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College Football: Protecting the QB is top priority for UNH

New Hampshire Union Leader

November 24. 2017 4:33AM
UNH coach Sean McDonnell considers his next move as the team huddles during a time out in a September game. (BRUCE TAYLOR/UNION LEADER)

DURHAM — You know when you purchase a television or appliance on Black Friday and the salesperson asks you if you want the protection plan? University of New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell probably wishes it were that easy to get that kind of help for his football team.

UNH enters Saturday’s (2 p.m.) FCS first-round tournament game against Central Connecticut State at Wildcat Stadium in Durham with one major concern: Can the Wildcats protect quarterback Trevor Knight?

Knight has been sacked eight times in each of UNH’s last two games. Only three FCS teams have allowed more than the 45 sacks the Wildcats have surrendered this season. UNH (7-4) has given up at least three sacks in nine of its 11 games and is allowing an average of 4.1 sacks per game.

“They’re coming on every which way you could possibly think,” McDonnell said. “Kid loses a one-on-one battle. Blitz pickup by a running back that’s been missed or doesn’t do the job. Guys not breaking open and getting free in the secondary because of man-press coverages.

“If it was one thing, I think we’d be good enough to say, ‘OK, here’s what we have to do to correct it,’ but it’s been a variety of things, a plethora of things. It’s been a lot of things connected with it and I don’t think there’s anybody more disappointed with it than our offensive lineman and more disappointed than our offensive line coach (Alex Miller). They want to get this corrected because when we have time and when we run the ball efficiently we’ve been a pretty good offense.

“Can’t trade anybody right now,” McDonnell said. “There’s no waiver wire. The guys we’re going with gotta get better, and as I told the coaches, gotta get a better scheme. Gotta figure out what we can do to help put us in the best position to move the football.”

Central Connecticut (8-3) has won eight games in a row since opening the season with losses to Syracuse (50-7), Fordham (38-31) and Youngstown State (59-9). The Blue Devils, who are making their first FCS playoff appearance, went 6-0 in the Northeast Conference.

Central Connecticut will be without starting quarterback Jacob Dolegala and backup offensive lineman Dave Cinti on Saturday, both of whom were suspended for this game by head coach Peter Rossomando earlier this week. Dolegala, the program’s all-time passing leader, completed 145 of 274 passes for 1,953 yards and 13 touchdowns (seven interceptions) this season. He also ran for 212 yards and four TDs on 52 carries.

Sophomore Tanner Kingsley will likely be Central Connecticut’s starting QB. Kingsley completed 9 of 13 passes for 55 yards this year. McDonnell said UNH had 47 plays of Kingsley on tape to evaluate.

“The other guy (Dolegala) is 6-6, 235,” McDonnell said. “He (Kingsley) is 6-foot, 175 pounds. You watch the tape, he’s a lefty who’s athletic. In the games that he went in, he scrambled around a little bit and they ran some option stuff with him — pure option. They’re smart coaches down there. They’re going to put some wrinkles in for this kid to give him the best opportunity to be successful.”

Central Connecticut running back Cameron Nash ran for 1,003 yards and 13 TDS on 197 attempts this season. He’s averaging 5.1 yards per carry and 91.2 yards per game.

The Wildcats will also be looking for more from a running game that generated 11 yards on 31 rushing attempts in Saturday’s 15-0 loss to Albany. UNH has failed to run for more than 65 yards in five of its last eight games.

“It (the shutout loss) left a bad taste in our mouths,” running back Evan Gray said. “Our defense clearly did all they could, but as an offense, not just one position group, everybody has to do better.

“We all really wanted to keep playing, but we knew it wasn’t in our hands. Now that we have this shot, we want to just roll with it and have an opportunity to keep going.”

UNH has qualified for the FCS playoffs in each of the last 14 seasons, which is the longest streak in the nation. The Wildcats have a 12-13 record during that streak.

“Another opportunity has been given to this team, to this program, to show people that we belong, and more importantly to show that we’re a good football team,” McDonnell said.

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UNH has a 5-5 record in postseason games played in Durham. … McDonnell said cornerback Prince Smith will not play Saturday because of a concussion. Safety Pop Lacey, who has missed the last four games with a leg injury, is expected to play. … UNH has a 13-18 record in the postseason, which includes a 12-15 record in the Division I-AA/FCS tournament. … The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 177-89 in the first half, but have been outscored 141-83 in the second half. … The UNH/Central Connecticut winner will advance and visit Central Arkansas on Dec. 2.