Football: Huskies preview next season with 2016 Spring Game

Andreas Knappe (#53) and Jason Thompson (#48) celebrate during spring football at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field on Saturday April 16, 2016. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — The UConn football team gave fans a brief preview of the upcoming 2016 season during the Blue vs. White spring game at Rentschler Field on Saturday afternoon. During an informal team scrimmage in which multiple players switched jerseys to play for the other side, the Blue side defeated the White side 28-3.

“All in all, it was really clean,” said head coach Bob Diaco after the game. “A lot of young guys played a lot, made a lot of plays. Everybody was healthy. I mean, it’s a win.”

The Huskies began the game with their first-team offense, on the Blue side, taking the field against their second-team defense. Starting quarterback Bryant Shirreffs led the team on an 11-play, 70-yard scoring drive that ended in a short rushing touchdown by running back Arkeel Newsome.

Shirreffs would not play much more in the game, coming out for two more unsuccessful drives before taking a seat for the rest of the day. Diaco said after the game that Shirreffs had been sick for “the lion’s share of the week” along with No. 1 wide receiver Noel Thomas, so the two were not heavily involved in the offense. Thomas finished the day without a catch.

Replacing Shirreffs was backup quarterback Garrett Anderson, who led three touchdown drives for the Blue side after throwing an early interception. Anderson finished with 177 yards on 10-for-18 passing, and also ran for a 6-yard touchdown.

“Once Garrett [Anderson] settled in, he looked really good, and much better to finish,” Diaco said. The Huskies also played quarterbacks Tyler Davis and Brandon Bisack for the White side, with Davis leading a nice drive to get three points at the end of the first half.

With Newsome receiving just six touches, running back Ron Johnson saw the majority of the work for the Blue side and had a strong game. Johnson ran nine times for 91 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown sprint down the right sideline after throwing a stiff arm. He also caught four passes for 24 yards.

“His evolution as a runner came because of his evolution as a worker,” Diaco said of Johnson. “This guy approaches the day differently than he did.”

The Huskies also put many different wide receivers on the field as they continue to search for a No. 2 wideout opposite Thomas. Tyraiq Beals, Frank Battle and Bryan Coney all grabbed at least five passes for the White side, while Hergy Mayala led all wide receivers with 57 yards for the Blue side.

On the defensive side of the ball, several players stood out. Javon Hadley led all players with nine tackles, while linebacker Cam Stapleton recorded two sacks and three tackles for a loss. Dallas Parker and Sean Marinan were other players that stood out, while Florida State transfer linebacker E.J. Levenberry made five tackles.

 “Defensively, we looked strong and stout for most of the day,” Diaco said. “They went in and performed, and played well.”

At the end of the day, it was a successful spring game – everyone got a chance to play, and no one got hurt. Diaco, emitting positivity after the game, was confident that his team could convert the game and its preceding practices into rolling momentum as they look to build on their 2015 success with an even stronger season in the fall.

“There’s a lot of guys that really got a lot of work this spring, and are ending the spring ready to attack finals, and then catapult into summer conditioning,” Diaco said.


Tyler Keating is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at tyler.keating@uconn.edu.