Lee v. Diaco: A Punt-y Day in the Rain
Photo Credit: Chuck Cook - USA Today Sports

Lee v. Diaco: A Punt-y Day in the Rain

August 18, 2017

Tulane’s Yulman Stadium had never seen rain. Not during a game, at least. Opened in 2014, the Green Wave had played 10 games in the new stadium by Nov. 7, 2015 and every one of them had been dry. But not the 11th. Rain doesn’t care if it’s homecoming.

The box score from the Connecticut-Tulane game that year says 26,775 fans, probably an overstatement, sat through “light rain,” probably an understatement. New Orleans reported nearly 1.5 inches of rain that day. It rained from kickoff to final gun. It rained punts, 22 total, 11 a side.

“My leg is actually pretty tired right now,” Huskies punter Justin Wain said after the game.

This was the day Bob Diaco squared off against Tanner Lee.

Chuck Cook – USA Today Sports

Bob Diaco on the sidelines during UConn’s 7-3 win over Tulane in 2015. The Huskies’ defense finished the season ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense.

In the great offseason storybook of Nebraska Football 2017, Diaco and Lee might be the two primary characters. Diaco because, after Mike Riley made the somewhat surprising move to fire Mark Banker, he was one of the hottest defensive names available and Nebraska got him. As people have gotten to hear his philosophy and dig into his past teams, the legend has only grown.

Lee because he plays like a lot of the quarterbacks Riley had at Oregon State played, and some of those guys were really good. Also, professional football evaluators keep saying great things about Lee. His legend has only grown, too.

But before all that, on a rainy day in New Orleans, Diaco and Lee were just a second-year coach and a second-year quarterback.

After going 2-10 in 2014, UConn was showing some promise by November 2015. The Huskies had nearly knocked off Missouri in week three and played a Navy team that would finish ranked 18th within 10 points in week four. At 4-5, UConn had three games left to become bowl eligible.

Meanwhile Lee was dealing with a broken finger that had kept him out of the previous week’s loss to Memphis. Two weeks before that he sat out the Houston game with a concussion. In between was a 31-14 loss to Navy in which Lee completed 71 percent of his passes. Going into the UConn game, Lee was completing 57.8 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and five interceptions on a Tulane team that was 2-6.

As you might have already guessed from the punts, the great matchup of two of Nebraska’s notable names in 2017 was a game that only the winner could love. The only touchdown in the game came late in the first quarter, a 67-yard return of a Lee interception by UConn cornerback Jamar Summers.

“Within the confines of the defense, we talk about this post route, and there is no post route in our defense. I saw the post, I denied it, and I took it in for a touchdown,” Summers said, speaking near-fluent Diacan.

Lee, in what Nebraska fans will learn is pretty common for him, called the throw a mistake and shouldered the blame. “It was my fault and it’s too late in the season for that.”

Chuck Cook – USA Today Sports

Perhaps the best summary of the 2015 UConn-Tulane game.

Tulane added a field goal in second quarter off a 41-yard drive, the Green Wave’s longest of the day, and that was the end of scoring for the day. Lee finished 13-of-40 passing. It was, and still is, the lowest completion percentage (32.5) of his career. Lee completed 39.6 percent of his passes over his final three games that season after breaking his finger. Eighty-five days after facing the Huskies, Lee announced he was transferring to Nebraska.

Tulane finished with 140 total yards against UConn. Seven of its 14 drives were three-and-outs. But, then again, so were seven of the Huskies’ 13 drives. The win put UConn within one win of bowl eligibility, and they got there one game later with an upset of 13th-ranked and undefeated Houston. Diaco’s defense forced four turnovers and held the Cougars to a season-low 318 total yards. It was Houston’s only loss that season as the Cougars finished 13-1 with a Peach Bowl win over Florida State.

UConn lost its regular-season finale and fell to Marshall in the St. Petersburg Bowl. The Huskies defense ranked 15th nationally in scoring defense and 33rd in total defense, but with a ton to replace in 2016 the Huskies couldn’t continue the upward trend. UConn finished 2016 3-9 and Diaco was fired the day after Christmas. (And if you’re thinking, “that’s weird timing, the season had been over for a month,” it is.)

Four-hundred thirty-five days after facing Lee in the muck, Diaco joined him in Lincoln. Shame that game wasn’t a better preview of what might be in store at Nebraska.

Blame the rain.

  • Never miss the latest news from Hail Varsity!

    Join our free email list by signing up below.