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    UConn Football
    Monday, April 15, 2024

    UConn football dips into offensive line depth

    Storrs — Good thing UConn has some quality depth at offensive line.

    One game into the 2016 season, the Huskies already are dipping into their reserves.

    Starting left guard Tommy Hopkins will be sidelined at least a few weeks after suffering a lower leg injury in Thursday's season-opening victory over Maine.

    Next man up: redshirt junior Brendan Vechery, who's listed as the starter on the depth chart in advance of Saturday afternoon's game at Navy in an American Athletic Conference opener in Annapolis.

    The Huskies are fortunate to have a player with Vechery's offensive line experience to fill in. He started all 13 games at center last season.

    Fellow offensive lineman Andreas Knappe has faith in the 6-foot-6, 309-pound Vechery.

    "It's always unfortunate to see a guy go down," Knappe said Tuesday. "But it's great to have some experience. ... He's a hard worker. He blocks hard and always hustles to the ball. He does a good job of everything."

    With center Ryan Crozier back after sitting out last season with an injury, Vechery moved down the line. During preseason, Vechery competed with redshirt senior Richard Levy and Hopkins for a first team spot before ending up as the back-up at right guard

    Coach Bob Diaco expects a very smooth transition for Vechery at left guard.

    "Nothing will change," Diaco said. "Really for the three (Levy, Hopkins, Vechery) for two (spots) at guard ended up being, not a flip of the coin but it was pretty darn close. ... Things won't change at all actually. And the game won't need to be managed for Vechery. He'll be ready to go."

    UConn's offensive line did a decent job in the season opener. The Huskies generated 200 yards on the ground and 162 in the air, with quarterback Bryant Shirreffs accounting for 257 yards. They allowed two sacks against an attacking Maine defense.

    "Not anything major in particular but a lot of smaller details," Knappe said of what the offensive line needs to clean up.

    New quarterback, same challenge

    Navy will run its lethal triple-option with a backup quarterback on Saturday.

    Starter Tago Smith suffered a season ending knee injury in Saturday's 52-16 rout of Fordham. He tore the ACL in his right knee in the second quarter.

    Senior Will Worth is expected to start against UConn on Saturday. Worth rushed for 22 yards on nine carries and completed all three passes for 78 yards and a touchdown against Fordham.

    "Will's been in the system and he's a smart kid," Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo during Monday's AAC conference call. "So he knows what we're doing. He knows our checks. He knows how to run our offense. He's a great leader. So you feel good about that."

    Navy basically remains the same no matter the quarterback.

    "From a preparation standpoint, there's no change," Diaco said. "We fully expect them to run their offense the way that they run it. Maybe some pieces of it will major and some other pieces will minor, as opposed to somebody else at the helm."

    Comeback road map

    Fourth-quarter flame-outs were an issue last season, so the fact that UConn rallied from a seven-point deficit in the final quarter against Maine to secure a 24-21 win was a positive sign.

    "We're built to never quit so we never did," Knappe said. "Football changes fast, that's also one of the reasons why it's a great sport. You just keep going and keep grinding and good things will happen."

    Bobby Puyol's 37-yard field goal with 11 seconds left was the difference.

    "It was very exciting," Diaco said. "At the same time, it didn't need to be that interesting."

    The comeback gives the Huskies a shot of confidence going forward.

    "Now you know how it feels, know you know what to do," Knappe said. "At least for me, you feel more confident if that should ever present itself again."

    News and notes

    Diaco on his team's overall performance vs. Maine: "We were pleased to win but the best part was that we were pleased to have a lot of things to coach and to do it after a win. ... We left a lot of chunks on offense and a lot of chunks on defense." ... Special teams play earned high marks from Diaco but he called the secondary's play "very average." ... UConn lost last year's meeting to Navy 28-18 on Sept. 26 at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. ... Streaks: Navy has won 11 straight at home and 17 in a row against unranked foes overall. ... The Huskies will be playing at Navy for the first time since 2002 when they suffered a 38-0 loss. ... Diaco on junior linebacker Vontae Diggs, who had a team-high nine tackles including two for a loss vs. Maine: "I thought he set the edge well and he was on his coverage assignments. I loved how much energy and passion he played with."

    g.keefe@theday.com

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