DURHAM — As they broke down Florida International University tape heading into last Saturday’s game in Miami, University of New Hampshire football offensive coaches, as they do every week, took note of places where they hoped to exploit the opposing defense.
In the first quarter, one of those spots came up and freshman quarterback Max Brosmer passed to sophomore receiver Brian Espanet for a first down.
That set up an even bigger play.
“Their adjustment was to go to man to man coverage,” said UNH interim head coach Ricky Santos. “We felt if we could get (running back) Dylan Laube matched up on an outside ’backer or a strong safety, we could win that.”
In the second half, the Wildcats again got the look and matchup they wanted and Brosmer passed to Laube on the right sideline. The redshirt freshman cut to the middle at midfield, evaded a couple of tacklers and picked up blockers and raced to what became an 86-yard touchdown, the team’s longest scoring pass in more than 20 years.
UNH will look to do similar damage Saturday when it takes on the University of Rhode Island in its home opener in Wildcat Stadium at 6 p.m.
It is UNH’s first Colonial Athletic Association contest and matches a pair of 0-2 teams. The Wildcats lost their opener at Holy Cross, 13-10, and fell at Florida International, an FBS opponent, 30-17.
Rhode Island lost 41-20, at Ohio, also an FBS school, in its opener and dropped a 44-36 decision in triple overtime to Delaware on Sept. 7. The Rams were off last weekend.
Santos said in his weekly media session Wednesday that he was pleased with how hard the defense and the entire team are playing and the team’s progress from week one to week two of the season, while noting several areas that needed shoring up. The Wildcats have to be more disciplined and cut down on their penalties and have to do a better job of protecting the ball and creating turnovers, as well as finishing games, he said.
The Brosmer-to-Laube play highlighted the explosive qualities of the offense. “Max threw an awesome ball at me and I caught it and just ran,” Laube said. “I cut inside the safety and then Charles (Briscoe) and all the other receivers were running down the field blocking it up for me. It was fun.”
Brosmer became the first true freshman to start a game at quarterback for UNH and it was his second of two touchdown passes on the day.
“It was a good job by Max to process that information in real time and make the throw,” Santos said. “The run after catch ability by Dylan was extraordinary.”
Laube played in three games on special teams last year as a true freshman under new NCAA rules that allow players to retain freshman eligibility if they play in four games or less, but this is his first chance as a part of the offense.
“He’s a home run threat every time he touches the ball,” Santos said.
“Dylan’s pretty explosive with the ball in his hands,” said Michael Ferzoco, the team’s co-offensive coordinator along with Alex Miller. “Once he’s out in open space, he’s tough to bring down. He’s fast. He can run away from people. We’ve certainly noticed that ability from him whether it’s as a receiver, as a running back, or on special teams. If we can keep finding him ways to get the football, with some of the other guys we have, we’ll be in good shape.”
The Wildcats have an effective one-two-three punch at running back with sophomore Carlos Washington, Jr., senior Evan Gray and Laube.
Against Holy Cross, Washington had his fourth 100-yard plus rushing day in a span of five games dating back to last season. Gray led the ground game with five carries for 71 yards against FIU.
“Evan Gray is just a hammer there,” Santos said. “He’s very physical. He’s always going to give you that efficient running game, four or five yards. But now he’s found a way to have explosive plays down the field.”
Gray broke runs for 35 and 29 yards in the third quarter last Saturday.
Santos also cited the play of a deep offensive line — in particular junior Matt Mascia and sophomore Riley Burns — in protecting Brosmer and opening holes for the backs.
Mascia made his first start at center since high school last Saturday and Burns returned to the lineup at right guard after missing the opener with an injury.
Mascia and senior defensive end Brian Carter said the team got a boost from the Florida International effort and plans to ride that into the Rhode Island contest, the start of a three-game homestand.
“I think everyone realized down there, that was a new team,” Mascia said. “That wasn’t the same team that showed up against Holy Cross. That was someone very different right there. I thought we did a bunch of good things. . . . Going in that direction, playing tough against an FBS opponent. Yeah, we definitely gained a lot of confidence from that.”