UConn’s coach is no fan of cut block­ing by the Mids

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Bill Wag­ner

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.”

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