Storrs, Conn. • Bob Diaco says he is not nervous as he begins his first season as a collegiate head coach, just excited to see where his UConn team is fewer than nine months after he was hired to turn around the Husky program.
Perennial power BYU is looking to provide more than a measuring stick for the former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Friday when the Cougars and their Heisman candidate, quarterback Taysom Hill, visit East Hartford in a nationally televised game.
“I’m excited to see what guys are going to rise to the occasion and what guys will have trouble with it,” Diaco said. “That will be interesting. It’s all kind of enjoyable, fun to watch, even the ones that don’t necessarily have success. You get excited about figuring out ways to help them be better than they were.”
Diaco’s defense is expected to get a tough test from Hill, a junior who last year ran for more than 1,300 yards and passed for just under 3,000.
“Hill brings speed; he brings size; he brings athleticism and he brings productivity,” said coach Bronco Mendenhall. “I think you’ll like what you see when you have a chance to watch him play.”
BYU will be without some other offensive weapons. Tailback Jamaal Williams and wide receiver Devon Blackmon both have announced their own suspension for school honor code violations. Receiver Nick Kurtz is out with a stress fracture in his foot.
UConn returns many skill players and will start sophomore Casey Cochran at quarterback. He won a three-way battle with senior Chandler Whitmer and sophomore Tim Boyle. Cochran played the final three games last season and led the Huskies to three straight wins after an 0-9 start.
Some other story lines for Friday’s game:
STILL EVALUATING: Diaco says a lot of Huskies will see playing time on Friday, including several running backs. Junior Max DeLorenzo is the starter and likely will get the most carries, but Diaco says he’d like to see freshmen Joshua Marriner, Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson touch the ball as well. Diaco says fewer players would see the field if this were a conference game, but he is believes the only way to determine if someone can play is to that player a chance. “We don’t call it preseason, but the fact of the matter is that we’ve got three weeks, three opponents and the opportunity to get better as a team,” he said.
PLAYING FAST: BYU averaged 85 plays a game last season, attempting to keep defenses off balance with a hurry-up style it refers to as “go fast, go hard.” Diaco, who faced the Cougars as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, says he’s been told that defenses this season will be given the time to get players on the field between plays. “If they are moving faster than that the game is not being played by the rules by my understanding,” he said.
TRAVEL: This will by BYU’s second consecutive opener on the East Coast. The Cougars lost last year at Virginia. Mendenhall says his team will be the nation’s third most traveled this season, behind Hawaii and Idaho. He says the school wants to play teams from every region of the country ever year, “not only for exposure, but for connection with our fan base and members of the Church.” The Cougars arrived in Connecticut on Wednesday in an attempt to minimize the impact of the travel.
CONFERENCE FOES: Connecticut is the first of three American Conference teams scheduled to play BYU this season. Mendenhall says scheduling has been tough as an independent, and the AAC has been a willing partner
THE MULLET: UConn’s quarterback has gotten some national attention since being named the team’s starter, not because of his talent on the field, but because of his hair. Cochran wears a 1980s-style mullet and has a pencil-thin mustache as well. He says he’s not doing it for attention, but has no plans to change his style. “I don’t know if it’s a superstitious thing or not, but I will keep the mullet. I enjoy it a lot.” As for the mustache, he says that is “day-to-day.”