Some fine offensive performances were turned in — there always are in any win — but the defense deserved the spotlight following the University of New Hampshire’s 23-6 victory over Duquesne on Saturday.
Bottle up the running game? Check.
Limit big pass plays? Check.
Create turnovers? Check.
Pressure the QB? Check.
UNH limited a run-first Duquesne offense to 50 yards rushing on 23 attempts (2.2 yards per carry); surrendered three pass plays of more than 20 yards (all in the second half); intercepted two passes; and recorded four sacks. The Dukes had one first down and 10 yards of offense through the first two quarters.
“We did a pretty good job of pressuring the quarterback and stopping the run,” UNH defensive coordinator John Lyons said. “The other thing we’ve been harping on is turnovers. We got a couple there. Overall our kids followed the game plan and played well early. That was our thing: try to get off to a good start and slow these guys down.
“The other thing that we did very well was we played well on third down. We got them off the field. A lot of that was pressure and coverage — a combination of those two things. It all goes hand and hand.”
The Dukes, who didn’t score until 58 seconds remained in the game, had no first downs in the first half and finished 3 of 14 on third-down opportunities.
Duquesne is no cupcake either. The Dukes won the Northeast Conference last season, beat Towson on the road in the first round of the FCS playoffs and were picked to win their conference championship again this year.
Duquesne was without star running back A.J. Hines (shoulder injury), but his replacement, Mark Allen, is a transfer from Penn State. Allen was named the Northeast Conference’s Co-Offensive Rookie of the Week for his performance in Duquesne’s 35-31 triumph over Dayton in Week 3. He ran for 168 yards and two touchdowns in that game.
The Dukes have a handful of other FBS transfers as well, including quarterback Daniel Parr, who began his career at Florida Atlantic.
“Just a great game plan by our defensive staff,” UNH interim head coach Ricky Santos said. “The game plan defensively played out just as those guys mapped it out. Stop the run early, put them in obvious passing situations.
“We know that our back-half guys (defensive secondary) have played a ton. It gives Coach (John) Lyons the ability to be aggressive — blitz, play a ton of man coverage because we know these guys can lock up and play man to man the entire day.”
Some of the standout defensive efforts came from defensive end Brian Carter and safety Pop Lacey, each of whom had a team-high six tackles. Carter had two sacks and Lacey intercepted a pass. Cornerback Prince Smith also intercepted a pass, and safety Evan Horn recorded four tackles, one of which was a sack. Defensive end Josh Kania and defensive tackle Elijah Lewis shared the other sack.
Another thing that may have gone unnoticed by some is how well the Wildcats tackled. As in the team’s first three games, the team’s missed tackles was an acceptable number.
“We want to be under 20 percent in missed tackles,” Lyons said. “Prior to this game we were at 16, which is pretty good.”
This is the recipe UNH (2-2, 1-0 CAA) will likely use to win football games this season: lean on a running game that’s averaging 192.5 yards per game (5.3 yards per carry) while true freshman quarterback Max Brosmer matures, and rely heavily on a defense that figured to be the strength of this year’s team. So far the latter has been the case.
Through four games here’s where the Wildcats rank among CAA teams in some key defensive categories:
Scoring defense: No. 2 (18.2 ppg).
Total defense: No. 3 (354.2 ypg).
Rush defense: No. 4 (135.5 ypg).
Pass defense: No. 5 (218.8 ypg).
The victory over Duquesne was UNH’s second straight and undoubtedly give the Wildcats some much-needed momentum heading into Saturday’s home game against Elon. The remainder of UNH’s schedule is against CAA opponents.
“I’d say we’re playing with a lot more confidence, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” UNH running back Evan Gray said. “Defense has always done a great job.”