New Hampshire Football Report

Wildcats seeking first win

DURHAM – They regrouped and retooled, with a little readjusting and rebooting along the way, and now the University of New Hampshire football team will see what it can do about reaping some rewards from its focus on practice and fundamentals during its bye week.

The Wildcats are in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable situation of being winless in their first three games and head out this weekend to a game at Colonial Athletic Association rival Elon on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

The Phoenix are 2-1 and ranked No. 11 in one FCS poll, No. 9 in another.

The expectations were high for coach Sean McDonnell’s team going into the season and the rough start with losses at Maine, home against Colgate and then at Colorado has been a gut-check for a proud program than has been to the NCAA FCS tournament a nation’s-best 14 straight years.

“Record-wise we’re not where we want to be, but overall I feel as though we’re ready to come back and we’re going to start the season off right again,” junior tight end Justin Malone-Woods said. “At the end of the bye week we all realized we can’t change the past, we just have to keep looking forward and try to change the future.”

The start has been an eye-opener.

“Going into the bye week we were not happy with what happened, but looking into the future I feel this is what we kind of needed as a wakeup call,” Malone-Woods said. “We were maybe over our heads at the beginning, thinking we were going to be the best team ever. But this was kind of a reality check, showing that every team out there is trying to be the best team ever and we can’t just assume we’re going to be there. We have to work to get there.”

Sophomore quarterback Christian Lupoli has started the last two games for the Wildcats in place of injured senior Trevor Knight. Knight was hurt in the first half of the opener against Maine and his health has been improving in recent weeks and his status for this weekend is uncertain.

The road ahead is tough. The Wildcats have seven games remaining against CAA teams and five of those teams are ranked in the STATS FCS Top 25 poll this week.

UNH will be looking for more consistency on both sides of the ball against Elon, which has beaten Furman, 45-7, and Charleston Southern, 31-22, after opening its season with a 34-14 loss at South Florida, an FBS school.

The Wildcat defense was much improved against Colgate and showed some good signs against Colorado, too. Besides stopping the run, the defense aims to cut down on the big plays it allows.

“We talk about stopping the run, which we didn’t do a good job of against Colorado,” said defensive coordinator John Lyons. “A lot of that is because of a couple of big plays we gave up. Obviously we need to improve our tacking. The other thing is X-plays. The game we played really well against Colgate, we gave up two X-plays and that’s our goal for a game. Those are  20-plus yard plays. Against Colorado it was six and Maine it was five. It’s trying to look at those plays, see what’s casing us problems, address those issues with those plays specifically. Then it’s improving our ability to tackle in open spaces. Fit things up properly.”

The Wildcats are averaging eight points a game and the defensive contributed six points to that total with a 15-yard interception return for a touchdown by junior Pop Lacey against Colorado.

“We need to improve our offensive consistency at every position,” said Michael Ferzoco, who shares offensive coordinator duties with Alex Miller. “We’re looking to try some new things offensively to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands a little quicker and try to narrow some of his reads.”

The offense has increased its yardage total in each of the first three games from 116 to 206 to 270 yards.

“We’ve got to keep grinding,” McDonnell said. “Keep finding a way. Keep looking at it. Make some adjustments. I thought we made some decent adjustments against Colorado to do some stuff that we hadn’t done, some motions and things, some perimeter run. We’ve got to continue to find ways to get the ball in space. To have OC (Neil O’Connor), have (Trevon) Bryant, have (Evan) Gray, have (Carlos) Washington, have (Sean) Coyne, have (Kieran) Presley, have all these guys get some freedom, get some room to move. That will make everybody feel a little better.”

The overarching goal is to get that first win.

The focus and approach, according to Malone-Woods, remain.

“We definitely have confidence, but at the same time I think at the beginning of the season we were more cocky than confident,” he said. “But now when you have the reality check, that we aren’t just the best in the world, we’re just another team that’s trying to win the CAA and go to the playoffs.”

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