Connecticut coach Randy Edsall concedes he doesn’t have a tailback who can replace the production of Donald Brown, the nation’s leading rusher last season and first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts.
But Edsall just might have two backs who together can get the job done when the Huskies (1-0) host No. 19 North Carolina (1-0) in East Hartford on Saturday.
Sophomore Jordan Todman and senior Andre Dixon combined for 257 yards on 44 carries in UConn’s 23-16 season-opening win over Ohio. Brown, who ran for 2,083 yards last season, averaged just over 160 yards on about 28 carries per game.
“What’s great is one person can make a big run and the next person can come in the next play at 100 percent, not tired, not fatigued, and do the same thing,” Todman said.
Todman, a 5-foot-9, 190-pound sophomore, carried the ball 25 times for 157 yards against the Bobcats. He is a shifty, elusive runner, with quick cuts and lots of speed.
Dixon also has sprinter’s speed, but is the stronger of the two at 6-1, 201 pounds, and he may be called on to run inside a bit more than Todman. He had 19 carries and 100 yards rushing against Ohio.
While Todman is listed on the depth chart as the No. 1 tailback, Edsall said both will get plenty of playing time again against the Tar Heels, who return nine defensive starters. North Carolina held The Citadel to just 30 yards on the ground in their opener.
“Jordan and Andre aren’t built like Donald was built,” Edsall said. “They’re not going to be able to withstand all those carries. It helps us, being able to use both those guys.”
Connecticut is running a new no-huddle offense this season, and most assumed that with Brown gone, the Huskies would be passing more.
That might not be an option. Junior quarterback Zach Frazer threw three interceptions against Ohio, the same number he threw in a 38-12 loss to North Carolina a year ago.
Edsall said he wants balance, but he’s not about to turn the Huskies into a passing team.
“I am a firm believer, and always will be, that if you’re going to win football games up here in this kind of climate, as the weather gets colder and everything else, you’ve got to be able to run the football,” Edsall said. “You’ve got to be able to throw the football, but first and foremost you’ve got to be able to run the football.”
Dixon has already shown he can do that over a season. Two years ago, he was the Huskies’ leading rusher with 828 yards. With his dreadlocks flowing from under his helmet, he quickly became a favorite.
But last year, “Dreads” suffered a preseason ankle injury and off-the-field problems including a DUI arrest that caused him to miss most of the season.
He said he has no problem being listed as No. 2 to Todman, who ran for 318 yards backing up Brown last year, and just wants to prove he can still play. That’s something he said he showed himself against Ohio.
“It was a run where I ran into guys and I drug ’em for probably about 3 or 4 yards,” he said. “I was like, ‘Man, this feels good again.'”
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