Kitchen’s Keys: RMU vs Sacred Heart

Dan Kitchen, Contributor

Before college football began this Saturday, the Robert Morris University Colonials were in a position fans would expect of a rebuilding team: 1-3, with close games dotting the schedule. As college football closed and Sunday began, the Colonials’ situation had completely changed: RMU was 2-3, 1-0 in NEC play, and tied for the lead in the conference play.

The Colonials may still be behind Duquesne because of non-conference play, but they looked like a legitimate threat in the NEC in their 9-6 defensive victory over the Seahawks. The Colonials will get perhaps their best NEC test of the season this Saturday, as they will be playing host to the Sacred Heart Pioneers (2-2, 0-0), the two-time defending NEC Champions. For Robert Morris to make a definitive statement that they belong in the title conversation, here are some keys for them to focus on.

1. Defensively rebound back to previous form

What Matthias McKinnon did to Robert Morris last Saturday was an anomaly for this season’s defense: he found success. McKinnon ran for 139 yards, and at no point was tackled on one of his 22 carries for a loss. That is a new high for individual rushing yards against the Colonials in a game this year, and McKinnon is also the first person to even hit the century mark against RMU on the ground this year!

That run-stuffing capability was the Colonials’ defense identity early on this season, and it has helped keep them in games until the end (Dayton), or at least longer than most expected them to be (South Dakota State). Sacred Heart offers a juicy game for the Colonials to reassert themselves, as Ose Imeokparia, Sacred Heart’s leading rusher, is running at a 72 yards per game clip, something the Colonials are more than capable of managing for the entirety of the game.

2. Win the other side of the battle in the trenches

Robert Morris, while trying to reestablish their dominance in stopping the run, have a similarly strong rush defense to face when their offense takes the field. Sacred Heart is allowing 135.5 yards per game on the ground, just a yard and a half more than the Colonials have allowed per game in 2015. The Colonials will need to be ready in the backfield, as it has been very much in flux recently. Normal starter Rameses Owens is still questionable heading into this weekend, Cole Blake and Dante Satcher have both had their ups and downs starting in Owens’ place, and with freshman Tyler Brown bringing a dual-threat aspect to the Colonial offense, there may be too many able bodies in the RMU backfield to mount a complete attack.

The Colonials need to identify what style of rushing attack they want to use before Saturday, and be prepared to heavily feature the personnel who best fit that style. After that, all RMU has to do is come out and overwhelm the Sacred Heart defensive line, and the early momentum is theirs.

3. Defend the pass and QB similarly to Wagner

The Colonials were able to allow Wagner to get some traction on the ground, but still held the Seahawks to just six points on their way to a victory. The biggest reason for that? The best defensive effort the Colonials have had this season against the pass. Robert Morris more than doubled their total amount of sacks in just one game, bringing down Wagner’s Alex Thomson eight times and holding him to only 45 yards passing. Sacred Heart’s aerial attack may be more potent than Wagner’s (by roughly 70 yards per game, not including the numbers from the RMU-Wagner game), but if the Colonials are able to:

a.) Shut down the Sacred Heart running backs early and

b.) Bring the kind of eight-sack pressure that stymied Wagner & Alex Thomson,

then the stage will be set for another defensive battle at worst, and a strong victory if they can get the ball into the end zone once or twice before the fourth quarter.

4. Have Tyler Brown finish the game as, or within three carries of, being the leading rusher

A common thread the Colonials have employed on offense this season is employing no common threads from week to week. The first weeks, the Colonials brought in new faces to the offense and began working in new deep plays and multiple-back formations. After that, by both circumstance and choice, more players got time in the backfield as running backs and signal-callers. And last week, the Colonials found another new angle they can feature on Saturdays: a dual-threat quarterback.

Tyler Brown came in partway through the game against Wagner and averaged over five yards per carry on ten carries, finishing with 53 yards. With Matthew Barr still sidelined, Brown will get a full four quarters to torment the Pioneers’ defense. Even if the pass isn’t able to get off the ground for RMU, Brown will be able to gain chunks of yardage with his legs, forcing Sacred Heart to somehow counter that, which will only free up more room to throw the ball.