Edsall picks veteran Shirreffs as starter for USF game

Bryant Shirreffs, who came off the bench in the second half to rally UConn past Holy Cross 27-20 in the season opener, was named the starting quarterback on Tuesday by coach Randy Edsall for Saturday's AAC opener against No. 22 South Florida at Rentschler Field. (Stephen Dunn/AP Photo)
Bryant Shirreffs, who came off the bench in the second half to rally UConn past Holy Cross 27-20 in the season opener, was named the starting quarterback on Tuesday by coach Randy Edsall for Saturday's AAC opener against No. 22 South Florida at Rentschler Field. (Stephen Dunn/AP Photo)

Storrs — Bryant Shirreffs is cherishing his final football season at UConn.

He wants to enjoy and make the best of the journey.

"I've actually really been focusing on just trying to savor each moment that I can because I know this is my last year at UConn on the football team," Shirreffs said Tuesday. "I tried to do that all during camp. Even when certain things might not go my way, I still just appreciate the moment because I don't want to look back in the future and have any regrets about that."

A fifth-year senior, Shirreffs has been knocked down — literally and figuratively — countless times during his career. Now he's back on his feet again.

Coach Randy Edsall announced Tuesday that Shirreffs will be the starting quarterback for Saturday's American Athletic Conference opener against No. 22 South Florida at at Rentschler Field in East Hartford (noon, ESPNEWS). He replaces junior college transfer David Pindell.

"It doesn't change my preparation," Shirreffs said. "But it does mean something to me. I'm excited about this week and I'm trying to focus each day on getting better."

Shirreffs earned the promotion by coming off the bench in the third quarter to spark UConn's comeback win over Holy Cross. He completed nine of 13 passes for 124 yards and threw a touchdown pass while leading the Huskies on three scoring drives. His teammates responded to his leadership and fed off his competitive spirit.

"Just in terms of what I saw in the game and what I've seen," Edsall said, explaining the reason for his choice on during his weekly press conference. "You make the decision that you think is best for your team. ... Bryant went in and did a great job because he executed his role. He did what was asked of him to do."

Edsall didn't elaborate on his decision or directly answer a question about whether Shirreffs and Pindell would both see action on Saturday, responding, "I don't know." Pindell had a decent debut, completing 19 of 28 passes for 154 yards but orchestrated only one touchdown drive.

Experience is definitely on Shirreffs' side. He's started 21 games in the previous two seasons. He also faced South Florida last season, passing for 306 yards and two touchdowns while completing 22 of 39 passes in a 42-27 road loss.

Shirreffs was sacked five times.

"That was a pretty painful game," he said.

Shifting Shirreffs to starter was just one interesting thing that stood out on the depth chart. Two veterans coming off injuries — senior Vontae Diggs and Junior Joseph — are listed as starters at linebacker. They both practiced on Tuesday but their playing status is unclear.

Diggs is back after missing season opener with a left knee injury while Joseph left Thursday's game with a shoulder injury.

When asked if both players will be able to play this week, Edsall answered: "They practiced."

Redshirt sophomore Marshe Terry moved ahead of Brice McAllister at starting defensive back.

"I like the way he played and I liked the way he was aggressive," Edsall said. "He has the opportunity to make plays for you."

Don't expect any position to be secure this season. Edsall will make a weekly evaluation and then pick the players that give the Huskies the best chance to win.

That's why Shirreffs will be behind center on Saturday.

"It's going to be an ongoing process as you go through this," Edsall said. "The guys that showed the things that we want done ... they earned right to be out there."

News and notes

Redshirt freshman Nate Hopkins was rewarded for his strong debut last week, earning a spot on the AAC weekly honor roll. He rushed for 130 yards and three touchdowns. The depth chart lists Hopkins or Arkeel Newsome as starter. ... Edsall didn't make any changes on the offensive line, which received mixed reviews last week. "We're not near where we need to be," he said, adding the line has to be more physical and do a better job executing fundamentals. He added that tackle Matt Peart did some good things. ... Fans will receive a Randy Edsall bobblehead on Saturday. "I just hope nobody throws them at me. I've never had a bobblehead. I think it is neat that they're doing that. Hopefully, I'll get one."

g.keefe@theday.com

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