UConn football's offense under Randy Edsall features faster pace, more big-play ability

Published on Saturday, 22 April 2017 22:22
Written by NEILL OSTROUT

JOURNAL INQUIRER

EAST HARTFORD - The offensive transformation of the UConn football team came in a flash.

Three yards and cloud of dust - actually, it was more like 2 yards and a delay-of-game penalty - has been replaced by 40-yard strikes and a furious pace.

That was evident even on a chilly, damp Friday night before some 1,500 fans at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in the team’s annual Blue-White Game. “UConn” beat “The Huskies” by a score of 27-24 in the first unofficial game of the second Randy Edsall era at UConn, a sign that the offensive ineptitude that plagued this team last year might be waning.

“We have an offense where we’re going to have the ability to make big plays,” Edsall said after the game.

The two biggest plays Friday were made on consecutive snaps of the ball just after halftime.

A 53-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Bisack to Tyraiq Beals just after the second half began was followed immediately by an 80-yard Bryant Shirreffs-to-Hergy Mayala flea flicker.

Coming off a disastrous 3-9 season, one in which they lost their last six games and struggled to gain even a single yard on most offensive plays down the stretch, the Huskies have seemed to embrace offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s up-tempo style.

“It’s just fun. It’s been such a learning process. And to be able to go out with your friends and have fun, it’s awesome. That’s why we started playing football,” Shirreffs said.

Shirreffs, playing for both teams, finished 19-of-33 for 310 yards and two touchdowns. Bisack was 19-of-29 for 222 yards and one touchdown while also splitting time between the two sides.

Edsall wasn’t overly elated with either man’s play, but did give each a modicum of praise.

“I saw some good things and I saw some things that I didn’t like,” Edsall said of his quarterbacks. “There was inconsistency. We just have to be more consistent and make sure we’re doing the things we’re being coached to do.”

The annual inter-squad scrimmage, which signals the end of spring practice, gave a number of players their first chance to play college football on a “game day.”

Running back Nate Hopkins, a redshirt freshman, took advantage of his opportunity to do so by running for 42 yards and three touchdowns.

“I’m still going to be thinking about the one I was inches away from,” Hopkins said, referring to a pair of plays in which he was stuffed on runs from the 1-yard line as part of a goal line stand by the defense in the third quarter. “I have to get stronger.”

Shirreffs, who started the first nine games of last season before being replaced by freshman Donovan Williams for the final three, was the first team quarterback Friday night.

UConn, which will begin its 2017 season here against Holy Cross Aug. 31, is bringing in three freshman quarterbacks when the team reports for training camp July 27.

Both the first- and second-team offenses scored touchdowns on their opening possessions, a feat that was unheard of for the always slow-starting Huskies a year ago.

Shirreffs completed four of his five passes on the game’s first drive, including a 6-yard touchdown strike to Beals to put his team up 7-0.

Bisack started just as well with the second team, connecting on a 25-yard pass to Bryan Coney on his first play and a 26-yard strike to Keyion Dixon on the second snap. Hopkins capped the drive with a 2-yard plunge to tie the score.

Hopkins was involved in each of the game’s next two scores, as well. He and Bisack fumbled an exchange near their own goal line, and cornerback Tahj Herring-Wilson recovered in the end zone for a touchdown to make it 14-7. But Hopkins scored again on offense later in the second quarter to re-knot the score.

Will Rishell, a senior from RHAM, made a good case that he should be the team’s starting kicker. He made five of his six PAT’s and also booted a 44-yard field goal, though he did misfire on a 47-yard attempt later in game.

On defense, tackle Foley Fatukasi and cornerback Tyler Coyle had a team-high five tackles each on Friday. Edsall said linebacker Junior Joseph and defensive end Cole Ormsby have been the most impressive on that side of the ball this spring.

“He’s got a little bit of toughness about him. It kind of grew on me as we’ve gone through the spring,” Edsall said of Ormsby, the senior from Windsor. “He’s a physical guy and he likes to be physical.”

Ormsby suffered a minor injury, though he appeared to be taken out of the game for precautionary reasons. In addition linebacker Chris Britton, who was himself replacing the injured E.J. Levenberry, limped off the field with an injury.



Posted in New Britain Herald, General Sports, UConn on Saturday, 22 April 2017 22:22. Updated: Saturday, 22 April 2017 22:24.