UConn-BYU Football: Game Week Begins

STORRS – A few members of the UConn football team trickled in toward the end of coach Bob Diaco's press conference, and his demeanor changed — boy did it change — when he was asked what he wanted to see Friday night.

It was as almost as if the media weren't in the room.


"I want to see a team that is focused and resolute," he said. "I want to see an aggressive, intense, tough team that gives great effort. I don't want to see a rigid, stuffy, decelerating group. I want to see animation. I want to hear animation. I want to see an energy coming off the individual players and collectively as a unit and collectively as a team that there's great joy in what they're doing, that it's truly a four-quarter celebration with this incredible investment. And that's what I would expect from the team. I'll be disappointed if I don't see that."

And with that, the first-year, 41-year-old head coach left the podium.


Ah, yes, the season is right around the corner, actually down the street for the Huskies, who host traditional power BYU Friday night (ESPN, 7 p.m.) at Rentschler Field.


The Huskies will be trying to turn the tide following a 3-9 season, but a season that ended with three straight wins.

"It was great how we ended," quarterback Casey Cochran said. "This is a new season, and we're focused on what's in front of us right now."

If you haven't noticed by now the players don't discuss the past anymore and that's by design. There's a new staff in town, a new beginning, new attitude and a new commitment to creating a culture of winning on the field and off.


BYU, a traditional power, will be a test that allows all to see where the Huskies are after nine months under Diaco.

The Cougars are led by junior quarterback Taysom Hill, a Heisman candidate who threw for 2,983 yards, rushed for 1,344 and accounted for 29 touchdowns last season. But they will be without leading rusher Jamaal Williams (one game suspension for violation of team rules). He rushed for 1,233 yards last year. Still, the backfield is deep, as is the receiving corps.

The Cougars averaged 30 points a game last year, but only put up 13 and lost by 10 at Notre Dame last season when Diaco was the defensive coordinator.

The Cougars, winners of at least eight games in all but two seasons (2005, 2010) since coach Bronco Mendenhall came aboard 10 years ago, might see some of the same scheme.

Opportunity Knocks

BYU does offer UConn an opportunity.

"A big-time team like BYU coming into the Rent, Friday night, ESPN, there's no bigger stage," tight end Sean McQuillan said. "I think that's exactly what this team needs. It needs to be under that kind of pressure, and I think we're going to elevate our play for that."

The Huskies are no strangers to having traditional powers come into their building.


Michigan came to East Hartford last year and escaped with a 24-21 win. That, too, was nationally televised and provided the Huskies a great opportunity before they broke down late in the game. Part of the changing culture includes the expectation of not breaking down late anymore.


"The Michigan game was a tough one last year but when you're in a scenario like this and you shoot yourself in the foot a few times it always bites you," McQuillan said. "When you're playing a great team like BYU, you have to eliminate those things. It could be just one small thing, the difference between winning and losing. That's what we've been focusing on, the little details, doing all the little things right. If we can put that into a four-quarter game I think we're going to like the outcome."

Losing Spoils Dinner

Diaco understands what the fans go through after a loss.

"Dinner that night tastes horrible," Diaco said. "There's just silence in the car on the ride home. Nobody's got the radio on. You don't want that kind of environment. What you want is for people to leave the stadium ... they're walking out of the game talking about 'What about that play? What about this play? What about this player? and wow, that was really something,' and they talk about it the whole ride home — and dinner tastes great.

Knappe Hurting

It appears the Huskies will be without 6-8, 300-pound sophomore right tackle Andreas Knappe (leg). Junior Dalton Gifford who had six starts last year, including the final four games at the spot, is slated to start there with freshman Thomas Hopkins backing up. Other than that everyone on the two-deep is ready to go Friday night. ... Senior wide receiver and captain Geremy Davis: "It's my last go-round in this program. I just want to leave here, leave this program, this team with a winning season, but obviously take it week by week focusing on BYU first."