DURHAM, N.H. – The No. 23 University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (2-0, 2-0) have not been playing like a team that watched their starting quarterback go down just days before their season opener. Sophomore quarterback Bret Edwards and the rest of the offense have been playing like men possessed while the defense has been living up to their lofty preseason expectations.
The defense recorded four interceptions on Saturday night when they beat Towson by a final score of 26-14. Contrary to the 2019 Wildcats, who were known for coverage sacks, the 2021 team has gotten the majority of this season’s interceptions thanks to their front-six getting pressure to the quarterback. The team was close to adding two more picks to their total on Saturday after the pocket collapsed on the Towson quarterbacks.
“Turnovers are the key to most of the battles in this league and we didn’t turn the ball over on offense,” explained UNH head coach Sean McDonnell. “We created some turnovers and I think that gave us an opportunity to score some points. It gave us an opportunity to win the game.”
He continued, “If you can’t sack him you’ve got to disrupt him and collapse the pocket. Our guys are doing a great job up front. Also, I think our secondary with Evan [Horn], Pop [Bush] and Randall Harris have got a great feel and great eyes on what’s going on.”
Senior safeties Evan Horn and Pop Bush have played a lot of football for McDonnell and the Wildcats, and their experience within the program has been evident through two games. The wisdom of teammates, past and present, has helped redshirt first-year safety Noah Stansbury solidify his role as a difference-maker on a star-studded defense.
“Pop Lacey, Prince Smith, [Isiah Perkins] set the standard for me and what a UNH defense should really be, and what being a [defensive back] at UNH is like,” said Stansbury. “Seeing those people and learning from them really helped up my game and prepared me for being on the field now.”
On the offensive side, the unit has looked more dynamic under Edwards than most would’ve guessed prior to week one. He’s shown the ability to evade pressure more than even sophomore Max Brosmer may have been able to. The newly appointed starter has made a habit out of taking broken plays and turning them into big gains. This has resulted in a high-flying offense through two weeks that’s spreading the ball more effectively than they had in 2019.
“The biggest thing about Bret [Edwards] right now is that he’s playing within himself and doing some things that we had always hoped he would do like scrambling and throwing the ball away,” explained McDonnell.
UNH quarterbacks coach Ricky Santos has his name littered throughout the CAA record books from his time as a player in Durham. McDonnell has drawn comparisons from his past quarterback to his current.
“[Santos] made plays because he was very smart and had a good supporting cast. I think that’s what Bret and our quarterbacks are starting to realize is that you’ve got to distribute the ball to your guys in open spaces and when your chance comes, take that opportunity and create something yourself,” McDonnell explained.
Eight different Wildcats have caught passes through two games, and five of them have accumulated upwards of 50 yards. McDonnell says the ability to have multiple people in multiple places is what makes the offense go.
Sophomore running back Dylan Laube has encapsulated this mindset since he first arrived in Durham. He’s featured as the team’s second running back, a pass-catcher, top kick returner, backup punt returner and appears on the punt converge team.
“Versatile is a word with [Laube], but versatile with the ability to make plays is something different and that’s what he brings to the table,” McDonnell noted.
The back rushed for 77 yards as well as a touchdown on the ground and through the air against Towson on Saturday.
New Hampshire will go on the road this Saturday to Lafayette for a 12:30 p.m. kickoff. The team will get their first non-conference action this weekend as they currently sit atop the standings as the only team with two CAA wins to this point. Edwards and the Wildcats continue to win over the voters as they cracked the Stats FCS Top 25 this week and will look to make another jump from No. 23 on Saturday.
Image courtesy of Cameron Beall