Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

MARSHALL FOOTBALL - ST. PETERSBURG BOWL ; Diaco Has UConn on Upward Path

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

MARSHALL FOOTBALL - ST. PETERSBURG BOWL ; Diaco Has UConn on Upward Path

Article excerpt

INSIDE: St. Petersburg Bowl notebook 4B

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Some of the 15 teams that entered the bowl season at 6-6 (or worse) are disappointed in their postseason draw. Connecticut is not one of them.

As the Huskies enthusiastically prepare to play Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl at 11 a.m. Saturday, none of the players or coaches were around for the program's last postseason appearance.

It was a glorious one, as UConn represented the Big East in the Fiesta Bowl. But that came in 2010, and the Huskies haven't seen a bowl game since.

The Huskies came close in 2011 and 2012, as Paul Pasqualoni replaced Randy Edsall as coach but flopped. Those were 5-7 campaigns, but the program collapsed in 2013 and Pasqualoni was ousted after an 0-4 start which included a 33-18 loss to Towson.

The Huskies finished 3-9 that season, and new coach Bob Diaco suffered through a 2-10 campaign in 2014. When you consider that, and how rugged UConn's schedule was this fall, 6-6 is a giant step.

Clearly, Diaco stepped into a tough situation, but he is well beyond any shock of his early days in Storrs.

"It's been a massive undertaking, he said. "No more effort put out than by the players. They've put the most in and done the most work. And I'm so proud of our seniors for leading that charge - it's a small group of seniors. They've been a resolute group, a persistent group.

"Collectively, I'm so proud and honored to be leading this team.

The 42-year-old Diaco earned his stripes and then some heading into his first head coaching job. He was the defensive coordinator from 2010-13 at Notre Dame, where the Irish went to the 2012 BCS National Championship game.

That year, he was named the winner of the Frank Broyles Award, given to the nation's top assistant coach.

Before his Notre Dame stint, he ran a Cincinnati defense that had to replace 10 starters, and he helped the Bearcats to the Sugar Bowl. Before then, he worked at Virginia from 2006-08, even working under ex-Marshall coach Bob Pruett, who spent 2008 running the Cavaliers' defense.

So far, Diaco has shown himself ready for the challenge.

"We've got a great head coach, said offensive coordinator Frank Verducci, who has worked for several in his 31 years. "He's done a great job with everybody, staff included and people in the building. He's got everybody's energy channeled in the same direction.

"The kids are buying in, and they're seeing the results of it.

After unimpressive wins against Villanova (20-15) and Army (22- 17), the Huskies' schedule didn't look conducive to success. There was a trip to then-ranked Missouri, and to Brigham Young. The American Athletic Conference was loaded with improving teams.

At one point, the Huskies lost four out of five, with sad-sack Central Florida the only respite. At 3-5 with Houston and resurgent Temple looming at the end, bowl hopes seemed about as dim as they had been the previous two seasons. …

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