A rough year comes to a close Saturday for the UConn football team.
TORRINGTON: As fall turns to winter, the long campaign of first year head coach Bob Diaco and the University of Connecticut football team is drawing to a merciful close on Saturday when the Huskies (2-9) take on winless SMU (0-11) at noon at Rentchsler Field.
Diaco has been the head guy 51 weeks to the day today, it was early December of 2013 the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator was introduced amongst much fanfare to the State and Huskies nation.
You can’t imagine a scenario where it could have gone much worse, this first year.
First, the football team got to watch a pair of National Championships come back to Storrs in the spring. The team marched out from practice to the rally in support of their fellow student athletes.
This fall, the UConn Field Hockey team brought home the big prize as well while the women’s soccer team won the American Athletic Conference Tournament and a home game in the NCAA’s.
The men’s hockey team has been all over the sports pages the past two months for their break out start in the outstanding Hockey East Conference and yes, the basketball teams are back at it.
This is a University that has brought home its fair share of titles over the years but as everybody in major college sports knows, football drives the train.
The money train that is. The train that gets all the programs back into a major conference (not that the AAC is trying its best but..) where they flourished for so many years.
Nobody thought Diaco was going to turn this program around in less than a year and if they did, they need to lay off the crazy juice.
The past four years in this program have not been incredibly productive (cue the “Captain Obvious” theme) with a combined record of just 17-32 going into play on Saturday.
Luck has not been a friend this year to the Huskies who lost a player most thought gave them the best chance to win when Casey Cochran (who, by the way, will graduate next spring after just three years) had to give up football due to numerous concussions sustained over his football career.
Chandler Whitmer, who showed a ton of grit by coming back when he had zero guarantee of playing this season until he played well enough in the spring to give Cochran a run for his money, played well enough at times to give his team a chance to win.
Mistakes and turnovers killed the Huskies all year. There was that streak at the beginning of the year in which UConn seemed destined to turn the ball over on their opening possession all 12 games. Each miscue was seemingly turned into points and an early deficit.
It was an astoundingly young and short-handed team by the time November rolled around. Only four seniors will be in the offense and defensive starting lineups on Saturday for Senior Day.
85 players came out for spring ball, 60 (65 with red-shirts) remain today.
Several story lines we thought would take hold never really got off the ground.
Geremy Davis ended the 2013 campaign on an amazing high but was never able to duplicate that success in 2014 due to early game circumstances and then an injury that kept him out of action.
Deshon Foxx was terrific in the UCF upset win when he ran the offense with his legs but wasn’t used often enough to make a difference.
The much maligned offensive line improved some as the season went on but is not something coaches can fix in one season. This young group (for the most part) will have a chance to get better in 2015 if they keep working on their craft.
Running backs Ron Johnson and Arkeel Newsome appear to be the backs of the future and Tim Boyle is getting a chance to start each of the last two games (disclaimer now in case Whitmer gets the nod on Saturday, you never know) with an eye on next year.
Boyle has the arm, no question. Can he pick up enough of the other traits it takes to lead this team in 2015? Only time and how well transfer Brant Shirreffs may do next spring may tell the story behind center next season.
Building up a program that appeared in a bowl game just five years ago should not take a decade but it certainly could not be done in a year.
It only take six wins to become bowl eligible and there’s no doubt the USF (17-14), Tulane (12-3) and Army (35-21) losses could of and probably should have been wins.
Stepping away from anything that’s not going well is always helpful and will be to Diaco and his staff as they hit the road to recruit on Sunday while the players that will return to the team in 2015 have no choice but to be a year older and hopefully a year wiser.