DURHAM, N.H. — Turnovers and tackling.
Too many of one and not enough of the other contributed to the University of New Hampshire football team’s downfall last week at Toledo.
The Wildcats gave the ball away five times and the defense yielded 582 yards of total offense in a 58-22 loss, their second straight against an FBS opponent after five consecutive wins.
“It was a very tough, physical football team,” coach Sean McDonnell said during Monday’s CAA conference call. “We got introduced to a really fast-paced team. They’re a very explosive team offensively. We got worn down and we were outplayed by a better football team.”
UNH turned the ball over three times in their own territory, including twice inside the 30.
“It was disappointing,” McDonnell said. “We fumbled three times when we were running with the football. We’ve got to secure it better. We gave them too many opportunities against our defense and a young secondary.”
Poor tackling plagued the defense in the Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage and it seemed to carry over into the season opener.
“We missed a lot of tackles,” McDonnell said. “We’ve got to have better eyes and see what we’re supposed to be seeing.”
The Wildcats did not get a takeaway and two Toledo quarterbacks combined for five touchdown passes against an inexperienced secondary. The Rockets converted 13 of 19 third-down opportunities and ran 83 offensive plays.
UNH will try to regroup in time for Saturday’s game at Lehigh, the second of three straight road contests to begin the season.
“(Lehigh) has gained so much in one year since we played them,” McDonnell said.
The defending Patriot League champion is 9-1 since losing to UNH last year in Durham. The Mountain Hawks’ only loss in that stretch came against eventual finalist Delaware in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
They upset Northern Iowa on the road in the first round.
Lehigh is coming off a season-opening, 49-24 win over Monmouth in which quarterback Chris Lum passed for 346 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, and was named FSC co-offensive player of the week.
“We’ve got a lot of things to work on to get better,” McDonnell said, “and they give us a lot of things to prepare for.”
It wasn’t all bad against Toledo. Quarterback Kevin Decker completed 21 of 28 passes for 162 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also ran for a TD and a 2-point conversion.
“I thought Kevin played pretty well for his first time out this year,” McDonnell said. “He did a nice job finding the open receiver and he did a nice job scrambling and showing poise under pressure. I thought he ran with a purpose.
“He did OK,” McDonnell added, “but he needs to be better for us to be better.”
The other positive was Dontra Peters, who returned five kicks for 148 yards and a 29.6 average with a long of 57 yards. He also had a 98-yard return for a touchdown called back because of a penalty.
“Dontra did a pretty good job returning kicks,” McDonnell said. “It’s a shame that one got called back. Dontra’s got great vision and great speed, and he’s elusive when you try to tackle him.”
Playing teams at the FBS level can be a physical mismatch.
“The one thing you gain is experience against a bigger, faster, stronger team,” McDonnell said. “Our game really gave our guys an eye-opener. There are some benefits (exposure, money), but the major benefit is experience playing against fast people.”
(c)2011 the Foster’s Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.)
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