McDonnell and team’s main focus points West
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 4, 2013 02:10
The No. 19 Wildcats were riding a little bit higher last year before taking the field against the Towson Tigers at the end of the season. New Hampshire was rolling on a six-game win streak and was competing for lone ownership of the conference championship.
What the Wildcats were met with was a dominant Towson offense that put 64 points on the board at Cowell Stadium and sent the boys in blue and silver back under the bleachers with their heads hanging low. They were still champions, just co-champions rather, which felt meaningless in the wake of the loss.
Despite the regular season closer, the Wildcats got a bid to the NCAA tournament, a first-round-bye nonetheless, while Towson got nothing but a third of the CAA trophy.
To say Towson comes into this game with a bit of a chip on its shoulder may be an understatement.
The undefeated Tigers have been punishing teams each week scoring a total of 201 points and only allowing 70 through five games. They lead the conference in scoring averaging 40.2 points per game.
“They were the best football team we played last year,” UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said on Wednesday.
Towson running back Terrance West challenged the Wildcats more than perhaps any single player all of last season. West set the turf on fire with 236 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
This weekend, West will be in the backfield again looking to do the same or even more damage to the New Hampshire defense. The junior leads the conference with 648 rushing yards, averaging just less than 130 yards per game. He leads the entire FCS in rushing touchdowns with 12.
“We better contain or stop the running back, Mr. West,” McDonnell said. “If we don’t slow him down and we don’t stop him, we don’t win.”
West set the tone for his season in Towson’s opener at UConn on August 29 where he rushed for 156 yards and two touchdowns to help the Tigers seal a satisfying 33-18 victory. It marked the first time Towson has defeated an FBS opponent.
At five feet 11 inches and 223 pounds, West’s is a ground and pound physical running back who also has a lot of speed in his game. He is tough to tackle in one-on-one situations, so the defense will have to be quick to the ball especially when it is in his hands.
“All-around he has it physically,” sophomore linebacker Akil Anderson said. “A lot of times we haven’t really executed up front and that’s given him seams where he can go downhill and run in space. He’s hard to tackle in space so we need to do a good job up front in containing him so he doesn’t have the opportunity to make those plays.”
The Wildcats have made it a habit to jump out on teams and get a good lead early in the game. Finding this rhythm is something football teams always strive to do and McDonnell has trained his team to do this every game so far this season.
But just as quickly as New Hampshire has moved ahead in the first half, it has given away some of the lead in the second, sometimes entirely.
In each of the first three games this season, the Wildcats have scored more points than their opponents in the first half, but have yet to win the second half.
Week one against FBS opponent Central Michigan, UNH scored 13 points in the first half and shutout the Chippewas. After the half, Central Michigan came out and put 24 points on the board to UNH’s six and walked away with the win.
A week later, the Wildcats dropped 40 points on Colgate in Durham and went on to win 53-23. Despite the embarrassing first half for the Raiders, they were able to outscore UNH in the second half 17-13.
Against Lehigh, UNH lead 27-13 with 10:23 remaining in the third quarter, but gave up two touchdowns within three minutes of each other and suddenly the Wildcats were on their heals. Another Lehigh score in the fourth quarter bought them the 34-27 lead.
“It snowballs a little bit,” McDonnell said. “We just got to relax and stay the course … in order for us to be successful and stay on track on both sides of the ball.”
New Hampshire got out to a 6-0 lead to start last season’s game against Towson on a 77-yard run by Andy Vailas. This was UNH’s only lead in 64-35 loss.
It has been two weeks since wide receiver R.J. Harris had surgery on his left hand. McDonnell said Harris will play Saturday.
“It was a tough week for him last week leading up to the game,” McDonnell said. “He had an operation the week before and got a couple pins in his hand. He practiced with a cast on and then [as he started to feel] less and less of the pain he felt better. He felt really good in the [Lehigh] game; caught the ball pretty well, hung on to it pretty well. He did his job.”