NEW BRITAIN - Central Connecticut State is in the midst of a five-game losing streak, and with conference play still ongoing, the Blue Devils desperately need a win to save the season and potentially bring themselves to a game under .500 by season's end.
This week, it'll be Merrimack that will pose another challenge for CCSU.
Merrimack is relatively new to the Div. I level after getting bumped up from Div. II when it was a member of the Northeast-10.
Since joining the Northeast Conference the Warriors are 0-1 against CCSU, losing in 2019 in a 40-37 final where a fourth quarter comeback fell just short.
Now, in 2021, the Warriors are sitting at 4-3, coming off a 43-5 win over LIU on Oct. 16. A passing offense that has boomed for 401 yards passing in one game this season will likely be the primary way to move the ball for Merrimack, with Westin Elliot being just 78 yards shy of 2,000 for the season.
Elliott has passed for 23 touchdowns through seven games, but CCSU’s issues containing the run may also play into Merrimack’s gameplan.
Merrimack has one running back over 200 net yards (Victor Dawson, 236 yards) and three over 100 (Tyvon Edmonds Jr, 190; Jamari Venter, 173; Matt Brehon, 104). When it comes to scoring none of them are the clear cut "guy" to find the end zone, with Edmonds Jr. scoring three and Brehon and Dawson each scoring two. Collectively the Warriors gain 3.1 yards per rush on average.
Defensively the Blue Evils are allowing 195 rushing yards a game, allowing 203 to a previously winless LIU and 211 the week before that to Sacred Heart.
Merrimack on the other hand held LIU to 92 yards last time out and Sacred Heart to 278 yards rushing, showing a sign of both its vulnerability and strengths in film.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Warriors may have the edge in diversity and keeping the defense off-balance over CCSU. Nas Smith, who missed time last week, is the leading rusher for CCSU at 396 yards, and is unknown when it comes to his return this weekend. Aaron Dawson is next in line with 110 yards rushing and behind him is Keonte Lucas with 79 yards total. CCSU has mixed it up with the latter two, Tyshaun James and Romelo Williams all running the ball, but a middling 59 yards gained last week may scrap the deep rotation.
Three scores have been made by the run this season. Something that has been an Achilles heel for the Blue Devils all season has been moving the ball efficiently on the ground, and has been something head coach Ryan McCarthy has been trying to emphasize and work into the plan each week.
The most successful day CCSU has had in running the ball was Oct. 16 against Sacred Heart, where it rushed for 211 yards in a 27-17 loss where Smith had 88 of the team’s rushing yards. The Blue Devils have crossed 100 yards rushing as a team two other times this season, in the season opener against Southern Connecticut and Miami (FL).
CCSU has failed to get 60 yards or more gained on the ground three times this season, despite providing a healthy mix of running backs, receivers who can run and mobile quarterbacks who provide several different of styles of ball carrier.
Following the loss, the Blue Devils were without two keys on the defensive side and the offensive side of the ball. Dexter Lawson and Kelvin Apari missed the LIU contest, along with offensive keys Romelo Williams and Smith.
All four were sorely missed in the loss and it's to be determined if they'll play Saturday. If any mix of the four are out again, expect to look to Shon Mitchell and Aaron Dawson on offense to once again step up and make plays.
Personnel aside, the Blue Devils will need to do the very basics to help get themselves back on track with a few games left in the season.
Efficient tackling, losing coverage or assignments and being unable to limit turnovers have crippled CCSU’s chances to succeed late in games. CCSU head coach Ryan McCarthy didn’t directly answer a question regarding hitting the pani button on the season last week, and instead outright said “we are not a good football team,” following the loss to LIU.
He went on to elaborate last week on that stance saying it starts from the top (himself) and works its way downward with who is to blame. He had also mentioned earlier in the season he wasn’t quite sure what the difference was in level of play due to much of the key pieces from the NEC conference champion 2019 team returning for this fall.
Looking forward, with Bryant, Duquesne and Saint Francis University on the schedule following Merrimack, the Blue Devils need something to save face before the end of the season, whether it be an outright win or a consistent showing on offense or defense.
As of Week 8, the Blue Devils haven’t shown consistency. Looking ahead with stronger competition coming, it may not come soon.
If it does come, then the need to sustain it will be paramount to save the season.
Kick at Merrimack College will come Saturday at 1 pm.