New Hampshire Football Report

UNH preparing for Pitt stop

DURHAM – Dang, those Broncos.

The University of New Hampshire football team’s task this week — going into Heinz Field to take on the University of Pittsburgh in the Homecoming game for the Panthers — was going to be challenging enough this week as it was.

Then the Western Michigan Broncos had to go and up the ante by upsetting the Panthers, 44-41, in a shootout in Heinz last Saturday.

Just what the Wildcats needed in their once-a-season, step-up-a-level FBS game: an angry, talented and now desperate Pittsburgh team looking to close out the non-conference portion of its season with a little momentum going into its first three ACC games: Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Clemson.

“We were hoping they (Pittsburgh) won,” said UNH junior wide receiver Brian Espanet. “When we saw they lost, we knew the storm was coming in a little hard. We were rooting for them.”

Slim chance the Wildcats will catch the Panthers looking ahead even a little bit now, but the approach for the visitors doesn’t change.

“It’s a huge opportunity to go out against an ACC opponent and show them what we’ve got,” Espanet said. “They’re a much bigger ACC school and we’ve got nothing to lose. We’re going to go out there and play hard, have fun and see what happens.”

The No. 21 Wildcats take a 3-0 record into the game and two of those wins came on the road, including last Saturday’s 19-13 decision at Lafayette of the Patriot league.

UNH head coach Sean McDonnell called Pittsburgh the best team UNH has ever faced.

“Top to bottom, it’s physically, athletically, coached, this is a really good football team,” McDonnell said. “That’s wounded.”

The Panthers crushed Massachusetts, 51-7, in their opener and then went out and won at Tennessee, 41-34, and were knocking on a Top 25 ranking before faltering against Western Michigan.

Senior Kenny Pickett came back for another season instead of going into the NFL draft and leads a powerful offense that is averaging 44 points a game, tied for ninth best in the country, and is directed by a coach McDonnell and the Wildcats know well.

Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple spent a couple of seasons as UNH’s offensive coordinator in the 1980s and has produced potent offenses wherever he has been. Pickett, 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, not only passed for a school record six touchdowns in the loss to Western Michigan, but passed Dan Marino for second place on the school’s passing yardage list.

Three of his TD passes in the game – of 67, 23 and 28 yards – were to speedy sophomore Jordan Addison and two were to Lucas Krull, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end and grad transfer from the University of Florida.

McDonnell’s No. 1 concern with the Panthers: “Team speed,” he said. “They’re just fast and they’re fast at every position. When the quarterback scrambles and takes off, he can run. Their receivers can run. Their defenders, they’re real fast people who are violent when they get to the point of attack. That’s a major concern of ours right now.”

A concern of defensive coordinator John Lyons and his group in particular.

“They are impressive,” Lyons said. “First of all, it will be the best offensive line, the best group of receivers, running backs and quarterback that we face. They’re very talented. And then they present a lot of different challenges for you because they give you a lot of different formational looks that you have to be alert for. There’s a lot of things you have to recognize.  … They have a lot of different things you have to prepare for and on top of that the people they’re doing it with are very good. We’ll have our hands full.”

The UNH defense – including senior Elijah Lewis and junior Niko Kvietkus at the tackles and junior Gunner Gibson at end – has been a strength of the team thus far. Lyons cited the play of redshirt freshman defensive end Josiah Silver as well.

“He’s a guy who kind of flies under the radar who’s really improving,” Lyons said.

On the other side of the ball, sophomore quarterback Bret Edwards, who has passed for seven touchdowns and has not thrown an interception, and the offense will look to keep pace with the Pittsburgh offense as best they can.

The Wildcats are averaging 24 points a game. Espanet has caught four touchdown passes. Junior Carlos Washington, Jr. averages 69 rushing yards a game and has a touchdown, and sophomore Dylan Laube averages 59 yards rushing and has a pair of rushing touchdowns and another receiving. He also leads the CAA in all-purpose yards at 169 a game.

Overall, the Wildcats see it as a chance to test themselves against the best.

“We know the task at hand,” said sophomore defensive back Randall Harris. “We’re all going to step on the same field and we’re just going to play football. At the end of the day they may have more talent, but it’s going to be about heart, who wins the football game.”  


  • The middle of the Pittsburgh defense includes Calijah Kancey, a 6-foot-2, 275-pound sophomore at defensive tackle.  Kancey, a freshman All American, has two sacks and his style of play has been compared to that of Aaron Donald, a former Pitt standout and now a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the year with the LA Rams.
  • Pat Narduzzi, a Rhode Island graduate, is in his seventh year as Pittsburgh’s head coach.
  • Whipple (1986-87) and Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Randy Bates (1992-97) both worked at UNH as assistants under Bill Bowes.
  • UNH and Pittsburgh have met once before. The Wildcats lost, 38-16, on Sept. 11, 2010 in front of 50,120 fans at Heinz Field. It’s the largest crowd to watch a UNH game.
  • Donald played as a backup defensive tackle in that game as a true freshman and was credited with two tackles, one solo and one an assist. He went on to become the ACC Defensive Player of the Year as a senior and won numerous national awards as well as being a first-team All American. Donald was a first-round pick of the Rams.


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