The hole for the running backs kept getting larger.And it wasn’t a hole created by the offensive line.
The football team’s rushing unit fell into a deficit that grew larger by the quarter Saturday against Buffalo.
Six rushes in the first quarter produced a loss of six yards. The Owls rebounded in the second quarter, gaining one yard on eight carries to decrease their rushing deficit by a hair, at -5 yards. The third quarter left the Owls 11 yards in the hole.By the game’s conclusion, the Owls had rushed for a grand total of -36 yards, losing 42-7 to a Buffalo team they were expected to beat. That mark tied the program record for fewest rushing yards in a game. “We never got any run game going,” coach Al Golden said.
“That’s the understatement of the year – maybe the decade.”There’s truth behind Golden’s statement.
In two games, the Owls have averaged 19 yards on the ground. Their rushing offense ranks 116th out of the 119 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Last season, the Owls rushed for 644 yards, the lowest total in program history. The team’s top 10 rushing seasons all came before 1987, with the exception of 1998. Golden brought in several offensive linemen and four running backs during the offseason in an attempt to shore up the running game. He also moved Travis Shelton, one of the fastest players on the team, from wide receiver to running back.
The moves haven’t gone as planned. Joe Jones, a top recruit from Davie, Fla., tore his left Achilles’ tendon during the preseason. He’s done for the year. So is Keien Williams, who suffered a fracture in his cervical spine during practice two weeks ago.
Freshman Daryl Robinson, another highly-touted recruit, said he felt his hip pop during the second quarter of Saturday’s loss. Robinson, who said he expects to play this weekend against Connecticut, watched the remainder of the game on crutches.
“We obviously had a lot of things in for Daryl [on Saturday], and then he goes down,” Golden said. “We just haven’t had any continuity at that position.”
Shelton ran just once for five yards. Robinson rushed for a total of one yard, on three carries. Marcellous Grigsby, a junior-college transfer, failed to gain a net yard on six touches.
The lone bright spot, sophomore Jason Harper rushed for 25 yards on six carries to top the team and scored the Owls’ only touchdown.
“It’s hard to establish a rhythm, but then again, we have four good tailbacks who can do anything with the ball,” Harper said.
“They can break it at any second. You just have to trust the coaches and what they call. “[Buffalo] just out-toughed us on the line.”
Golden shuffled the offensive line Saturday, moving Andre Douglas to right tackle in place of Brison Manor, and inserting Jabari Ferguson at right guard. The unit yielded five sacks and nine tackles for loss.
“Honestly, we really have to settle on an offensive line that’s going to be around here for a while,” Golden said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We’ve got to start training some guys that are going to be around here who want to do it the right way.” Of the six linemen who have appeared
in the starting lineup this year, just three made a start last season. Only center Alex Derenthal and left tackle Devin Tyler started every game.
“I don’t think people being young has anything to do with it,” said Derenthal, a red-shirt junior. “It’s just something that hasn’t happened yet. We’re looking for it to happen next week.”
Next week might be a tough week for the line to gel. UConn is tied for ninth in rushing defense among the 119 Bowl Subdivision teams, allowing just 1.34 yards per carry. Averaging 10 tackles for loss, the Huskies are tied for sixth.Linebacker Danny Lansanah has 4.5 tackles for loss, ranking seventh in the nation.
Still, Golden said it’s imperative the offense finds a running game, at the very least to give the defense a breather. The Owls’ defense spent 35 minutes on the field against Buffalo, surrendering 414 yards.
“When we go three-and-out, you never really get a chance,” Golden said of the defense. “You never really get a chance to have any continuity on defense or to sit down and tell them what’s going on, what they’re seeing and get a stop.”
“And then you get gassed,” he added. “It all runs together.”
John Kopp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.