NEW BRITAIN - It wasnâ€™t too long ago when the Central Connecticut State football team
The Central Connecticut State has already reached a number of milestones this season.
It was the first time going undefeated in Northeast Conference play, the first time the Blue Devils had an eight-game win streak and most importantly, the first time the program had reached the FCS playoffs.
CCSU (8-3) would certainly like to add another first to its list as it goes up against New Hampshire (7-4) in the first round of the playoffs this afternoon.
With that being said, here are three things the Blue Devils must do to come out win a win:
1. Run the football effectively
Much of CCSUâ€™s success offensively during its eight-game win streak has been the result of the team being able to run the football. After their 0-3 start, the Blue Devils have rushed for a combined 1,810 yards, an average of 226.3 yards per game, and 25 touchdowns, while also hitting the 200-yard mark six times. A big proponent of the ground game has been Cameron Nash, who became CCSUâ€™s first 1,000-yard back since 2014. Through the first 11 games of the season, Nash has compiled 1,003 yards and 13 touchdowns on 197 carries (5.1 yards per carry) and has rushed for 90 yards or more six times during the eight-game win streak.
Being able to establish an effective run game will be vital for the Blue Devils not only because New Hampshire often wins the time of possession, having done so in seven of its 11 games this season, but to take some of the pressure off of sophomore quarterback Tanner Kingsley, who will be making the first start of his career in place of the suspended Jacob Dolegala. Kingsley has thrown just 13 passes this season and a solid ground game could go a long way into helping him settle in, while not asking him to do too much.
2. The defense must pressure UNH quarterback Trevor Knight
Offensively, the Wildcats have been much more successful throwing the football than running it, averaging 269.3 yards per game through the air as opposed to just 105.3 on the ground. That should give CCSU plenty of opportunities to get after New Hampshireâ€™s passer in Knight, who has completed 62.7 percent of his passes for 2,851 yards and 23 touchdowns to only six interceptions.
But the Wildcats are prone to giving up sacks. Only three other FCS teams have allowed more than the 45 sacks New Hampshire has surrendered this season with the Wildcats giving up at least three sacks in nine of their 11 games. Overall, they are allowing an average of 4.1 sacks per game with Knight being taken down eight times in each of New Hampshireâ€™s last two games.
The Blue Devils, meanwhile, have only recorded 19 sacks of their own this season, but the pressure they generate often leads to turnovers by the defense. CCSU has intercepted a Northeast Conference-best 14 passes and forced 12 fumbles, recovering all. The Blue Devils also have six defensive touchdowns. Forcing Knight and the Wildcatsâ€™ offense into bad situations will be key.
3. CCSU must score first
Being the first team to score in a game can go a long way in setting the tone of the afternoon, which will be important for the Blue Devils in their first ever FCS playoff game and something they have been able to do successfully as of late.
During CCSUâ€™s eight-game win streak, the team has scored first in all but one game, its 57-6 win over Division-II Walsh that gave the Blue Devils their first win of the season. In six of the other seven, CCSU has gotten on the board with a rushing touchdown, once again highlighting the importance of the running game, while a Frankie Palmer field goal in Week 7 against Wagner resulted in the other early lead.
Against New Hampshire, which averages a touchdown more at home (30.6 points per game) than it does on the road (23.6), being the team that plays ahead rather than behind will go a long way in establishing the game plan the Blue Devils want to use, which is run the football combined with solid defensive play. In the other games CCSU has had to play from behind, it is 0-2. And with this being a win-or-go-home game, a loss is not on the wish list for the Blue Devils.
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach