The immediacy of the moment called for analysis, little of which was complimentary to UConn football last Thursday night. The Huskies coughed and wheezed their way to a 24-21 win over Maine, a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, which is a Harvard-ish way of saying “one level below.”
Time’s passage, however, invites more reflection. And the most important question in sports:
Did you win or lose?
UConn won. Which is more than can be said for Virginia, Washington State and Iowa State against their Football Championship Subdivision opponents over the weekend:
Richmond 37, Virginia 20.
Eastern Washington 45, Washington State 42.
Northern Iowa 25, Iowa State 20.
(A more cynical fellow might point out that Iowa State is a member of the Big 12, thus calling into question whether an invite would kill UConn’s nonconference schedule strength.)
And so maybe UConn coach Bob Diaco makes a point about accentuating the positive. Like his team’s ability to rally from a deficit in the fourth quarter as the shadows around them lengthened and time grew more desperate.
“The mantra of finish successfully,” he said at Tuesday’s weekly media gathering. “Whether we would have gotten that done in the past, we watched games where that didn’t happen. … At the same time, it didn’t need to be that interesting.”
Victory, nonetheless, always beats the alternative. And so as Maine becomes fodder for the rear view mirror, up comes Navy, defenders of our country, who are a pain in the asphalt to other defenders everywhere. The Midshipmen run the triple-option. And run it well under longtime coach Ken Niumatalolo.
This week is about one thing: How to stop the most vexing scheme in the country.
How vexing? Diaco called it “impossible” to prepare for in one week. Which is why preparation began many weeks ago.
“We are always cognizant of option and option responsibilities,” Diaco said. “Even as we were installing a coverage, a standard, base, core coverage, if it’s Spring Practice One, it’s being fit into option and their assignments. … It just kind of rolls out. I believe there’d be no way to get ready for this game in a week.”
This is a most unique practice week. Specifics of a scheme you won’t necessarily see again, all while trying to develop consistency.
“What other team would you play when you spend half the practice without a football?” Diaco said. “You are practicing and the football is irrelevant. If you don’t tackle the dive, he’s either going to run for a bunch of yards and/or becomes a blocker downfield. If you don’t address the quarterback in the alley, that’s the next guy that’s going to beat you. At all three levels, you need players responsible for all three areas taking them in practice.
“There’s no way to simulate it,” he said. “As prepared as you are, they are always going to have one thing that’s not on your wallpaper board.”
Still, the Huskies may be in better hands than most of Navy’s opponents. Few, if any other coaches in the country have coached against Navy in the last six years more than Diaco. Remember: His last job before Storrs was defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, which plays Navy regularly.
Diaco, asked if he bears more insight into the triple-option through his experience, grinned at the question.
“There’s never been a bigger setup question,” he cracked. “I have to answer it as saying yes. To answer any other way would be ridiculous. I think that continuity is definitely helpful. … The more exposure and continuity you can have with your players defending that the better chance you are going to have. … (They’ll have) a much deeper understanding of how this game is going to be conducted.”
Which is why Diaco said that young players, or players without the Navy Experience, have no shot.
“We kind of say (to the young players) ‘we know that you are actually just sitting there and don’t believe what we’re saying,’” Diaco said. “'If you really want to know, ask the older players and you still probably won’t believe them until you are actually at the game watching it.' There’s no way to prepare the player for the attack without actually having played in the game.”
Navy lost starting quarterback Tago Smith to an injury last week. Done for the season. Senior Will Worth gets the call. Relevant? We’ll see. It’s still stop the dive, stop the quarterback run, stop the pitch. Rinse. Repeat. Not Diaco’s first rodeo here. Good thing.
This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.
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