It has been quite the start to the season for UConn Huskies quarterback Bryant Shirreffs. Through four games, he leads the American Conference with 291.2 passing yards per game, ranks fourth in the nation in passer rating and is the first ever quarterback in UConn history to throw for 400 yards in back-to-back games. He’s also on pace to break the school record for passing yards in a season.
For a quarterback whose legs were always a more consistent weapon than his arm, this aerial display was certainly unexpected. But for as great as Shirreffs has been, it’s not even the biggest surprise of his season.
It’s that he’s even playing at all.
After being benched in favor of true freshman Donovan Williams last season, most expected Shirreffs to leave as a graduate transfer to a school where he’d have the chance to compete for a starting job.
However, once Diaco and his staff were relieved of their duties, Shirreffs decided to stay and compete. However, he lost the training camp battle to junior college transfer David Pindell and was relegated to the bench once again.
They always say a backup is just one bad hit away from starting, but Shirreffs earned his way back on the field after Pindell proved ineffective in UConn’s season opener. Shirreffs stepped in and immediately lead a touchdown drive to start a thrilling comeback effort that gave the Huskies the victory over Holy Cross.
It’s clear Shirreffs is a superior player to Pindell, so it’s fair to wonder if the coaching staff missed something when evaluating each player during the preseason. Head coach Randy Edsall doesn’t believe so.
Edsall believes losing the job before the season started helped Shirreffs learn a bit more of what’s expected of him with the new staff and scheme.
“He took heed to what I said and now he’s just out here doing his job and sometimes people get stubborn and they don’t listen and they don’t change,” Edsall said. “But give him credit, he changed and with that change you’re seeing the productivity.”
Although Shirreffs is a gifted player, that’s only one part of the equation.
“The quarterback better be the guy that’s doing it right all the time, that’s a leader,” Edsall said. “[They have to be] doing it right all the time, pushing yourself, carrying yourself in a certain way, knowing everything and doing all the things.”
Leadership and quarterbacking go hand-in-hand but in the era of up-tempo, no-huddle offenses, it’s become increasingly more difficult to lead on the field.
“Andy Baylock said to me, ‘Randy, the problem is you used to have a huddle and all those eyes were on the quarterback and now they don’t even look at him,”’ Edsall said. “There’s something to that, but there’s a different way you have to lead.”
Shirreffs’ ability to lead is unquestioned, as shown by the respect his teammates have for him, the poise with which he has dealt with constant change, and his toughness on the field. During his tenure at UConn, he’s proven to be one of the best passers in school history as he has the fourth-most passing yards in school history and is one of just five quarterbacks to reach 5,000 career passing yards. The Huskies are going to miss him next year.
Shirreffs may not be the greatest quarterback in UConn history, especially with the lack of success his teams have seen. But when it comes to the things that aren’t measurable — his toughness, leadership and character — he is unmatched.