NEW BRITAIN - As the Central Connecticut State football team gets ready for its first FCS Playoff game in program history Saturday afternoon, New Hampshire, its first-round opponent, will be gearing up for the postseason for the 14th consecutive year.
That much experience can make quite a difference and the last time the two played one another back in 2015, ended in a 57-14 Blue Devils loss.
“We have a pretty good idea [of what to expect],” CCSU head coach Pete Rossomando said. “I know the coaching staff really, really well. I have a lot of respect for [New Hampshire head] coach [Sean] McDonnell and his staff. I worked with one of defensive coaches, who was our defensive coordinator at New Haven, so I have a lot of familiarity with their people. They have great coaches, just like our staff, and it’s going to be a hell of a battle. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Suspensions to quarterback Jacob Dolegala and offensive lineman David Cinti will make things more difficult, but here are three things we know about the Wildcats:
1. New Hampshire plays its best at home
The Wildcats didn’t end their regular season on the best note, losing three of their final six games to finish with a 7-4 record. But those losses, like the one other, were all on the road.
New Hampshire is a different team playing at its home stadium where the Wildcats compiled a 5-0 record compared to 1-4 on the road and 1-0 at a neutral site.
It has certainly shown in the stats. New Hampshire averages 30.6 points per game this season at home, a touchdown more than its season average. Away from Wildcat Stadium, the team averaged 12.4 points with two shutouts - one being a 21-0 loss to James Madison, the No. 1 overall seed in the FCS playoffs and last season’s champion with the other coming in the regular season finale in a 15-0 loss to Albany.
The same is true for the Wildcats’ defense. In its five home games, the unit allowed a combined 77 points (15.4 per game) and an opponent to score 20 just once, which also happened to come in the season opener. But in the other games, New Hampshire’s defense is allowing opponents to score an average of 29.4 points per game with four scoring 21 points or more.
2. The Wildcats are a lot more effective throwing the ball than running it
Much of New Hampshire’s offensive success this season is predicated around its passing game and quarterback Trevor Knight (not the former Oklahoma and Texas A&M signal caller).
Through 11 games this season, Knight has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 2,851 yards and 23 touchdowns to six interceptions. And as most quarterbacks do, the junior has a go-to receiver he often relies on. That happens to be Neil O’Connor, who leads the team in catches (87), yards (1,291) and touchdowns (10). The next closest is Malik Love, who has 514 yards and two touchdowns on 51 catches.
The Wildcats’ running game, however, has not been as productive. As a team, New Hampshire has rushed for 1,158 yards and 10 touchdowns, but is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry. And both of the Wildcats’ top two rushers, Evan Gray and DeUnte Chatman, finished the regular season under the 500-yard mark with 469 and 382 yards respectively.
That philosophy has carried over to when New Hampshire is looking to move the chains for first downs. Out of the 213 first downs the Wildcats have managed this season, 127 have come through the air, 69 were via the ground game and another 17 were the result of penalties.
But in the end, that could be a good thing for the CCSU defense, which has intercepted 14 passes this season.
3. New Hampshire usually wins the time of possession
Yes, the Wildcats’ offense can score points and their defense can be stingy at times, but what might be the team’s best quality, and could pose some challenges for the Blue Devils, is its ability to control the time of possession.
The season totals might not be all that impressive with New Hampshire keeping the ball for 30:59 seconds of the game and opponents getting to keep it for 29:01, but the Wildcats have won the time of possession battle in seven of their 11 games, including four of their last six.
And this is where CCSU might find itself in some trouble. With the Blue Devils out Dolegala and Cinti due to one-game suspensions, that will make their running game, which has become much more prevalent during their eight-game win streak, that much more important. Should CCSU fail to generate anything on the ground or if it has to play from behind for the majority of the afternoon, the Blue Devils might not have the time for any kind of comeback if needed.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach