NEW BRITAIN - The cure for the Central Connecticut State football team‚Äôs early season woes, it turned out, came in the form of a team from a small school in Ohio.
It might have only been a Division II opponent, but for the Blue Devils, Saturday‚Äôs 57-6 rout of Walsh University might have been just what they needed.
Over the first three weeks of the season, CCSU had played with the ‚Äúbig boys‚ÄĚ - Syracuse, Fordham and Youngstown State - and came away with three losses, one of which it should have won.
And yet it is striking how different a team can look for one week to the next, going from attempting to slow down one of the nation‚Äôs best teams at the Division I FCS level in Youngstown State to facing the Cavaliers, who themselves have yet to win a game and made the Blue Devils look unbeatable at times.
In other words, if CCSU had struggled to beat Walsh, then who exactly could it beat?
On Saturday, there were none of those questions. Still, just how much can be taken from a victory over a now 0-4 team that plays a division below it, remains to be seen. But there were encouraging signs and with the Blue Devils set to begin conference play this upcoming Saturday, the game provided a little bit of a confidence boost to what players and coaches believe can be a successful season.
The running game - virtually nonexistent at times over the past season-plus - showed up. The defense, which has been gouged to the tune of 481.5 of total offense per game and allowed an average of 38.3 points per game, closed ranks.
Should CCSU make a run during the season, this could be the point it looks back at as the main building block.
‚ÄúAnytime you can get a win and you can come in on a Monday and celebrate a win, rather than talk about ‚Äėoh, we almost had this, we should have done that,‚Äô is always positive for our guys going into the week to feel about themselves,‚ÄĚ Blue Devils head coach Pete Rossomando said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs hard to beat anybody these days and I‚Äôm proud of our guys to go out there and play the way they did.‚ÄĚ
It certainly didn‚Äôt hurt that the center piece of CCSU‚Äôs offensive game plan was that run game. In total, the Blue Devils collected 254 yards and six touchdowns on the ground on 46 attempts - a new season high. Cameron Nash finished the afternoon with 109 of those yards, becoming the first 100-yard rusher for CCSU in 14 games, and two of those touchdowns.
But the success of the run game accomplished more than just six scores. It produced a two-fold result.
The first was its effect on the passing game and finally being able to take some pressure off quarterback Jacob Dolegala, who only had to attempt 14 passes. Those 46 rush attempts opened up the play-action pass, highlighted by Dolegala‚Äôs 62-yard touchdown throw to Courtney Rush in the second quarter, and allowed the receivers, when the Blue Devils did throw the ball, to operate in space.
‚ÄúIf we can run like that and keep it going; the play-action, that‚Äôs how you get big plays over the top,‚ÄĚ Nash said. ‚ÄúWe just have to keep running the ball until [defenses] stop it then punish them when they come up.‚ÄĚ
Secondly, it kept the defense off the field and fresh for long stretches of time. The result - two interceptions, a forced fumble and no touchdowns allowed. The six points allowed on Saturday was the Blue Devils‚Äô fewest since it shut out Robert Morris 34-0 in 2015.
Walsh finished with 239 yards of total offense, 59 of which came through the air. The total offense could be even less if you take away the 65-yard run by Kalvin Gordon in the first quarter. On third downs, the Cavaliers converted on only four of 14 opportunities.
‚ÄúIt keeps us relaxed,‚ÄĚ CCSU safety Najae Brown said of the defense when the offense is able to be effective. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre not over-tired. When [the offense] gets the ball and scores, that‚Äôs a good thing because that allows us to go back out there, stop [the other team] and give the ball back to them again.‚ÄĚ
This was, in some ways, like the preseason tune-up the Blue Devils needed. And yet, it came in the fourth week of the season, after three grueling losses, and it came as the sense of desperation started to creep in. Staring conference play 1-3 is a whole lot different than starting it 0-4.
There is still be plenty for CCSU to work on, especially against better competition, but it was certainly a positive start.
‚ÄúOur kids have been working so hard,‚ÄĚ Rossomando said. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs just unfortunate we played the schedule we did early. We should have gotten the Fordham game, but didn‚Äôt. But you‚Äôre playing an ACC school and the No. 5 team in the country [in Youngstown State], that‚Äôs setting the bar pretty high. We‚Äôve said we could have the best 0-3 team in the country [coming into Saturday], but you are what your record says you are and we had to come out and get a win so we can start building.‚ÄĚ
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter: @DavidGlovach