The UConn football team’s attempt at an incredible comeback, led by Arkeel Newsome, ended in vain Sunday afternoon when the ECU Pirates won 41-38 in a shootout at Rentschler Field.
A missed 33-yard field goal from Mike Tarbutt as time expired will go down as what cost the Huskies a chance at the win, but the real story of this game is the unbelievable play of senior running back Arkeel Newsome in a pass-catching running back role.
“We knew what [Newsome] could do…and now we’re doing those things that can accentuate the strengths of those young men. And he did a good job of doing his job and executing his assignments. Some guys made some good blocks, he made some good runs,” said head coach Randy Edsall.
Newsome should unquestionably be the focus of the UConn offense if he wasn’t already. Despite splitting touches with Nate Hopkins and Kevin Mensah this season, it is clear Newsome is the most electrifying back of the three and consistently delivers when the Huskies need it most. Sunday, however, he was used almost exclusively as the pass-catching third-down back.
“It was definitely a little different [playing that role] but I just gotta embrace whatever role I can get and give it my all when I get [the ball],” Newsome said. “That’s what coach [Edsall] told me to get ready for. I’m going to be able to get out [in the flat] and make plays. And that’s what happened.”
In Sunday afternoon’s game against ECU, Bryant Shirreffs checked down to Newsome several times when it seemed like a play was going to fail and several times Newsome turned that play into a big gain that turned a drive around. Ultimately, those broken plays turned to big plays by Newsome sparked the UConn comeback in a critical win to start conference play.
One of Newsome’s biggest plays of the game came toward the end of the first half, with the Huskies down 27-7 and pinned deep in their own territory. Shirreffs was getting blitzed on the goal line and found Newsome in space on the left side of the hash marks. With one hesitation and a juke, Newsome was off to the races and nearly broke free for a score, but was pushed out of bounds near midfield after a huge gain.
That play not only kept the drive alive, but fueled the UConn offense enough to score before the end of the half and cut the deficit to two touchdowns, keeping the game within reach. However, his impact would be even bigger later as the Huskies attempted to complete their comeback.
Newsome’s most important play came with just about six minutes remaining in the game, with UConn on their own 21-yard line. Again, Shirreffs found Newsome open on a screen play and, with a quick burst, the senior exploded down the sideline avoiding four defenders and the sideline on his way to a 79-yard score to bring the game within a field goal.
“I’m always keepin’ my feet movin’ at all times and just having that state of mind that I can break this [tackle],” Newsome said on evading tacklers on the touchdown.
Newsome’s pass-catching is especially phenomenal. During Sunday’s game, he became the first UConn running back to earn 1,000 career receiving yards and is the fourth active college football running back to achieve the milestone. Newsome earned 170 yards in the air on just eight receptions, including the touchdown. That kind of effort deserves to be the highlight of the offense.
Although his exceptional play was in vain as the Huskies lost on the missed field goal, Newsome’s play on the field has proven time and time again that he is the best running back in the offense. He should be treated as such with a few more touches on the ground in the future. Only time will tell if Edsall and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee decide to shift away from the committee running back approach and put Newsome at the forefront.
“Possibly, yeah. But that’s not what’s gonna be on my mind. My mind is gonna be on the game, getting ready for this next game. And go out and get this W,” Newsome said when asked if there was a chance he could emerge as the lead back as a result of his stellar play.