Football: Shirreffs shines in debut, leads Huskies to opening win

UConn football quarterback Bryant Shirreffs signals at the line of scrimmage during the Huskies' season-opening game against Villanova at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut on Sept. 3, 2015. (Ashley Maher/The Daily Campus)

UConn football quarterback Bryant Shirreffs signals at the line of scrimmage during the Huskies' season-opening game against Villanova at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut on Sept. 3, 2015. (Ashley Maher/The Daily Campus)

EAST HARTFORD — For the first time since 2012, the UConn football team has a winning record.

The Huskies started 2015 with a 20-15 win over Villanova in front of 26,113 people at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field. 

It’s the first time that the Huskies are over .500 since they were 3-2 five games into the 2012 season. 

“It feels so good,” captain Andrew Adams said of the win. “The home opener, we have all our fans out and getting the win that gets the whole state behind us. That gives us the momentum heading into the rest of the season.”

The game could not have started better for the Huskies. 

UConn (1-0) won the coin toss and deferred to the second half. They forced Villanova into a three-and-out on its first defensive possession and on their first offensive possession they drove right down the field and scored a touchdown. 

Starting on its own 21-yard line the Huskies put together a 13-play, 79-yard drive that ended with a Bryant Shirreffs’ touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore tight end Tommy Myers. 

Shirreffs, playing in his first collegiate game since his freshman season with North Carolina State in 2013, was 4 for 4 on the drive. A blocked point-after attempt made the score 6-0.

“It was really important, to not only me but the entire offense,” Shirreffs said of the first drive. “If you look at last year, our first drive wasn’t really good. So I told the guys right before our first drive that we needed to score and we executed really well. It was great to go down and score.”

After that first drive, though, the UConn offense stalled a bit. They didn’t get another first down until there was under two minutes remaining in the second quarter. 

Villanova (0-1) got on the board with 7:57 left in the half. UConn’s Andreas Knappe was called for holding in the end zone, resulting in a safety to make it 6-2. 

It feels so good. The home opener, we have all our fans out and getting the win that gets the whole state behind us.
— UConn senior and captain Andrew Adams, on the Huskies' winning their season opener last night 20-15 over Villanova.

The Wildcats would score again with 1:36 left in the half, thanks to a John Robertson 13-yard touchdown pass to Matt Gudzak. Villanova led 9-6 at halftime. 

UConn had 113 yards of offense and Villanova had 169 at the break. 

The second half was nearly a mirror image of how the first half started. The Huskies scored a touchdown just 2:03 into the half. This time in just four plays. 

Shirreffs found Myers over the middle for a 69-yard gain to get them inside the 5-yard line. Two plays later, Johnson scored on a 1-yard run. UConn went back ahead 13-9. 

For Myers, he had two catches on the night for career-high 83 yards and a touchdown (the first in his career). Shirreffs spoke highly of Myers after the game.

“It’s amazing when you have a player that can make plays like that and it makes my job a whole lot easier,” Shirreffs said. 

With 6:39 left in the third quarter, Villanova decided to go for it on fourth-and-five, but Adams intercepted Robertson’s pass. 

Sophomore Arkeel Newsome barely touched the ball in the first half. UConn head coach Bob Diaco knew he had to get Newsome more touches. With 4:53 left in the game, Newsome scored on a 22-yard screen pass from Shirreffs to put the Huskies up 20-9 with 4:53 left.

Nova responded with a touchdown on their next possession after Robertson ran in from three yards out to make it 20-15, but it was all they would get after a failed two-point conversion. 

The Huskies were able to run out the clock at the end of the game after sophomore Ron Johnson earned a first down. Johnson rushed for 80 yards on Thursday.

Robertson, who is in the top-five in program history in passing and rushing, finished the game 17 for 32 with 153 yards and two touchdowns (one rushing, one passing).

Shirreffs finished the game 12 for 20 with 202 yards passing, two touchdowns and one interception. 

“I felt really comfortable,” Shirreffs said. “I visualized the whole game before it happened so I didn’t really have to adjust to nerves or anything. I just focused on falling back on my preparation and trying to execute.”

Diaco said that despite not playing in a football game in over a year, Shirreffs performed well. 

“This guy has produced in every single area, but he hasn’t played in a football game in a long time,” Diaco said. “So that’s the one factor we were wondering: ‘hey when the lights come on what will it exactly look like?’ Well, you had an opportunity to see what it looks like.” 

“He can throw the ball, he doesn’t put (the ball) in jeopardy, he’s smart, he drives, he’s checking plays, he’s alerting plays. And he can win at times with his legs, which he did today. He did a fantastic job game one.”


Matthew Zampini is sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at matthew.zampini@uconn.edu. He tweets @Matt_Zamp.