NEW BRITAIN - The Central Connecticut football teamâ€™s schedule continues to get harder before it gets any easier.
After two disappointing results, both losses, to Syracuse and Fordham to start the season, the Blue Devils now have another difficult day ahead of them against the Division I FCS runner-up and fifth-ranked Youngstown State.
Against Robert Morris last week, a team from the same conference as CCSU, the Penguins won 30-0. This after a 28-21 overtime loss to ACC school Pittsburgh.
The Blue Devils defense will have a tough task in front of it and it could be tougher due to the suspensions linebackers Randall Laguerre and Kenneth Keen, their two leading tacklers. On the season, CCSU has allowed 44 points per game, while scoring just 19. Youngstown State, meanwhile, comes in scoring an average of 25.5 points per game with opponents scoring just 14.
The last time these two teams met back in 2010 the game ended in a Penguins rout, 63-24. Still, Youngstown State is not taking the Blue Devils lightly, especially with its own conference schedule coming up next week.
â€śVery capable team. They have some athletes,â€ť said Penguins head coach Bo Pelini, who coached Nebraska from 2008-14. â€śThey have some skill. Theyâ€™re going to give you some multiple looks defensively, a little bit of 3-4, a little bit of four down and mix it up pretty good. I donâ€™t know how theyâ€™re going to choose to play us. Weâ€™ve watched games from this year and from last year. They like to throw the ball. I thought they got better as the year went on last year. They got a decent amount of returning starters so I think theyâ€™re only going to get better as this year goes.â€ť
Youngstown State will be without starting quarterback Hunter Wells due to a separated shoulder, meaning backup Nate Mays will get the start.
A dual threat quarterback, Mays has only attempted 17 passes this season, but completed 13 of them for 149 yards and a touchdown (all last week). He has also gained 65 yards on the ground with another score on eight carries. Against Robert Morris, Mays led the Penguins to seven scoring drives - three touchdowns and four field goals.
Even without a new quarterback, Youngstown State will look to run the ball. Through two games, the Penguins operate at a 2:1 run-to-pass ratio (85 runs to 40 passes) with tailbacks Tevin McCaster (42 carries, 162 yards, two touchdowns) and Christian Turner (20 carries, 121 yards) getting the bulk of the carries.
As difficult of a job as the defense - particularly the front seven with the losses of Laguerre and Keen making the task more of a challenge - has, CCSUâ€™s offense will have to score points, something it was unable to do against Fordham.
That starts with its own quarterback, Jacob Dolegala, who struggled last week, completing just 18-of-41 passes for 224 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions while missing wide open receivers. With a running game thatâ€™s unable to produce, Dolegala will have to be more consistent - heâ€™s completing just 40 percent of his passes - for the Blue Devils to have a chance in this game. Heâ€™ll just have to do it without receiver Jose Garcia, who like Laguerre and Keen, is also suspended.
The offensive line will also have its work cut out for it. Youngstown State likes to get after the passer with seven sacks through two games. Leading the way is Florida transfer Justus Reed with three.
â€śI thought we found out early in camp our [defensive] ends are pretty good football players,â€ť Pelini said. â€śI think we get good push and our inside guys are better than they were last year.â€ť
In other words, it could be a long afternoon for CCSU.