Kitchen’s Keys: RMU vs Wagner

Dan Kitchen, Contributor

We said it after their first game. We said it after their second game. And now we are saying it again as Robert Morris University enters its fifth weekend of college football: this Colonials team is much better than its record. The Colonials (1-4, 0-0) are coming off of a 24-point loss to South Dakota State, who is now ranked fifth in the FCS, and have multiple close losses (and one dominant win) on their resume. They open NEC play this weekend, as they travel to Staten Island to play the Wagner Seahawks (0-3, 0-0). Here are some tips for the Colonials to focus on to open NEC play atop the conference, and push closer towards a .500 record.

1. Try everything on offense, and run whatever works best

The Colonials have been full of surprises on offense this season. A new quarterback has provided stability to the position, multiple running backs have had explosive games, the offensive line has shown growth each week, and new weapons at receiver are providing explosive potential that is revolutionizing the offense. The Colonials will get a chance to utilize every weapon in their arsenal this weekend, as they face a Wagner team that is weaker defensively than most opponents on the Colonials’ schedule. Wagner is allowing over 200 yards rushing per game and 250 yards passing.

The Colonials can try running with whichever player is named starter this week, try passing short and deep, and then any other new formations and styles they want. So long as their defense does its job and keeps Wagner off the board through most of the first quarter, the Colonials will have the luxury of trying multiple ideas on offense, then going with a heavier focus on whatever worked best for the remainder of the game.

2. Be aware that the pass is coming, but to a manageable degree

Their last two games, Robert Morris has played teams with much more firepower in their passing attack than Wagner. Notre Dame of Ohio (average 206.5, 248 in-game) and South Dakota State (359.7, 395) were both able to surpass their current season averages in their games against Robert Morris, highlighting the vulnerability of the Colonial secondary.

However, the Colonials have played admirably against other teams this year, allowing only 11 completions and 107 yards in a game against Youngstown State that went to overtime. Wagner only runs for 116.7 yards per game, but passes for 207. Against a Colonial defense that has stopped every rushing attack they have seen in 2015, Wagner will be forced to rely on passing the ball. The Colonials have faced better attacks before, and can be prepared to shut this one down.

3. Two-for-One Goal: Protect Barr & Don’t play into the blitz

If there is one thing the Seahawks do well, it is pressure the offense. The Seahawks, in three games this year, have 18 tackles for loss and nine sacks. While the Colonials will have plenty of opportunities to victimize the Wagner defense on the ground and in the air, they need to be careful not to play into what Wagner will try to do. Whenever the Colonials pass, they need to be prepared for extra rushers. Whenever they run, they need to keep extra guys in to block the blitzing players. Wagner will bring the heat early and often to try and prevent the Colonials from finding one of their defensive weaknesses, but it is nothing the Colonials and their developing offensive line can’t handle; they just need to be careful and alert.

4. Use this as a bounce-back game

Looking at all of the numbers, Robert Morris is the clear favorite in this weekend’s game. They have better averages per game in rushing yards (just under 60 more than Wagner), rushing yards allowed (60 fewer per game), and passing yards allowed (20 less per game). The only two major categories where the Colonials fall well short of the Seahawks are passing yards per game (120 less) and penalties (RMU has committed 15 more penalties for 196 more yards).

On paper, this Wagner team looks like a far cry from the team that tied for the best in-conference record in the NEC last year. After playing their toughest game of the season against a top-ten team in the South Dakota State Jackrabbits, the Colonials can use this game, where almost all the numbers favor them, as a bounce-back game, where any confidence they may have lost can be recovered, and any parts of the offense and defense that may not have been working can be put back on track.