Saturday’s Colonial Athletic Association matchup between Elon and New Hampshire could come down to how each team performs in the red zone. At least that’s what the statistics suggest.
Who: Elon (2-3, 1-1) at New Hampshire (2-2, 1-0)
When: Saturday, Oct. 5, 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Wildcat Stadium; Durham, N.H.
Watch: LIVE on FloFootball
UNH enters the contest ranked 12th (last) among CAA teams in red zone offense at 66.7 percent. The Wildcats have failed to score in four of their 12 trips to the red zone this season. They have five touchdowns (three rushing, two passing) and have made three of five field goal attempts in those red zone possessions.
Opponents have scored 19 times in 21 red zone possessions against Elon. All 19 scores were touchdowns (12 rushing and seven passing). The Phoenix rank last among CAA teams in red zone defense (90.5 percent).
“Being inexperienced at the quarterback and the receiver position, those are the two focal points right now,” UNH interim head coach Ricky Santos said. “I think we have to continue to grow. I feel as coaches we’ve done a good job of putting our players in position to make plays down there. A lot of it has been self-inflicted penalties. We’ve jumped offsides, false-start penalty last week. We’ve had some drops. I think we’re doing the right things, it’s just them getting more and more comfortable and getting some game reps under their belt and some more experience and they can take a deep breath when we get down there and they can finish those drives off.
“That’s our job to get creative and switch up the scheme down there. Those third downs and red zone is where we’re gonna come up with something different every week to give the opposing team a different look. We’ll continue (to work) hard to find an advantage that way, but our guys continuing to get up to speed in the game will be exactly what we need them to do.”
It’s worth noting that Elon is coming off one-sided losses to Wake Forest (49-7) and James Madison (45-10). Wake Forest is an FBS program, and James Madison is No. 2 in both FCS Top 25 polls.
Elon is fourth in red zone offense (90.9 percent) with nine touchdowns and a field goal in 11 red zone possessions. UNH is fourth in red zone defense (75.0 percent), having allowed three touchdowns and three field goals in the eight possessions its opponents have ventured inside the 20-yard line.
“We’re a good football team,” Elon coach Tony Trisciani said. “We’ve suffered back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and James Madison — two good football teams. A little bit of growing pains here. We lost three four-year starters on the offensive line, and we lost two All-CAA linebackers, so we’re going through some growing pains up front and the second level of our defense. It becomes a little more glaring when you play Wake Forest and James Madison.”
Elon dropped its opener to North Carolina A&T, but then beat The Citadel and Richmond before falling to Wake Forest and James Madison. The Dukes rushed for 336 yards and six touchdowns against Elon, which will be facing the CAA’s No. 4 rushing offense Saturday. UNH is averaging 192.5 yards per game on the ground, and ran for a season-high 233 yards during last week’s victory over Duquesne.
The Wildcats crawled out of an 0-2 hole by posting victories over Rhode Island and Duquesne the last two weeks. They’ll be seeking their third home victory in as many weeks Saturday.
Despite piling up a season-high 433 yards of offense against Duquesne, UNH failed to score in two of its three trips to the red zone during that game.
“Just mental errors, mostly,” UNH running back Carlos Washington, Jr. said. “Penalties and stuff like that. Just gotta finish. Honestly, that’s been the message. We just have to stay the course, play smart and play hard.”
Not Much Turnover
Elon has committed two turnovers in its five games. Elon quarterback Davis Cheek had thrown 240 consecutive passes without an interception until James Madison’s Rashad Robinson picked off a Cheek pass in the fourth quarter last week. Cheek has completed 71 of 130 pass attempts for 925 yards and nine touchdowns.
UNH is minus-three in turnover margin (six lost, three gained) and 0-2 in games when it has lost the turnover battle. The Wildcats had two interceptions and one lost fumble against Duquesne.
- UNH has a 4-1 record against Elon, which includes a 2-0 record in Durham.
- Elon’s Shamari Wingard is averaging 29.5 yards per kickoff return (No. 9 in FCS) and has returned one kickoff for a score. Hunter Stephenson is averaging 44.4 yards per punt (11th in FCS) and has nine punts of more than 50 yards, but has had three punts blocked.
- UNH is ranked 15th out of the 124 FCS teams in scoring defense (18.3 points). The Wildcats are second in the CAA in scoring defense.
- Elon is 10th among CAA teams in scoring offense (23.0) and 11th in scoring defense (33.2).
- Santos said inside linebacker Michael Balsamo is expected to play next week at Stony Brook. Balsamo was injured in UNH’s opener against Holy Cross.