UConn’s coach is no fan of cut blocking by the Mids
Connecticut coach Bob Diaco and Navy counterpart Ken Niumatalolo heaped praise on each other during the American Athletic Conference weekly teleconference Monday morning. One day later, Diaco complained about one of the primary tactics of Niumatalolo’s team.
Niumatalolo began the teleconference by crediting Diaco for dialing up sound defenses against Navy’s triple-option offense. Diaco served as defensive coordinator at Notre Dame from 2010 through 2013 before taking over at Connecticut.
Navy (1-0) hosts UConn (1-0) today in the American Athletic Conference opener for both schools. This is the sixth time in seven seasons Diaco has faced Navy’s attack.
“Coach Diaco is one of the best defensive minds in the country, and he knows exactly what he’s doing with his game plan,” Niumatalolo said.
“With option football, different things we do deal with deception. Sometimes we can get teams by tricking them, but not with UConnandNotreDameunderCoachDiaco. His teams are always well-prepared, assignment-sound and dialed into what they’re doing. His guys are always glued in with their keys and their eyes.”
Diaco’s comments were similarly complimentary.
“I would love if my son could play for Coach Niumatalolo,” Diaco said. “He’s a special coach and a special guy, somebody I not only have great coaching respect for, but also great personal respect for.”
On Tuesday, during his weekly media luncheon at Geno’s Grille in Storrs, Conn., Diaco decried the way the Midshipmen block. Diaco has been outspoken in the past about Navy’s use of cut blocking.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever come out of one of these gameswithout key defensive players injured for a significant amount of time or out for the season with a lower leg injury,” Diaco said.
Cut blocking is legal at all levels while chop blocking is not. A chop block occurs when an offensive player blocks below the waist of a defender who is already engaged.
“There is nothing dirty or underhanded,” Diaco said. “It’s just that style of blocking can be very harmful. The rules have eradicated a lot of other dangerous things for the players on the field. This, to me, is the final frontier. Being able to come from a blind area and cut a player that isn’t paying attention to you, you’re really just rolling the dice.”
Diaco was pleased with a new NCAArule that addressed a certain type of low block. Players who leave the tackle box are now prohibited from blocking below the waist toward the initial position of the ball.
“That’s new,” Diaco said. “It’s a great improvement for young people.”
Diaco clearly thinks the rule will affect Navy and other triple-option teams, which previously had slotbacks go in motion then loop around and block interior defenders.
“I can show a half-dozen clips of a linebacker being chopped at his knee by a slot who pre-snap was tied to the box but then went outside and cut a scraping linebacker. That can’t happen anymore,” he said.
Asked during preseason practice whether the new blocking rule would hinder his team, Niumatalolo said it wasnobig deal and the Mids would adjust.
Navy’s triple-option offense will be under the direction of a new quarterback as senior Will Worth makes his first career start. Worth is taking over for Tago Smith, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last Saturday’s opener. Diaco was asked whether the change in quarterbacks will make a difference for the Connecticut defense.
“I feel confident it doesn’t change a thing. They’ve been a great football team for the past 15 years. Keenan Reynolds was a great player, so wasthenewquarterbackTago, and so was [Ricky] Dobbs when we were competing against him,” Diaco said.
Reynolds did most of the damage as Navy amassed 303 rushing yards in last season’s 28-18 defeat of Connecticut at Rentschler Field. Fullback Alexander Teich was the catalyst as the Midshipmen rolled up 367 rushing yards during a 35-17 rout of Notre Dame in Diaco’s first year as defensive coordinator.
Which is why Diaco does not get too confident about his ability to craft a successful defensive game-plan for the option.
“Tactically, the fact of the matter is it’s a spectacular challenge. If you don’t holistically commit to it, almost in a12-months type of mentality, you’re going to get your brains beat in. That’s how we approach this team. The offense is awesome, absolutely awesome.”