Improved Running Game Could Help Whitmer

chandler whitmer vs umass
NBC Connecticut

It's been a recurring theme through the first three weeks of the season: the Huskies' defense has been relentless while the offense struggles to find its footing. It's a familiar situation given how 2011 played out but unlike a year ago this version of UConn's offense has potential.

That's not a knock against Johnny McEntee -- the walk-on with no experience and little help around him outside of RB Lyle McCombs -- just an acknowledgment that Chandler Whitmer, the redshirt sophomore who was shining in junior college last year at this time, is a better fit. On paper, anyway.

Whitmer had five interceptions in the first two games and lost a fumble against Maryland last week. We've written previously that he needs to work on looking off defenders before targeting a receiver, something he showed progress with in the Terps game. You know what else would help the passing game? A better rushing attack.

A year ago, McCombs came out of nowhere to rush for more than 1,000 yards and earn freshman All-American honors. Opponents now know the offense runs through him and they're willing to stop McCombs until the passing game changes their mind. So far it hasn't happened and this troubles offensive coordinator George DeLeone greatly.

“We have struggled running the ball," DeLeone said bluntly during an interview with the Hartford Courant's Desmond Conner. "We made some progress against Maryland. Our run consistency, which is the most important thing I care about -- how many run attempts do you have that go over four yards -- was were up around 49 percent and our goal is 40 something percent so we made some progress there.

“I think there was an emphasis to run the ball, all right, in this specific case. The other emphasis we have to understand is, we’ve got to put this team and our quarterback, which did not happen against N.C. State, in manageable third down situations."

Obviously, more balance is the answer. Whether that comes Saturday against Western Michigan is another issue. In their first two games -- a loss to Illinois and a win over Eastern Illinois -- the Broncos allowed 215 rushing yards on 74 carries (2.9 yards per carry). But in last week's loss to Minnesota, Western Michigan's run defense gave up 180 yards on 43 carries (4.2 YPC).

Which ever outfit shows up against the Huskies, this much is certain: Whitmer will have to continue to improve. A big part of that is eliminating fumbles and interceptions.

“He didn’t turn the ball over other than the fumble,” DeLeone told Conner earlier this week. “I told our football team if we don’t turn the ball over we can win games. I think that’s going to be true because of our defense…We made progress without turning the ball over, there were no forced balls except maybe one. I think that’s where we are.”

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