Kitchen’s Keys: RMU vs Dayton

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Kitchen’s Keys: RMU vs Dayton

Dayton held on against RMU on 9/14/13

Dayton held on against RMU on 9/14/13

Dayton held on against RMU on 9/14/13

Dayton held on against RMU on 9/14/13

Dan Kitchen, Staff Reporter

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For the 2015 season, the Robert Morris Colonials will share one theme with last season’s squad and try to rid itself of another. The theme they share is new beginnings. Last season, the Colonials ended the Joe Walton era and welcomed the new lead man John Banaszak.

This season, Robert Morris looks to begin another new era in its program: an era of success. Last season (1-10, 1-5) marked a low point to begin their rebuild from, and a new youth movement looks poised to increase that total for each of the next few years.

The theme the Colonials will be looking to avoid is one of defeat. The majority of RMU’s losses last season shared several common storylines – early deficits, an absent offense, and inconsistent defense among the most frequent. All of those will likely appear at least once this season (teams don’t just go from 1-10 to 10-1 in one year), but as the season progresses, the Colonials should begin to emerge as more and more of a threat to other teams in the NEC. This week, they look to be a threat to send Dayton home from Joe Walton Stadium with an 0-1 record to begin the year, and here are five key points for Robert Morris to focus on if they want to make that vision a reality.

1. Stop Connor Kacsor

If this sounds familiar, it is because this was my first point last season before the Robert Morris–Dayton game. Kacsor had just come off performances of 83 yards and 307 yards (I can still hardly believe that second one). The Colonials rose to that challenge, holding Kacsor to 48 yards and one score on 13 carries.

Kacsor is entering his final season, and the Colonials have their six leading tacklers from last season still on the roster. Both teams will be able to bring their best to this aspect of the weekend’s contest, and with last season’s performance in the back of their minds, the Colonial defense is more than capable of restraining the Dayton ground game again.

2. Stop the rest of the offense too

Even after holding back the Flyers’ offensive star, the Colonial defense still surrendered 31 points and 298 total yards, largely through the air. Will Bardo threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns, as well as rushing for one more score. Fortunately for the Colonials, Bardo is no longer the starting quarterback for Dayton.

Keeping Kacsor from blowing up for a 300-yard game is priority number one on defense, but priority number two is to avoid the same fate as last year’s team, and that requires smothering the new QB. (Also of note: Dayton’s leading receiver from the RMU-Dayton game last year, Ross Smith, is also gone.)

3. Use what worked last season

A major problem for the Colonials last season was that their offense needed time to get off the ground (only 31 first-half points all of last season), and by the time it did, they were already in a deep hole on the scoreboard (opponents scored 213 first-half points on them). If the defense’s top priority is stopping Kacsor, the offense’s main objective is to put points up immediately, and to do that while also working in a passing game that needed rebuilt from the ground up, they need to go back to their old reliable from last season: Rameses Owens.

In only seven games, Owens averaged over 80 yards per game, for 562 total. By comparison, ignoring negative net totals from last season, that is only twelve yards less than the rest of the Colonial offense! Owens should enter the season as the top offensive weapon for the team, and he needs to be used as such early on to score and prevent them from being in a hole they can’t recover from by the start of the third quarter.

4. Get the passing game as much experience as possible (at the right time)

Owens, while the top option for the team, can’t be counted on to be the entire offense. At some point, a fledgling aerial attack will need to step up. However, there is a time for that, and that time depends on what is happening in the game. If the Colonials can’t avoid the early deficit, they can let the passes fly at anytime to try and even the score. The ideal situation is that the Colonials are the ones who gain the early lead. If they do, they should limit passing until a strong lead is established.

This is a Flyer team that returns Zach Elias (five interceptions) and Ryan Schwenke (three), and had 17 picks total in 2014 (three of which came against RMU). Handing the keys to a passing game that is likely to be run entirely by a freshman against a team that can victimize even the most experienced pass attacks is a recipe to open the season 0-1. The team should get the aerial component of their offense as much work as possible, but not until the game is either out of reach or a solid lead has been reached.

5. Find ways to get freshmen and sophomores on the field

This point not only would help the Colonials this week, but for years down the road. This year’s team is absent many playmakers from last year’s squad, among them Duane Mitchell (leading receiver), David Taylor (leader in interceptions and pass deflections), Antwan Eddie (punt returner and second in deflections), and Hunter Khaleghi (every kicking category minus punting).

For a team in a rebuilding era under a new head coach, youth is essential. The early years are expected to be rough, but the next ones after that could continue if young players entering the system do not get enough playing time to develop and become the leaders of a resurging program. It doesn’t need to be as starters, but players such as Matthew Barr (QB), Warren Robinson (WR/KR/PR), and Mike Lamb (OL) have to see the field throughout the entire season if coach Banaszak wants stars to build his team around three years from now.

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