NEW BRITAIN - The Central Connecticut State football teamâ€™s recent rise has the Blue Devils in an unfamiliar place.
Just a month ago CCSU sat at 0-3. The four straight wins since have situated the Blue Devils at the top of the Northeast Conference and above the .500 mark for the first time since 2010.
But CCSU is far from satisfied. The team was not thrilled with its performance last week against conference opponent Wagner despite coming away with a four-overtime win.
â€śI thought we could have played better,â€ť Blue Devils head coach Pete Rossomando said. â€śI thought we played well at times and other times we didnâ€™t play so well. The offense started strong and then sputtered in the second half. The defense still has to improve.â€ť
CCSU (4-3, 2-0) will get a chance to do just that as it continues NEC play today against a Bryant team (2-4, 0-1) that has endured two separate two-game losing streaks during this season.
The Blue Devils are in a tough stretch, having lost to all four of their remaining opponents last season, including a 45-25 loss to the Bulldogs.
â€ś[Bryant has] struggled to finish out games,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śTheyâ€™ve been in games early, but theyâ€™ve played a tough schedule against No. 15 New Hampshire [and] Maine. History shows you can win the conference with one [NEC] loss, so anything can happen. We have to be ready. Their front seven is excellent and they have a quarterback who is a transfer from Louisiana Tech.â€ť
That quarterback is Price Wilson, a redshirt junior, who has struggled with turnovers this season. Although Wilson has passed for 1,940 yards and 11 touchdowns through the Bulldogsâ€™ six games, he is completing just 56.4 percent of his passes with 14 interceptions, having thrown multiple picks in four games.
Still, Bryant has managed to score points, averaging 26.7 per game, and has four receivers that have big-play potential.
Tom Kennedy and Jean Constant lead the group with 26 catches apiece. Kennedy has 368 yards and two touchdowns, while Constant has 351 yards with three scores.
Aaron Aryee (17 catches, 310 yards) and Matt Sewall (24 catches, 270 yards and four touchdowns) are next and make up for an up-and-down running game, which has totaled just 692 yards and eight touchdowns.
â€śTheyâ€™re very fast on offense,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śThey try to catch you in substitutions and out of alignment. It forces you to be a little more vanilla on defense. But weâ€™ve had some practice against it. We didnâ€™t do a good job against it in the Fordham game. We did a good job against in the Syracuse game despite the final score.â€ť
â€śWeâ€™re a much better team against the run and these guys can stretch the field. We have to get lined up in position to make plays. Theyâ€™re going to make plays, we just have to limit them.â€ť
Defensively, Bryant has had similar inconsistencies as its offense. The Bulldogs allow an average of 468 yards of total offense per game and 40.7 points.
But Rossomando noted Bryant does have a number of playmakers on that side of the ball, with one at each level of the defense.
Linebacker Thomas Costigan will be the first priority to stop for the Blue Devils. The junior leads the Bulldogs in total tackles (53), tackles for loss (9) and sacks (6), while defensive end Dillon Guthro has 3Â˝ sacks and safety Danny Hughes has five pass breakups.
â€śTheyâ€™re all-conference type players. We have to make sure weâ€™re able to run the football,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śAs a defense, they play together and theyâ€™re always in the right spot. They make you drive the length of the field. One thing we have to do a better job of and one thing we did a poor job of last week as a coaching staff was not getting [quarterback] Jake [Dolegala] into a rhythm.â€ť
And to do that, CCSU will have to do what has made it successful over the past four weeks - run the football. The offensive line will be ready for an increased presence in the box. Last week, Rossomando said the group did not handle that aspect well in the second half. He expects a different result today.
â€śTheyâ€™re ready,â€ť the head coach said. â€śThey donâ€™t really back down from a challenge.â€ť
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @DavidGlovach