No. 11/8 New Hampshire (0-0, 0-0 CAA) at Central Michigan (0-1, 0-0 MAC)
Sept. 7, 2013 • 3:00 p.m. • Kelly/Shorts Stadium • Mount Pleasant, Mich.
Wayne Randazzo (play-by-play) • Dustin Fox (analyst)
Radio: Wildcat Sports Radio Network
Bob Lipman (play-by-play) • Chris Chandler (analyst)
•UNH is 11-3 in season-opening games under 15th-year head coach Sean McDonnell. The Wildcats have posted wins in eight of their last 10 opening games and four of their last five.
•New Hampshire's lone opening-game defeat in the past five years came at the hands of Toledo of the Mid-American Conference. The Rockets blasted the 'Cats, 58-22, on Sept. 1, 2011.
•Coach Mac is 1-3 all-time against the MAC. UNH defeated Ball State, 23-16, on Sept. 12, 2009. That victory was the fifth in a row for the Wildcats versus FBS competition, but it was also the last time the 'Cats upset a team from the Bowl Subdivision. New Hampshire has lost three straight matchups in FCS-vs-FBS tilts: at Pittsburgh (2010); at Toledo (2011) and at Minnesota (2012).
•When CMU and UNH met for the first time Sept. 6, 2003, Sean McDonnell was in his fifth year as head coach in Durham. The Wildcats' 40-33 loss to the Chippewas dropped Coach Mac's career record to 19-26 (.422). Since that game, the Wildcats have rattled off a record of 85-40 (.680).
•UNH owns the nation's longest current streaks for weeks ranked in The Sports Network Top 25 (128) and NCAA D-I playoff berths (nine). From 2004-09, the Wildcats collected an unprecedented five consecutive wins over FBS opponents, a feat unmatched.
•New Hampshire is 5-5 all-time against FBS teams; Saturday is the second meeting against Central Michigan (2003) and the fifth against MAC squads: Kent State (2002); Ball State (2009); Toledo (2010).
•Junior quarterback Andy Vailas won the preseason competition with sophomore Sean Goldrich for the starting role. Coach Mac announced his decision Aug. 30, a day after the duo combined to go 24-for-27 for 299 yards in the Blue-White Game. Goldrich won the starting job from Vailas last season before suffering an injury at Minnesota on the second snap of the second game of the year. Each QB started six games a year ago, and McDonnell says Goldrich will see time in Saturday's game.
SCOUTING THE CHIPPEWAS: The Chippewas open at home against an FCS opponent for the fourth straight season. CMU is 3-0 under head coach Dan Enos against FCS opponents, defeating Hampton (33-0), South Carolina State (21-6) and Southeast Missouri State (38-27). Much like 2003, UNH visits Mount Pleasant a week after the Chippewas squared off with Michigan. CMU starting quarterback Cody Kater (collarbone) and running back Zurlon Tipton (ankle) were lost indefinitely after suffering injuries in the first quarter of the season opener versus Michigan. Kater, a junior, earned his first career start for the Chippewas after winning a three-way quarterback battle that was waged throughout the spring and preseason camps. Tipton attained star status in 2012, rushing for 1,492 yards and 19 touchdowns, earning Second Team All-MAC and team MVP honors. Tipton, who was elected by his teammates as a team captain for the 2013 season, was a preseason Maxwell and Doak Walker Award candidate.
CMU PLAYERS TO WATCH: With the injury to Cody Kater, redshirt sophomore Alex Niznak will move into the starting role at quarterback for CMU. Replacing Kater in the first quarter versus Michigan, Niznak completed 11-of-22 passes for 131 yards with one interception in his first collegiate action. Sophomore running back Saylor Lavallii will get the majority of carries in the CMU run game, replacing Tipton. Lavallii was CMU's second leading rusher in 2012, totaling 263 yards (4.6 avg.) and two touchdowns. He also ranked second on the team a year ago with 1,000 all-purpose yards.
The Chippewas' defense returns three of its top tacklers from 2012 in linebackers Justin Cherocci and Shamari Benton and safety Avery Cunningham. Cherocci, CMU's Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2012, led the team and ranked fifth in the MAC and 19th nationally with 132 total tackles last season.
HISTORY VS FBS TEAMS: UNH looks to improve on an overall record of 5-5 vs FBS opponents and to snap a three-game losing skid against squads from the former Division I-A. The Wildcats strung together consecutive victories over Rutgers (2004), Northwestern ('06), Marshall ('07), Army ('08) and Ball State ('09) before their unprecedented five-game winning streak vs FBS teams was snapped at Pittsburgh, 38-16, on Sept. 2, 2010. In 2011, UNH was defeated at Toledo, 58-22. New Hampshire fell to the CMU (40-33) in '03 and dropped a 34-7 decision at Kent State in the '02 season opener.
TOUGH SCHEDULE: After opening the season at CMU, the Wildcats will play their home opener against defending Patriot League champion Colgate on Saturday, Sept. 14 (12 p.m.). The 'Cats have five current members of The Sports Network Top 25 on their schedule: at #23 Lehigh (Sept. 28); at #5 Towson (Oct. 5); vs #8 Villanova (Oct. 19); at #17 Stony Brook (Oct. 26) and vs #20 James Madison (Nov. 9). The Wildcats went 1-3 against ranked opponents in 2012.
END AROUND: A preseason right knee injury to junior defensive end Robbie Zauck has caused some shuffling around of personnel. Junior Brian Ciccone moved from backup tight end to backup defensive end. Ciccone, who started the 2011 season at DE before transitioning to tight end in week 3, saw action in all 12 games last season; he registered three receptions for 42 yards, including his first career TD reception (12 yards) against Towson (Nov. 17). Ciccone notched a sack during the Blue-White Game on Aug. 29. Tre Williams, who beefed up 21 pounds since spring, has transitioned from safety to defensive end. The junior, who recorded 36 tackles (23 solo) last season, is listed on this week's two-deep. Zauck will miss the entire season.
HOUSTON GETS THE BOOT: Senior cornerback Chris Houston will be out of the lineup during the early part of the year with a left foot injury that has required a walking boot and crutches . Houston's eight career interceptions rank No. 1 among all Wildcat active players. He tallied 59 tackles, including 49 solo stops, to rank fourth on the team while starting 11 games. Redshirt freshman Casey DeAndrade is listed as the starting CB in his collegiate debut vs CMU.
HARRIS SEEKS ENCORE: Junior wide receiver R.J. Harris will attempt to build on a tremendous 2012 campaign. The wideout claimed a spot on the All-CAA First Team, the All-New England Team, the College Sports Madness All-CAA First Team and the ECAC D-I FCS All-Star Team after making 84 receptions for 1,059 yards; those single-season totals ranked fourth (catches) and sixth (yards) in UNH history. The 6-foot, 200-pound wide receiver ranked second in the CAA in receptions/game (7.0) and receiving yards/game (88.2) while his nine TD catches ranked third in the league. With 134 catches and 1,773 receiving yards, Harris is 16 receptions and 140 yards shy of reaching the University's career Top 10 in those categories.
SOS EXPRESS: The Wildcat SOS Express backfield trio of Nico Steriti, Jimmy Owens and Chris Setian returns in 2013 after spearheading the CAA's third-ranked and nation's No. 15 rushing attack. The 'Cats averaged 220.8 rushing yards/game under first-year offensive coordinator Ryan Carty. Steriti rushed for 921 yards and ranked sixth in the CAA in rushing yards/game (76.8) to along with a team-leading nine rushing touchdowns. Owens averaged a backfield-leading 6.8 yards/carry en route to 411 yards on 60 rushes. Setian battered his way to 490 rushing yards and five touchdowns to go along with 22 receptions for 185 yards and four TDs –all top receiving numbers among UNH running backs.
OFFENSIVE LINE PROWESS: Despite graduating two starters (Chris Zarkoskie, Mickey DiLima), the UNH offensive line should be a strength in 2013. The squad returns three starters, highlighted by senior left tackle Seamus O'Neill. The co-captain is a two-time All-CAA selection (Third Team-2011, First Team-2012) and was named to the Preseason All-Conference Team. O'Neill started all 12 games last season for an offense that ranked second in the league in scoring (34.1 points/game), total offense (451.5 yards/game) and first downs (22.1/game). Mike Coccia, a junior who has started all 24 games of his collegiate career at center, was named to the All-CAA Third Team and College Sports Madness All-CAA Third Team last season. Ricky Archer, who was ineligible last season, is slated to start at right guard for the Wildcats. Archer started all 12 games in that role during his sophomore campaign in 2011 when he was feted as a member of the All-CAA Second Team and the FCS All-New England Team. In 2012, he was named to the CAA Preseason All-Conference Team, the Beyond Sports Network (BSN) Preseason All-American Second Team and to both the College Sports Journal and Phil Steele's Preseason All-America Third Team.
DROPPING LBS: 2011 Buck Buchanan Award winner and 2012 team MVP Matt Evans graduated as the school's all-time leader in tackles with 460. That is exactly 401 more stops than the combined total of the new starting middle linebackers, Shane McNeely and Akil Anderson. Evans and fellow graduate Alan Buzbee (270 career tackles) started together for three straight years at MLB, so pressure will be on McNeely, who amassed 33 tackles while seeing action in all 12 games last season, and Anderson, who made 14 tackles in 11 games.
NEW WR COACH: Ricky Santos, the most prolific quarterback in UNH history, has joined the Wildcat coaching staff as the wide receivers coach. Santos, whose uniform No. 2 is one of five jerseys ever retired by the UNH football program, was a four-year starter at quarterback (2004-07) who led the Wildcats to a 37-14 record. Over that time, Santos guided New Hampshire to the NCAA I-AA/FCS playoffs all four seasons, led the squad to its first-ever D-I postseason victory at Georgia Southern (Nov. 27, 2004), was part of the 2005 Atlantic 10 championship team and two A-10 Northern Division titles (2004, 2006). The Bellingham, Mass., native ranks first in D-I FCS history with 2,140 career plays, he is No. 3 all-time in passing yards (13,212) and touchdown passes (123) and fourth in total offense (14,615 yards). Santos hooked up with UNH's all-time leading receiver David Ball for 53 touchdowns in three seasons to set an FCS record for most career TD connections for a QB-WR duo. In 2006 Santos won the Walter Payton Award as the most outstanding offensive player in FCS football.
BLUE-WHITE RECAP: Quarterbacks Sean Goldrich and Andy Vailas combined to go 24-for-27 for 299 yards, and R.J. Harris hauled in a 72-yard touchdown reception in Team Wild's 21-9 victory over Team 'Cats on Aug. 29 in the University of New Hampshire football Blue-White Game at Cowell Stadium.
Goldrich went 15 of 16 for 135 yards and efficiently ran the two-minute drill that led to a field goal late in the first half. With 1:23 remaining in the second quarter, the sophomore signal caller orchestrated a nine-play, 62-yard drive to the Team Wild 3-yard line. Mike MacArthur ended the drive –and the half- with a 20-yard field goal to boost the lead to 21-6.
Vailas connected on 9 of 11 passes for 164 yards, highlighted by the 72-yard scoring throw to Harris (six receptions-122 yards, TD) for a 21-6 advantage with 6:08 left in the first half. The junior QB concluded a four-play, 96-yard drive with a 32-yard scoring run that extinguished Team Wild's 3-0 lead with 26 seconds left in the opening quarter.
Nico Steriti paced the ground attack with six rushes for 63 yards, including two carries for a combined 51 yards during the 96-yard scoring drive.
Senior co-captain Chris Setian registered three carries for 29 yards and a six-yard TD scamper that bumped Team Cats' lead to 14-3 with 8:33 left in the second quarter; the senior co-captain added six catches for 47 yards.
Safety Tim Pike notched a game-high five tackles, and defensive end Danny Riley tallied four tackles, including three sacks and a forced fumble.
Ryan Lynch recorded the game's only turnover with an interception that he returned for 13 yards.
Christian Breda booted a 38-yard field goal to provide Team 'Cats with a 3-0 lead with 4:47 left in the first quarter.
Max Pedinoff (Newtown, Pa.) ended the third quarter with a 20-yard field goal. Head coach Sean McDonnell signaled for the scrimmage to end at that point.