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Football Preview Weekish: Running Backs

As part of TheUConnBlog’s 2011 Football Preview Weekish, we’re counting down the days until the Huskies' season opener against Fordham on Sept. 1. Today, we take a look at the running backs.

If I asked you for the two words that come to mind when you think about UConn's running backs last season I'm sure that you, like any rational person, would say "Jordan Todman," and rightfully so. Todman was a beast last year, racking up one of the best season's in UConn's history and running the huskies straight into the BCS. Still, if we went back exactly one year and I asked for the two words you were most excited for in UConn's football season I suspect more than a few people might have answered with "USC Transfer" as in "USC Transfer D.J. Shoemate." 

People were obviously excited to see what Todman could do last year, but Shoemate's pedigree (even before his USC days he was a star at California powerhouse Servite High School) made a lot of UConn fans dream big. UConn had excelled at turning small, unheralded backs into (relatively large) stars, so the prospect of plugging an elite recruit into the system was tantalizing... at least until Shoemate actually took the field.

As it turned out, UConn's highly-prized transfer had a serious case of fumbilitis, and before long he tumbled to third on the depth chart behind Robbie Frey. Frey has since transferred to Division II Kutztown to work on a graduate degree, and Todman is off to the NFL, which leaves UConn in an interesting spot. No matter what holes the team had in past years, a strong running game was a given. Now? Not so much. Shoemate has the natural ability to succeed -- you don't get to USC by accident -- but when given opportunities last year he was a letdown, fumbling twice (both at inopportune moments) in just 28 carries.

There won't be anywhere for him to hide either. With the (now) three-man mess at quarterback, Shoemate is the most visible offensive presence not named "Moore." His backups are, in order, a redshirt freshman (Lyle McCombs), a RB/LB combo featured mainly on special teams (Martin Hyppolite), and a sophomore walk-on. Out of that group, Shoemate is the best bet to produce, but it's not certain. The one thing that is? If one of those guys isn't able to step up then this season, which is already looking like a long one, is going to get a whole lot longer.

Depth chart (tailback):

1. #24 D.J. Shoemate (Sr., 5-11, 219); in 2010: 115 yards (4.1 ypc), 1 TD in
13 games; played primarily on special teams
2. #43 Lyle McCombs (RFr., 5-8, 172); in 2010: redshirted
3. #45 Martin Hyppolite (RSo., 6-0, 215); in 2010: split time between RB
and LB; played in all 13 games, primarily on special teams
4. #42 Jordan Huxtable (So., 5-8, 180); in 2010: did not appear (walk-on)
5. #1 Jonathan Jean-Louis (RSr., 6-0, 207); in 2010: split time between RB
and LB

Depth chart (fullback):

1. #39 Mark Hinkley (RJr., 5-11, 226); in 2010: played in one game (walk-on)
2. #47 Reuben Frank (RFr., 6-3, 238); in 2010: redshirted
3. #49 Sean McQuillan (Fr., 6-4, 242); in 2010: high school senior

2010 high points:

1. Jordan Todman. I mean, how can you even think of specifics? Todman was so good, Randy Edsall was able to finally live out his dream of running the Tecmo Super Bowl playbook.
2. OK, fine, some Todman specifics: his 222 yards against Pittsburgh were pretty much the definition of beast mode.
3. Todman was held under 100 yards on two occasions; he only had 93 yards against South Florida, but I'm still putting this on the high point list because USF was playing with 13 men in the box, and even getting positive yards against such odds makes Jordan Todman a national hero.

2010 low points:

1. D.J. Shoemate's fumble on the goal line against Michigan (when UConn was about to pull within 24-17) lands the heralded USC transfer on the bench, and thus now we're all terrified that UConn's No. 1 running back in 2011 is D.J. Shoemate.
2. The normally sure-handed Todman gets the ball ripped from his hands, leading directly to a Temple defensive touchdown, leading directly to the Big East champions losing to f-king Temple.
3. Todman heads to the NFL Draft and potential No. 1 Robbie Frey inexplicably transfers, leaving UConn in serious limbo at one of its few regular positions of strength.

All-time leaders:

Donald Brown (2006-2008): carries (698), net yards (3800)

Terry Caulley (2002-2006): yards per carry (5.6)

Vin Clements (1968-1970): yards per game (105.8)

Wilbur Gilliard (1992-1995): touchdowns (34)

Notable alumni:
Donald Brown is probably the best running back in school history; he became UConn's first first-round draft pick ever in 2009, going to the Indianapolis Colts. In the NFL, he's been most notable for forcing good Christian man Peyton Manning to take the Lord's name in vain.

Vin Clements played for the New York Giants in the early 70's after becoming UConn's first 1,000-yard single-season rusher.

Deon Anderson has carved out a nice NFL career as a fullback.

And for some reason (probably because his senior year coincided with D-Brown's breakout freshman year), everyone forgets that Terry Caulley was really good for a while. There's no such thing as too little Terry Caulley love.

Where this unit ranks:
Phil Steele: 8th in the Big East
Athlon: 8th in the Big East
CFN: 4th in the Big East

Bottom line: Shoemate has the talent to succeed. He only had 28 carries last year, but he averaged over 4 yards per carry, and he has a solid line in front of him. He needs to fix his fumbling problem though. Randy Edsall clearly didn't trust him -- he didn't see the field after Week 4 -- but Paul Pasqualoni has given him a second chance. If he makes good on it it can only bode well for the Huskies, but if he doesn't an offensive unit filled with too many question marks is going to find itself with even more.