NEW BRITAIN - The Central Connecticut State football teamâ€™s non-conference schedule has been anything but easy this season.
In a year that started with games against Syracuse, Fordham and Youngstown State, the Blue Devils find themselves with another test this afternoon in Penn - a team that has won a share of the Ivy League title the past two seasons - before getting back to NEC play to round out the schedule.
But first, CCSU (2-3) must slow down a Quakers team that has proven to be formidable on both sides of the ball. They have averaged 40 points and 472.3 yards of total offense per game through their first three contests.
â€śThe key is to not allow a lot of big runs,â€ť Blue Devils head coach Pete Rossomando said. â€śWe allowed too many last week [against Sacred Heart]. We missed too many tackles. We canâ€™t do that against this team. Theyâ€™ll make you pay.â€ť
And Penn (2-1) has had plenty of success running the ball, collecting 699 yards and seven touchdowns with six different players averaging more than five yards a carry, meaning it could be a busy day for CCSUâ€™s front seven.
Karekin Brooks has gotten the bulk of that workload for the Quakers, leading the team with 461 yards on 53 carries (8.6 yards per attempt) and five touchdowns. But All-Ivy tailback Tre Solomon is expected to be back this week after missing the last two games with an ankle injury. He led the league with 907 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago.
Yet Penn has also shown an ability to throw the ball when it needs to. Will Fischer-Colbrie replaces Alek Torgersen - who was on the Washington Redskins practice squad - at quarterback. The senior has completed 67 percent of his passes for 645 yards and seven touchdowns to just one interception. Justin Watson is Fischer-Colbrieâ€™s favorite target, having caught 20 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns, while running for another.
Overall, the Quakers have scored 120 points this season, despite being held to just 13 by Dartmouth last week.
â€ś[Penn is] pretty similar to what Fordham ran,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śYouâ€™re going to see checks at the line. Theyâ€™re going to be multiple in their formations and theyâ€™re pretty good at the inside run.â€ť
As efficient as the Quakersâ€™ offense has been, their defense, particularly their front seven, could give a young Blue Devils offensive line some issues. Penn has six sacks, 13 tackles for loss and five quarterback hits through three games, with teams rushing for just under 143 yards a game.
â€śItâ€™s the strength of their team,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śTheir front seven is all returning and No. 92, Louis Vecchio, is possibly All-Ivy. Heâ€™s going to be a tough matchup for us.â€ť
Along with Vecchio, linebackers Nick Miller and Colton Moskal lead the Quakers in tackles and have shown the ability to make plays all over the field.
Penn, however, has given up some big plays in the passing game with so much of the focus on that front seven, allowing an average of 332 yards to opponents through the air with just two interceptions.
With a Quakers defense prone to allowing those big plays, CCSU knows it must take advantage of its opportunities when they present themselves.
Over the last two weeks, the Blue Devils have been able to run the ball effectively with Cameron Nash and Drew Jean-Guillaume, while utilizing the pass-action pass with emerging receivers Courtney Rush, Xavier Bass and Tyshaun James.
â€śWe have to play well upfront ourselves and we have to play clean,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śWe have to be able to throw the ball and run it. You always want balance and right now, we have that ability.â€ť
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach