By Peter Colby
College Sporting News
For each of the last eight years UNH has had a series of stellar quarterbacks leading the Chip Kelly, Sean McDonald "Go-Go" offense into the FCS Playoffs. This is a different team, lacking the quick punch, big play offense as in the past. However, this UNH team does seem to have better balance. A very experienced offensive line providing room for some very good running backs, senior Chris Setian, and sophomores Nico Steriti and Jimmy Owens.
There was a down to the wire pre-season battle for the quarterback position between red-shirt freshman Sean Goldrich, sophomore Andy Vailas and senior James Brady. Goldrich won out and looked good in the season opener against Holy Cross, but was injured on the second play of the second game at Minnesota.
Replacement Andy Vailas has also been good in his first two games, including Saturday's easy win. He seems to read well, has not thrown the ball up for grabs and doesn't at all mind tucking and running. But the previous offensive flamboyance of the recent past is not evident. Yet. I think Coach McDonald will stick with Vailas as long as the offense is going well enough, but will re-insert Goldrich (assuming his shoulder is well) if it isn't performing.
Last year's leading ground gainer, senior Dontra Peters, has been moved to cornerback. It is not an easy transition if you've been thinking about yourself as a runningback for as long as you've been at the D-I level but Dontra has taken it on. His athleticism and intelligence have lead him to play a respectable corner which will only improve with playing time.
I mentioned a more balanced UNH team this year, that would include the defensive line and especially the backfield who have played pretty well the first three games. Last year's backfield was a young group and they were inconsistent. Most of the same guys are back this year and you can see them gaining confidence with each game. The anchors of the UNH defense is the linebacker duo of Mat Evans (2011 Buck Buchanan Award winner) and Alan Buzbee. They are fast and experienced and work well together.
The UNH kicking game, however, has not been at all adequate thus far. Placekicker, junior Mike MacArthur, a proven CAA caliber kicker has been very inconsistent and a lot of points have not been tallied that should have been. Watching him closely as he came from the field Saturday, following two missed field goals and three punts that came off his foot badly, he looked absolutely at a loss. I would guess it's a matter of confidence, sometimes a tough thing to get back once you start doubting yourself.
We here in New Hampshire have a lot of confidence and respect for head coach Sean McDonald to sort it all out. He's not just a good coach, but a good man as well that the players rally around.
The coaching staff was dealt a serious blow when offensive coordinator Ryan Carty was stricken with stroke-like symptoms days before the Minnesota game. It was only the second game of this year and he has not participated since. For the Minnesota and Central Connecticut games the play calling seems to have been subdued and Carty's absence may be a part of the reason. The offense seemed less creative and more slow paced.
ODU fans might be interested that there are four Virginia kids on the UNH squad. Starting offensive lineman Ricky Archer from The Plains, Virginia, starting senior defensive end Rand Vines from Roanoke, freshman wide receiver Kyon Taylor from Springfield and freshman Hayden Knudson from Alexandria.
Old Dominion will be favored for Saturday's game, at noon at Foreman Field, and rightly so. Although both teams are just beginning the most meaningful part of their schedules, Old Dominion has shown a more potent offense and may well emerge as the team to beat in the CAA. New Hampshire still has a lot to prove before it can be considered in contention for conference leadership.
New Hampshire has suffered from the heat in the past when playing Virginia schools in September. I can recall playing field temperatures of well over 100 at Richmond and Harrisonburg but that doesn't look to be the case for Saturday. The forecast is for good skies and temperatures in the low 80s.