Know Thy Opponent: New Hampshire

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What do you know about New Hampshire football? Not much? Don't worry. We have you covered. We talked with Allen Lessels, who covers the Wildcats for the New Hampshire Union Leader. He filled us in on everything New Hampshire football. You can read Lessels here.

GopherSports: Allen, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. What can you tell us about the Wildcats? We hear they like to play at fast pace.

Allen Lessels: UNH does like to play at a fast pace. They have done that for years now. They come up to the ball quickly and run plays and spread things out. A lot of that came from Chip Kelly, who is the coach at Oregon now. He was a UNH assistant for many years. He was a New Hampshire native and most people thought he was going to stay in New Hampshire. He was happy doing what he was doing and he was the offensive coordinator, but he ended up getting lured out to Oregon to become the offensive coordinator there and then he became the head coach. Since then he has turned their football games into track meets, but UNH has kept that style. They like to keep the pressure on offensively if they can and do a lot of things.

GS: Minnesota fans are familiar with some of the FCS schools that are close, but New Hampshire has a rich football tradition. What can you tell us about that?

AL: UNH has gone to the playoffs eight years in a row, which is currently the longest streak in the nation. Montana had a much longer streak, but lost it last year. UNH plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, which many consider to be the best conference in the country with Delaware, James Madison, Villanova and William & Mary and teams like that. UNH has never been past the quarterfinals of the FCS tournament, which is one of their goals each year.

GS: The Wildcats have also certainly had success playing against larger school.

AL: They have had some success in stepping up a level to play FBS teams. They had a string of five straight wins over FBS teams. They beat Rutgers in 2004 and beat Northwestern in 2006. In 2007, they beat Marshall and beat Army in 2008. In 2009, they beat Ball St. Usually they pick their spots a bit as far as scheduling goes and they do not play Florida State or anybody like that, but they play an FBS game and they have been pretty competitive. The last two years they lost. They lost to Pittsburgh in 2010 and to Toledo last year in another game that was pretty fast-paced.

GS: What about this year? What are the expectations for the Wildcats this year?

AL: As for this year, the expectations coming in, like they have been for the past decade or so, are pretty high. They came into the season without a proven quarterback, which is unusual for them. Over the past decade they always knew who the quarterback was going to be, either a backup who had played or a returning starter. This year, they do not have anybody like that.  They have guys who have played a little bit but nobody under that kind of pressure. They had three guys competing for the job and the redshirt freshman Sean Goldrich won the job. That was a pretty big question mark and you cannot base anything on one game, but through one game they are happy with how that went.

GS: Goldrich had impressive numbers running and passing last week? Is that his style of game or was the running out of necessity.

AL: They like the quarterback to be able to run and expect him to move. They like a quarterback who can get out and run. That is part of their offense. But traditionally, they have been more of a passing team. They have some good receivers in guys named R.J. Harris and Joey Orlando and a couple of the younger guys are well. They tend to pass more, but this year their running game looks like it should be better. The offensive line is veteran. Goldrich throws the ball well and they like to get it into some playmakers hands. They do not want him rushing a ton, but they want him to be able to get out of trouble.

GS: What about the Wildcat defense?

AL: The quarterback was one question mark entering the season and the other was the defense. They went to the playoffs last year and came within a point of beating Montana St on the road. If you look at UNH's defensive numbers, they were not good at all. They were last in the league in offensive yards allowed. They were last in the league in points allowed. They gave up a lot of big plays. On the flipside of that is that they have some playmakers. They played pretty well last week and hope they turned the corner. They had some issues in games where there were some tackling problems, but they feel like are going to be better in that area this year.

GS: Goldrich is the leader on offense. Who is the leader on defense?

AL: The big name of defense is Matt Evans, who is the senior linebacker who had 165 tackles last year. He was the Buck Buchanan award winner as the national defensive player of the year in the FCS. He is back and flies around and seems to be in on every play.

GS: Coach Kill has worked his way up the ranks and has been the underdog coach in many games. He calls today's game a bowl game for New Hampshire. Is that how the Wildcats feel?

AL: They view it as a chance for them to prove what they can do at that level. It certainly is a big game that way. And it is against a Big Ten school. They play a lot of MAC teams although they did play Northwestern and Rutgers at the start of this whole thing. But they mostly play MAC-level teams, so they certainly see this as a step up playing in a bigger league with bigger players and a bigger stadium. So yeah, they get excited about it. The seniors also view it as their last chance. They took a lot of pride in the run they went of previously.

GS: The Gophers have lost two straight games to FCS schools.

AL: I imagine the coaches at UNH would rather just assume that Minnesota had not lost two straight to FCS schools the last two years. Coach McDonnell's line as it has been before is, "They are going to have their antennas up." UNH knows that Minnesota has lost a couple of games to FCS schools and they know they are not sneaking up on anybody.

GS: What does New Hampshire have to do to win the game?

AL: They certainly need to hold onto the ball. Last year they had some turnovers. It was not a major issue but in recent years they have had a pretty good plus-minus margin in turnovers. They also need to find a way to slow down MarQueis Gray while running the back and hopefully force him to pass. That is a major focus for UNH, to try and contain him and maybe make him thrown it a little more than he wants to.

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