John F. Silver
The Huskies used to be built off the running game. Notice the past tense. The Huskies’ run game crashed in 2012 as the run game behind a porous offensive line and the inability to hit big plays devastated the ground game. The running back front and center is sophomore Lyle McCombs. McCombs struggled for running room as his splendid freshman season gave way to a frustrating sophomore campaign. There are many reasons for the lack of a consistent run game that was statistically one of the worst in the nation ranked 117 of 120 teams. While much of that yardage problem was due to sacks, McCombs’ production dropped markedly as he went from 96.5 yards per game as a freshman to 78.5 as a sophomore. McCombs finished a disappointing campaign with 860 yards on a workhorse like carries of 243 for a mediocre 3.5 yards per carry.
The reasons for this are varied. The offensive line was overpowered on the line for much of the year and the blocking by the tight ends and the fullback weren’t adequate. The play-calling by offensive coordinator George DeLeone was predictable and teams seemed to know what was coming. Lastly, McCombs didn’t run with the same vision and quickness and was unable to make people miss like he did a year ago on the few times he had daylight. McCOmbs at 5-9 and 160-pounds rarely broke tackles and with a poor blocking offensive line it was a recipe for mediocre production. When McCombs had some room, such as 100 yard games in wins over Louisville and Pittsburgh, he showed a quickness and a change of direction at the second level that made him a dangerous back. But, the combination of the offensive line’s inconsistency, the staid play-calling and McCombs’ physical inability to break through tackles rendered the running game unproductive for large swaths of the season.
The Huskies also rarely used other backs. Max DeLorenzo had one start and rushed for 90 yards in his only extended action and appeared to be that big tackle breaking inside runner. But, DeLorenzo was relegated to the bench for much of the season and had only 113 yards on 36 carries. Martin Hyppolite showed terrific speed on a 50-yard touchdown run, but that was the highlight of the season as he had only 19 carries for 69 yards. The second leading rusher was Wildcat quarterback Scott McCummings, but he averaged only 3.3 yards per attempt and the package became just a showpiece by the end of the season. Freshman running back Joe Williams has great speed, but only had few chances to show it as he had only three carries for six yards. Nick Williams also had some carries as a flanker, and did have a touchdown run. McCombs got most of the carries and the Huskies actually had their worst yardage performance in school history as it rushed for -6 yards in a 40-10 loss to Syracuse.
At fullback, Ruben Frank is the incumbent but that blocking, pass catching and blitz pick-ups weren’t consistent. The Huskies also lost a weapon during the season when Mike Osiecki had to quit football due to repeated concussions.
The Huskies finished 5-7, and the root of the offenses struggles rested in the running game.
The one good thing about the running game is that McCombs has proven to be a good back. There were a lot of issues in the run game, but there are no accidents at this level and McCombs has shown an ability to be a game-breaking rusher if he has room. Going into the spring, McCombs is the odds on favorite to keep the job as the Huskies have top find a way to harness his speed and ability to make defenders miss in open space. That doesn’t mean the Huskies don’t need another change of pace style back. Head coach Paul Pasqualoni likes going with one running back, but he should try to find a way to get a bigger back on the field with DeLorenzo showing good burst and strength in the few carries he got.
Hyppolite remains another big back and can be thought of like a fullback while the coaching staff is also considering trying out Jazmeer Clax as a running back. Clax sat out this season as a redshirt and was recruited as a FB/LB. At 5-10, 250-pounds, Clax showed enough of ability on the scout team that a pounding big back like him will be looked at as a tailback this spring. The Huskies need a tough and physical inside runner, and Clax can be a fullback/tailback hybrid.
Lastly there is the speedster in Joe Williams. Williams has track level speed and is known to be a burner when he gets the ball. He’s bigger and more powerful than McCombs and looks to be the kind of feature back that Pasqualoni is searching for. He didn’t get much opportunity, but for a big-play starved team, a speedster of Williams’ caliber certainly is going to get his chances this spring.
UConn also has an incoming recruit in Josh Marriner, who had offers from Navy and Air Force, two run-oriented teams. Marriner is 5-9, 188-pounds and according to reports is a speed back. Also, Hand-Madison’s Matt Walsh at 6-1, 220-pounds will also join the team in the big back mold.
As the Huskies head into the spring and next season, rebuilding that running game is going to be the No. 1 goal. The offensive line comes first, but there is plenty of room for improvement at tailback.
Check out the rest of the our season reviews: