NEW BRITAIN - Going forward, Ryan McCarthy knows the Central Connecticut State football team is going to have to do a better job of closing out games.
Over the first two weeks of the season, the Blue Devils head coach has seen his team squander second-half leads, only to have Francis Cole bail CCSU out with last-minute, game-winning field goals against both Fordham and Merrimack.
“There were a lot of positives from last week [against Merrimack],” McCarthy said. “But there were also a lot of things that needed to be cleaned up. We didn’t put the team away when we had a chance to. Some of that was on me for calling a pass play that led to the interception [with 11:55 left in the fourth quarter] instead of running the football. But our guys know you have to be able to do that.”
After the Blue Devils took a 37-21 lead into the fourth quarter, the Warriors went on to outscore CCSU 16-3 over the final 15 minutes of play.
Despite the flair for the dramatics, the Blue Devils (2-0) know they’ll have a good opportunity to show just how much they were able to learn from those miscues when they take on Valparaiso (0-1) on Saturday at 2 p.m. in the first-ever meeting between the two programs.
The Crusaders are members of the Pioneer Football League, a non-scholarship conference. But once again, McCarthy is preaching to his players to not take any team lightly.
“That league is pretty good,” McCarthy said. “Dayton, where their head coach is from, is in the top echelon of the conference and they’re a tough team. To me, it doesn’t matter if you have 85 scholarships, 45 or none. If our kids learned anything from last week, it is not to look past anyone. It should be a good test for us.”
It will also be the first of four straight road games for CCSU. Its next home game isn’t until Oct. 19 against Bryant after trips to Valparaiso, Eastern Michigan, Sacred Heart and Columbia.
The Crusaders, meanwhile, come in having an extra week to prepare for the Blue Devils following an early bye. Valparaiso’s first game of the season, which also happened to be the head coaching debut for Landon Fox, ended in a 53-7 drubbing at the hands of Eastern Kentucky.
“Coaches will always say the biggest jump in improvement during the season is from Week 1 to Week 2,” McCarthy said. “If it was me, I would not want to have a bye week in Week 2. At our level, you only have one week off and you would want it somewhere in the middle of the schedule. Obviously, they’ve had more time to prepare for us. We’re expecting to see some wrinkles.”
What Valparaiso does offensively should be interesting. McCarthy expects to see a number of motions, movements and formations. But the Crusaders weren’t able to do much against Eastern Kentucky two weeks ago. They managed just 11 first downs, 184 yards of total offense and 2.9 yards per play.
Chris Duncan went 7-for-19 passing for 119 yards and the team’s only touchdown in the lopsided loss, while his top two playmakers were running back Cody Boxrucker (12 carries, 45 yards) and wide receiver Ollie Reese (3 catches, 71 yards). But 61 of Reese’s 71 yards came on catch-and-run touchdown down the sideline.
“They’re going to try to dirty the eyes of our guys at the second and third level on the defense,” McCarthy said. “They’re going to try to get us out of position and misaligned, but I think they’re going to have respect for our athleticism. We have to make sure our heads and eyes aren’t going to be fooled and make sure we’re in the right places. I don’t think the quarterback is the same type of kid we saw last week in terms of being able to extend the play, but he can hurt you. [Boxrucker] is a tough kid as well, who runs hard and runs downfield.”
While the Crusaders’ defense struggled against Eastern Kentucky, there were still a number of quality performances McCarthy noted when he watched the game film. Fox’s background, before he arrived at Valparaiso, was being the defensive coordinator at Dayton the previous eight seasons.
The Crusaders have a pair of safeties that could pose potential problems in Jamari Booker and Michael Scarretto. Both have the ability to play in space and close to the line of scrimmage. Drew Gedrys is one of their key players along the defensive line. The 6-foot-3, 285 pounds tackle will be tough to move around.
The good news for CCSU is the unit gave up 442 yards of total offense and 7.2 yards per play. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, are averaging 420.5 yards per game and 33 points.
“Offensively, we need to protect the football,” said McCarthy, whose team turned the ball over twice last week. “That’s always the first goal. We also have to clean up the penalties. We had too many foolish mistakes and self-inflicted wounds last week. Starting at 1st-and-20 is hard to make up.
“But defensively, they’re multiple in what they want to do. Their defense is more quarters based and cover three then the first two opponents we faced. Their coach is going to have them ready.”
And the Blue Devils expect to be ready too.
“The last two years, we’ve played well on the road,” McCarthy said. “Our players understand it’s a business trip. “It’s what you make of it and we expect to play the way we know we can play.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or email@example.com