New Hampshire at #4 Southeastern Louisiana 2013 FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Game Breakdown

George Hammond

New Hampshire at #4 Southeastern Louisiana 2013 FCS Playoffs Quarterfinal Game Breakdown


New Hampshire at Southeastern Louisiana, 7 p.m. Saturday

These two teams were quite familiar with their opponents last Saturday, but that won’t be the case this weekend when they meet in Hammond, Louisiana in the FCS quarterfinals. The Wildcats (9-4) advanced with a 41-27 victory over CAA rival Maine while the No. 4 seed Lions (11-2) beat Southland Conference rival Sam Houston State, 30-29, on a last-second touchdown. It was the second victory of the season for New Hampshire and Southeastern Louisiana over Maine and Sam Houston State, respectively.

This is the first meeting between the two teams, both of which are capable of lighting up the scoreboard. Southeastern averages 40.1 points a game while New Hampshire averages 32.9 points. And both are playing well – New Hampshire has won eight of nine while the Lions have won 10 straight. The winner will meet the winner of the Coastal Carolina-North Dakota State contest in the FCS semifinals.

“That’s a very good football team that’s gaining momentum, confidence and, really, was the better team out on the football field today,” said Maine coach Jack Cosgrove of New Hampshire.

Despite the unfamiliarity between the two schools, there are story lines to the game in the Bayou:

* Can the Wildcats slow Southeastern Louisiana quarterback Bryan Bennett, who accounted for 369 of his team’s 495 yards offense against Sam Houston State? The junior transfer from Oregon is the Southland Conference Player of the Year with 1,017 yards rushing and 2,896 yards passing this season. In addition, he has a single-season conference record of 15 rushing touchdowns. Bennett didn’t just take up a roster spot at Oregon as he played in 18 games in two seasons there.

Bennett took control in the Lions’ game-winning drive against Sam Houston State when Southeastern gained possession on its own 15, trailing 29-24 with 1:21 remaining and no timeouts. Bennett was 6-of-6 on the 85-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Smiley with 36 seconds left, giving the Lions a victory in its first playoff contest. Before the late-game heroics, however, Sam Houston State had kept the Lions bottled up in the second half, allowing zero points.

Ironically, Bennett was recruited and coached by Chip Kelly, now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, at Oregon. Before going to Oregon, Kelly was a member of Sean McDonnell’s coaching staff at New Hampshire.

* This won’t be New Hampshire’s first visit to Louisiana. In 2009, the Wildcats crushed McNeese State, 49-13, a member of the Southland Conference in the first round of the FCS playoffs before losing to conference rival Villanova the following week. They didn’t know anything about McNeese State four years ago, and you can bet McDonnell will remind his players of that experience this week.

* Southeastern Louisiana’s return game is one of the best in the nation. In fact, the Lions’ Xavier Roberson is No. 1 in the nation in kick returns, averaging 34.4 yards a return. New Hampshire allowed Maine’s Damarr Aultman to return a kickoff 88 yards for a score on Saturday, and if the Wildcats want to reach the FCS semifinals, they’d be wise to kick away from Mr. Roberson.

* There are four Southland Conference teams in the top 11 nationally in scoring offense, including SE Louisiana. But do they play any defense? Southeastern is 57th nationally in total defense (New Hampshire is 75th). The Wildcats will use a balanced attack to try to keep Bennett and company out of the end zone. New Hampshire quarterback Sean Goldrich threw for a career-high 291 yards against Maine as the Wildcats ran 21 plays that netted at least 11 yards.

Of course, based on its defensive ranking, New Hampshire has concerns on that side of the ball, too. It’s 92nd nationally in passing yards allowed and 57th in rushing defense. It has played better of late, including 10 sacks against opening-round playoff foe Lafayette. But Southeastern isn’t Lafayette.

“The great thing this year especially is that we’ve been getting a lot of chances thanks to our defense,” said Goldrich to the Foster’s (N.H.) Daily Democrat. “They’ve really gotten much better from Game 1, and they’ve continued to do that with some of the big stops they’ve had. That gives us much better field position and keeps the momentum going as much as possible.”

Perhaps the closest comparison for New Hampshire this week – and it’s not a good one – is its game against Towson. The Tigers beat New Hampshire, 44-28, when they overcame a 20-3 first-quarter deficit. Towson shredded the Wildcats’ defense for an astounding 731 yards offense.

But expect New Hampshire to have some success offensively against the Lions, as it will be well prepared by the veteran McDonnell. Southeastern drew 6,874 for its game with Sam Houston State, and Strawberry Stadium (7,408 capacity) can get loud as the Lions are 7-0 at home this season. Still, the Wildcats are used to traveling for the playoffs and that shouldn’t be a huge factor.

However, New Hampshire is just 2-10 in December as it reaches the FCS quarterfinals for the first time since 2010. It wouldn’t be a shocker if the Wildcats won, but Southeastern Louisiana has to be the favorite.

Projected score: Southeastern Louisiana 34, New Hampshire 24


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