NEW BRITAIN - It was at this time a season ago the Central Connecticut State football team found itself in the exact same situation - trying to bounce back from a tough Week 1 loss.
Last year, it was a 50-7 loss to ACC opponent Syracuse. This time around, it will be about moving on from a 42-6 defeat at the hands of Ball State from the Mid-American Conference.
But as head football coach Pete Rossomando sat in his office, he made one thing clear - the game against the Cardinals was officially over and the focus was turning to tonight’s game against Division-II Lincoln University (PA).
“I think the thing you gotta take away is when we walked out on that field I don’t think we felt overmatched from a size standpoint,” Rossomando said. “They had a lot of speed on offense and we knew that going into the game, so we knew we’d have some issues containing them. We really had to play well on the perimeter and that’s where we’re youngest.
“It just happened in a flash. One little breakdown and it led to a huge play and then we just didn’t do enough on first down to slow them down on a consistent basis on defense. On offense, I thought we moved the ball well, but we shot ourselves in the foot too much. Procedural penalties, substitution issues, things you’re kind of used to in the first game, but amplified in a game like that.”
CCSU finished last Thursday’s game converting 4 of its 15 third-down opportunities and committed nine penalties, while allowing Ball State to accumulate 652 yards of total offense.
But the Lions didn’t have much success in their first game either, giving up 375 yards of total offense in a lopsided 32-0 loss to conference opponent Fayetteville State University.
“It’s a new coaching staff so you have one game you can study,” Rossomando said. “You have eight days to study one game of film. I mean, we’re making stuff up out there. We’re trying to figure out what they’re going to do to defend us on the offensive side of the ball and how they’re going to attack our defense. Hopefully, we’re guessing right.”
Despite Lincoln’s inability at times to put points on the board - the Lions averaged just 17.2 in 2017 - Rossomando is making sure his players aren’t taking any opponent lightly, especially with a number of younger players manning the outside of the secondary.
Dexter Lawson and Jahlil Brown are both freshmen starting at corner, meaning usual starter Tajik Bagley played more safety against Ball State and will likely do so again tonight.
“[Lincoln is] gonna throw it deep,” Rossomando said. “They’re gonna try to get behind you and throw it over your head. That’s what they like to do. They did that in the first game and I don’t see that changing much. Their quarterback is a very good athlete and can cause problems for us if we don’t wrap him up in the pocket and keep him contained. He’ll scramble out of the pocket and just chuck it. You have to be on your toes.”
That quarterback is Vincent Espinoza. The senior completed 8 of his 19 pass attempts for 70 yards and an interception last week. He also carried the ball three times for 37 yards. Reginald Mays figures to be his go-to option at receiver. He caught six passes for 52 yards against Fayetteville State.
Offensively against the Lions, Rossomando said it will just be about quarterback Jacob Dolegala and his supporting cast being able to execute the game plan effectively. CCSU was able to rush for 174 yards, but could never be consistent enough to move the ball up and down the field.
“I think Jake played really, really well. He did enough to keep us in the game. We just didn’t do enough to support him. We had protection breakdown from the running back group. Upfront we had two false snaps from the center, a false start from the tackle and tight end. We dropped too many balls. We just shot ourselves in the foot.”
This game, then, could come down to whoever takes advantage of their big-play opportunities. The Blue Devils would like it to be them.
“I would really like us to play a lot cleaner football,” Rossomando said. “I don’t want us to turn the ball over and eliminate those nine penalties and put ourselves in good position. We have to make tackles on special teams after allowing a 30-yard punt return last week. If we clean those things us, we can play faster and more effectively.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org