The day after: Huskies’ run game stalls

Connecticut wide receiver Shakim Phillips (8) celebrates a touchdown by running back Lyle McCombs, under the pile, during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland at Rentschler Field, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Connecticut wide receiver Shakim Phillips (8) celebrates a touchdown by running back Lyle McCombs, under the pile, during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Maryland at Rentschler Field, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013, in East Hartford, Conn. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

John F. Silver

EAST HARTFORD — Lyle McCombs was an FWAA freshman All-America his first year.

Two games into his junior year the Huskies’ starting tailback remains unable to get things going. For most of McCombs’ carries, it’s doomed before he ever touches the ball.

The Huskies’ offensive line continues to generate little push as McCombs finished with 53 yards on 19 carries in Saturday’s 32-21 loss to Maryland. UConn is getting beat on both lines, a large reason it is 0-2, and the problems on the line have no quick fixes. The Huskies had 33 attempts for 34 yards and Chandler Whitmer was sacked five times. In two games, Whitmer has been sacked 10 times and the running game continues to be a non-factor.

“It’s frustrating,” McCombs said. “Give credit to Maryland, they played it well.”

It’s a little more than that.

The Huskies’ rebuilt offensive line came into the season hoping to be greatly improved, but hasn’t met the standard. Right tackle Kevin Friend missed the opener and suffered a high-ankle sprain that too him out of Saturday’s affair. His backup, Xavier Hemingway, continue to struggle physically at the position and the Huskies’ run game push is not there.

“I don’t see enough space,” Head coach Paul Pasqualoni said. “You got to try and get the guys on defense up front moving and running and on them and giving the back a little room to run. It’s a combination of playing vertical, knock them back down the field, and get them moving. We have not been able to get that going. We haven’t been able to do it. It’s frustrating. It’s not like we aren’t working on it. We haven’t been able to do it.”

The Huskies’ depth and development on the line isn’t coming fast enough. Hemingway remains a bit undersized at 272 pounds at right tackle and doesn’t look ready to play physically at this level. At guard, Gus Cruz went out with an injury and senior Tyler Bullock stepped in. ┬áIf Friend is lost for awhile, it’s hard to believe the staff won’t try to get another tackle ready if Hemingway doesn’t dramatically improve. There are also problems in the interior of the line, which is generating little forward push. Also, McCombs and the backs aren’t making defenses miss. Of the 28 UConn runs against Maryland, 14 were for minimal gains.

“Lyle hits one in there for 14 and we need a couple more of those,” Pasqualoni said. “Maybe one comes out for 20 and 25. It really helps you. We’ve got too many inefficient (plays). We ran it 28 times, you can’t count the sacks. Half of those were not consistent enough. 14 of them not consistent at all. It is not consistent enough.”

Seeing Maryland coach Randy Edsall on the visitors sideline turned Saturday into bizarro land. Edsall’s UConn team’s couldn’t throw a lick, but always ran the ball well. His Maryland team was as explosive as any team that has come to the Rent since West Virginia in the Pat White era. On the opposite side, this UConn team under Pasqualoni can move the ball in the air with Chandler Whitmer throwing for 349 yards. Whitmer, who remains inconsistent and turnover prone, did find Shakim Phillips for 10 catches and 178 yards, the most yards by a UConn receiver in over a decade. There are weapons out wide (though Phillips pulled a hamstring) and Whitmer is good when he isn’t pressured. The Huskies’ problems on defense come with no running game and pressure on Whitmer that he can’t handle.

“They are fighting their tails off. They are all fighting,” Whitmer said. “As an offense you want to be balanced. That’s what makes (offenses) hard to defend. That’s what we have to go back and work on. We can’t be one dimensional. We have to make plays and I know they are fighting and working hard. I am not pointing blame at anybody.”

Whitmer doesn’t need to. It’s obvious to everyone where the trouble is starting from. McCombs has 129 yards rushing in two games on 36 carries. His problems aren’t his own.

And, the worst part of it, there are no quick fixes.