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CFF Discussion - Will there be a VOLUME PIG in UConn's backfield this season?
Jim Mora's Huskies had a sneaky season in 2022, will there be a not-so sneaky CFF play in 2023?
Najee Harris once told me that Jim Mora told him he knew who killed Tupac during a recruiting visit, and I’ve never stopped thinking about that.
- Rob Cassidy, Rivals Sports
The Northeast is known for a lot of cool things. Big cities, beautiful foliage in the Autumn months, the illustrious home of Tony Soprano. The list goes on and on. One thing it isn’t known for is elite high school football. Scientifically speaking (this fact has been mathematically proven at near-by Yale University), there are simply too many pudgy Italian Americans who don’t have the makings of varsity athletes running around these parts. Some attribute the lack of elite athleticism to all the greasy pie that is consumed in these areas — a reasonable theory, in my opinion. These people spend far too much time trying to impress Dave Portnoy with their Pizza, and not enough time on the gridiron; and unfortunately, the effects of this phenomenon ‘trickles up’ to the collegiate ranks. There are few, if any, above average or elite college football (CFB) programs north of Philadelphia in the New York-New England area.
Some might say a better explanation for this phenomenon is the fact that most of the elite athletes in these parts play other sports — most notably Basketball (shoutout to Huskies Basketball for dominating March Madness); however, I prefer the pie theory, as it has been scientifically verified and mathematically proven.
This makes constructing a competitive program in this region a difficult task. One that only coaches who are truly desperate to get another shot at coaching would take on. And when I say desperate, I mean even more so than the guys over there in the MAC.
Enter Jim L. Mora, not to be confused with the other head coach named Jim Mora — Jim E. Mora, best known for his epic rant about making the NFL playoffs.
Although it would be extra fun if the ‘E’ version of J. Mora were coaching the Huskies, ‘L’ has got some tricks up his sleeve too.
Most notably, the bizarre (unconfirmed) recruiting story of Najee Harris.
I am just imagining that in some parallel universe, Jim E. Mora is coaching the Huskies and somehow signs California native Najee Harris to UConn based off of his street cred. Towards the end of the year he launches into an epic tirade about narrowly missing the CFP as they finish 67th in the poll.
In that parallel universe, Najee would probably have 400+ carries. While that would be awesome; in our reality, there is no back like Harris on the Huskies, and it is (epic-rant-less) Jim L. Mora at the helm.
All joking aside, what Mora did with UConn last season was impressive. After five straight seasons of winning three games or less, Mora’s Huskies lit off six big ones in 2022, finishing the season 6-7 and playing in a bowl game vs. Marshall, in which they would perform to a respectable stat line losing 14-28.
More relevant for us though, is the fact that they had a few CFF relevant assets in the 2022 season. True freshman Victor Rosa had a breakout season rushing 140 times for 635 yards and 11 TDs in 12 games (11 FPG). His teammate — Nathan Carter, opened the season as RB1 with back-to-back 20+ carry games, going over 100 yards in each and finishing with 19 and 21.1 fantasy points (FPs), respectively.
Carter would unfortunately pick up a shoulder injury in October, clearing the runway for Rosa to breakout and secure his spot as RB1. Likely due to the previous fact, he decided it was time to hit the road this offseason, and swapped allegiances to the Spartans of Michigan State.
Fellow RB Devontae Houston was also given a chance to shine, as he was fed 23 carries vs. Fresno State on October 1st. He paid that off with 105 yards and a score. Curiously, he would not see that type of volume again for the remainder of the season, and was essentially missing in the bowl game vs. Marshall, rushing only 5 times for 40 yards. Something I learned early on whilst watching the Sopranos: when it comes to the Northeast, guys come and go, and some might disappear for awhile. Don’t ask questions. Just keep your head down and roll with it.
And that, I will do. As always, we’ll kick things off with a look at the staff’s history at the position of interest. Today, we will be focusing on the RB position.
Coaching & System
Head coach Jim Mora took over the Huskies job in 2022. Previously, he worked in broadcasting, but his last head coaching gig was at UCLA between 2012 and 2017. Of his six years with the Bruins, three of them produced a 1000-yard RB:
2012: Johnathan Franklin (282 carries, 1,734 yards, 13 TDs)
2014: Paul Perkins (251 carries, 1,575 yards, 9 TDs)
2015: Paul Perkins (237 carries, 1,343 yards, 14 TDs)
Prior to the Bruins, he was in and out of coaching and broadcasting. If we go back to his last multi-year HC stint, which was 2004-2006 with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, all three seasons produced a 1000-yard RB:
2004: Warrick Dunn (265 carries, 1,106 yards, 9 TDs)
2005: Warrick Dunn (239 carries, 1,416 yards, 3 TDs)
2006: Warrick Dunn (259 carries, 1,140 yards, 2 TDs)
Some aesthetically pleasing numbers for sure. Keep in mind that Warrick Dunn was also an elite, elite player who demanded touches. I also don’t think the tendencies from over 15+ years ago are all that relevant. But, given the limited sample size, this is what we have to work with.
Of note, his offences at UCLA became increasingly pass-heavy toward the end of his tenure.
In 2014, UCLA passed for 3,155 yards and rushed for 2,276 yards. In 2015, the team passed for 3,670 yards and rushed for 1,669 yards. In 2016, the team passed for 2,946 yards and rushed for just 1,175 yards. Finally, in 2017, the team passed for 4,342 yards and rushed for 1,604 yards.
UConn also did not have a 1000-yard RB in 2022, as Rosa was the leading rusher with 635. Devontae Houston was not far behind — despite not seeing the same levels of volume — with 578 yards.
Mora’s OC is more consistent. Nick Charlton joined the Huskies with Mora in 2022. He previously HC’d the Maine Black Bears (2019-2021) after serving as OC in 2018, and WRs coach 2015-2017.
In the years where he was either a HC or OC, Charlton had zero 1000-yard rushers. He seems to have a tendency towards committees, and even in this past year, when Rosa and Carter saw major volume at various points of the season, it was still a group effort at RB as Houston worked into the rotation too.
I, of course, have thoughts about this, and I will explain them towards the end of this write-up. But first, let’s take a closer look at personnel.
Victor Rosa - 5’11, 206
Rosa joined the Huskies in 2022 by way of Bristol, CT. The local product starred in his first season of college ball, rolling for 635 yards and 11 TDs in 12 games. His break out performance came against FIU on October 8, as RB1 Nathan Carter went down with injury. In that game, Rosa rushed 16 times for 89 yards and 2 TDs. Since that game, Rosa averaged 14.71 carries a game.
CFF managers took notice, if you’ve participated in any CFF mock drafts this spring, you already know that Rosa is the only Huskie drafted.
While the runway opened up with Carter transferring out, former Louisville RB Jalen Mitchell’s transfer casts some doubt on Rosa’s RB1 status.
Jalen Mitchell - 5’10, 221
Jalen Mitchell is a big bodied back out of Rockledge, FL. I’m intrigued by Mitchell, those of you who read these articles regularly already know my feelings on players from Florida.
Mitchell’s CFB career has been up and down so far. He played the last four seasons at Louisville, and looked to be inline for a featured role in 2021. He finished that season with 155 attempts for 722 yards and 5 TDs, averaging 10.5 FPG.
He would take a major step back in 2022, however, only appearing in five games, and carrying the rock 10 times for 48 yards total.
His transfer down a level to UConn could be just what the doctor ordered for Mitchell, who is definitively all-bus team at any level of CFB. Given the circumstances, I am betting Mitchell is expecting a big role in the offence in 2023.
Devontae Houston - 5’10, 175
The thorn in everyone’s side is Houston. The Roanoke, AL native is entering his third year of CFB with the Huskies. 2022 was by far his best season, finishing the year with 84 attempts, 578 yards, and 3 TDs.
Like Rosa, Houston looks to be a rising star in the program and — bowl game not withstanding — I expect him to have a role in the offence too. He saw double digit carries in four of the last six games to close out the season in 2022, and will probably be used more as a third-down RB in 2023.
The coaching staff’s history suggests that there is not going to be a bell-cow RB on this team in 2023.
Victor Rosa is probably still RB1 on the depth chart, but Mitchell probably sees work near the goal line, while Houston picks up slack on third downs. TDs were a key part of Rosa’s CFF profile in 2022, with Mitchell in the fold, these numbers could see a major dent.
I would probably only draft Rosa in an extremely deep league and in a very late round (15+). However, if one of he or Mitchell were to be sidelined, there could be great value in holding the other (hence the ‘only drafting in a deep league format’ take).
Mora’s recruiting pitch to Najee might not have been successful but it is unquestionably elite (Kirby Smart take notes).
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