Non-Conference Preview -- Part 2

I continue my pre-season tour of Rutgers' non-conference opponents. This is the second in a five part series beginning with a look at potentailly rising Division IAA program New Hampshire. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.

NEW HAMPSHIRE WILDCATS PREVIEW


Five years ago, New Hampshire Head Coach Sean McDonnell inherited the Wildcat program from his mentor, Bill Bowes, who compiled a 0.567 winning percentage during 28 years at New Hampshire.  During that time, the Wildcats competed in the Yankee Conference, which changed its affiliation to the Atlantic 10 Conference in 1997.  McDonnell, Bowes' offensive coordinator, was promoted to the head coaching job in 1999.  The Wildcats have struggled under McDonnell, finishing no higher than fourth place in the Atlantic 10.  Last year, New Hampshire (5-7, 3-6 Atlantic 10) stumbled to a 2-6 start but recovered to win three of their final four games to close the season, including a convincing win over Top 25 Maine. 

Although picked to finish fourth in the Atlantic 10 North Division, New Hampshire is poised for a breakout season.  McDonnell returns 15 starters, plus one kicker, from a developing team.  McDonnell oversaw an explosive offense but his defense was extremely porous.  McDonnell's challenge is to improve his defense while maintaining his offensive production.  Here's a look at potentially rising Atlantic 10 power New Hampshire Wildcats. 


OFFENSE

New Hampshire lost only three starters from one of the best offenses in Division IAA.  McDonnell operates a multiple offense ranging from a standard pro set to 3TE to 4WR.  Furthermore, the Wildcats run the option from virtually any formation, forcing the defense to account for the QB on every play.  The New Hampshire offense is more complicated than the offense that fellow Atlantic 10 program Villanova runs.  New Hampshire's 2003 offensive statistics are summarized below:

  • 179 rushing yards per game (#35 of 121 in Division 1AA)
  • 235 passing yards per game (#33 in Division 1AA)
  • 414 total yards per game (#20 in Division 1AA)
  • 34 points per game (#12 in Division 1AA)


New Hampshire returns an experienced and dangerous triggerman – two-year starter and 3rd Team All-Atlantic 10 QB Sr Mike Granieri (237 of 387 for 2,595 yards, 22 TDs, and 8 INTs plus 145 carries for 602 yards and 5 TDs).  Granieri is a threat to throw or run.  Sr Hassan Noble (11 of 19 for 126 yards plus 18 carries for 42 yards) returns as the backup.  Granieri's presence will ensure that the Wildcats once again have a dangerous offense.  Note:  Granieri suffered a season-ending ACL injury in the season opener and was actually replaced by RS Fr Ricky Santos. 

The Wildcats lost only one player off a young but productive receiving corps as WR Jermaine Stevens (24 receptions for 347 yards) departed.  Leading receiver and Second Team All-Atlantic 10 WR Sr David Bailey (48 receptions for 612 yards and 5 TDs plus 24 carries for 143 yards) and Jr TE Jon Williams (44 receptions for 448 yards and 4 TDs) return as starters.  Former 3WR So David Ball (38 receptions for 486 yards and 4 TDs) will replace Stevens as a full-time starter.  So WR Aaron Brown (23 receptions for 322 yards and 2 TDs) will replace Ball as the 3WR.  Sr WR Shaun Diver (20 receptions for 220 yards) and So TE Sean Lynch (4 receptions for 43 yards and 3 TDs), who missed most of last season with an injury, return as backups.  So WR Chris Callison will battle RS Fr WR Keith LeVan for the fifth WR role in the rotation.  The Wildcats have a deep and experienced receiving corps that offers Granieri plenty of capable targets.   

New Hampshire returns intact its entire backfield.  Starting RB Sr RJ Harvey (164 carries for 804 yards and 14 TDs plus 26 receptions for 153 yards and 2 TDs) and backup RB Sr Paul McKinney (75 carries for 266 yards and 3 TDs plus 15 receptions for 141 yards) return.  Blocking FB Jr Joe Kreider and all-purpose FB Jr John McCoy (53 carries for 218 yards and 4 TDs plus 8 receptions for 40 yards) return in part-time roles.  McCoy can also serve as a backup RB.  The Wildcat RBs are dual-purpose threats to run or catch passes out of the backfield. 

New Hampshire lost two starters off an OLine that led the Atlantic 10 in fewest sacks allowed.  Second Team All-Atlantic 10 LG Brian Barbato and Third Team All-Atlantic 10 RT John Hart departed.  Sr LT Christian Leibl-Cote, Jr C Adam Triscila, and RS Jr RG Tim Carignan are the returning starters.  Former starting OL So Tucker Peterson, who switched to backup DT in the middle of the season, will return to the OLine and replace Barbato as the starting LG.  Former backup RT RS So Will Yarborough will replace Hart in the starting lineup.  Jr LT Dave Sundberg, Jr LG Dan McLean, So C Nick Courier, and So RG Tim Schwab are experienced backups.  RS Fr RT Brandon Graham will complete the second unit.  The Wildcats lost their two best OL in Barbato and Hart but the return of former starter Peterson should bolster the unit. 


DEFENSE

New Hampshire lost four starters from an awful defense.  The Wildcats apparently employ an overshift 4-3 scheme with a NT, an SLB on the line of scrimmage over the TE, and a SS up at LB depth.  This will leave the CBs in man-to-man coverage with only a single deep safety (Cover 1).  Unfortunately, the Wildcats are equally horrendous against the run and the pass.  New Hampshire's 2003 defensive statistics are summarized below. 

  • 196 rushing yards per game (#98 of 121 in Division 1AA)
  • 234 passing yards per game (#100 in Division 1AA)
  • 430 total yards per game (#112 in Division 1AA)
  • 32 points per game (#101 in Division 1AA)


New Hampshire suffered heavy losses from its best unit – the linebackers.  Leading tackler MLB Chris Robinson (136 tackles, 7 TFLs, and 3 FR) and starting OLB George Yasso (63 tackles, 7.5 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, and 2 FR) departed.  As did backup OLB Steve Kobzik (19 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks).  Third-leading tackler Jr OLB Alan Tallman (79 tackles, 9 TFLs, and 2 sacks) returns.  Former backup MLB Sr Amir Saddah (58 tackles and 4 TFLs) will replace Robinson while former backup SS Jr Mark Rutberg (33 tackles) will replace Yasso as a starting OLB.  Backup OLB Jr EJ DeWitt (22 tackles and 2 INTs) also returns.  Jr MLB Brent Barbato and So OLB Tony Tolene, a converted WR, will complete the second unit.  The Wildcat defense must overcome the losses to its linebacking corps if it is to improve upon the dismal performance of 2003. 

The Wildcat DLine seemingly was ineffective last season, as reflected in the poor rushing defense despite the apparent use of an eight-man front.  Starting NT Jeremy Hincman (53 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, and 1.5 sacks), the best performer on a weak unit, departed.  Sr DE George Peterson (49 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 3 sacks, and 2 FR), Sr DE Jared Perkoski (24 tackles and 4 TFLs), and Jr DT Derek Stank (23 tackles and 4.5 TFLs) return as starters.  Former backup NT So Tim Beckett (5 tackles) will replace Hincman as the starting NT.  Backup DEs Sr Adam Kok (27 tackles, 5 TFLs, and 2 sacks) and So Cory Dix (13 tackles) return.  Former backup DT So Tucker Peterson (8 tackles), who switched from the OLine in midseason, will return to the OLine.  So NT Dan Wagner and So DT Brendan St. Peter will assume backup duties.  The DLine lost its anchor and lacks proven playmakers other than Peterson.  This unit will not improve unless the young players show startling improvement. 

The Wildcat secondary apparently is asked to do too much and doesn't get enough support from the front eight.  Second-leading tackler Sr FS Aaron Thomas (116 tackles) is kept busy as the last line of defense.  Starting SS Brandon Taylor (18 tackles), who missed most of last season with an injury, departed.  Jr SS Baron Flenory (52 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 2 sacks, and 3 INTs), who replaced Taylor, returns too.  RS Jr CB Giovanni Benson (53 tackles and 5 INTs) and So CB Corey Graham (47 tackles and 3 INTs), who replaced the injured starter late in the season, also return as starters.  Former starting CB Jr CB Etienne Boulay (37 tackles and 2 INTs), who was injured late in the season, apparently will not regain his starting job.  Former backup SS Jr Mark Rutberg was switched to OLB.  Backup FS RS So Terrell Lewis (5 tackles) and backup CB RS So Will Morey (5 tackles), who switched from QB last season, also return.  So SS AJ Snook will assume backup duties behind Flenory.  Improvement from the secondary is unrealistic when the front seven faces substantial obstacles to its own improvement. 


SPECIAL TEAMS

New Hampshire returns the best elements of its special teams – Jr PK Conner McCormick (9 of 15 FGAs and 45 of 48 XPAs) and Sr KOR David Bailey (29 yards per return and one TD).  PR Brandon Taylor (9 yards per return), who was injured late in the season, is gone.  Bailey (4 yards per return) fielded punts in Taylor's absence and likely will continue that role.  P Josh Polgar (39 yards per punt) departed; So P Matt Henry will replace Polgar.  Special teams appear to be in solid shape for the Wildcats.  


SCHEDULE

New Hampshire plays an eleven game schedule with only four home games.  The Wildcats play once on Thursday night – the season opener at Delaware.  New Hampshire has only bye week – in early October – and ends the season early.  The non-conference schedule features one heavyweight – Division IA Rutgers – and one lightweight – Dartmouth of the Ivy League.  New Hampshire has a challenging nine-game Atlantic 10 schedule with games against the top six finishers from last season – defending Division IAA champion Delaware, Massachusetts, Northeastern, Maine, Villanova, and William & Mary.  The Wildcats do not play conference foes seventh place James Madison and twelfth (last) place Richmond.  New Hampshire also plays only four of nine conference games at home and gets only two of the six toughest league games (Massachusetts and William & Mary) at home.  The home schedule is sweepable.  However, the road schedule has only two easy games – Dartmouth and Rhode Island.  October will hold the key to schedule, with games at Villanova, against Massachusetts, and at Northeastern. 

 

September 2

@ Delaware

September 11

@ Rutgers

September 18

William & Mary

September 25

@ Dartmouth

October 2

@ Villanova

October 16

Massachusetts

October 23

Hofstra

October 30

@ Northeastern

November 6

@ Rhode Island

November 13

Towson

November 20

@ Maine

 

PREDICTION

I predict the Wildcats will finish 6-5 (5-4 Atlantic 10).  New Hampshire will lose its first two games at Delaware and at Rutgers.  The Wildcats will then rebound to win four of five, losing only at Villanova.  A loss at Northeastern will kill New Hampshire's league title and post-season aspirations.  A season-ending loss at Maine will plant the Wildcats squarely in the middle of the Atlantic 10 pack, which will be an improvement over the 2003 season. 


Coming Next:  Keys to the New Hampshire Game.  I'll review the five keys to a potential letdown game.  I'll also identify five key players whose performance will be interesting to observe. 


Please send any comments to dwelch11@comcast.net.  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.  And please put "Rutgers" in the message header because I wouldn't want to miss your email in a sea of spam.  In the meantime, if you would like to discuss the spring camp with other Rutgers fans, please visit our message board.


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