Monday, November 30, 2015

All hands on deck for UConn after injuries to Myers and Shirreffs

I've covered my share of football games over the last couple of decades but I can't recall a situation like the one on UConn's first offensive series in Saturday's loss at Temple.

It's not unusual for personnel to be shuffled in and out but UConn used 16 different players on its first three offensive plays. Think about that for a second. The Huskies used the same five offensive linemen while Arkeel Newsome and Noel Thomas were also in there for each of the first three plays meaning that nine different players saw time at the other four positions on the first three offensive snaps.

It started with a normal look with Newsome in at tailback, Trey Rutherford at fullback, Alec Bloom at tight end and receivers Thomas and Tyraiq Beals along with Tim Boyle. Then Rutherford, Boyle and Beals checked out and in came tight end Chris Lee, jack of all trades Garrett Anderson and running back Max DeLorenzo. Anderson, who came to UConn as a quarterback and would see some snaps there during the game, was flanked out at receiver as Thomas was at QB in the wildcat formation. Then Boyle and Beals were back, receiver Hergy Mayala checked in as did linebacker Luke Carrezola, who was used as a fullback and even caught a pass in the game.

"We had two of our best players out, outside of Noel and Arkeel, the starting quarterback and not having him and a great, great player in Tommy Myers, he is a big loss," UConn coach Bob Diaco said. "We needed to use a lot of different things to try to create some production and it didn't work."

No it didn't but it did keep us in the press box engaged as we had to keep tabs on who was in and who was out.

The biggest surprise to me was the use of Thomas at quarterback. I didn't see that when I was at Tuesday's practice. I did recall offensive coordinator Frank Verducci summoning Carrezola over to the field that the first-team offense was practicing on so while seeing him in on offense wasn't shocking but was a bit surprising especially on the second offensive play.

UConn picked up nine first downs in the game. Four came on receptions from Thomas, one off a Newsome run, another time Boyle ran for a first down. As the game wore on, Newsome's play count was limited since he was taking a real pounding so Josh Marriner came in and had two catches resulting in first down. So who was responsible for the other first down? Carrezola, of course.

"Since Tommy went down they asked me to do it," Carrezola said. "In practice, I just try to give it my best shot. I just go over there whenever they need me, whenever they call my name. I just wanted to practice as hard as possible and when they call my name, I just come running."

Carrezola drew praise from Diaco and his teammates for how he adjusted to seeing some offensive snaps on offense while playing a key role on defense.

"We were just thinking about a guy who could do the job and not have his defensive role diminished, be able to absorb both and he was the top name to try to do some of that blocking, kick-out stuff," Diaco said. "He had a beautiful catch on third down for a first down. I don't know how much more of that we will utilize moving forward but I was pleased with Luke all week, he is a great teammate."

The highest praise might have come from Boyle.

"Luke is a special kid," Boyle said. "He is going to be a hell of a player down the road, he is right now. I'll be watching him on Sunday one day. He reminds me of J.J. Watt a little bit just his physical attributes and the way he can play fullback, learn the offense in three days and perform as well as he did."

The Temple game was not the first time I saw Thomas play quarterback. I covered the St. Luke's/Hopkins game when Thomas was a senior in 2012. He went 8 of 15 for 110 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception. Thomas added 133 yards on nine carries in a 32-13 St. Luke's win.

On Saturday, Thomas carried the ball for seven yards on the second offensive play.

"I wish it lasted longer," Thomas said of his time at quarterback. "I think I did all right, I was comfortable back there. I definitely had enough reps in practice."

While Myers won't be back for UConn's bowl game, the feeling is that Shirreffs should be able to play by then so that might cut back on Thomas' use at quarterback. Then again, in a bowl game, there is plenty of preparation time and with nothing really riding on the game, teams can be a bit creative in their play calling so stay tuned.

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