One of the big issues heading into the season was the lack of depth and experience at running back. That conversation was often secondary, following concerns about the quarterback position. Well, not only have the Huskies settled on a starting QB (head coach Paul Pasqualoni officially named Johnny McEntee to the gig), but the running game wasn't the cause for alarm that many feared during the preseason.
Sure, losing 2010 Big East Offensive Player of the Year Jordan Todman was a huge blow but running backs, more than any other position on the field, are the easiest to replace. So while it was surprising when freshman Lyle McCombs got right to work in the first game of the season rushing for 141 yards and scoring four touchdowns, it was just more evidence that it's easier to survive without a workhorse back than an established QB.
McCombs' success continued into the second week of the season when he ran for 118 yards. But once defenses figured out that UConn had no passing game to speak of, they keyed on stopping the run and McCombs along with it. In Weeks 3 and 4, McCombs carried the ball a combined 48 times for 107 yards. That's 2.2 yards per rush. That, coupled with the passing-game issues, meant that the offense had come to a grinding halt.
And then McEntee finally started to get comfortable against Buffalo, and even more so against Western Michigan last Saturday. As McEntee's completion percentage improved, McCombs found the running lanes less congested with defenders. He rushed for 136 yards against the Broncos and also hauled in a touchdown pass.
There's more good news on the horizon: tailback Martin Hyppolite, who's recovering from a knee injury he suffered during the spring, is close to returning.
"The knee has been holding up pretty good," Hyppolite said, according to the Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner. "I've been working pretty hard with [assistant strength and conditioning coach Todd Devers] a lot. He's been getting me right. I'm about 90 percent right now and if I was given an opportunity in this West Virginia game I'd be all for it."
TheDay.com's Owen Poole writes that while McCombs' fast start is welcome, he's going to need some help.
"McCombs has done a good job thus far of being an every-down back, carrying the ball 123 times out of 141 running back carries. He also has eight catches for 106 yards, including a touchdown last week. But as the Huskies get into the rigors of Big East play, especially taking on conference favorites West Virginia, South Florida and Pittsburgh in successive weeks, he'll need more than an occasional rest."
"I think it would be hard for anyone to take some of the hits I've taken." McCombs said. "I can't just be an outside runner. I have to run in between the tackles and I'm trying the best I can."
So far, so good. And it certainly helps that McEntee is doing his part. The bad news, of course, is that the Huskies are now in the toughest part of their schedule.