Say what you will about the UConn offense. But one thing that has been a constant has been its ability to run the football in recent years.
The Huskies have had at least one player make the All-Big East first or second team at running back every year they have been a member of the league except 2006. Three different players have led the league in rushing. That includes Jordan Todman, who did it last season.
But so far this year, it has been much slower going replacing Todman's productivity. Expected starter D.J. Shoemate has been hobbled with an ankle injury. Lyle McCombs opened the season with back-to-back 100-yard performances. But he had just 46 yards against Iowa State and 61 last week at Buffalo. UConn ranks No. 5 in the Big East in rushing offense, averaging 121.8 yards a game. Its 3.0 yards-per-carry average ranks sixth.
Consider that the worst UConn has averaged per carry since joining the Big East is 3.9 (2005, 2007). The worst season it had in rushing offense was in 2004, at 148.4 yards per game.
Coach Paul Pasqualoni said there are a few problems the Huskies have faced. First and foremost, teams are loading up the box to stop the run because they do not respect the pass. This certainly is understandable, considering UConn has played three different quarterbacks and none of them have been highly productive or all that accurate.
"One of the things our opponents are doing is saying they've got an inexperienced quarterback, so we're going to put nine, 10 guys within 7 yards of the line of scrimmage and we're not going to let them run the ball and traditionally that's what they've done well," Pasqualoni said. "Now we have to execute better, block better, but it's the fact that people are going to make us win the game throwing the ball."
Johnny McEntee made strides against Buffalo, going 12-of-21 for 213 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He has to keep building on that performance in order to really help the ground game get going. He has to keep building on that performance in order to really help the ground game get going -- especially now that he is officially the starter.
Meanwhile, the offensive line needs to be more consistent in its blocking. Pasqualoni has shuffled the lineup around: Left tackle Mike Ryan was moved to right tackle, Jimmy Bennett switched from left guard to left tackle, Kevin Friend is now at right tackle instead of left guard, and Adam Masters moved from tackle to right guard.
"The last two weeks we have not been as consistent as we need to be and hopefully as we're going to be," Pasqualoni said. "We've got to do a better job. The guys did a very good job in protection on Saturday night. Buffalo came with a variety of pressures trying to disrupt the quarterback, so I think we were better in protections than we were in the run game. Part of that was because we couldn't block everybody they put in there because you run out of blockers. But we have to block better. We have to finish."