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Wildcats' defense girds for runners

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 11. 2018 10:41PM

DURHAM — If the University of New Hampshire football team is going to send its homecoming crowd home happy on Saturday, it will have to contain a vaunted Stony Brook rushing attack.

The No. 19 Seawolves are second in the Colonial Athletic Association and No. 33 overall among FCS teams in rushing offense, averaging 202.5 yards per game.

Nicknamed the Long Island Express, Stony Brook’s senior duo of Jordan Gowins and Donald Liotine has combined for 1,098 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Gowins (5-foot-11, 230 pounds), who spent his freshman season at Boston College, has logged 596 yards and five TDs on 89 carries. Liotine (5-foot-9, 215 pounds) has 502 yards and two touchdowns on 86 carries.

Both running backs have rushed for at least 100 yards in three of Stony Brook’s past five games.

The Wildcats (1-4, 0-2 CAA) host Stony Brook (4-2, 2-1 CAA) Saturday at 3:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium.

UNH coach Sean McDonnell said it is “paramount” that his team’s run defense has success against the Seawolves.

“I want to tell you they run the ball over 60 percent of the time,” McDonnell said. “Their offense goes through Liotine and Gowins ... These two guys, when you look at them physically, are 215 and 230. Their pad levels are always going forward on the run so it’s a smash-you, knock-you-back, run-with-the-football type thing.”

UNH ranks 10th in the 12-team CAA in rushing defense, allowing 188 yards on the ground per game. The Wildcats are coming off a 28-0 win over Holy Cross in which they surrendered a season-low 103 rushing yards.

UNH junior defensive back Prince Smith Jr. said the defense is feeling confident following the Holy Cross game and can stymie the Seawolves’ run game.

“We know this team is going to come out and try to pound the football — run it,” Smith Jr. said. “And we know as soon as we stop the run, they’re going to try to go over the top with big X-plays and our secondary, we’re very capable of stopping them.”

With a run-heavy offense coming to Durham, McDonnell said the Wildcats have put an emphasis on tackling during practice this week. UNH put together its best tackling performance of the season last week against the Crusaders, according to McDonnell.

The Wildcats registered eight tackles for losses, including two sacks, against Holy Cross. Sophomore safety Evan Horn led UNH in both total tackles (eight) and solo tackles (six) in the win.

“Our tackle grade was noticeably different,” McDonnell said. “I thought our guys closed to spaces pretty well. I thought our safeties tackled very well ... There have been signs it’s been getting better but who you’re playing and what you’re doing is really important in that thing, especially when it gets to open spaces.”

Smith Jr. said McDonnell spent the last few weeks harping on the defensive unit regarding its missed-tackle ratios.

“The first couple games they were very high ... We just missed tackles. That’s not normally us,” Smith Jr. said. “And last game, we made it our business to wrap up and finish tackles.”

Both Liotine and Gowins will test the Wildcats’ tackling ability come Saturday.

“We can stop the run,” Smith Jr. said. “All we have to do is make sure everybody stays on top of their gaps and their assignments and we’re going to be good.”

NOTES: UNH owns a 4-2 all-time record and a 3-0 home record against Stony Brook. The home team has won each of the past four meetings between the two programs. The Seawolves defeated UNH, 38-24, on Long Island last year.

Liotine needs 15 carries to move into fourth place in all-time rushing carries by a Stony Brook back. He currently has 448 career carries. Liotine also ranks fourth in all-purpose yards (3,373), seventh in rushing yards (2,180) and is tied for eighth in rushing touchdowns (19) in the Seawolves’ record books.

UNH’s defense has recorded 38 tackles for loss, including 10 sacks, this season. Junior linebacker Quinlen Dean leads the Wildcats with nine tackles for losses, including one sack. He is the only UNH player who has recorded at least one tackle for loss in every game.

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