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

Dan Kitchen, Staff Reporter

After enduring an entire season of disappointment in 2014, hope has finally arrived over the horizon for the Robert Morris University Colonials. The Colonials (0-1, 0-0) may have come out on the losing end of a thrilling contest against the Dayton Flyers last Saturday, but they kept the game within three points, an immense improvement over the 24-point defeat they suffered against the same opponent last season. They contained an All-American running back in Connor Kacsor, pressured the Dayton quarterback (and forced him to commit enough mistakes that he was benched), and their offense appeared to have more firepower than it has ever had under coach John Banaszak.

The Colonials have an even tougher task awaiting them this weekend, as they leave Moon Township to take on the Youngstown State Penguins (0-1, 0-0), who, while also sporting a losing record, almost pulled off the incredibly rare FCS over FBS upset, losing by only eight points to a Pittsburgh team that earned some votes in the national Coaches’ Poll this week. For the Colonials to hang with one of their most talented opponents of the season, here are some points they need to focus on during the game.

1. Use the battering ram

Last week, I encouraged the Colonials to run the ball extensively to keep pressure off of freshman quarterback Matthew Barr. In the first half, Barr played with the poise of a senior. Even in the second half, Barr still looked confident out there, save for a few jitters one would have expected a lot earlier from a player making his first career collegiate start.

However, this week I encourage the Colonials to run because the Youngstown State Penguins allowed four rushing touchdowns and 325 yards on the ground last week to Pittsburgh. And that was with potential first-round draft pick James Conner being knocked out for the season in the second quarter after just 32 yards. Robert Morris should continue to use their option game on offense because they appeared comfortable in it vs. Dayton, but just like last week, Rameses Owens should get the majority of carries. He may have only averaged 2.9 yards per carry, but looking at the numbers on YSU’s defense, he should be closer to 4.0 (at least) yards per carry this weekend.

2. Fix the glaring weakness on defense from last week

Robert Morris should be proud of their defense from last week. They came out and asserted themselves throughout the game. There was only one scenario, and one play in particular, that the Colonials had no answer for. Dayton came out in the second half and began using a quicker, no-huddle offense to keep RMU on their toes, and it worked. Within that no-huddle, Dayton liked to send a receiver who was lined up close to the sideline on an out route (ten yards out, running toward the sideline), which was consistently open, and allowed Cory Stuart to catch for most of his 91 yards. After seeing Dayton overcome a 10-point lead in just one quarter running that route in a no-huddle offense, Youngstown State is likely to call a few more out routes this weekend, and the Colonials need to keep closer coverage to receivers along the sidelines to avoid falling victim to the same play again this weekend.

3. Air the ball out deep, but make sure it is caught

The Colonials had several plays against Dayton that could have been home runs for them, but all ended with the same result: an open pass dropped by a Colonial receiver. The Colonial receivers, Kyle Buss in particular, were getting behind the Dayton secondary with ease, but just couldn’t reel in some of the passes. That speed from the receivers is a weapon the Colonials would be smart to use every game, and with more attempts the catches will come.

4. Get to Hunter Wells before he gets to you

Youngstown State revealed two things about its passing game against Pittsburgh: Hunter Wells will win them football games, but he is also very vulnerable. Wells threw for 274 yards and a touchdown against the Panthers, but was sacked five times. After letting him pass 38 times last game, it seems obvious that the Penguins and Wells will again be letting the ball fly when they face the Colonials. Robert Morris needs to take the pressure they applied to Dayton quarterbacks (three sacks, five pass break-ups, and two interceptions) Alex Jeske and Blake Bir (who was pulled after making many mistakes while facing the pressure) and bring it to Wells immediately, or else they risk him getting the Penguins an early lead that RMU won’t have a hope of coming back from.

5. Continue the clutch play

The Colonials didn’t keep the game to within three points, especially after allowing 17 points in a row to start off the second half, without making some clutch plays throughout the game. Look no further than Andy Smigiera’s blocked field goal attempt to keep the score tied in the first quarter, or the defensive stand to get the ball back with 40 seconds left to make one final run at tying the game. The Colonials from last Saturday made the plays when needed to give themselves a chance, and if the game starts to get out of hand for them, they will need to make those plays again to keep it close, and possibly keep a lead.