UConn head coach Bob Diaco
COACH DIACO: Disappointing loss. Hard to win. You don't have any production on one side of the ball, it becomes impossible, and it will be fixed. I know
what the issues are and they are going to be fixed. And that's why we're disappointed. The other two phases, although there are things to clean up here and
there, they basically played well enough to win to have a better -- having had a better 2016. The defense tactically, and culturally, the special teams,
tactically and just energy-wise, the kicking specialists.
So the guys work hard. The guys care. We've got good players. It's not the players. The players are good. The players are good. They are good people. They work hard. And they try hard and they are on fire for the mission and they love football. They love UCONN.
So we're in a situation here where we can't move the ball, you saw it, we played 46 plays, it's half a football game. It's half of a football game. There's going to be teams today that run 103 plays. We had 20 positive plays of the 46 plays, at the end of half, it's 10-0.
At the end of the third quarter, it's 20-0 and all of it on a short field, all of it on a short field. That's a doable total. That's a total that still gives you an opportunity to win the football game. Get a touchdown, get a score, get two scores, get a touchdown, kick, you know, on side. And you've got opportunity. You've got options. You've got some energy. You've got some juice.
And I'm excited about Donovan, just so everybody knows, he is going to be an excellent football player. He did some nice things today. He is very, very good and I'm so glad that he's playing and participating, fighting and straining to win; that's the objective, win the games, and he gives us the best opportunity. And then like I said, what a great by-product, to get some of this other stuff out of the way, for the future.
Q. What did you think you guys could do offensively that you weren't able to? Obviously it's difficult to run against them, so that was going to be difficult.
COACH DIACO: In terms of the plan, just going in, you want to go faster, so get the calls in faster, really stay out of a huddle. Try to play more than 49 plays. A week ago we played 49 plays. But we've gone 14 quarters without a touchdown or 40-something drives without a touchdown.
So going in, and you want to minimize their front, their linemen and their backers. So, you know, keep them on the move, run, right, left, right, left, quick passing game, get the ball out of your hand super fast, attack vertically down the field, create some stress that way, those plays are typically good plays even if they fall incomplete, they pull guys back from the box.
So that was the initial intention. Minimize their stellar front with a little bit more of a perimeter attack and a faster attack.
Q. What goes into the choice to not make a field goal in the first quarter?
COACH DIACO: They had a touchdown. We've got to score touchdowns. We need a touchdown. We're not going to win. How many touchdowns we score after that? What did you want to end the game, 7-3? We need a touchdown. That's the mind-set. If we weren't down, we'd have kicked the field goal, 0-0 or 10-10 or 10-7, you want to tie, go ahead, go for the win, you know, but when the team has a touchdown, right now, right now, end of 2016 here, tough sledding. Touchdowns are very hard to find.
Q. Do you think your offense would have given you a better chance on that fourth and 18 to score a touchdown than a field goal?
COACH DIACO: What did you see? Do you think so? I don't know either. I thought Alec was open and Tyler had an opportunity to throw him a pass and hit him in the hands or just in the hands. It's basically an offensive play.
Q. Do you honestly believe that Donovan gave you a better chance to win the last games --
COACH DIACO: Yes --
Q. -- than Brian --
COACH DIACO: Yes.
Q. Is he healthy enough to play?
COACH DIACO: Oh, yeah. He's healthy.
Q. Noel set a record today, season reception record. Can you just talk about the process with knoll, setting the record?
COACH DIACO: Noel Thomas worked his butt off starting in January to set himself up to have the kind of year that he had, that he's having, and that has not waived. He's come and been the same guy every day. He shows up to work as a professional.
And he has spectacular talent and skill set, so your hardest worker is also one of your -- one of the -- is the best player on your team, and/or one of them, and he's your hardest worker. So he's done a wonderful job. I'm so happy for him that he's receiving the kind of accolades that he deserves, and his future is super, super bright. And he's a great young man. He's really, really grown up. He's one of the great stories, one of the great stories of his story and one of the great stories of our culture and how we care for these young men.
Q. When you talk about identifying problems that are fixable, you said that last week, too. Did you expect to have everything ironed out this week?
COACH DIACO: No, there's no deep, deep, deep inspection and addressing that's going to need to happen here very shortly.
Q. What are your expectations offensively for the final game of the season?
COACH DIACO: Try as hard as they can try. Prepare as hard as they can prepare. I expect them tomorrow to be together. We've got a great function. We're going to stuff thousands and thousands of pounds of food at the Connecticut food bank and they are going to a great job of that and they are going to be together and they are going to work as hard as they can work. And then we're going to come back on Monday and do the same thing.
So I have the expectation that they are going to continue to attack their work the way that they have and care for each other the way that they have, and maintain our culture and habits, which haven't wavered. So there are some very hard things to fix. Like, for example, if you don't have good enough players, which is not the case; we have good enough players. We have good enough players. If you don't, it's very hard. It's very hard. That's a hard thing to fix, if you have to fix it. We do not have to fix it.
When you have a culture issue, a habits issue, a love, trust, respect issue, for the school, the student body, the coaching staff, the players, each other, the game, and on and on and on, in terms of the things that are in their life, we don't have any of that. We don't have any of that.
So there's a lot of really, really -- things that are very hard to have and build and have for the future, necessary pieces. When you think about how abysmal it's been, and that the games have been competitive, the games have been competitive almost all of them, considering we have the worst offense in America, imagine that. That's an indication of culture. It's an indication of the players. We've done a terrible, terrible job coaching those players on offense, and that's why we are all unhappy.
Q. You scored points early against some pretty good teams, so how did things get off-track?
COACH DIACO: You know what, honestly, it was just that had to change. You know, it wasn't -- it was built to be a real physical, downhill bruising run game, shots down the field, move the pocket passing, shift trades in motions, all that, and then you have the 14 negative plays in a dogfight, then you do it again and it doesn't work, and it's like, oh, my gosh. Now you start to change tactically to give the guys an opportunity, which then, you know, truth be told, was a little bit outside the wheelhouse of the staff. It's not really their expertise, spread offense.
You know, everybody tried hard. No one has not tried hard. No one is not going to not try hard tomorrow. No one didn't not try hard today. Everyone's trying very, very hard and you're all disappointed with the results. Let me tell you, you're not even remotely close to the disappointment that the young men feel, the coaches feel, the essential staff. So we're all on the same page. We're all on the same page.
Q. To get to where you guy want to get to, does the coaching staff have to change?
COACH DIACO: We'll talk about that here in the future.
UConn defensive back Obi Melifonwu
Q. Is it tough not to get frustrated?
Obi Melifonwu: Yeah, it's tough not to get frustrated but as a player you've just got to do job and hope for the best. All you can control is what you can control and that's your job.
Q. How frustrating is it with an offense that's not able to move up-and-down the field?
Obi Melifonwu: It's frustrating, but offense did some great things out there. They are coming along. But like I said, I have to focus on what I have to focus on and that's play every play to the best of my ability.
Q. Do you worry about being on the field so much, time of possession, you guys wore down as a defense?
Obi Melifonwu: Not really. Matt does a great job of conditioning us every week. We practice hard and we come to the game and we play hard. I don't think that as a defense, we get tired at all. I don't know, we're built to go out there and on sudden changes make plays, and I feel like we can do more of that.
Q. This is a team that returned a lot of key guys, and you guys had really high hopes. This has clearly kind of spiraled out of control now. How shocked are you at the way this has played out, how disappointed are you the way it's played out?
Obi Melifonwu: I'm definitely disappointed. I mean, we came in with high hopes. It just really has not been our season, but all you can do is look forward, look at the positives and not really focus on the negatives.
Q. What are the most positive things you can take out of this season?
Obi Melifonwu: Definitely the culture. I feel like as a football team, nobody has really gone the opposite way. Everybody is rallying around each other and everybody is supporting each other, and I feel like as a team, if you have no culture, then it's very hard to move forward. But definitely the culture is something that we pride ourselves on.
Q. What will it be like playing next week, you've played a ton of football here and you've got one game left.
Obi Melifonwu: I think next week is going to be an emotional game, but you have to channel that emotion in the right way. I'm definitely going to go out there and give it my all like I do every game. But definitely next week is going to be something special.
Q. How frustrating was when they -- for the field goal and they come back and go for it, you guys feel like you had them stopped and you were off the feel. Was that tough?
Obi Melifonwu: No, like I said, I mean, I don't look at the game like that. I mean, whenever I'm on the field, I'm on the field to play, and I can't -- there's nothing I can really do about what the other team is doing or what the offense is doing. I'm just wired to play when I'm out there and that's just what I do.
Q. Is there anything in particular Coach said that you guys afterwards that he really wants you to understand about what's going on or what he wants you to take away from this?
Obi Melifonwu: He just told us, stick together as a team. Every team goes through their ups and downs and he just said, look at the other side. You can't really have greatness without adversity and right now we're going through adversity, and everybody is just sticking together and believing that we can do great things as a team and as a program.
UConn wide receiver Noel Thomas
Q. Quite a shot there.
NOEL THOMAS: I'm all right. Good hit.
Q. Did you have to fight to get back on the field? You always want to as a player, I'm sure.
NOEL THOMAS: Yeah, it took a little fight. But I got back out there.
Q. You had a week off, coming into this game, thinking you could do things more than you have been doing. Can you walk me through where you're most disappointed with the execution offensively?
NOEL THOMAS: It's kind of been the same for the past couple weeks, not scoring points and all that. That's a big thing right there, we're not scoring points and we need to.
Q. Can you put your finger on why you're not scoring?
NOEL THOMAS: It just comes down to execution. Everybody has to do their job. One guy's off, it's going to mess everything up, so we have to make sure we all play together and execute the plays.
Q. Do guys start pressing? Do people start trying to do too much?
NOEL THOMAS: I don't think so. I can't really speak for everybody else, but I know I don't. It doesn't seem like other people do, either.
Q. Is Donovan getting better?
NOEL THOMAS: I think the biggest thing with him, the biggest difference from this week and last week for him is confidence. He was really being a leader out there and taking control of that role.
Q. You've gone three and a half games without a touchdown. Does it blow you away? I'm sure you came into the season thinking you had the pieces to be a pretty solid team on offense.
NOEL THOMAS: Yeah, like I said, that's a big disappointment for me, not scoring points. Obviously as a receiver, that's what you want to do, and it hasn't happened.
Q. I know you guys are a team, but what does the record mean for you?
NOEL THOMAS: For me? I mean, I don't think it defines us.
Q. The receptions, your reception record.
NOEL THOMAS: It would be easier to talk about this if we won. But it definitely, I'm proud that I did that. I just want to keep moving and finish the last game strong. So keep breaking my own record I guess.
Q. You came into the season, thinking sets you up for a better Bowl game; what's it going to be like emotionally for the seniors?
NOEL THOMAS: Yeah, it's all of our last game. We've been playing there for four years, some guys been there for five. It's going to be an emotional day and we obviously want to go out there strong and leave there with a win.
Q. Going back to the offensive struggles, it seems like there was a change in philosophy at some point early in the year in terms of how to approach. Do you feel that utilizes you guys and the playmakers you have in the best way?
NOEL THOMAS: Yeah, you know, we plan to attack and get our playmakers the ball. It all comes down to execution. If we're not executing plays, our playmakers are not going to get the ball where they need to get the ball. That's basically what it is.