New Hampshire football coach Sean McDonnell doesn’t want to hear about the eight wins teams from the Football Championship Subdivision had over Football Bowl Subdivision opponents last weekend.
He doesn’t care about what North Dakota State did in 2007, when the FCS-level Bison came to Mount Pleasant and routed Central Michigan 44-14 – the same Chippewas team that featured a budding Dan LeFevour at quarterback and went on to win a Mid-American Conference title that year.
Rather, McDonnell and his Wildcats team – ranked No. 8 in the FCS – enter Saturday’s game knowing full well of CMU’s strengths. And they’re not afraid to admit it.
“My biggest fear with this football team (CMU) has always been the physicality of their offensive line and the way they run the ball,” McDonnell said Monday during the Colonial Athletic Association’s coaches teleconference.
“I’ve always felt like we can run, chase things down and do things, but we’re going to have to find a way to stand up against these guys – and I’m talking both sides of the ball. They have a real physical front; coach (Dan) Enos and his staff have done a good job of exploiting those types of things with their team.”
McDonnell shot down the idea that game preparation might differ now that the Chippewas are without planned starting quarterback Cody Kater and top tailback Zurlon Tipton, both of which faced possible season-ending injuries in CMU’s 59-9 loss Saturday at Michigan.
In fact, he thought sophomore quarterback Alex Niznak looked “good” in his collegiate debut, particularly in the second half. He considers sophomore Saylor Lavallii, who emerged last season as the team’s No. 2 back and is expected to become the team’s top weapon on the ground, and junior Anthony Garland “more than capable backs.”
He realizes Tipton’s strength of being able to push through for extra yards during a carry will no longer be there. That’s where his defensive line steps in, led by starting tackles Sean McCann, a senior, and Matt Kaplan, a junior. The remaining two spots are expected to be filled by a committee of four other players in hopes of staying fresh.
“I’ve watched tape of teams last year trying to make them one-dimensional, and they couldn’t stop them,” McDonnell said of CMU’s opponents. “They will pound the football with power … Now we’ve just got to make sure we can tackle and keep the ball in front of us if we’re going to have a shot at all to stop the run still.”
Saturday’s game will be the season opener for UNH, whose schedule includes four Top 25 FCS-ranked opponents, including Towson who knocked off UConn, 33-18, over the weekend.
“We’ve got a good opponent coming in,” CMU coach Dan Enos said. “They certainly have our full, undivided attention. We’re not good enough to throw our helmets out there and beat anybody. We’re a blue-collared team, we’ve got to play well on both sides of the ball and special teams.”
CMU could see two quarterbacks
While McDonnell named his starting quarterback, junior Andy Vailas, earlier this week, even calling it the hardest decision he’s ever had to make as a head coach, he said Monday to expect sophomore backup Sean Goldrich to see some time against CMU.
“Both will play, and I can tell you somewhere along the line Sean Goldrich will be in the game on Saturday,” he said.
Vailas (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and Goldrich (6-foot-3, 213 pounds) competed throughout spring and fall camp, mirroring a bit the Chippewas’ three-way quarterback battle that was decided late in preseason camp, with his Vailas winning out with his stronger throwing arm and ability to scramble.
Both split time last season, with Vailas throwing for 1,558 yards and 18 touchdowns, rushing for another 451 yards and six touchdowns, and Goldrich throwing for 1,202 yards and eight touchdowns and rushing for another 174 yards and two scores.
“You’ve got to prepare for both. Both of them can run, they like to do different things with each one and we’ll prepare for that,” Enos said. “It’s difficult to get ready for, and I’m sure they know that and that’s one of the reasons they do it. But it’s something that we looked at all summer. We had an idea of what we were going to do going into this week and we’re going to execute that plan.”
Contact Aaron McMann: email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronMcMann.