Kitchen’s Keys: Robert Morris vs. St. Francis

Dan Kitchen, Contributor

After a long season of rebuilding, flashes of potential, and an electrifying victory, the Robert Morris Colonials (1-8, 1-3 NEC) begin to close out the 2014 season. This weekend, they play their home finale against the Saint Francis University Red Flash (4-5, 2-2 NEC). Before their win against Central Connecticut State, this game was thought of by some as one of the best chances the Colonials had to pull out a victory in 2014. With both teams out of contention in the NEC, this game is more of a showing of the potential each has heading into 2015. Here are some things for the Colonials to focus on if they want to unlock more of that potential.

1. Build upon last week’s defensive performance

A 20-0 loss doesn’t look like something a team can build around normally, but for the Colonials, it is a positive sign of growth. In many areas the team was struggling with statistically, they improved. They allowed their second-lowest point total of the entire season while holding Wagner to 95 yards passing (100 yards lower than the average total RMU has surrendered this year). Wagner was able to run for 120 yards, but it came at only 2.7 yards per rush. Against a team used to gaining over 140 yards on the ground and in the air each game, those are impressive totals, especially when looking at previous games from the Colonials’ season. The defense will need to build upon that performance though this weekend, considering Saint Francis also passes for roughly 140 yards a game, but runs for a much higher total of 216 yards per contest.

2. Associate the term “consistency” with the quarterback position

It’s hard for a football team, especially when struggling through a difficult season, to manage a quarterback situation when multiple players fluctuate due to injuries and hot streaks. That being said, what happened against Wagner last week can be directly correlated to the goose egg on their side of the scoreboard when the final whistle blew. An offense can not succeed or play to its fullest potential if the man under center switches between three or four people within a single game. When one player is the sole passer, the offense has had enough issues scoring frequently. Rotating three different guys in only forces an already off-balance offense to adapt to a new playing style. The Colonials have shown potential, especially in later games, to score at a rate similar to the opposition, but only when they had a consistent presence at quarterback. Injuries may play a part in deciding who trots out each drive, but even if they do, the Colonials need to head into their game against SFU with a one-quarterback plan. If he is struggling badly, one switch is fine. Injuries can even make a second switch understandable; but two or more switches without an injury are unnecessary. Let the replacement finish the game out (unless it is still close), and see how the offense plays late in the game.

3. Handle Saint Francis similarly to Dayton

If any one player is going to victimize the RMU defense this weekend, it will be Khairi Dickson. Dickson has been rampaging over everybody this season, averaging a whopping 162.33 yards per game on the ground. That may seem bad for a team that is weak against the ground game, but the Colonials have already faced a monster of this type. In their fourth game of the season, Robert Morris faced Dayton University running back Connor Kacsor, who already had a 300-yard rushing game under his belt. The Colonials kept Kacsor contained to 48 yards that game, but allowed Dayton to pass for 201 yards and two touchdowns. The plan for this week should follow a similar structure: keep Dickson from running everywhere, and then, if part one succeeded, keep the quarterback from torching you for big gains and touchdowns.

4. Understand that there are two options this game: light up the SFU defense, or lose

We have already established that the Colonials have had their share of woes on the offensive side of the ball. This game is the golden opportunity the Colonials needed to get their offense going on all cylinders. Saint Francis has been allowing over 180 yards rushing and passing this season. Of RMU’s past four opponents, the only one to allow totals like those is Central Connecticut State University, who gave RMU their only win of the season. Unless the Colonials play their best game of the season and execute their strategies perfectly, the Red Flash will score, and likely score a decent amount. A solid offense can keep the game close, but if Robert Morris wants to win, they need to play the Saint Francis defense off the field. Otherwise, the Colonials will be taking a bad loss into their finale next week against a much tougher Duquesne defense.