Home, sweet home
‘Cats face Holy Cross in 2011 home opener
Published: Friday, September 30, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 15:02
After three weeks on the road for the UNH football team, the Wildcats finally get to see their home turf this Saturday as they host the Holy Cross Crusaders at Cowell Stadium.
UNH improved to 2-1 after an offensive shootout with Richmond came down to the wire. The Wildcats defeated the Spiders in Virginia, 45-43 – the first time they picked up a win in Richmond since the 1994 season. Redshirt freshman R.J. Harris had a career day, pulling in 12 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns, propelling UNH to the victory.
As UNH prepares to take on Holy Cross – the first meeting between the two teams since UNH won, 14-13, back in 1984 – head coach Sean McDonnell noted that the Crusaders are not a team to overlook. As it stands, Holy Cross also sports a 2-1 record.
"I'm reminding our kids every day, we'd better be ready, because this team is going to come wanting us," McDonnell said. "They're a very good football team coming in here, it's our home opener. Our guys have got to understand a sense of urgency they've got to have to play this game, and a sense of urgency to get better. We're taking baby steps."
McDonnell said that he would like to see better growth from the defensive side of the football. Against Richmond, the defense forced three turnovers, two of which were interceptions returned for touchdowns. But still, the defense gave up 43 points – the third consecutive game UNH has given up 40 points or more.
Against a quarterback like Ryan Taggart, the senior Crusader behind center, the UNH defense has to be mindful of his ability and accuracy. Taggart is averaging 263 passing yards per game, and has completed four passes for touchdowns through three games. But his most impressive statistic to date is the one in his interceptions column. Taggart hasn't thrown a pick yet in 95 pass attempts.
For UNH to dictate the game, the defense will have to force Taggart into making poor decisions with the ball.
Defensive lineman James Jenkins said that the biggest difference the defense will see against Holy Cross as opposed to Richmond is in the run game. The Spiders centered their offense around Kendall Gaskins, while the Crusaders will rely on Taggart to pass more.
"Holy Cross is more of a spread-type of offense," Jenkins said. "They want to move the ball around a lot. There's a lot of zone action with the run game and a lot of pass action for wide receivers with the offense."
Defensively, the Crusaders are a fast squad, according to McDonnell. Led by senior inside linebacker Ricky Otis, Holy Cross has a challenge ahead in containing the talented offense of UNH, led by senior quarterback Kevin Decker and an outstanding core of wide receivers. Last week it was Harris to step up, and two weeks before it was Joey Orlando against Lehigh that broke out with big numbers.
And just when the receiving core looked like it couldn't get much more talented, the re-arrival of senior Mickey Mangieri adds another weapon to Decker's arsenal. Mangieri hasn't played in a competitive game since his junior season, when he broke his leg and missed the rest of the season. He suffered a concussion before this season started, and will just now see his first action.
"[Mangieri] is very fast; he presents a lot of problems for defenses," Decker said. "So when we get all those guys on the field at the same time, it's going to be pretty exciting."
Decker added that it's evident everyone is gearing up for the first home game of the year, based on the way the team is energetic in practice.
"It feels like forever, opening up three games on the road and a bye week," he said. "It's weird having our first game in October, but it's also very exciting at the same time."
Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Cowell Stadium on Saturday.