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Blue Devils searching for answers
For Central Connecticut State’s football team, the Northeast Conference season is what matters.
That, after all, is when the Blue Devils can earn a trip to the FCS playoffs.
But today’s game against Bentley (noon, ESPN Radio 1410) is still critical. Not for the final score, which should be heavily in Central’s favor, but because the Blue Devils need to start playing like the defending NEC champions they are and the repeat champions they want to be.
The Blue Devils enter today with the knowledge that they won’t get running back Brian Fowler back this year but without being certain of how they will manage to be one of the best running teams in the country, as is their tradition.
More importantly, they aren’t sure if last week’s 33-3 loss to New Hampshire was more due to the Wildcats being one of the best teams in all of FCS or because Central was actually inept on offense.
“We have to figure out who we are,” CCSU head coach Jeff McInerney said after Thursday’s practice. “I have to sit down, and I have to sit the coaches down and figure out in a hurry what we are. That’s what I have to do.”
If it can execute, Central (0-1) shouldn’t have to do too much to beat Division II Bentley today, though the Falcons are one of the better teams at their level and nearly beat Division II power Carson-Newman last week.
But CCSU has made a habit of letting lesser opponents stay in games in recent years, making a team that has struggled to find its focus in 2010 even more anxious to get on track.
“We have good people here, but we have to get one heartbeat,” McInerney said. “We got a pass last week. We don’t get one this week. … We have to get up like New Hampshire did to us. If not we’re going to be in a fight.”
The Falcons (0-1) have 36 full scholarships, even more than the Devils have. But McInerney and his players are much more concerned about figuring out if Central can keep its “ground and pound” persona this year than they are about the opponents.
Quarterback Gunnar Jespersen was efficient (12 for 17) in his first game, but could use more help from his backs, particularly Nate Pagan and Everette Benjamin. He thinks it will be there by the time NEC play rolls around.
“In that game [against UNH] we didn’t have enough push up front for our backs to show what our backs can do,” Jespersen said. “Everette didn’t get the chance to open up and Nate had some good runs early but then there were two or three hats on him every time so he didn’t get the chance to really show what he can do.”
Jespersen was pleased with the offensive line’s overall performance, especially in keeping him upright.
“Overall I felt really comfortable in the pocket,” Jespersen said. “I’m excited for the rest of the season and for this game against Bentley… The chemistry is still being built. We’re not where we need to be, but we have a great foundation.”
Devan Baker, Matt Tyrell and the receiving corps could get more touches this time around, as Central might decide to make passes to the outside to open up the run.
“We took some shots deep and we lost a 40-yard pass [because of a penalty],” McInerney said of last week’s game. “For being where we are with a new quarterback, it wasn’t bad. I think we’ll see marked improvement if they can stop thinking and just play.”
For now, the coaches are the ones who have to do the thinking.
“Sometimes the simplest answer is the simplest answer,” McInerney said. “I can tell you how we became one of the leading rushing teams over the last four years. We came out here one day to run Texas Tech’s offense [which is pass-heavy] and one day we couldn’t run it at all so I said, let’s run [a running play] 20 times in a row. And it worked.”
Finding something today would give Central a week to perfect it before the real season begins.
By Matt Straub, The Bristol Press