By GREG LAUDANI
California was not kind to the UNH football team Thursday night, as the Wildcats fell 43-13 to San Jose State in their season opener.
Playing FBS opponent San Jose State for the first time in school history, UNH struggled to find ways to move the ball and sustain drives.
“We were trying to get a little bit of traction the whole game,” UNH quarterback Sean Goldrich said. The senior completed 10 of 22 passes for 60 yards against a secondary that was ranked first in the country in pass defense last season. “We have a lot of work to do this week, and we’ll get back to the drawing board and see what we need to fix.”
San Jose took full advantage of its early possessions. By the end of the first quarter, the Spartans had built a 20-0 lead, thanks in large part to running back Tyler Ervin. The senior scored two touchdowns in the first quarter on runs of two and 30 yards. He finished with a game-high 129 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
With Ervin pounding the ball early and often, San Jose State seized control of the game with a fast and physical style. The Wildcats cut the lead to 20-7 early in the second quarter, but that was as close as the game would get.
Spartan quarterbacks Joe Gray and Kenny Potter were very effective attacking UNH’s defense. Gray completed 16 of 20 passes for 253 yards and a touchdown. Potter connected on 13 of 14 targets for 167 yards.
“They looked real fast out there,” UNH head coach Sean McDonnell said. “Their ability to execute what they wanted to do on both sides of the ball was unbelievable. I was really impressed with the way they played.”
Trailing 20-0 to start the second quarter, UNH running back Dalton Crossan broke off a 27-yard touchdown run to narrow the lead to 20-7. Crossan, who played only six games last year due to injury, led the Wildcats with nine rushes and 47 yards on the ground against the Spartans.
“Dalton is a good football player,” McDonnell said. “He made a couple plays out there but we didn’t give him much help.”
The Spartans took UNH’s punch and responded with a pair of lengthy touchdown drives that put the game out of reach.
On their first possession following Crossan’s touchdown, the Spartans marched 92 yards in 10 plays to extend its lead to 26-7 after Tucker Thomas’ 13-yard touchdown run. The Spartans soon pushed the score to 33-7 when Ervin capped a 14-play, 90-yard drive with a one-yard plunge into the end zone. Tucker later gave San Jose State a 43-7 lead after scoring his second touchdown of the night.
San Jose sustained drives throughout the night with key third-down conversions, going 9-13 on third down. UNH converted four of 13 third-down attempts.
“For us, we didn’t complete our assignments,” said UNH safety Daniel Rowe. “We didn’t get off the field on third down to give our offense enough chances to score. We can definitely grow from this.”
The Wildcats’ offense put together its most effective drive on its final possession. Starting at its own 16-yard line with 11:10 remaining in the fourth, New Hampshire went 84 yards in 13 plays.
The possession lasted six minutes, 44 seconds and ended with a four-yard touchdown run by Trevon Bryant.
“It was good to see we had the potential to move the ball down the field like that,” he said. “But none of us are satisfied with the way we played today.”
McDonnell said his team will learn a lot about its character in the coming days after a difficult loss in the opener.
“We’ll know how much we learned when we see how we show up next week,” he said. “The learning experience will be found out Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and how we show up next Saturday.”
Its sizable defeat against San Jose State puts UNH in a similar position to last season’s opener. The Wildcats lost 54-20 at Toledo University, an FBS program like San Jose State. But UNH responded in a big way after that substantial loss, winning 12 straight games and going all the way to the FCS semifinals.
After Thursday’s loss, Goldrich said this is a new year and the team cannot look backwards to 2014.
“It’s a different experience with a new set of guys,” Goldrich said. “Last year we responded really well, but this year is the question. We have a lot of work to do this week.”
One of the big questions coming into the 2015 season was which players would step up on offense to aid Goldrich, with the loss of talented skill position players R.J. Harris, Harold Spears, Nico Steriti, and Jimmy Owens. The offensive line playing without former four-year starter Mike Coccia. Coccia, Harris, and Spears have all been involved with NFL teams in the preseason, and Harris and Spears were signed to practice squads.
The Wildcats head to Hamilton, N.Y., to play Colgate University on Sept. 12 at 6 p.m.