UConn football enters home stretch refreshed and refocused
Storrs — A bye week provided UConn a much-needed break from the physical and mental grind of the college football season.
The Huskies enter the home stretch refreshed, refocused and ready to tackle the remaining two games on their schedule — at Boston College on Saturday and against Tulane on Nov. 26 in East Hartford.
A season-high four-game losing streak hasn't beaten them down.
"I feel good," coach Bob Diaco said. "I love the team. I love what I do and I love who I do it for. I haven't lost any heart or momentum. And I can find something each day to get excited about."
UConn's season has been disappointing and often painful to watch. The Huskies expected to be in contention for a bowl bid but instead are out of the picture at 3-7. They've been outscored 62-3 in their last two losses to Temple and East Carolina.
The team's culture remains strong, Diaco said.
"When we get back to having time to address what happened in 2016, it's going to be about playing football better," Diaco said. "We're not going to have to rebuild or re-create a cultural piece, which is awesome."
The Huskies took advantage of the bye week to work on their fundamentals. They also reflected on their season and what's still left to accomplish.
"It helped us come together as a family and realize what we still have out in front of us and how big this BC game is and how important senior day is going to be for our guys," junior Brice McAllister said of the bye week. "After the Temple game, we were disappointed. ... There's still so much out there for us to play for, so that helped a lot."
The bye week also helped with the development of freshman quarterback Donovan Williams, who made his UConn debut in a 21-0 loss to Temple on Nov. 4. Williams completed 12 of 21 passes for 69 yards and rushed for 66 yards on 16 carries.
Prior to the Temple game, Diaco made the decision to replace starter Bryant Shirreffs with Williams for the remainder of the season. He has seen positive signs from Williams in recent workouts.
"He is getting more comfortable," Diaco said. "In his play, you can see some choices that are a little bit more demonstrative. The game seems, at least the last few days, it has slowed down for him a bit more, which is great. That's part of the problem as a young player the game is moving so far. ... He has a little bit more confidence."
Diaco projects a bright future for Williams, who passed for 1,343 yards and 18 touchdowns while also running for 785 yards and nine touchdowns during his senior year at C.D. Hylton High School in Virginia.
This season's experience, although limited, will benefit Williams, Diaco said.
"It's invaluable," Diaco said. "Just can't even be measured in terms of his future of quarterbacking the team in 2017 and beyond. It's an incredible jump start. His upside is as high as any other player at his position in America. He's that talented.
"He's big, fast, smart. He's got an excellent arm. He's got a good quick release. He's elusive in the pocket."
News and notes
• With some free time during the bye week, Diaco had a rare chance to watch his daughter's soccer practice and son's football game. "That was nice," he said. ... Senior safety Obi Melifonwu leads the team in tackles (83) and interceptions (four). ... Senior receiver Noel Thomas needs just two catches to break the program's single-season record. He has 87 receptions for 1,090 yards and also ranks fourth in the nation in catches per game. ... The Huskies are one of the least penalized teams in the country, sitting four overall with an average of 3.6 per game. They're fourth in fewest penalty yards per game at 29.