New Hampshire Football Report

UNH facing tall task

DURHAM – The University of New Hampshire football team has faced its share of difficult challenges when it has stepped up a level to play FBS opponents in the past decade and a half: Saturday’s task at the University of Colorado ranks as perhaps the toughest of all.

The Buffaloes are off to a 2-0 start with a pair of impressive triumphs already in the books. They routed rival Colorado State in their opener, 45-13, in a game played at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, and last week picked up a huge come-from-behind win at Nebraska, 33-28.

UNH, which is 0-2 after losses at Maine and at home against Colgate, faces the Buffaloes in their home opener on historic Folsom Field in Boulder.

“We’ve got a lot of problems out there,” said UNH coach Sean McDonnell who called Colorado the best physical football team UNH has ever played. “They’re very athletic, very fast. They’ve got a lot of guys who can get to point A, get to point B, in a hurry. They do a great job of spreading the field on you on offense.  … They’ve done a very good job and they’re very active on both sides of the ball. It’s a huge challenge, a huge opportunity for us. We’ve got to find a way to get out there and do something right.”

Sophomore Christian Lupoli, who started his first game last week, will make another against Colorado in place of senior Trevor Knight, who remains out of the lineup with an injured shoulder.

A top priority is to establish more of a running game to take some of the pressure off Lupoli and the passing attack. To that end, a couple of other players – junior tackle Jeff Carter and redshirt freshman Riley Burns —  may get a shot to see what they can do on the offensive line, McDonnell said.

The defense, led by junior linebacker Quinlen Dean with 16 tackles and a forced fumble, was much improved against Colgate over the first game against Maine.

“I thought our kids played really hard,” said defensive coordinator John Lyons. “I thought we ran to the ball well. We tackled well. That was a big improvement. We chart the number of opportunities we have to tackle and the misses and we dropped the missed tackle ratio pretty good. The other thing was, I thought we played downhill. I thought we played physical and I thought we did a real good job on third down. We got them off the field a bunch.”

Dean was in the middle of most of the action.

“He’s a stud,” said senior captain and linebacker Jared Kuehl, who plays alongside Dean. “He’s all over the place. Every time I look somewhere he’s making the tackle, I tell him, ‘C’mon, you have to save some for me. I think he’s just dialed in. He’s full in on the whole program. He’s in watching film, learning all the opposing team’s formations and I think that really helps him a lot.”

Dean, Kuehl and the rest of the defense must contend with a Buffalo offense that is off to a torrid start.

Quarterback Steven Montez, a 6-foot-5 and 235-pound junior, has completed 55 of his 75 passes (73.3 percent) for 689 yards and seven touchdowns with one interception in the first two games.

Sophomore wide receiver Laviska Shenault, Jr. is averaging 10.5 catches and 194 yards a game to lead the nation in each category.

“The quarterback’s outstanding,” Lyons said. “He’s a big, strong kid, really strong arm. He moves around well enough and they have a really good scheme. They spread you out all over the field and they get you in space and you have to be able to tackle, get off blocks. They have a very interesting scheme and they do a really good job with it.”

Colorado opens its 95th season on Folsom Field on Saturday. The field’s surface was converted back to grass nearly 20 years ago and – at 5,630 feet above sea level – it’s the third highest field in the country in major college football behind only those at Wyoming and the Air Force Academy.

A key to playing at that altitude, McDonnell said, was to get his players moving around on the field Friday and making sure they stay hydrated. It will also be important to have a bunch of players ready in case dehydration or cramping become issues.

Folsom Field has a capacity of 53,750. The largest crowd UNH has played in front of is 50,120 at Pittsburgh on Sept. 11, 2010.

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