UNH offensive line hopes to keep moving forward against Bryant

  • Miller

  • Kennedy

  • McInerny

  • The University of New Hampshire offensive line has made solid strides since lining up for the Wildcats season-opener against Maine. Gregory Greene / Triple-G-Photography.com

  • UNH offensive linemen Will McInerny, Matt Mascia and Jake Kennedy (left to right) and the rest of the line are looking to keep up the progression they showed through the first four games when the No. 15/14 Wildcats host Bryant on Saturday. Gregory Greene / Triple-G-Photography.com

Monitor staff
Saturday, September 30, 2017

DURHAM – The University of New Hampshire football coaches knew the offensive line was going to be a work in progress this season. That’s only natural when you lose four talented seniors, return only two guys with significant starting experience, rely on redshirt freshmen and make position changes, including one from the defensive line to the offensive.

There certainly has been progress for the offensive line, although it hasn’t been consistent. The line was leaky in the season-opening win against Maine, but played much better the next week at Georgia Southern. After that, however, there was a step back in UNH’s 51-26 loss at Holy Cross in Week 3, a game that saw quarterback Trevor Knight running for his life when he dropped back to pass.

The big boys up front bounced back last week against Rhode Island. The Wildcats struggled to run the ball against a URI defense that was determined to stop the ground game, but Knight had enough time to throw for a career-high 420 yards and New Hampshire claimed a 28-14 win.

“They got better, and that’s what’s got to happen throughout (this season),” UNH Coach Sean McDonnell said. “The kids are working their tails off and they’re getting better. They took it personally what happened two weeks ago (at Holy Cross).”

The No. 15/14 Wildcats (3-1) will try to keep getting better on Saturday when they host Bryant (2-2) at 6 p.m.

“We’re just trying to find that mesh, that sweet spot, and we’re going week to week,” UNH offensive line coach Alex Miller said. “The kids are working hard, but there’s never really a perfect time to figure things out because this is New Hampshire and the CAA, so you’re either getting everybody’s best shot or you’re playing a CAA team.”

The two offensive linemen with the most starting experience are senior right tackle Will McInerny (6-foot-7, 299 pounds) and junior left tackle Dane Herron (6-4, 300).

McInerny, who is from Bedford, started 11 games last season and five as a sophomore, although the majority of his playing time before this year was on the interior of the line. Herron started 10 games in 2016, but all of those were at right tackle, and now he’s moved to the left side.

Senior Jake Kennedy (6-3, 303) has changed positions as well and is UNH’s starting center. The Amherst native played in 16 games over the last two years, but he started just one, so not only is he adjusting to a new spot, he’s also adjusting to a starter’s weekly grind.

“The week-to-week preparation at that position (center) is very mentally taxing, but he’s starting to figure it out,” Miller said of Kennedy. “He’s done a great job taking ownership and knowing that it was a big task going into his senior year.”

Redshirt freshman Jack Carroll (6-2, 287) was a defensive lineman last year, but now he’s the Wildcats left guard.

“(Carroll) keeps getting better with more reps,” Miller said. “He still hasn’t even played a full year of offensive line, so I think he’s doing really well.”

Sophomore Nick Velte (6-3, 280) started five games last year and began this season as the starting right guard, but he was injured on the first offensive play of the first game. Redshirt freshman Matt Mascia (6-2, 295) took his place and performed well, but he was injured at the end of the Holy Cross game, so Velte was back in action last week against URI. Those two will continue to compete for a starting spot.

“We’re just trying to find a little more consistency, figure out the right guard situation and just continue to get more reps together,” Miller said. “Once we settled on a lineup last year, I thought we got better, so we’re hoping the same thing happens this year, even though potentially two of our starters are redshirt freshman. So, that takes a little bit of time, but those kids are playing hard, so it usually works itself out.”

Scouting Bryant

The UNH defense will be challenged on Saturday by a Bryant offense that likes to play up-tempo and uses a wide variety of personnel groupings and formations. The Bulldogs are averaging 32.3 points per game and quarterback Price Wilson, a transfer from Louisiana Tech, ranks third in the FCS in passing yards with 1,419.

Wilson has completed passes to 16 different receivers, underscoring Bryant’s offensive depth. Senior wide receiver Matt Sewall has a team-high 21 catches for 268 yards and senior Tom Kennedy has a team-high 304 yards on 15 catches. True freshman Isaac McCray leads the team with 239 rushing yards on 46 carries.

Defensively, Bryant is giving up 42.3 points per game. Maine gashed the Bulldogs, 60-12, one week after UNH had beaten the Black Bears. Bryant is not big on the defensive line (they average 248.3 pounds), so this might be a good week for UNH to work on its running game.

Injury report

The Wildcats will be without linebacker Jared Kuehl (knee) and defensive end Josh Kania (shoulder) for a third straight week. But defensive end Kyle Reisert may see his first action of the season, Mascia will be back and receiver Rory Donovan, who had to leave the Rhode Island game, is expected to return as well. The Wildcats can really take care of some injuries after this game with their bye week coming up.

“It’s a huge week for us to get through and get healthy and get to the next level,” McDonnell said. “More importantly, to play to the level that we played in the first two games and the fourth game, play at that level. That’s important for us.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)