Shirreffs passing his way into UConn history
Published 6:55 pm, Tuesday, October 3, 2017
During the recent trip to Dallas, the two hard-nosed quarterbacks got together for an impromptu chat.
The conversation between Bryant Shirreffs, the Huskies’ current signal-caller, and Ken Sweitzer, the 1981 Yankee Conference Offensive Player of the Year, lasted only about 20 or perhaps 30 seconds , but certainly it was long enough for Sweiter’s words to resonate with Shirreffs.
Little did Shirreffs realize that the next time he took the field, he would challenge one of UConn’s longest standing marks. Back on Nov. 15, 1980, Sweitzer registered a quarterback rating of 227.81 in a 56-30 win over Rhode Island that still stands as the best in program history in the last 40 seasons. Dan Orlovsky challenged that mark once in his sophomore and senior seasons, and Matt DeGennaro topped the 200 mark in a 1987 game against Rhode Island as well. Then in Saturday’s 49-28 loss at Southern Methodist if Shirreffs had completed one more pass, he would have topped Sweitzer’s mark. As it is, Sweitzer and Shirreffs stand 1-2 in that category dating back to the 1978 season.
“I spoke with him the night before the last game and he gave me some words of wisdom,” said Shirreffs, a 23-year old redshirt senior. “It is always a pleasure talking to him. I like trying to learn from people who have been through similar situations. If I can learn from somebody, it is great if you don’t have to experience everything for yourself, learn from somebody else’s experience, so that is a cool statistic and I will definitely have to talk to him about that. It is nice to be able to see him around and learn from him.”
So what exactly did Sweitzer have to say in their brief chat?
“He told me that he is proud of the way I responded and have been playing and he has been enjoying watching us offensively,” said Shirreffs, who completed 22-of-28 passes for 408 yards and two touchdowns against SMU. “His words are good to hear because we haven’t heard that in a while.”
Top UConn QB ratings
Rating Player Date Opponent (Score) C A Yrd TD-Int
227.81 Sweitzer 11-15-80 Rhode Island (56-30) 11-19 251 4-1
224.54 Shirreffs 9-30-17 SMU (28-49) 22-28 408 2-0
219.27 Orlovsky 9- 4-04 Murray St. (52-14) 19-29 382 5-2
216.91 Orlovsky 11- 2-02 Fla. Atlantic (61-14) 13-19 218 3-0
202.32 DeGennaro 11-14-87 Rhode Island (52-7) 19-24 234 3-0
Sweitzer, a former Daniel Hand High star who was a member of the 1977 New Haven Register All-State team, is in his second season as the sideline reporter for UConn football games on the UConn Radio Network. A member of UConn’s 100th Anniversary All-Time team in 1998 and the owner of 18 school records at the time of his graduation, there’s probably not a more qualified candidate to weigh in on how much progress Shirreffs has made from the 2016 to 2017 seasons especially with all of last year’s coaching staff moving on after head coach Bob Diaco was fired.
“He has an offense now that he is confident with,” Sweitzer said. “Last year the play didn’t get in until there was under 10 seconds on the 30-second clock, now he knows what he is calling. They are getting right up to the line of scrimmage and attacking the defense and I think he is that much more confident. He certainly showed us his toughness last year and he has that as well but it is his confidence right now.”
Shirreffs has reason to be confident. He is ranked fourth among Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks in passing efficiency trailing only Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Dalton Sturm of the University of Texas at San Antonio and Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State. He also ranks in the top 20 in passing yards and total offense per game. Shirreffs is the first UConn quarterback to pass for more than 400 yards in back-to-back games and his 814 passing yards in the last two games in the best two-game total in program history.
One of the more noteworthy improvements Shirreffs has made is not focusing in on one receiver after Noel Thomas caught a school-record 100 passes a season ago, 75 more than his closest teammate. This season, UConn is one of six FBS programs with seven players already over 100 yards receiver. UConn and Appalachian State are the only ones to accomplish that feat in just four games.
“I think last year having Thomas was a unique situation because he was so good and it is easy, that was his (security) blanket last year,” Sweitzer said. “Now he has some folks he has confidence in, look at (Aaron) McLean last week, (Mason) Donaldson the week before, he has targets that he is comfortable throwing the football to especially across the middle and he is getting a little bit more time, not a ton, not every series but he has a little more time to throw the ball down the field and he’s been accurate doing that.”
It’s been an interesting last 12 months for Shirreffs. Late last October the decision was made to bench Shirreffs in place of true freshman Donovan Williams, who is now a third-string receiver. In spring camp, there was a time when Brandon Bisack was working with the starters, and when the season began, junior-college transfer David Pindell was named the starting the quarterback only to be replaced by Shirreffs in the second half of the season opener. Shirreffs also became a father for the first time. There were those who thought he would move on and perhaps play elsewhere as a graduate transfer. However, Shirreffs returned and his teammates are thrilled to see him thriving in new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee’s fast-paced attack.
“Bryant has grown each year,” UConn junior center Dan Oak said. “Me and him were on the scout team the first year when we first got here, he has grown every year and this year he is playing unbelievable. He is a great kid, a great quarterback, I can’t say enough good things about him. He is such a smart quarterback so he knows what to do and he does it so well.”
Shirreffs has taken more than his share of crushing blows since transferring from North Carolina State. Some were a result of a struggling offensive line, and others were because of his willingness to fight for every yard.
“We love especially on some of the runs when he scrambles or he is on a designed run when he gets out there and gets that extra yard,” Oak said. “You never want to see your quarterback getting hit, I don’t care how tough he is, you never want to see your quarterback on the ground, you want him to have that clean jersey as possible so you don’t like seeing him go down, but at the same time you are confident that at the end of the game, you need that extra yard Bryant’s going to get it for you.”
Shirreffs is not pleased with the Huskies’ current three-game losing streak heading into Friday’s home game against Memphis or a 1-3 record, but if he ever begins to get down on himself, there is one person there who can improve his state of mind immediately — his seven-month-old son Brayden.
“I am definitely blessed, yesterday was my birthday and I was thinking about it,” Shirreffs said. “I have a healthy son, a fiancé, family that cares about me and a team that I really care about. I have experienced a lot in the last few months that has shaped me as a person and a football player that I am really grateful for.
“Brayden, he is getting crazy. He sleeps through the night which is awesome, but he is kind of crawling around and he is super strong, he is the youngest in his daycare and any one of these weeks, he going to get up and start walking, I can feel it. He is great, he definitely has changed my perspective on life in general. No matter what happens on the football field, when I come off of field and I get to see him, it changes my perspective. I will always be grateful for that. he’s the best thing that has ever happened to me, it is very humbling.”