NEW BRITAIN – The Central Connecticut State Blue Devils and the Sacred Heart Pioneers open up their NEC slate Saturday night after both teams failed to find their finishing touch in Week 1 of the college football season.
The Blue Devils went down the road for their FBS matchup against the UConn. Central head coach Ryan McCarthy was proud of the way his guys played but were ultimately worn down by the Huskies.
“The effort was certainly there,” McCarthy said. “The kids played extremely hard and competed well.”
Things got out of hand for Central in the second half after a few failed conversions in enemy territory with a chance to take the lead out of halftime.
The Pioneers lost 6-0 to Lafayette after being stood up on three straight plays from the 1 yard-line.
McCarthy and the Devils have made a concerted effort to stop the opposition’s rush early in the season and that will once again be at the forefront of their defensive game plan in Week 2.
Pioneers’ senior running back Malik Grant was a member of the Hero Sports FCS All-America Third-Team in 2021 as well as a finalist for the Walter Payton Award – recognizing the most outstanding offensive player in the FCS. He rushed for 1,347 yards with nine touchdowns en route to a conference title a season ago.
Sacred Heart has replaced four offensive linemen from a season ago which resulted in some complications on the ground in Week 1 only rushing for 56 yards. The Devils are aware of the slow week Grant had with just 46 yards, but by no means are they discounting the way he can break open a game.
“He’s really how the whole thing goes but he didn’t have any breathing room on Saturday,” McCarthy said. “Lafayette was certainly good on defense, but it starts with Malik Grant.”
Central’s junior cornerback Isaiah Greene echoed the same message that McCarthy and senior linebacker Chizi Umunakwe have mentioned in the past – stop the run. The Devils are also trying to keep their defense off the field as much as possible after they ran out of gas late against UConn.
“We’re familiar with them and the coaching staff which has been the same for several years,” Greene said. “One of the focuses we have this year is to stop the run; that’s the goal that we have every week. Another big goal that we have this week is to get off the field on third down. We feel like we have a pretty good idea of what they’re going to do schematically - especially on third down.”
A good way to keep the defense off the field is by getting turnovers like Central did last week at UConn. Greene mentioned the team is trying to force more takeaways every week, putting their Week 2 goal at three.
“One thing that we did really well on defense is that we emphasized taking the ball away,” Greene said. “We ended the game with two takeaways on defense, so I think that is a big highlight for us from Week 1. Those really helped keep our defense within the game for a long time.”
Despite the 28-3 final at UConn, Central left the stadium last Saturday feeling good about the way they played, especially in the first half. Now that the Blue Devils have a point of reference for the level they can play to, they’re looking forward to taking the next step for their home opener on Saturday.
“[Week 1] definitely gave us a lot of confidence, not necessarily because [UConn] is out of our league but more because we played up to the standard of football that we’re capable of playing,” Greene said. “We treat every game - whether it’s in conference or out of conference - with the same intensity. We have a lot of motivation heading into this rivalry game knowing what our team is capable of and now putting it all together for our first conference game of the year.”
A season ago the Blue Devils fell to the Pioneers 27-17 in a game that Grant rushed for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Central quarterback was just 9-for-19 with 101 yards and an interception in that contest.
Sacred Heart at CCSU
When: Saturday, 6:00 p.m.
Where: CCSU: Arute Field
Records: Sacred Heart 0-1 (0-0 NEC), CCSU 0-1 (0-0 NEC)
Last Meeting: Sacred Heart 27, CCSU 17 (10/16/2021)
Malik Grant was held under 50 yards rushing one time in 2021 in the season opener against Bucknell and eclipsed 85 yards in each of the next seven games. It can be tough to tell with the turnover that Sacred heart has had on the offensive line, but it doesn’t seem likely a team will be able to bottle up Grant two weeks in a row like Lafayette did. However, stopping the run has been the most prominent message coming from CCSU all summer. The Blue Devils will be prepared to continue Grant’s slow start, but if they can’t, his production could be the factor that swings momentum one way or the other.
Cameron Beall’s Prediction
Sacred Heart 27, CCSU 20