EAST HARTFORD: For a minute there, my friend Jim Shannon and I had thought we had flashed back to a time when now UConn Husky standout, Arkeel Newsome was roaming free up and down fields in the Naugatuck Valley League.
I mean there he was, now in his second year as a member of the Huskies, taking a screen pass from his Ansonia, I mean UConn, quarterback and landing in the end zone before you knew it.
Except this time, it was in a Division I game against a team that most had picked to win and win handily by most who try and predict these things and it was the game winning score in an opener that his current team simply had to win.
Newsome took the short toss from Bryant Shirreffs (in his first start in more than two years) and blitzed 27 yards for the score that helped his team overcome a 9-6 halftime score by scoring the final 14 points of the game.
The Huskies begin the 2015 campaign with a 20-15 win over Villanova that could be seen as some kind of omen, if you believe in those kind of things.
Head coach Bob Diaco had said he wanted to get Newsome into the action more in 2015, if he maintained ball security but after two quarters of play, the cupboard was bare in the former Chargers stats column.
“At halftime, you end up saying, okay, how many times has Arkeel touched the ball?” Diaco said, “Okay, none. That has to change.”
It’s what people saw on the touchdown that made (in the NVL) and makes (at UConn) the elusive Newsome so important to the Huskies in 2015.
The importance of getting this campaign off to a positive start cannot be understated and after their defense forced the Wildcats into a three and out on their first series, compiled a dream first drive for Shirreffs that was no surprise to the red shirt sophomore.
“I had visualized the entire game beforehand,” Shirreffs said, “It helped to take the nerves out of it.”
UConn drove 69 yards in 13 plays, punctuated by a 14-yard touchdown pass to Tommy Myers who bulldogged his way through a tackler and into the end zone for Connecticut’s first points of 2015.
Great start, right?
Indeed but after that initial offensive show of force, the Huskies regressed back to what fans had gotten used to over the past few year of less than stellar results from the offense.
Villanova brought with it one of the top quarterbacks the Huskies will see this year in Jon Robertson who was a dual threat who led a very aggressive offense.
The Huskies, true to their leaders instructions, bent at times to Robertson but didn’t break, allowing his to total just over 200 total yards.
From that 6-0 start (the Bobby Puyol extra point was blocked), the Wildcats scored the next nine, two on a safety that occurred off a holding penalty in the end zone in the second quarter and a Robertson 13 yard scoring toss to Matt Gudzak that had the 26,000 or so on hand thinking perhaps that first drive was it.
At halftime, the Huskies regrouped and came out firing.
After getting the ball in Newsome’s hand for the first time on a four yard run, Shirreffs went deep and found Myers for a crowd waking up 69-yard catch and run that set UConn up with a first and goal from the Villanova two-yard line where Ron Johnson punched it in two plays later for a lead the home team would not relinquish.
UConn held the Wildcats explosive offense to 303 total yards, which may not seem impressive but the bend don’t break defense worked to perfection and turned the Wildcats over on downs twice. The Wildcats had averaged 470 per game in 2014.
Getting this win does a variety of positive things for the team and coaching staff.
“All the hard work and dedication paid off,” Diaco said, “I am so proud of how these guys played.”
----Myers finished with a career high 83 yards on two grabs and scored his first touchdown.
With the victory, the Huskies move to 10-4 in season openers since making the jump to FBS while the team has won 10 of their 13 openers at The Rent.