UConn backfield takes shape in unexpected ways
Two early-season departures shook up this group, but it's remained productive thanks to a couple of surprises.
Going into this season, UConn football seemed to be talented and deep at running back. But after Devontae Houston and Brian Brewton left the team in September, that depth has been tested.
Despite the departures, UConn has an unexpected ensemble that’s making it work.
Head coach Jim Mora’s squad is 1-5 going into this weekend's home matchup with South Florida before a visit to Boston College the following week. USF has allowed over 200 rushing yards in each of the last three games and BC has allowed 128 rushing yards or more in five out of six games this season.
These RBs can be expected to factor heavily if UConn is to win one or both of these games to close out the month.
Rosa the Rock
Nothing would be happening without Victor Rosa taking the tough carries and averaging 5.3 yards per attempt with 450 yards from scrimmage through six games.
While he was in a time-share at the start of the season, the Bristol native has been more of a feature back lately. He’s carried 14 or more times in each of the last three games and appears to be in line for that kind of role going forward. Rosa had 120 yards from scrimmage in the Utah State game, which was a breakout performance for the Husky offense as a whole.
Now the anchor of UConn’s rushing attack, Rosa is a strong, sturdy runner who has been doing a great job and should continue to flourish in this featured role.
Though he has had to deal with some nagging ailments — Mora said he was “playing hurt” early in the season — Rosa has a chance to do damage in these next two games against USF and BC.
Cam Edwards emerges
Norwalk native Camryn Edwards saw his first action in the Duke game and had a great day against Utah State, carrying 13 times for 73 yards (5.6 ypc). He was not effective at Rice but remains an important factor in the Husky offense.
Edwards, a sophomore, started out on defense for UConn out of Norwalk High School, where he played both ways and rushed for 2,349 yards with 44 total TDs while earning Gametime CT’s state Player of the Year honors.
At UConn, Edwards became an emergency RB last year due to injuries at the position but officially remained listed as a defensive back on the roster. This season, Edwards said he asked to make the switch and that once he did, it was a natural fit for him.
“In the beginning, it started off a little hard for me,” Edwards said, of the transition to college and playing DB. Once he moved back to offense, “everything flowed so fast…it was like playing in the backyard again.”
“He’s a resilient young man,” Mora said. "[Defense] didn’t seem to fit his skillset… He never blinked, he keeps grinding it out, and he’s a guy that’s seizing his opportunity. Hats off to him for doing that. We’re going to count on him more and more.”
UConn’s leading touchdown scorer is 300-pound defensive tackle Jelani Stafford, who has five on the season. The big fella played running back in high school and has shown some skill and field awareness for the Huskies while also blocking up a storm as a fullback.
Stafford even caught a pass against Utah State and had two rushing touchdowns against Rice, including one where he tried to jump over the goalline pile and was stuffed but had the wherewithal to stay on his feet and go around the pile for his first score of the day.
Not only has his backfield play been delightful, Stafford’s also showing out on defense, where he’s second on the team with 6.5 TFL and recovered a crucial fumble at Rice.
“You never know how the game is going to play out in terms of the short-yardage situations,” Mora said, of Stafford’s extensive usage, noting that Stafford is a capable back because of his history playing the position in high school.
“Just having the opportunity to hand him the ball and feel that he’s going to secure it, know how to take a hand-off, lower his pads,” Mora explained, adding that he and his staff are working hard to make the most of the talent available on this roster.
“He’s a pretty athletic guy as we saw in the pass.”
This would all be impossible without…
The offensive line! This group is missing Jake Guidone, who really held it down at center last year, but overall it’s still making a strong push and creating space for the running backs and the revived passing game.
Guards Christian Haynes and Noel Ofori-Nyadu are routinely among the highest-rated linemen in the country while tackles Valentin Senn and Case Lundt have been rock-solid as well.
Certainly, the fact that new people are stepping in and succeeding at RB is also a testament to the consistency of this offensive line. Though the Huskies have not succeeded in the win column, the stability of the OL is one of the most positive developments around the program.