It isn't always pretty but it's progress for the Huskies
EAST HARTFORD – Heck, it’s really not about style these days with the UConn football team. If you wanted to pick on the Huskies after Saturday’s 22-17 win over Army at the house formerly known as `The Rent’ (now officially known as Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field), you didn’t exactly have to look out at I-84.
There was a fumble that led to a field goal, a blocked extra point, a 71-yard touchdown pass that seemingly came out of nowhere with 4:51 left in the game and turned what looked like a certain victory into a stadium shrouded in doubt.
If there is a style it is a living on the edge version. Working, maybe even entertaining in a perverse way, but not comfortable. It is winning with a style, not in a stylish manner.
But that is where is UConn is these days. And two games into the season, stylish is overrated. Not overlooked, because down the road the schedule says living a bit on the edge there is a strong possibility of falling off the cliff.
At Missouri next week, followed by Navy at home Sept. 26 and then at BYU Oct. 3. The load gets heavier, the mistakes get magnified.
Right now, however, the Huskies are off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2008. This on the heels of a rather miserable two-win season. There is no scoffing at 2-0. There is no hiding that the opponents have been Villanova and Army, gritty and respectable but not the cream of the schedule. But, 2-0 is 2-0.
Win and learn. Learning to win. Progress and you see it, and it means something.
“It feels great, it feels great to be in the locker room with the guys and they feel like winners because they are winners and nobody was created to lose,” said coach Bob Diaco.
Now Diaco can find a positive strand in three fumbles and a holding call. Sometimes it is maddening and you wonder how much rose-color can possibly be found in one pair of glasses. But, you get it here. It is tangible, the scoreboard is testament. The final numbers don’t always paint the picture, but they help and will be the eventual determination in growth.
“(Being 2-0) is really important. I mean all we want to do is win so It’s just I guess what we expect but it is nice to see what you envision become a reality,” said quarterback Bryant Shirreffs.”
Shirreffs sat out last season after transferring from North Carolina State and missed out on all the misery. But he is doing his best to make it just a bad memory. UConn has rolled has rolled through a squadron of quarterbacks in recent years with varying degrees of success.
Say hello to the promise of stability. Making just the second start of his career, he produced a 19-25 for 270 yard gem. His penchant for moving up in the pocket and scrambling created all sort of holes and he found most of them through the air and on the ground. Army never caught up.
“It’s been fun. It’s a game that I love to play and I’m just trying to execute and do my job,’ said Shirreffs. “We were pretty successful passing the ball and we found answers offensively. I would like to score touchdowns instead of field goals, we left a lot of points on the field but that will come.”
There is also the continuing emergence of Arkeel Newsome. There were signs a year ago that Newsome’s gloried Ansonia days in which he ran over and around everybody wearing an opposing uniform for insane yardage, could and will become Newsome’s gloried UConn days.
Diaco has talked about having to get Newsome the ball. Newsome can’t run through guys like in high school, this is a different venue. But, he can still break tackles and give him a hole and he’s gone quicker than a paycheck.
The emergence continues. On the Huskies first play he caught a 20-yard pass. He finished the day with 74-yards on 13 carries including a juking and jiving 10-yard touchdown run. A total of 90 yards of offense. The ex-Charger is beginning to charge.
In the fourth quarter, Newsome carried the ball eight times for 49 yards. With UConn sitting on first a 22-10 lead and then a 22-17 lead it was Newsome that UConn trusted with the ball, not just to pick up yardage but because of an improvement in hanging on to the `rock’ as Diaco calls it after coughing it up too many times his freshman year.
Here’s the difference maker however and it is entwined with Shirreffs, Newsome and the rest of the gang. This is a game the Huskies would probably have lost a year ago.
On a day when they were dominating in ball possession (39 minutes to 21), yardage (415-265) and virtually all categories. On a day when they figured out the option which had wrecked them a year ago in the loss to the Cadets at Yankee Stadium, they didn’t dominate.
When Army scored on an A.J. Schurr’s pass to Joe Walker for that 71 yard TD pass down the sideline that pretty much went right through Obi Melifonwu’s hands, you wondered if this was going to be a disaster.
UConn is at the stage of development where it is okay to wonder. And when Army got the ball back with a couple of minutes to go, you wondered even more. Would UConn’s half-game horde of fans (arrive midway through the first quarter and leave midway through the third quarter) be stunned when they got home?
These things don’t seem to bother the Huskies as much so far this season. An Andrew Adams interception at the Army 38 after a wonderful punt from Justin Waine pinned the Cadets on their 10-yard line sealed the deal.
“Adversity is not really affecting them for extended periods of time,” said Diaco. “They have bought into `somebody make a play, somebody step up and make a play.’’
”At no time did I think we were going to lose this game," said Shirreffs.
A long season, but so far a different season. A long way to go, but a team that has traveled some distance already. Living on the edge but winning on the edge. It’s part of the climb.