The fourth-leading rusher in Connecticut football history is no longer with the team, a sentence that ordinarily should generate concern.
But the fourth-leading rusher in UConn history is Lyle McCombs, who never proved to be anything more than an undersized tailback with average speed and an above-average knack for finding trouble off-the-field.
McCombs was arrested twice: In January 2011 he was charged with possession of a controlled substance, and in October 2012 he was arrested for breach of peace during an altercation with his girlfriend. He allegedly spit at her and pushed her to the ground.
Paul Pasqualoni issued McCombs a one-quarter suspension against Rutgers.
Bob Diaco wasn’t quite as soft.
It’s unclear what ultimately led to McCombs’ demise, but Diaco told The Hartford Courant, “it’s an ongoing lack of meeting the expectations as a member of the student body and the team.”
It’s unclear how Diaco will handle disciplinary issues going forward (obviously it’s easier to lay the hammer when your record is 0-0), but there seems to be a commitment to change here, much like Kevin Ollie’s stricter discipline with the men’s basketball program. Remember: Former center Enosch Wolf, who was arrested on a similar charge, was suspended indefinitely and eventually had his scholarship revoked. It’s worth noting that McCombs’ girlfriend was also arrested during their dispute, while Wolf’s girlfriend was not.
But I digress.
The announcement, surprising but not totally out-of-the-blue given McCombs’ history, changes the complexion of the UConn backfield.
Does it change it for the worse?
By now, we know Lyle McCombs. He’s tiny, and he lacks the strength to break tackles. He’s elusive, sure, but he lacks breakaway straight-line speed. He wasn’t a 20-carry guy, and the fact that he served as an every down back for the past three seasons is more a reflection of UConn’s talent-level than anything else. This was a guy whose yardage, touchdowns and carries declined with each season. This was a guy who, statistically, goes down as one of the UConn greats, but wasn’t anywhere near the weapon Jordan Todman was, or Donald Brown before Todman, or Andre Dixon, or even Terry Caulley, a 5-foot-7 tailback who outweighed McCombs by a solid 15 pounds.
Anyone who has watched UConn over the past decade can agree.
Anyone who has watched UConn can also attest to the Huskies formula for success: Run the ball, don’t turn it over and create turnovers.
It worked for years under Randy Edsall. It disappeared under Pasqualoni. We’ll find out what a Bob Diaco team looks like this fall.
No matter the coach, it’s difficult to believe UConn will ever employ a sling-the-ball-all-over-the-field offense. Balance will be important, especially balance in the running game.
With McCombs gone, eyes will turn to Ansonia’s Arkeel Newsome, a Parade All-American and the all-time leading rusher in Connecticut high school history. Newsome is built like McCombs, with a low center-of-gravity and quick feet to make defenders miss. I suspect he’s a bit faster straight-line, though.
Newsome is also a true freshman, and true freshman running backs hardly ever play. This, it seems, could be an exception.
Of course there are other candidates: Max DeLorenzo, a steady between-the-tackles junior, figures to play at least some role in the backfield. The new staff is excited about redshirt freshman Josh Marriner, according to SNY’s John Silver.
And there are two more true freshmen, Suffield Academy’s Brice McAllister and former Louisville commit Ron Johnson, a bulky, physical runner.
You’d imagine that carries will be split in some form. I can’t begin to guess how that’ll shake out.
Will McCombs’ presence be missed, despite his declining production?
I’ll say no, not really.
If Diaco evaluated his talent and projected McCombs to be that much better than his other backs, do you really think he’d boot the redshirt senior for the “resume” he’s built over the four years?
I believe Diaco is serious about raising the standards for behavior. Most new coaches are.
I also believe Diaco is very, very serious about winning, and winning this season. That’s why it’s hard to believe McCombs’ dismissal will rattle the program too much.