Thursday, October 08, 2015

Ansonia's Newsome displaying the gift of grab at UConn

During his record-breaking run at Ansonia, High School there was little need to throw the ball to Arkeel Newsome because he was doing such damage in the run game. However. things are a little different at the college level.

In his final two seasons at Ansonia, Newsome did not have a game with more than one reception. Last season he led all UConn running backs with 11 catches and 155 receiving yards, 74 coming on one dazzling catch and run.

That was simply a prelude to what Newsome is doing now.

Newsome has caught nine passes for 114 yards over the last two games. I did some research on this and it is the most catches for a UConn running back in consecutive games since Andre Dixon had six against Cincinnati and four against Syracuse back in 2007. Finding the last Husky RB with more receiving yards in consecutive games proved to be more challenging. Actually, I went all the way back to 1981 and couldn't find a time when that happened.

It was a subject I have raised with Newsome before. He said he spent every time this summer catching passes from the JUGs machine to get him ready for his expanding role as a receiver out of the backfield.

"I am just ready for whatever they throw at me, giving it 100 percent with whatever I do," Newsome said.

I spoke with quarterback Bryant Shirreffs and offensive coordinator Frank Verducci about Newsome's gift for grab.

"We try to give him the ball behind the line of scrimmage or really anywhere on the field and he can make some big plays," Shirreffs said. :You may think it will only go five yards and he will turn it into a first down and even more. He is a fun player to play with."

It's been an interesting situation at tailback as it has turned into an "either/or" situation. Ron Johnson had 55 carries in the first three games but just one rushing attempt in the last two games. After carrying the ball just two times against Missouri, Newsome has 27 carries to go with his nine receptions.
Both Verducci and head coach Bob Diaco said that both sophomores are key players in the running game. Newsome is clearly the better receiver and has been utilized more in the last couple of contests.

"The participation pattern, there is a little bit of a shift there but I wouldn't read into it because I feel like right now we are coming back to what I think is appropriate and that is both players getting the ball, running the ball, getting their opportunities to run the ball, let the game come to the guy that is starts to come to," Diaco said. "They both do different jobs well so as the game tilts and one of the jobs becomes more important than the other, a rep pattern could tilt. All things being equal, I believe they will both participate and the game will tilt from there."

Newsome has shown enough when given the chance that he figures to continue to be featured in the passing game as the season moves on.
"He has so many dimensions to his game," Verducci said. "He is deceptively strong besides all the obvious talent or being quick and having exceptional hands and he just loves to play football, he is very fun to coach.

"He gives you the ability sometimes to just forego protection, just throw the ball hot to him and see what he can do with it. He has long ball ability, he has screen game ability, he's got underneath ability so he lets you be as imaginative as you want."

What's interesting is that dating back to 2008 when running backs snared 52 passes, the number of catches dropped each season

2008: 52
2009: 43
2010: 38
2011: 35
2012: 33
2013: 28

Last year there was a slight increase as the backs caught 30 passes. They could make a run at the 2008 total with the way things are going.

It is not all positive, however, with the use of the running backs in the passing game. There have been issues with the running backs missing blocks or heading out on patterns instead of staying in to deal with a blitzer.

"That is an area that has really been a liability," Diaco said. "I am not trying to place blame, I blame ourselves as coaches more than anything else but that position has created a lot more of a pocket stress than the offensive line."

It is an area that has been addressed in practice on a weekly basis. With three of the four running backs being sophomores, Verducci is hoping that there will be fewer missed assignments as the backs get deeper into the season.

"It is a continual work in progress," Verducci said. "You get most running backs, most big-time backs in high school aren't really asked to do pass protection (in high school). Many of them, due to their high school training, are fairly one dimensional, they are really good with the football under their arm. The things that you traditionally have to work on are pass receiving skills and the separator as I call it is their ability to pass protect - not only to pass protect but to identify their protection. We do ask a lot of them in that area and they have had some rough spots along the way in the first half. You've like to think with the experience and the continued development, that will sort itself out as we go through.

"You see it in practice but when you get out on the field and everything is moving 10 times faster so for me I think it is more of an experience factor and I look for us to get better with it as the season moves forward."

Verducci is also determined to get the tight ends the ball more as Tommy Myers and Alec Bloom have just 12 catches between them in the first five games. Verducci said the pass blocking issues of the offensive line and running backs is not a reason for the limited number of times Myers and Bloom are being targeted in the offensive game plan.

"They are really not involved in pass protection to tell you the truth," Verducci said. "We have very few protections that require them to stay in. They are not inactive by design, I will put it that way, there have been some opportunities that we have missed when they have been open in games and I think as the season goes on, they will continue to pop up as they did the first couple of games."

Getting back to Newsome's pass catching prowess, here are some numbers to chew on. His 167 receiving yards are the ninth most for a UConn RB during the FBS era and his is only 113 behind the first-place mark of 280 set by Andre Dixon in 2007. Newsome has the two highest receiving yardage totals for a UConn RB since the Huskies began playing at the FBS level.

Here are the lists of top receiving performances by a UConn running back since the Huskies became an FBS program

Newsome 2-77 vs. Temple 9-27-2014
Newsome 4-63 vs. Brigham Young 10-2-2015
Todman 3-59 vs. Rutgers 10-31-2009
Brown 4-58 vs. Cincinnati 10-25-2008
Dixon 3-55 vs. Louisville 10-19-2007
Dixon 4-52 vs. Akron 9-29-2007
McCombs 3-52 vs. Western Michigan 10-1-2011
Sherman 7-51 vs. West Virginia 11-1-2008
Dixon 6-51 vs. Cincinnati 11-10-2007
Newsome 5-51 vs. Navy 9-26-2015Sherman 3-51 vs. Rutgers 10-18-2008
McCombs 2-51 vs. North Carolina State 9-8-2012

10 Andre Dixon Cincinnati (6), Syracuse (4) 2007
9 Arkeel Newsome Navy (5), BYU (4) 20158 Lyle McCombs Towson (5), Maryland (3) 2014
8 Anthony Sherman West Virginia (7), Syracuse (1) 2008
8 Terry Caulley Temple (3), Vanderbilt (5)

270 Anthony Sherman 2008
231 Cornell Brockington 2004
230 Lyle McCombs 2012
205 Terry Caulley 2002
185 Jordan Todman 2009
176 Terry Caulley 2005
172 Lyle McCombs 2011
167 Arkeel Newsome 2015
155 Arkeel Newsome 2014

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