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Allen Lessells: UNH knows what's coming with Wofford matchup
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - The University of New Hampshire football team's No. 1 goal on defense is to stop the run. Always.
That challenge has perhaps never been as great as today when the Wildcats line up against Wofford College in an NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournament second-round game on the finely groomed natural grass field of Gibbs Stadium.
Wofford wants to run the ball out of its multiple option offense, run it again and then run some more for good measure "We run a million different ways out of a million different formations," said Eric Breitenstein, Wofford's 5-foot-10 and 225-pound standout senior fullback. "If you start to stop one thing, we go to the next. People know it's coming, but it's pretty hard to stop the way we do it."
The Terriers have ridden Breitenstein and his 150 rushing yards a game and 16 touchdowns to an 8-3 overall record and their fifth appearance in the last six seasons in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision tournament.
UNH is also 8-3 and is playing in the NCAA tournament for a nation's-best ninth straight season.
The victor today advances to a quarterfinal matchup between either South Dakota State or defending national champion North Dakota State, who play this afternoon in Fargo, N.D.
Compounding the task for the Wildcats today is the fact they gave up 415 rushing yards in the last game they played two weeks ago, a 64-35 loss at home to Towson.
Tackling was a major issue for the Wildcats against Towson and must be vastly improved today for them to have a chance against the Terriers. They also were unable to create a turnover against Towson, while turning it over three times themselves, and likewise need to turn that number around.
Then it's a matter of playing great attention to detail and assignments and making sure Breitenstein is covered on his dives in tight and quarterback Brian Kass is covered when he keeps the ball or pitches to runners such as Donovan Johnson on the outside.
Much of the responsibility for Breitenstein falls to Jared Smith, UNH's 6-foot-3 and 292-pound senior defensive tackle, and his mates along the defensive line.
"It's a lot different," Smith said. "He doesn't cut and find holes. He just plows through them and tries to get as many yards as he can and that just build up first downs. That's how Wofford works ... We've just got to keep our hole assignments and if everyone keeps their hole assignments, we're good."
The Terriers blow up any concept of balanced offense: They are second in rushing yards in the country among FCS teams with 348 yards a game and are dead last of 121 teams at 52 yards passing a game.
Kass, the starting quarterback, has completed just 18 of his 43 passes all season. Still, the Terriers will pass just enough to create problems. Six of those 18 Kass completions went for touchdowns.
UNH will also try to slow Breitenstein and the Wofford offense by keeping them off the field.
The Wildcats, behind a veteran and intact offensive line, have been balanced on offense all season - they rush for 234.4 yards a game and pass for 236.7 - but they also struggled on that side of the ball against Towson.
They will again use two quarterbacks, redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich and Andy Vailas, a sophomore out of Bedford, and will try to get back on track against a stingy Wofford defense.
"I guess in a way we do have something to prove," Vailas said. "I think we can come out and fly around."
The Terriers allow 316 yards of defense and 17.7 points a game. UNH averages 470.9 yards on offense and 36.6 points per contest.
WOFFORD gave South Carolina, then the No. 12-ranked team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, all it wanted in its last game The Terriers lost, 24-7, but it was 7-7 going into the fourth period ... UNH had its off week late this season and thus is playing only its second game since beating William & Mary, 28-25, on Nov. 3 ... That may make the Wildcats a little rusty, but last week's bye in the first round also helped. First, the defense had more time to prepare for the triple option it rarely sees: UNH last played against an offense that is similar in 2008 at Army. And second, the Wildcat lost two starters, tight end Harold Spears and wide receiver Jimmy Giansante, to injury on the same play against Towson. Both are out for the season and the extra time gave coaches a chance to rework the lineup and some schemes.