NEW BRITAIN - Defense is still an issue for Central Connecticut State football through four weeks of the season, and with Northeast Conference play looming, the time is now for adjustments to take effect.
After a 22-20 loss to Columbia Saturday afternoon, the Blue Devils now sit at 1-4 on the season and have lost three straight. The Blue Devils had issues containing Southeastern Louisiana and Miami (FL) in its last two times out before Saturday, and while they were able to hold the Lions to 338 yards gained, they were still short in getting out on top.
CCSU head coach Ryan McCarthy has faith in his team, and knows being a step behind receivers or guys being out of place is an issue.
"I think it comes down to the things we talked to them about through the two weeks we had to prepare for these guys," said McCarthy. "It's the missed assignments or poor run fits that will hurt you a lot more than the mismatches will, ... you're out of place or a step the wrong way or your eyes in the wrong place."
Saturday the Blue Devils put together one of their best offensive showings of the season, leading Columbia in yardage (340 to 338), first downs (27 to 18) and time of possession (32:51 to 27:09) – all recipes for a win. But, Columbia's ability to start hot, get ahead 10-0, and hold back Central Connecticut's running game to only 52 yards (edging the season-low by three yards) helped the Lions roll on.
Improvements coming off the bye week are there and they're noticeable. McCarthy admires his team's ability to not roll over and die against a physical foe.
"Did we make improvements from what we've been doing the last four weeks, I think we did," said McCarthy. "Obviously we didn't run the ball effectively, but I saw a team that continued to battle and had a chance to get the ball back and go down and win the game. We know they're a good opponent and how physical they are and I thought the kids played extremely hard, very physical, but it always comes down to four to six plays that determine a game and early on (Columbia) made those plays."
McCarthy also pointed to the need to get out and on the board faster. A 10-play, 44-yard drive to open the contest had CCSU looking like it was going to strike first, but were unable to convert on 4th down. The Lions then went on to score on the following drive, capping off a 69-yard march with a score. From there, CCSU punted on four drives and lost a drive to fumble while only scoring on one before halftime.
A safety in the second half sucked the wind out of CCSU, and by the time the Blue Devils got its footing back, time was against them in the fourth quarter.
"We've got to be able to get off to a faster start and we've preached that the last two weeks," said McCarthy. "... I think we're improving, and we have to obviously, but I think our better days are ahead of us. ... We've still got a ways to go."
A positive takeaway from Saturday was CCSU's passing game. Romelo Williams was able to find receivers in space several times, throwing a season-high 51 times with 29 completions for 288 yards gained and three scores. He found Tyshaun James 10 times for 98 yards and a score.
With the rushing game getting stifled, the pass kept CCSU within reach late due to the need for big-yardage plays. Passing scores in the fourth quarter to James and Erik Surratt showed the team is capable of moving away from its run-first offense it likes to do, giving McCarthy optimism that mixing it up to open the run game more is a possibility.
"The strength that we have, I know it's pretty good on the perimeter," said McCarthy. "I feel good when we drop back or spread the field or move the pocket, ... we could throw the ball and catch the ball. I know that and with the guys that we have, ... we've still got to be able to run the ball. If throwing it to set up the run is what we have to do, then that's what we'll do."
Next up for CCSU is a trip to Fairfield to take on Sacred Heart (3-3, 1-1 in NEC play), kicking off a run of six consecutive Northeast Conference games to close out the season. Kickoff comes at 1 p.m.