NEW BRITAIN - The Central Connecticut State football team is doing something this week it has not done yet this season - entering a game coming off a win.
Whether the Blue Devils (1-3) have turned a corner for the better on their season remains to be seen, but it might have come at the best time for CCSU, as it enters conference play this afternoon against Sacred Heart.
“I think the guys are excited,” Blue Devils head coach Pete Rossomando said. “We’ve had a pretty good week of practice. I think they’re ready to get conference play started against a good Sacred Heart team.”
And the Pioneers should present a good test for CCSU on both sides of the ball, scoring an average of 29.5 points per game.
Outside of a blowout loss to Stony Brook in Week 3, Sacred Heart has been a challenge for every opponent it has faced, with a field goal at Bucknell last Saturday being the only thing separating the Pioneers from a 3-1 record instead of 2-2.
For the Blue Devils, the formula for success comes down to the running game. They must stop Sacred Heart’s and be able to establish their own as they were able to do against Walsh a week ago. Both have been a struggle at times this season for CCSU.
“They have a good stable of backs,” Rossomando said. “They don’t really focus on one guy and you don’t really prepare for that. It’s about the scheme. We have to stop the run and limit the big play.”
The Pioneers come into the contest averaging 193.5 rushing yards per game, splitting carries effectively between four different runners.
Ose Imeokparia and Jordan Meachum are the two lead backs with similar numbers. Imeokparia has 41 carries for 197 yards (4.8 yards per carry) and four touchdowns, while Meachum has rushed 37 times for 189 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and two touchdowns.
Right behind them are quarterback Kevin Duke (30 carries, 180 yards, three touchdowns) and Eli Terry (36 carries, 146 yards, one score).
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, have given up an average of 253.9 rushing yards to opponents this season. But Sacred Heart has shown the ability to throw it when necessary.
Duke has completed 61.9 percent of his passes for 733 yards, three touchdowns and five interceptions. Andrew O’Neill (19 catches, 187 yards, two touchdowns) and Byron Barney (16 catches, 227 yards) are his top two weapons on the outside.
Jevon Elmore’s return to the secondary should help CCSU.
“This game is going to be determined by how disciplined we are on the defensive side,” Rossomando said.
While the Blue Devils will try to build off their own success in running the ball after last Saturday, producing both their first 100-yard rusher in 14 games as well as their highest output on the ground for the season, they will have to contend with a defense built around speed rather than size, with a linebacking corps that tends to make plays all over the field.
“Their linebackers are erasers, they erase any mistakes their front makes,” Rossomando said. “Our offense has to be able to run the football. They believe that without [receivers] Joey [Fields] and Jose [Garcia], they’re going to be able to force us to run it. So we have to be efficient in the run game. You gotta continue to pound it and we have to be effective doing it.”
The Pioneers have been susceptible to the run at times, giving up an average of 119.3 yards on the ground, while giving up 26.5 points to opponents.
This game, however, will most likely be determined by who makes the least number of mistakes.
“They want you to be undisciplined,” Rossomando said. “If you’re undisciplined, they’re going to make you pay.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach