Nov. 7, 2012
By Scott Waggoner
It's no secret that the success of the University of Connecticut's football team this season has depended on whether the Huskies have been able to run the ball consistently. In UConn's three wins this year, the Huskies averaged 144.3 yards on the ground. When Connecticut has failed to reach 100 yards rushing in a game they haven't won.
"The points in BIG EAST games are from a lack of consistent production,"said UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni. "For me it starts with the running game."
Despite losing their last four games, all is not lost for UConn going into their matchup against Pittsburgh this Friday at Rentschler Field. The game is at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN2 and can be heard on the UConn IMG Sports Radio Network. The Huskies can still reach a bowl game by winning their last three games, but they will need more out of their rushing attack.
Sophomore running back Lyle McCombs burst onto the scene last year with 1,151 rushing yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman.
In each of his last three games this season, McCombs has failed to run for more than 50 yards. Pasqualoni said McCombs is healthy and that the sophomore hasn't had as much room to run this year.
"I think it is just a matter of finishing the block," Pasqualoni said.
Connecticut has struggled to create much space for the Husky running backs all season, though the offensive line isn't completely to blame.
Sophomore Geremy Davis, Connecticut's top wideout this season with 547 yards receiving, said the receivers and tight ends are just as responsible for creating openings for the running backs.
"We have to play our part too," Davis said. "As pass catchers we need to make sure we're kicking out the defensive backs and blocking them so we can open holes for our running backs."
A more dependable running attack will take some of the pressure off redshirt sophomore quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who was sacked twice on Connecticut's final drive against USF last Saturday. The Huskies have struggled picking up blitzes the past few weeks as opponents, not worried about the Connecticut run game, have sent more pressure.
"We need to come up with some runs that will really help us in the play-action game," Pasqualoni said. "We need to make them commit more people and be a little bit worried about blitzing."
Though the production on the ground hasn't been there this season, Whitmer is confident the Huskies can improve in their last three games.
"I know what we're capable of," Whitmer said. "I see how hard these guys work and they really believe in what the coaches are saying. If we try and continue to stay balanced things will improve."
UConn will have a good chance to get their running game on track against Pittsburgh. The Panthers have given up over 100 yards rushing in each of their last five games, though after nearly knocking off No. 3 Notre Dame last Saturday, they will be coming into Rentschler Field with a lot of confidence.
"They're probably the best 4-5 team in the country," Pasqualoni said. "They run the zone play and do a very good job of it."
Connecticut faces a tough stretch to end their season, playing three teams with a combined record of 19-7, though redshirt senior linebacker Jory Johnson said the Huskies still believe in each other.
"We have a tough road ahead of us, but still have enough fight and talent on this team to make every game winnable. We can do it but it's going to take everybody."