UCA vs. New Hampshire: Defenses are stingy

The way the opposing coaches describe Saturday’s second-round FCS playoff game, it’s as if they are in an echo chamber.

 

University of Central Arkansas coach Steve Campbell, whose team is coming off a first round bye, always places the key as stopping the run, kicking game, limiting turnovers and generating more explosive plays.

University of New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell, whose teams shut out Central Connecticut State in the first round last week, says, ‘We have to stop the run and do a really good job with our inside guys. We have to keep the ball in front of us and not let them get something over our heads. We have to create turnovers. Those are the keys to anybody’s success.”

Of teams in the Southland Conference, Campbell compares the Wildcats to McNeese State on defense and Stephen F. Austin on offense.

Of the teams in the Colonial Athletic Association, McDonnell compares the Bears to James Madison on defense and Richmond on offense.

The Wildcats are making their 14th straight playoff appearance.

Winner of Saturday’s game will play the Northern Illinois-South Dakota State winner next week either Friday night or Saturday afternoon at the stadium of the highest-seeded team.

Each team features stingy defenses. UCA is yielding 17.2 points a game while UNH is averaging 19.2. However, the Wildcats have only allowed an average of 12.5 their last six games. They gave up only 21 points to No. 1-ranked and defending national champion James Madison and one of those was a defensive TD on an interception return.

“They have struggled offensively, but their defense has kept them in a lot of football games,” said Campbell. “Their defense is sound with excellent fundamentals and they are relentless pass rushers.”

“(UCA) is an extremely talented football team,” McDonnell said. “This team can score and defend very well. Any opportunity to score, we have to take advantage of that.”

The catalyst for both offenses is their quarterbacks.

UCA’s Hayden Hildebrand is the most efficient quarterbacks in the country and is Player of the Year in the Southland Conference.

UHN’s Trevor Knight was selected the Division I Player of the Year in New England.

“Mentally, he’s improved by leaps and bounds,” said McDonnell. “He’s gotten better at extending plays with his feet. He’s made the most improvement from his sophomore to his year year as any quarterback who has been here.”

Campbell said receiver Neil O’Donnell is almost a clone of Eastern Washington wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who gave the problems last year in the second-round defeat and now plays for the Los Angeles Rams.

“They have some weapons offensively,” said Campbell, who said the Wildcats are generally 2-to-1 pass. “We can’t let those receivers get loose.”

The Bears have never reached the FCS quarterfinals.

“But it’s the idea of having been there before,” Campbell said. “But the way to win championships is to get better every day, whether it’s the Super Bowl or a practice in August. Whether it’s game 2, 7 or whatever, it’s fundamentals. It’s still football.”

New Hampshire (8-4) at UCA (10-1)

Time: 2 p.m.

Place: First Security Field at Estes Stadium

Radio: KUCA (91.3 FM); The Point (94.1 FM)

Internet: ESPN 3

Coaches: Steve Campbell, UCA, 4th season, 33-14, 147-44 career; Sean McDonnell, UNH, 19th season, 149-87.

Series: First meeting.

UCA FCS playoff history: 2016 — Defeated Illinois State, first round, lost to Eastern Washington, second round; 2012 — Lost to Georgia Southern, second round; 2011 — Defeated Tennessee Tech, first round; lost to Montana, second round.

Notable: Winner plays either Northern Iowa or South Dakota State in quarterfinals … New Hampshire is making its 14th straight playoff appearance, more than any other FCS team … The Wildcats are 2-0 against teams from the Southland Conference, defeating Southeastern Louisiana, 20-17, in 2013 and McNeese State, 19-13 in 2009 … Tailgating opens at 8 a.m. … The Bear Walk is at 11:30 p.m.

 

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