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NH College Football: UNH winning the turnover battle

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 11. 2017 11:48PM
UNH quarterback Trevor Knight, shown celebrating a touchdown in a win over Rhode Island last month, and the offense have taken good care of the football this season, helping the Wildcats to a plus-5 in the turnover category, which leads the Colonial Athletic Association. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)

Scan the University of New Hampshire’s team statistics on the Colonial Athletic Association web site and you won’t see anything remarkable until you come to turnover margin. UNH is leading the conference in that category at plus-five, which has undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the team’s 4-1 start.

The Wildcats have turned the ball over five times (two fumbles, three interceptions) and have 10 takeaways, including eight interceptions.

“As I tell the guys, if we don’t turn the ball over we’ll be OK in every game we play,” UNH coach Sean McDonnell said. “It’s a combination of everybody on the offensive side of the ball because if the offensive line is protecting there’s no blind-side hits, and if they’re doing a good job in the run game there’s no knock-back hits. The running backs, the receivers — when they catch they have to secure and cover. I think (quarterback) Trevor (Knight) has made some very good steps in learning how to throw the ball away, and his legs have gotten him out of trouble. We’re encouraged that we only have three turnovers in five games.

“The biggest thing is creating turnovers. Can we create some turnovers to give our offense more opportunities to score points? We’ve had a pretty good record when we’ve done that.”

McDonnell is hoping his team’s good fortune regarding turnovers continues Saturday, when UNH plays at Stony Brook (6 p.m.). The Seawolves (4-2, 3-1 CAA) have turned the ball over eight times in their six games, but are plus-two in turnover margin.

“It’s a big emphasis every day: get the ball out, get the ball out, get the ball out,” UNH safety Pop Lacey said. “We emphasize that everyday in practice and we’ve emphasized it since Day 1.”

UNH, which is 2-0 in the CAA, will be facing one of the top defenses in the CAA. Stony Brook ranks 18th among FCS teams in total defense (293.8 yards per game), 19th in pass defense (173.5) and 25th in scoring defense (19.2).

Stony Brook quarterback Joe Carbone has completed 98 of 155 passes for 1,122 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s been intercepted twice. Carbone’s brother, Mark, plays on the UNH basketball team.

“They’re as good a football team as we’ve played if not the best football team that we’ve played and it always starts in my mind on the defensive side of the ball, but the thing that has impressed me the most is how offensively they have become a productive football team,” McDonnell said. “Still working hard to find out the true identity of (our) team. You’re 4-1 and the record looks looks good, but this is a huge game for us to find out where we are.”


Cornell at Franklin Pierce (noon)

The Ravens’ (2-2) biggest challenge may be containing Cornell running back Will Griffen, who is one of the top all-around offensive threats in the CSFL. Griffen leads the league in all-purpose yardage (140.5 per game), ranks second in rushing (91.0) and is second in scoring (9.0). Franklin Pierce linebacker Demitri Moreno is fifth in the CSFL in tackles (8.8).

Franklin Pierce running back Kobie Smith has gained 339 yards on 65 carries (5.2 per carry) and is third in the CSFL in rushing yards per game (84.8). He ran for 176 yards and three touchdowns in last Saturday’s 28-0 victory over Post.

Cornell (2-1) is last in the CSFL in pass defense (210.3).

Dartmouth at Sacred Heart, 1 p.m.

Dartmouth (4-0, 2-0 Ivy) ranks fifth among Ivy League teams in total offense (391.5) and first in total defense (291.0). Dartmouth is second in pass defense (190.0) and third in rush defense (101.0). Jack Traynor is third among Ivy League players in tackles with 35 (19 solo).

Sacred Heart (2-3, 0-1) opened the season with back-to-back victories over Stetson and Lafayette, but enters this contest having lost three in a row. The Pioneers have not lost a non-conference game since 2014.

Dartmouth ranks sixth in the Ivy League in scoring offense (27.3), but is third in rushing yards per game (203.0). Dartmouth QB Jack Heneghan, last week’s Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week, has completed 71 of 110 passes for 731 yards this season. He’s passed for seven touchdowns and has been intercepted once. Heneghan also earned the Gold Helmet Award from the New England Football Writers’ Association as player of the week in Division I.

Framingham State at Plymouth State, 1 p.m.

Points may be hard to come by in this contest, which features the top two defenses in the MASCAC. Plymouth State (5-1, 3-1 MASCAC) is allowing an average of 10.7 points per game, and Framingham State (5-0, 3-0) is giving up 12.0 points per contest. The winner will also be in first place in the MASCAC.

Framingham State running back Quron Wright leads the conference in rushing yards per game (144.2) and is third in rushing touchdowns (five). The Rams are No. 1 among MASCAC teams in rushing (266.4) and rushing TDs (15).

Plymouth State wide receiver Jacob Szulc has scored 11 touchdowns, the most of any MASCAC player.

Assumption at St. Anselm, 2 p.m.

This may be the toughest test of the season for St. Anselm (0-5, 0-4 Northeast-10). Assumption (5-0, 4-0) is ranked 17th in the AFCA Division II poll and is the only Division II team that ranks among the top six nationally in both scoring offense (44.4) and scoring defense (12.6).

Assumption running back Dylan Oxsen is second in the Northeast-10 in rushing (92.2 yards per game) and is tied for first in rushing touchdowns (four). Ray Sarkodieh leads the Northeast-10 in sacks with 7.5.

The Hawks are the only Northeast-10 team without a victory are and last in the league in offense (212.4 points per game).