New Hampshire makes its first appearance on FloFootball this season with a trip to Rhode Island on Saturday night.
Who: Rhode Island (0-2, 0-1) at New Hampshire (0-2, 0-0 CAA)
When: Saturday, Sept. 21, 6 p.m. ET
Where: Wildcat Stadium; Durham, N.H.
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
What ultimately determines the winner in Kingston? It may be something as simple as red zone performance — or, perhaps, which team does a better job of converting on third down.
URI and UNH are at the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Association in red zone percentage. The Rams have scored two touchdowns and made four field goals in nine trips to the red zone this season (66.7 percent). The Wildcats have two touchdowns and one field goal in five trips to the red zone (60 percent).
“Gotta get touchdowns instead of field goals in the red zone,” URI coach Jim Fleming said.
Both offenses will be looking to improve on third down as well. URI is 10th among CAA teams in third-down percentage (9 of 28, 32.1 percent), and UNH is 11th (9 of 31, 29.0 percent). The Wildcats didn’t convert on third down during the second half of last weekend’s loss to FIU.
Each team enters Saturday’s game at UNH’s Wildcat Stadium with an 0-2 record. URI, which had a bye last weekend, opened its season with losses to Ohio (41-20) and CAA foe Delaware (44-36 in triple overtime). UNH’s losses came in non-league games against Holy Cross (13-10) and Florida International (30-17).
In addition to its struggles on third down and in the red zone, UNH is the only CAA team that has yet to force a turnover this season. The Wildcats are minus-4 in turnover margin, and one of those turnovers was particularly costly. While attempting to run out the clock against Holy Cross, UNH fumbled the ball in its own end zone and the Crusaders pounced on the ball for what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
Interim football head coach Ricky Santos speaks at UNH’s weekly press conference. https://t.co/Q4o3UGNh9u— UNH Wildcats (@UNHWildcats) September 18, 2019
“If we can create turnovers going forward we’re going to be fine,” UNH interim head coach Ricky Santos said. “We protected it better last week than we did in the first game. The one turnover (came) on third and long. We probably tried to force a ball in there.
“And then defensively, the last five or six years, we’ve been as good as anybody in the country at creating turnovers, and we haven’t done that the last two weeks. So that’s been a point of emphasis. We need to find a way to get the ball out this week, especially against an explosive offense and give our offense more opportunities and some short fields so we can get some more touchdowns going forward.”
UNH lost the turnover battle in six of its 11 games last season, and lost each of those six games. URI will enter Saturday’s matchup plus-3 in turnover margin.
Fleming said he’s already seen the good and bad in his team through two games.
“I like a lot of things we’ve done is spots,” he said. “I think there’s some points over the first two weeks that are championship-level football. Then there’s spots on both sides of the ball and on special teams that are absolutely non championship-level football, so what we’ve got to do is continue to work on eliminating things that hurt ourselves.
"The longer you’re around this game you always continue to find out at times someone beats you with something great, but most times you look at it and it’s the mistakes you make that determine the outcome of the football game. … We’ve had way too many explosion plays on defense and we’ve had a couple of special teams snafus that have to be eliminated.”
URI quarterback Vito Priore passed for 430 yards in the loss to Delaware and is averaging 360.5 passing yards per game this season. Priore has one of the best targets at the FCS level in senior wide receiver Aaron Parker, who ranks first among FCS players in receiving yards per game (185.5) and receptions per game (10.5).
UNH appears to have settled on true freshman Max Brosmer as its quarterback. Brosmer began the season No. 2 on the depth chart, but has directed the UNH offense for the last six quarters. He’s completed 27 of 54 passes for 330 yards and two touchdowns. He’s been intercepted twice.
“We felt like he took the next step and played well (against FIU),” Santos said. “We found some more explosive plays in the pass game. He’s doing some really good things, so we’re going to go with him.”
URI broke a seven-game losing streak against UNH last season, when it earned a 24-21 victory at Meade Stadium.
“New Hampshire up at New Hampshire, first and foremost, is a tough out for everybody,” Fleming said. “It’s a tough place to go up and play and they’ve been very successful over the years.
“They’ve got a very solid football team and they’re going to be an angry animal just like we are. It’s going to be a battle up there like it always is.”
Although UNH head coach Sean McDonnell lives in Durham, a few miles from the school’s football stadium, Santos said he doesn’t expect McDonnell to attend Saturday game, which is UNH’s home opener. McDonnell is on a leave of absence to deal with a health issue.
“He’s in our thoughts,” Santos said. “He’s been in our thoughts since he announced he was going to step back a little bit for his medical leave. We’re continuing to play hard for him. He’s the reason why these kids who are in this program wanted to come to UNH. They wanted to play for a guy like Sean McDonnell, a legendary coach. Someone who commands and demands stuff from his young athletes. That’s ultimately why these kids came here.”
- UNH has won 13 of the last 15 matchups with URI.
- Senior safety Momodu Mbye intercepted a pass in each of URI’s first two games.
- The largest crowd to attend at UNH game a Wildcat stadium (22,135) came in 2017, when the Wildcats beat the Rams 28-14.
- Opponents have converted on 17 of 27 third-down opportunities (63 percent) against the URI defense.
- UNH linebacker Michael Balsamo is expected to miss at least two more games with a thumb injury that required surgery.