The University of New Hampshire Wildcats are a mainstay in the FCS playoff hunt that intensifies each November. In today’s CAA Football conference with James Madison’s membership and postseason runs a more distant memory, UNH is the standard-bearer for consistency in playoff races since 2004.
This fall, though, the Wildcats have a lot of work ahead in October before they can concern themselves with another November of contending.
New Hampshire enters its Homecoming game versus No. 24 UAlbany as a loser of two straight in CAA play. The Wildcats sit at 0-2 in conference action after blowing an 18-point lead at Delaware and faltering in a 54-51 overtime loss to Towson.
For a squad that went 7-1 in CAA games last season en route to the FCS tournament second round at Holy Cross, UNH has not been far off in close losses this year, but is faced with the exigency of Saturday’s contest against the Great Danes midway through the 2023 slate.
“I certainly think there’s a heightened sense of urgency right now,” New Hampshire head coach Rick Santos said Monday. “We gotta find a way to get one and then as everyone knows, that can snowball rather quickly in the positive direction for us.”
UNH is 2-3 overall with FCS wins over Stonehill and Dartmouth, and it carries quality losses, if one subscribes to such a thing, at FBS Central Michigan (45-42) and Delaware (29-25). The Wildcats’ resume, though, can only get the benefit of splitting hairs on tight losses if they avoid a fourth overall setback on Saturday. The ’Cats’ date with UAlbany precedes tests against Rhode Island (October 28) and Villanova (November 4), two teams receiving votes in the FCS media poll.
New Hampshire’s offense is plenty capable of turning the team’s fortunes in October. Quarterback Max Brosmer and running back Dylan Laube have the Wildcats in the CAA’s driver’s seat in points per game (38.6), passing yards per game (317.6), and first downs per game (23.4).
It is the UNH defense that will be tasked with obstructing UAlbany, as Great Danes quarterback Reese Poffenbarger and running back Griffin Woodell key the UA attack that leads the CAA in time of possession (35:46 per game). With UAlbany’s offense controlling the ball, its rested defense can unleash pressure. The Danes are tops in the conference in sacks created at 24 drops of the QB in six games.
Leading the way, UAlbany defensive end Anton Juncaj is first in the FCS in total sacks (9.0) and his teammate on the D-line, AJ Simon, is not far behind, ranking sixth nationally in sacks per game (1.17) with his seven total QB takedowns behind the line.
UAlbany showed its mettle in two FBS games this season, falling in competitive outings at Marshall and Hawaii. More recently, the Great Danes have gotten by FCS opponents that are closer to (if a touch better than) your average team, Morgan State and Towson. The MSU and TU games were UAlbany road wins by seven points or fewer.
The Danes’ signature win to date is their 31-10 putaway of Villanova, which has helped them into the Top 25.
Despite UAlbany entering this Saturday with the superior record to UNH at 4-2 overall and 2-0 in the CAA, UA should see its trip to Durham as just as imperative. The Great Danes, similarly to the Wildcats, have other notable games looming. UAlbany runs into Rhody (October 21) and William & Mary (November 4).
In the meantime, a turnaround-minded New Hampshire team will be plenty for UA to deal with – but that’s nothing new for head coach Greg Gattuso.
“They do a great job at New Hampshire,” Gattuso said Monday. “The quarterback is lights-out. The running back obviously is, I think, as good a player that’s ever played in this league. They got good supporting roles around it and the coordinator and coaches do a great job.”
UAlbany is 5-5 versus UNH since 2013, but has won five of the last seven meetings in the series. The Wildcats took last season’s battle in a 28-23 decision. Gattuso says his team knows what it can expect from the newest tussle with the ’Cats.
“They keep you on your toes. We know what we’re in for … It’s a tough place to play.”
New Hampshire needs to keep it that way as it hopes to jumpstart a spurt back into its usual place in, at a minimum, the at-large picture.
After all, it’s been said that someone has to win the CAA Football auto-bid, and it is not shaping up precisely as thought. Entering 2023, UNH was in the preseason top tier with 2022 seed recipient William & Mary, but each of these teams has at least one league loss already and only Elon (3-0), Delaware (2-0), and none other than UAlbany are unblemished in conference record.