Kitchen’s Keys: RMU vs South Dakota St. (Football)

Dan Kitchen, Contributor

After a three-year absence on Homecoming weekend and a three-week absence this season, Robert Morris was able to tally a win last weekend, much to the enjoyment of the largest crowd Robert Morris will see in and around Joe Walton all year. The Colonials (1-2, 0-0) used some fourth-quarter magic to break a long-standing tie and beat the Falcons of Notre Dame of Ohio, but they shift back to being the underdogs this week, as they make a trek out to South Dakota to play the sixth-ranked team in FCS football, the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Jackrabbits (2-0, 0-0) may have impressive victories over Southern Utah (who they beat by 45 points) and FBS opponent Kansas, but that doesn’t mean the new and improved Colonials don’t have a shot on Saturday. Here are four points, two offensive and two defensive, for the Colonials to focus on if they want to return home with a .500 record.

1. Take your time when passing the football

While improving every week, the Robert Morris aerial attack is still far from a perfectly polished product. Quarterback Matthew Barr still has a completion percentage below 50 percent and has been hit more than three times per game thus far through the season. Only one player has caught for more than 40 yards through three games. All those numbers seem to paint a bad picture, but the passing game has not been as bad as the numbers suggest. They had an incredibly efficient outing last week, where Barr only had four incomplete passes.

The South Dakota State Jackrabbits may be 2-0 and ranked sixth nationally, but they are not a team that is going to force Barr to make errant throws that result in picks. On the season, SDSU has just three sacks, two picks, and seven pass deflections. Those numbers aren’t entirely awful, but they aren’t going to intimidate the RMU offense. Barr will have time and should take all of it to make the best throws possible and establish the offense.

2. Work other receivers into the offense

Robert Morris may have more time to make safer and better throws this Saturday, but that doesn’t mean the throws will be there. Robert Morris has been very one-dimensional when they pass the ball: 59 percent of their yards and 43 percent of their receptions have gone to Kyle Buss. Buss has speed that few cornerbacks can cover, but if defenses design plays specifically to eliminate Buss as an option, RMU is going to be stranded. RMU has to begin working other receivers in with some receptions, so teams have to pay attention to all of them.

Nic Lamica is an excellent candidate for more receptions, as he is a 6-4 target who can rise above defenders to pull in lobbed passes. Whether it’s Lamica, Jordan Blackmon, Jamison Williams or someone else, the Colonials need more than one receiver ready to put up big numbers every week. That way, opponents don’t have an easy time identifying the main weapon to blanket when the Colonials drop back to pass.

3. Completely shut down the run

The Colonials’ defense this season as a whole is one of the better units we have seen from this school in the last decade, and the real strength of the group is their front seven, which has stopped everyone in their tracks, from All-Americans to dual-threat quarterbacks. South Dakota State will challenge the Colonials on the ground (they have two players who average 178 combined yards per game) and through the air (over 300 yards per game).

Robert Morris still has issues to work out in the passing game, especially after allowing Malik Grove throw for 248 yards and three touchdowns last week. If the Colonials can completely shut down the Jackrabbits on the ground, they can force a complete shift to the aerial attack from South Dakota State. At that point, RMU would be able to dedicate more resources than ever before this season to stopping the pass, without having to worry as much about being victimized by a rush play.

4. Don’t try stopping the pass game, try stopping Jake Wieneke

In the second point above, RMU’s reliance on Kyle Buss when passing was mentioned. SDSU has a similar issue on offense, as Jake Wieneke also has more than half of his offense’s receptions and yards. Robert Morris has an opportunity to use this against the Jackrabbits by blanketing Wieneke all game. If they take away the obvious top weapon for SDSU’s passing game, it won’t cripple their attack. But it forces them to adjust and find guys they wouldn’t normally be throwing to. At that point, it will be on the Colonials’ defense to step up and play their best all-around defensive game of the young season to stop the remainder of the Jackrabbits’ attack and pull off the upset.