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Football: Bryant Shirreffs and Noel Thomas Building Fantastic Chemistry for UConn

One is a wide receiver who broke out last year. The other is a first-year starter at quarterback. Together they are helping UConn's offense turn this ship around.

Bryant Shirreffs has the ability to make the clutch throws, and Noel Thomas has the talent to make the tough catches, like this one against Army.
Bryant Shirreffs has the ability to make the clutch throws, and Noel Thomas has the talent to make the tough catches, like this one against Army.
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Their numbers may not jump off the page, but given UConn's poor offensive output in recent years, the production from Bryant Shirreffs and Noel Thomas to start the season has been a welcome sight for the Huskies. Through three games, the two have connected 14 times for 203 yards, though the two have yet to link up for a touchdown.

In Shirreffs, UConn has a quarterback who inspires confidence, which has not happened in a long time. He has been as good as UConn coach Bob Diaco advertised. Shirreffs is a confident, intelligent player who can make all the throws and be trusted to make good decisions. His elusiveness in the pocket has helped UConn turn would-be sacks and losses of yardage into gains.

"He's just a natural-born leader," Thomas told the Hartford Courant.

Thomas has taken a leadership role with the Huskies, as well, one that he had already been readying himself for when he committed to UConn in the Class of 2012. His father, Noel Thomas Sr., explained to SB Nation his son chose UConn due to a desire to raise the profile of his home state, noting was an incredibly mature decision for a high school senior to make.

Thomas' 203 yards do not really tell the full story of his impact on the team. He has drawn a couple pass interference penalties downfield, and he is a mentor to a receiver group looking for secondary options to emerge. He is also a rare top receiver with an affinity for the blocking portion of his responsibilities.

Thomas is the guy taking extra reps in front of the Juggs machine and making sure the younger players know how to conduct themselves on the practice field. He can also be found doing hand-eye coordination drills with his teammates in between practice reps to get that extra edge.

He also catches everything thrown his way.

"It's really nice to have a receiver that can make one-handed catches on throws behind his back," Shirreffs said with a smile after the Army game. "When Noel makes a play, it's awesome."

Shirreffs definitely knows how to spread it out, and he mentioned he looks to all his receivers to make plays, but it is clear he and Thomas are developing an explosive chemistry.

This didn't come out of nowhere. The two developed a rapport across summer practices, and it was clear to those who took in the two scrimmages.

"The hard work that they have put in this summer is extremely evident" UConn co-offensive coordinator Frank Verdducci told the New Haven Register before the season. "And it shows up the most in the timing aspect where Bryant will hit that third step, boom, get the ball out and Noel is out of his break. It is a credit to them, all the work they have done in the offseason to get to that point."

UConn's best offensive combination used to be the one where the quarterback hands the ball off to a running back. This year it is looking like the Huskies have a winning combination in their passing attack which will only get better across this season and the next. Finally having the right guy under center has been a huge help.

"He is a great quarterback," Thomas told the New Haven Register. "He can do things with his legs and extend plays. He is a great friend off the field, he is a good person, good teammate and that is the best part about him."