What's a week without a UConn position controversy?
Sophomore D.J. Hernandez will remain the starter despite an ineffective performance (8-of-17, 67 yards, one interception) in a 24-13 loss to No. 15 Rutgers Sunday night at Rutgers Stadium.
Have no fear. It appears a tailback controversy is brewing, one sure to dominate the news coming out of Storrs for the next week and a half or so. Senior and four-year starter Terry Caulley couldn’t play because of an ankle injury. Redshirt freshman Donald Brown stepped in and exploded for 199 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries.
So the question sure to linger is will there be a changing of the guard at tailback? On Monday, coach Randy Edsall gave no indication he was ready to make a decision any time soon.
"We’ll sit down and do a lot of studying and see. I comes down to what we feel is the best way to go the last four games that gives us the best opportunity to win," Edsall said. "I know we have three tailbacks (sophomore Lou Allen is the other) I like and I think they are all a little different in their own ways. I think the one who will play is the one who can give us a little more than the others in certain situations."
Caulley has been Edsall’s rock for what seems like ages. A leader in every sense, Caulley set the program record for career rushing yardage earlier this season, becoming the first UConn player to top 3,000 yards.
But what Brown accomplished on Sunday should be enough to snatch the job. In his first start, Brown, from nearby Atlantic Heights, N.J., easily outperformed Rutgers’ Heisman Trophy candidate Ray Rice (22 carries, 79 yards, touchdown) in front of a national audience.
He shredded the nation’s second-stingiest defense, which hadn’t allowed a 100-yard effort to a running back all season. If not for a 5-yard loss late in the fourth quarter, Brown would have finished with 204 yards.
After only two carries for seven yards in the first quarter, Brown broke off runs of 24, 22 and 19 in the second quarter. To start the second half Brown went 72 yards in two plays, capped by a magnificent 65-yard touchdown run for the Huskies first points. He added a 7-yard TD late in the third that pulled UConn within 17-13.
"The thing I like is he played in 58 plays in the game and I don’t think he got tired," Edsall said. "The young man is in excellent condition. He’s strong and runs with power and elusiveness. You saw him hit it up in there, and also get through and have the burst to take it the distance. Is he going to get 199 yards every game? No. Would I like him to? Yes."
The perception around UConn over the last few years is that Caulley, because of his work ethic, talent and personality, is one of Edsall’s favorites. Caulley, coming off major reconstructive knee surgery last year, was not 100 percent. Yet Edsall stuck with him even in games where backups Cornell Brockington and Lou Allen were more effective.
Even this season when Brown showed signs his immense talent might warrant, at the very least, more playing time, Caulley was still the featured back. That didn’t cause much controversy because Caulley (623 yards, 5.8 yards-per carry) has run the ball well this season.
On Monday, Edsall diffused any notion that his fondness for Caulley will play into the decision as to which back starts against Pittsburgh.
"Personal feelings don’t come into play," Edsall said. "Personal feelings can’t come into play. I like every guy on our team. But the guys that perform and the guys can do the job are the guys we go with on Saturday afternoon."
If Edsall is true to that, Brown should be the featured back.
In other news, Ray Rice, who came out of the game after injuring an ankle Sunday, told the Associated Press on Monday he is fine. "It’s just a little sore. I’m ready to go," Rice said. Upon hearing the news, Greg Sciano took his first breath since about 11 p.m. last night.