UConn's Newsome and Shirreffs look to help move team over .500 against USF.
STORRS: If six games are any indication, the University of Connecticut have found two gems in their offense that might just make some kind of dynamic duo of the next two and a half seasons on the gridiron.
I’m talking about red shirt sophomore Bryant Shirreffs and sophomore Arkeel Newsome, the quarterback and the running back/returner/receiver.
After half a season together, the two have helped the Huskies football team to a 3-3 record with a chance to pop over the .500 mark on Saturday when they face off against the University of South Florida starting at noon in East Hartford at The Rent.
The Huskies are fresh off a laugher, not a normal part of their vocabulary over the past two years after slapping the University of Central Florida around to the tune of a 40-13 road win.
Nobody seems to be expecting that kind of result by four o’clock on Saturday against a pretty good Bulls team that comes in with a slid offense and a 2-3 overall record.
The signal caller has been solid for the Huskies, throwing for more than 200-yards in four of the six games this season while Newsome, the former Ansonia High School great, has been the feature back more times than not this year and earned AAC Special Teams Player of the Week Honors for his 257 all-purpose yards performance against the Knights.
Shirreffs made the Honor Roll in the AAC with his 256 yard, two touchdown pass effort as well and just looks so much more comfortable in his own skin now.
After leading the Huskies to a season opening 20-15 over Villanova on September 3, the North Carolina State transfer played well but had not seen any live action in nearly two years. On Tuesday after head coach Bob Diaco spoke to the media in his weekly press conference, Shirreffs was made available and just seems so much more comfortable talking about his team and his role with it.
Newsome has simply worked his way into being the feature back for the team, even though he may not officially have the title in the eyes of his coaches.
If you look at the work load though, it paints a different picture.
Diaco had talked during the off season about how he needed to get Newsome more involved in the 2015 offensive game plan as long as the second year player held onto the rock, an issue in 2014 but not so far in 2015.
For those of us who followed the 5’7”, 182 pound back throughout his Chargers career, seeing him get the most out his time in open space is nothing new. We say him ran past many a Naugatuck Valley League defender in his time and we are now witnessing him doing the same thing at the highest level of college.
“He’s an explosive player, an electric player,” Diaco said, “He’s doing a real nice job. He’s producing, he’s productive, he’s productive in-conference and even in the area of kickoff returns, he’s doing a nice job there.”
Newsome is second in points to kicker Bobby Puyol with 30, has caught 17 passes for 234 yards a pair of score to go along with 305 yards rushing and three additional scores.
Shirreffs is nearing 1300 passing yards with six touchdown passes and is also second on the team in rushing with 152 and a score.
Noel Thomas has been the signal caller’s favorite target with 26 catches, good for 361 yards and a score.
Against the Bulls, UConn will deal with a quality running back in Marlon Mack who leads the team with 576 yards on the ground and has broken the century mark three times in 2015.
The Bulls are averaging 220 yards per game on the ground, a major challenge for the Huskies but after facing a pair of option teams in Army and Navy this season so far, playing a traditional offense that like to run may not seem so bad.
UConn ranks 27th in the nation in scoring defense and is 37th in total defense.
The Huskies need to figure out how to get to six wins in order to become bowl eligible and a win on Saturday will be critical if that goal is to be reached.