NEW BRITAIN - Central Connecticut State head football coach Pete Rossomando knows this is the last chance for his team to work out any kinks before the important part of the schedule begins and the games start to mean a little bit more.
“I told our guys, ‘the sand is going through the hourglass pretty fast right now,’” Rossomando said. “‘We’re at game five and before you know it, you’re going to be playing in conference. If you don’t get these things fixed and you’re playing a conference game, it matters. That’s when all the marbles are on the table.’ We have to do a better job of cleaning things up and start to get in a rhythm on offense and we can’t give up big plays in the secondary. I’m not about that.”
The Blue Devils (2-2) close out their non-conference schedule tonight at Lafayette College (0-4) before starting Northeast Conference play next week. And while CCSU has looked good in spurts - as it did at times in its win over Fordham last Saturday - it’s also had some bad moments, including losing three fumbles and converted on 25% of third downs against Columbia in Week 3.
The Leopards might offer the Blue Devils the best chance for what Rossomando is hoping to accomplish.
Lafayette has lost three games by 29 or more points, including a 35-6 defeat at NEC-team Sacred Heart in the season opener. In two of the losses, the Leopards have been shutout with the lone exception being the four-point loss they suffered to Monmouth in Week 3.
Opponents are averaging nearly twice as many yards as Lafayette (435.8-218) and have outscored the Leopards 141-26. CCSU, meanwhile, comes in averaging 27.3 points and 348 yards per game.
“They’re a pretty good defense,” Rossomando said. “When you watch the film, their defense is stout. They’ve just been on the field way too much this year. You look at the games they’ve played, it’s been a real tight contest until the third quarter, and then it just opens up with the exception of their last game at Colgate.”
“Offensively, they’re still trying to find their way,” he added. “Their quarterback is a good player. If they can just get some rhythm - hopefully it won’t be this week - they can be a pretty dangerous team. They’re doing a lot because I think they’re trying to find what their M-O is. They have the talent. They haven’t had a cohesive offensive line where they’ve had the same five starters in back-to-back weeks. Of course, this will be the first against us.”
Sean O’Malley will be the quarterback for Lafayette. The sophomore is completing 50 percent of his passes for 592 yards and a touchdown. O’Malley has been prone to turning the ball over. He has five interceptions this season, throwing at least one pick in every game expect against Monmouth.
It should pose an interesting test to the Blue Devils’ secondary which is still trying to jell with its new pieces. Outside of the game against Division II Lincoln (Pa), CCSU has given up 706 yards and six touchdowns through the air, although 336 of those were put up by Ball State in the season opener. The one interception the defense had in those three games came last week against Fordham when Grant Ibeh returned a interception 19 yards for a touchdown.
“We have to keep the ball in front of us,” Rossomando said. “Yes, we have a young secondary, but sometimes those guys tend to get lulled to sleep because our front seven is dominating. And then when they have to make a play, it’s kind of like ‘woah.’ We have to start to focus more and that’s something we talked about this week as an entire football team.”
Being on the road may be able to help with that.
“It gets us together and bonds us as a team,” Rossomando said. “It makes you focus more, so I’ve never thought of it as a negative. We’re doing things together, we’re communicating [and] that’s how you grow as a group. It’s a galvanizer. I think it’s a real positive thing for us.”
Of course, it’s all going to come down to execution, particularly on offense. There were times last week when quarterback Jacob Dolegala missed on some deep passes that would have opened up the middle of the field. One was an overthrow, the other was a drop. CCSU averaged just 2.5 yards per carry against Fordham as a result.
“We have to connect on some of those passes,” Rossomando said. “We have guys open, we’re just not finishing. I think that’s what we need to do to have success against this defense. If we don’t, teams are just going to continue to stack the line of scrimmage and we’re not going to be able to run the football with the type of effectiveness we want to run the ball with.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org