Entering their biggest rivalry game of the year, the Robert Morris University Colonials would have liked to have been in a slightly better situation. The Colonials (2-4, 1-1) began the season with tremendous promise, but still have a losing record attached to their name. Coming off of a bye week, the Colonials have had more than enough time to prepare to take on the Duquesne Dukes (4-3, 1-1), who have been experiencing NEC success this season through a high-powered offense.
The last two editions of this rivalry have gone to the Dukes, but the Colonials enter this year’s game with their best chance to win since their last victory over Duquesne three seasons ago. Here are some keys for the Colonials to focus on to come out victorious in the latest chapter of the rivalry.
1. Give Barr the same opportunities Brumbaugh & Brown got
In looking at Duquesne’s team numbers on the season, the first things that jump out to me are their passing and rushing yards allowed per game totals. The Dukes and Colonials’ rushing yards per game surrendered numbers are less than a yard off. Those numbers being that close after at least six games have been played by each side (Duquesne has actually played seven) is not a likely outcome, and it shows that the Colonials will be going up against a defense that is built in a similar way to their own.
Coming off their worst rushing performance of the season two weeks ago against Sacred Heart, Robert Morris is facing a tall challenge in trying their run-heavy offense this week. So why try it? Duquesne allows over 227 yards of passing per game, almost thirty more than the Colonials. If the defenses put up similar numbers, and the Colonials have been getting beat by the pass this season, then logic would say that the best way to overcome Duquesne is to pass the ball.
The Colonials put up a season-high 176 yards through the air in their last game, and get usual starter Mathew Barr back from injury for this weekend. Barr has looked promising through the season, and he should be given every opportunity to pass that Luke Brumbaugh was, and every chance to run Tyler Brown received. That would give the Colonials a good chance to go up early, and prevents the risk of forcing the ground game to do too much going up against one of their toughest tests all season, coming off of their worst game of the year.
2. Be prepared for a close game through all four quarters
It took me several iterations of this point until I had one down that didn’t involve some common cliché, such as “Treat every play as if it were the last snap”. But this is no generic, analysis-free idea. In the previous point, I mentioned that the teams, on the surface, looked very similar. Looking at some of the other defensive numbers, it is scary how similar the two units are. Both teams have the same number of: tackles for loss (45), sacks (17), and interceptions (7). The Colonials may hold the edge in numbers such as passes broken up and quarterback hits, but they give up a lot in the way of offense (34 rushing yards, 131 passing less per game), which indicates they may enter this weekend as the perceived underdog.
Regardless of whether those implications prove correct, the Duquesne offense will be difficult to chain down all game, so the Colonials, if they are able to emerge as the favorite after the first half, are going to be staring a close game in the eye for the remainder of the game, and they need to be prepared to play in the type of game where one mistake could cost a team the win.
3. Buss this game wide open
The pun in the above point is terrible, I’ll admit, but the point is not. Looking at Duquesne’s last four opponents, they have something in common. For Bryant, it was Taylor Barthelette and his 75 yards. For Alderson Broaddus, Darius Frederick and his 113. CCSU had Courtney Rush (83) and Albany had Brad Harris (122). Duquesne has allowed a receiver to reach at least 75 yards in each of their last four games, and have actually only get receivers below that number once, in their season opener (Bucknell had a receiver peak at 74, but it’s only one yard off).
Kyle Buss has formally emerged as the top option among the Colonials’ receivers, and is coming off a game in which he finished with 91 yards on six catches. It may seem obvious that Buss will again be getting the majority of the targets this Saturday evening, but Duquesne has allowed the clear top receivers from other opponents still wreak havoc on their defense, so until they prove they can stop the Barr to Buss connection, utilize it early and often.
4. Be prepared for another unique challenge
It has appeared more often as a key than not, though sometimes it is worded differently; this point looks at the unique monster the opponent will bring to the field against Robert Morris, and how the Colonials should go about stopping it. Robert Morris has faced dual-threat quarterbacks, All-American running backs, star wide receivers, and standout pocket passers. With little exception, the Colonials have handled the main problem facing them week in and out on defense.
Well, they face a new challenge this week. Duquesne averages a more-than-serviceable 177.3 rushing yards per game, but they do so without a feature back. Their starter, Rafiq Douglas, averages 52.4 yards per game. Klartel Clarity and P.J. Fulmore, the two back-ups, average 52.0 and 51.6 yards per game, respectively. Duquesne’s three-headed attack gives them flexibility that others have not had against the Colonials. Instead of stopping one feature back, Robert Morris needs to contain all three, because that is the only way to stop Duquesne from rotating their three rushing styles and finding the optimum combination to victimize the stout Colonials’ front seven.