UNH takes big-time trip to Georgia State
DURHAM — Last month, the University of New Hampshire football team visited the shiny and new TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis to take on the University of Minnesota.
Today, the No. 14-ranked Wildcats bring their 3-2 record to the Georgia Dome, home of the Atlanta Falcons, to take on winless Georgia State. The Panthers are making a brief stop in the Colonial Athletic Association on their way to the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference.
UNH has played in some impressive facilities in some impressive atmospheres over the last decade.
“It's all good stuff for these guys, when you take a step back and look at it,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell, who is looking for his 100th win as a head coach today.
It's not unusual for McDonnell's players, after a walk-through practice on Friday, to climb to the top of the stands at Montana State or in Gillette Stadium or at Heinz Field to take a picture or get a look around.
McDonnell rattled off some of the unique places his Wildcats have been: From Rutgers to Northwestern, from West Point to Missoula, Mont., to play the University of Montana Grizzlies.
His favorite, he said might be Statesboro, Ga., home of Georgia Southern University, a legendary team that had been run by the legendary Erk Russell.
The Wildcats played there in the first round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs in 2004, the only other time they have played in Georgia.
“It was a prime time game on Thanksgiving weekend in a place that had so much I-AA, FCS history,” McDonnell said. “The home of Erk Russell. It was our first playoff game after a long time away from it. Everything about that was cool.”
Winning the game — as the Wildcats have done at many such stops in recent years — made it even cooler.
“It's a lot better when you win,” McDonnell said. “A lot better.”
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Georgia State is 0-5 overall and 0-2 in the CAA and coming off a 35-3 loss at William & Mary and is an unknown to McDonnell and his staff.
The Panthers are scoring 10 points a game, which is next-to-lowest in the CAA and allowing a league-high 38.4.
“You watch the Richmond tape and you watch the William & Mary tape and they move as fast as anybody,” McDonnell said. “And you watch the Tennessee tape and it's scary, they're making plays all over the place.”
Georgia State lost to Richmond, 35-14, and to Tennessee, 51-13.
The Panthers have had trouble with turnovers and at quarterback.
They are last in the league in turnover margin at minus-13. UNH, in comparison, is tops at plus-seven.
Redshirt freshman Ronnie Bell, a transfer from Ohio University, started his first game against William & Mary and completed 13 of his 26 passes for 157 yards. He threw four interceptions.
For the season, three Georgia State quarterbacks have 12 interceptions and three touchdown passes.
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McDonnell said senior linebacker Allan Buzbee, who left Saturday's 34-14 win over Delaware after getting a concussion, and senior defensive tackle Jared Smith, who missed last week's game with a knee injury, are likely to play today. . . . Junior safety Chris Beranger, who sat out last week with concussion symptoms, remains sidelined. . . . Quarterback Andy Vailas, a sophomore out of Bedford and Bishop Guertin of Nashua, has completed 82 of his 133 passes (61.7 percent) for 990 yards and nine touchdowns with two interceptions. . . . McDonnell, in his 14th season, has a career record of 99-64. . . . Sophomore wide receiver R.J. Harris leads the league with 39 catches, has five TD receptions and is averaging 110 yards receiving yards a game. . . . Senior linebacker Matt Evans is second in the league with 48 tackles. . . . UNH's string of 118 weeks being ranked in the Top 25 in the nation became the longest such streak in the nation with Montana dropping out of the Top 25 this week.