The numbers scream frustration.
In two games, the UConn running attack is averaging 54.5 yards a game. That’s not an attack. It’s not even a skirmish. It’s a rout, especially when you look across the board that the opposition, who just so happens to be averaging 212.5 yards rushing. And for the Huskies, who have staked their climb into Division I-A status, captured two Big East title and been to five bowl games, all because of their power-run game, these numbers are downright embarrassing.
Tailback Lyle McCombs has rushed 36 times this season for 129 yards. That’s 64.5 a game and just 3.6 yards “a whack” as head coach Paul Pasqualoni likes to call it. But of those 36 rushes, 18 – exactly half – McCombs has managed only two yards. Or less.
And if you add in McCombs’ last two games of 2012 against Louisville and Cincinnati, his totals are: 86 carries for 322 yards, just 80.5 yards a game and 3.74 a carry. And of those 86 carries, 42 have gone for two yards or less and 17 were for zero or negative yardage.
Needless to say, getting the run game going is paramount for the 0-2 Huskies, who face No. 15 Michigan Saturday night (8 p.m. ABC) at Rentschler Field.
“We’ve got to find a way to get that running game on track,” Pasqualoni said. “It’s a matter of finishing some blocks up front and making sure the back is hitting the right hole and from that, trying to do too much and sees the seams and where he can get that ball to the line of scrimmage. I think you’ve just got to keep pounding it in there and if you do what you’re supposed to, good things will happen.”
Against Maryland, 11 of McCombs’ 19 carries were for two yards or less. And when your opponent is breaking big runs to the tune of 41 yards (that went for a touchdown), 27, 25 and 21 yards, that’s four plays that accounted for 114 of the Terrapins 224 rushing yards.
Oh, if only the Huskies could do that.
“We need a couple of these runs to come out of there, we really do,” Pasqualoni said. “We don’t need like 10 of them to come out of there but we need our share. Last week, there were four that came out against us. We need some of these to come out.”
McCombs’ best gain of the night against Maryland was a 14-yard run in the second quarter. He also had a seven-yard run in the third quarter and a pair of five-yard runs in the first and third quarter. But in the two games, just 11 of his carries have gained five yards or more.
What can be done to get McCombs and the rushing game (it’s still nowhere close to an attack) going?
“Consistency,” left guard Steve Greene said. “The thing about offense is you need all 11 guys clicking for something to happen. And when you sit back and watch the film, and there are nine, 10 guys doing everything right and then, there’s that one guy … and that’s what it is.
“We get grades and it’s not like the grades are bad, it’s just one guy this play, another guy that play, another guy that play … and that’s frustrating to sit there and watch the film and see that one block not made and if it was … he’s gone. It’s like that over and over again. That’s the biggest thing we need to be, is more consistent.”
Greene’s line mate, right tackle Kevin Friend agrees.
“It’s just inconsistency and holding the blocks for a little bit longer,” he said. “It’s one person here, one person there, not doing the little things. Stepping the right way, doing the correct technique. It’s so frustrating.”
Despite their low rushing numbers, Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he’s impressed with McCombs and the Huskies offensive line.
“They’re a big football team and a physical football team,” Hoke said. “I think that you look at their offensive line and the starters that are back … Lyle McCombs is impressive as a guy running the football. We have a young man named Drake Johnson (6-foot-1, 213, sophomore), who got hurt early in our first football game (against Central Michigan) and Lyle reminds me of Drake a lot in how he gets in and out of cuts and accelerates.”
Six times as a freshman and three times last season, McCombs rushed for over 100 yards (152 against Syracuse in 2011 is his career high). Pasqualoni knows there are a lot more of those big games inside McCombs. He just has to get them out.
“We have to finish our plays,” Greene said. “We just have to make sure that everyone is staying on every block. You never know when that extra block, that extra push is going to be the thing that springs the back for a big gain. That’s what we have to get back to, just push and finish and have consistency up front.”
INJURY UPDATE — Accordinng to head coach Paul Pasqualoni, WR Shakim Phillips, who suffered a strained hamstring against Maryland, right tackle Kevin Friend (high left ankle) and linebacker Graham Stewart (ankle) are all listed “as questionable.” for Saturday’s game against Michigan.