This is the second article in our positional preview series. You can read the first one on the QBs here.
The running game led the UConn offense last year. Behind a strong O-line and with a true freshman quarterback for all but one series in 2022, Nate Carter, Robert Burns, Devontae Houston, and Victor Rosa took turns as the team’s leading rusher for multiple games each.
This year, Burns is on the Chicago Bears and Nate Carter has transferred to Michigan State after rushing for 384 yards in the first three games of 2022 and then shutting down for the season after an injury in the fourth game. The top two rushers in yardage last season, Houston and Rosa, are back, and a few new names are in the mix for playing time in the backfield.
The 2023 Huskies are likely to still be a run-first team though it should be a bit more balanced thanks to an influx of talent at receiver and hopes of improving the passing attack due to a more experienced starter under center. With the offensive line retaining four of five starters from last season, the running backs will benefit from great blocking no matter who gets the bulk of the carries.
#1 - Devontae Houston - Redshirt Junior
2022: 578 rushing yards, 6.9 ypc, 3 TDs, 10 rec., 48 rec. yards, 158 kick-return yards
The junior from Roanoke, Alabama broke out as a sophomore last year after seeing limited action in 2021. Houston is a speedster with the ability to find a bit of space and dart through it for big yardage.
Early in preseason camp, head coach Jim Mora said that Houston and Brian Brewton are atop the depth chart with Rosa third, but pointed out that the Huskies work the position “by committee.”
Houston averaged nearly seven yards per attempt last season on the strength of his long runs. He said he’s been working on his running between the tackles and Mora has praised Houston’s improved blocking as well, indicating that he’s pushing for an every-down role. The home-run threat will be one of the primary playmakers who the UConn offense will be counting on. Houston also played through a lot of bruises and injuries last year but starts this year with a clean bill of health.
#22 - Victor Rosa - Sophomore
2022: 636 rushing yards, 4.5 ypc, 11 TDs, 283 kick-return yards, 53 punt-return yards
Much was made of Victor Rosa, the Connecticut Gatorade High School Player of the Year out of Bristol Central High, choosing UConn, but few would have expected him to see so much playing time as a true freshman. By the end of the 2022 season, Rosa led the Huskies in rushing yards and touchdowns.
This year, the running back room starts with a few more proven players than in the middle of last year, when Rosa was pushed into duty by a slew of injuries at the position. In 2023, Rosa should have a more defined role, potentially featured in goal-line situations while also being available for early-down plays.
#4 - Brian Brewton - Junior
2022: 85 rushing yards, 25 receiving yards
Brewton saw minimal playing time in 2021 and again in 2022 due to a game where he suffered two injuries. His last full game was in Week 2 against CCSU before returning for the bowl game against Marshall, registering five carries.
At 5-foot-6, 175 pounds, the Florida native, who hails from the same high school as QB Zion Turner, brings speed and playmaking ability to the group.
This year, Brewton said he feels healthy and ready to contribute, and Mora has indicated that he’s in line for a significant role. He could be a passing-down threat and part of the regular rotation as well. In the team’s first preseason scrimmage, he reversed field and then dove into the pylon for a nice touchdown run, as captured here by our photographer Ian Bethune.
#5 - Jalen Mitchell - Graduate Student
2022: 48 rushing yards (season shortened by injury); 2021: 722 rushing yards, 4.7 ypc, 5 TDs
At 5-foot-10, 221 pounds, Jalen Mitchell could be the bruiser that the Huskies are looking for in the absence of Burns, who held the fullback role but also carried the rock enough to be the team’s fourth-leading rusher in 2022.
Mitchell had a reasonably productive 2021 season against ACC competition as a member of the Louisville Cardinals. The Florida native has two years of eligibility remaining and a chance to be a similarly productive player for the Huskies in that time.
#0 - Camryn Edwards - Sophomore
Edwards moved over to running back after being recruited to play defensive back out of Norwalk High School, where he had 2,349 career rushing yards and 44 total touchdowns and was named the New Haven Register/Gametime CT State player of the year.
He’s caught some attention in preseason camp and has a lot of time ahead of him as a sophomore this year, but his ability, along with the fact that we know depth can get tested, should allow him to see some playing time after managing one carry in 2022.