NEW BRITAIN - It hasnâ€™t exactly been the start to the season the Central Connecticut State football team was looking for, but the Blue Devils know these next six games are going to be the most important.
After an up-and-down non-conference schedule in which CCSU came out 2-3, including a tough loss to Lafayette last week, the defending NEC champions open conference play this afternoon against Robert Morris.
â€śWe needed to turn the page,â€ť Blue Devils head coach Pete Rossomando said. â€śAnd these games are what matters the most now.â€ť
CCSU has already matched the total amount of games it lost in 2017 when it went 8-3 in the regular season. But that team went on to win seven straight, including all six of its NEC matchups.
This yearâ€™s Blue Devils are looking to do the same thing. It may just prove to be a little more challenging.
CCSU has yet to score more than 28 points in four of its first five games, the lone exception was the 55 points it put up against Division II Lincoln (Pa) in Week 2. The defense, meanwhile, has given up 24 or more points in every game, except the Lincoln matchup.
â€śYou learn a lot about yourself in those [non-conference] games and what you have on offense, defense and special teams,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śOffensively, weâ€™re pretty much set with our personnel, the quarterback, backs and receivers. Defensively, weâ€™re still young in the secondary that has to keep improving.â€ť
The Colonials (1-3, 0-1 NEC), who are coming off a bye week, should present an interesting matchup for the Blue Devils. Robert Morris could easily be 2-2, 1-0, but lost a shootout to Bryant, 49-46, on Sept. 22.
While the Colonialsâ€™ offense has done enough to keep it in games, averaging 25.8 points, their defense has struggled at times. Opponents are scoring an average of 47.5 points against the unit with James Madison putting up 73. The only time Robert Morris surrendered fewer than 40 points was a 22-19 win over Division II Virginia State in Week 2.
It also hasnâ€™t been able to make big plays. The Colonials have just three sacks and three interceptions this season.
â€śTheir defense has a lot of young players,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śAdam Wollet, their middle linebacker, puts them in the right positions. He makes a lot of plays.â€ť
An All-NEC selection last year, Wollet leads the team with 34 tackles, 2Â˝ for loss, and is tied for the team lead with a sack.
Offensively, Robert Morris has been able to generate more with its passing game than on the ground. The Colonials average just 3.5 yards per carry with Alijah Jackson (249 yards, 2 touchdowns) and Teren Stephens (218 yards, 2 touchdowns), a transfer from Bowling Green, as the two main backs.
Jimmy Walker, Robert Morrisâ€™ quarterback, has thrown for 675 yards and five touchdowns. But heâ€™s only completing 53.4 percent of his passes with four interceptions.
Matt Gonzalez, Tim Vecchio and DeLano Madison will be Walkerâ€™s main targets. Gonzalez leads the team with 14 catches for 258 yards and three scores. The next closest is Vecchio with 132 yards and a touchdown on 11 receptions. Madison rounds out the trio with eight catches for 115 yards.
Itâ€™s isnâ€™t by any means an explosive unit, but steady enough.
â€śTheir coaches do an excellent job of getting Walker to throw the ball in a hurry,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śItâ€™s probably the thing that helps them the most. With the pro-style offense they run, not having a cohesive offensive line and going through five-, seven-step drops have hurt them in the past.â€ť
For CCSU, the key to making sure it comes out with its first NEC win of the season is to generate big plays on both sides of the ball, something the Blue Devils havenâ€™t been able to do on a consistent basis.
Itâ€™s led to the line of scrimmage being stacked against running backs Drew Jean-Guillaume and Enyce Walker on offense and allowed opposing teams to continue drives when their on defense.
â€śWe gotta make plays,â€ť Rossomando said. â€śWe have to go at them and be able to run the ball effectively and hopefully use [quarterback] Jake [Dolegala]â€™s arm and hit on some deep passes. Defensively, weâ€™re not taking the ball away enough. We havenâ€™t been able to catch the ball in the secondary or gotten any bounces to go our way. Eventually, we have to correct that.â€ť
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CCSU at Robert Morris
When: Today, 1 p.m.
Where: Joe Walton Stadium
Records: CCSU 2-3, Robert Morris 1-3, 0-1
Last Year: CCSU 42, Robert Morris 14
Breakdown: The Central Connecticut State football team will finally begin the defense of its Northeast Conference title. After coming out of its non-conference schedule 2-3, the Blue Devils will face Robert Morris to open up NEC play. As CCSU gets ready for its sixth straight game, the Colonials are coming off a bye week, meaning they should be close to full strength. But Robert Morris hasnâ€™t been able to find much consistency this season. While the teamâ€™s offense has done enough to keep it in games, averaging 25.8 points, Robert Morrisâ€™ defense has struggled at times. Opponents are scoring an average of 47.5 points against the unit with James Madison putting up 73. The only time the Colonials surrendered fewer than 40 points was a 22-19 win over Division II Virginia State in Week 2. Some of that has to do with a number of young players. Linebacker Adam Wollet leads the team with 34 tackles, 2Â˝ for loss, and is tied for the team lead with a sack. Offensively, Robert Morris is led by Jimmy Walker, who has thrown for 675 yards and five touchdowns. But heâ€™s only completing 53.4 percent of his passes with four interceptions.
David Glovachâ€™s Prediction: CCSU 24, Robert Morris 20