After a few days to digest, there was certainly some same-old, same-old in the Rhode Island Rams football season opener on Thursday night. But there were also some bright spots. And if URI keeps improving as the season goes on, it seems highly unlikely that they’ll suffer another winless season. For now, they’re 0-1 and still in the midst of a 14-game losing streak dating back to 2011. It’s certainly frustrating for Rhody fans, but let’s break this one down a bit before moving on to the next one.
First the positives, which undoubtedly start with Rhode Island’s running game. The Rams racked up 277 yards on the ground, more than they tallied in any game last season. While we thought that Jordan Sebastian would be the primary back this season, that may not be the case anymore. Robby Delgado got the start in game one, and he went OFF. 113 yards on 21 attempts and a touchdown. For comparison, the junior had just 69 rushing yards all of last season.
That’s not to say Sebastian is out of a job. Quite the contrary, as he and Delgado provided a nice little one-two punch on Thursday. The fellow junior racked up 91 yards and a touchdown of his own. Bob Bentsen joined in the fun, adding 49 yards on the ground as part of a very impressive rushing attack from the Rams. Credit goes to the offensive line as well, who not only opened up holes, but also prevented Fordham from recording a sack all game.
URI’s run defense was also tough, holding Carlton Koonce to just 90 yards on the ground. That may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but Koonce is one of the best running backs in the entire FCS. Rhody’s defensive also held the senior without a touchdown. Speaking of the D-line, they were a bright spot in general, tallying three sacks on the night in an impressive effort.
Onto the downsides, and there are plenty of them. First and foremost is the Rhode Island secondary. They’re healthy, they’re more experienced… yet they’re still struggling. Rhody’s DBs allowed Fordham quarterback Mike Nebrich to do essentially whatever he wanted, as he completed 17-25 passes and threw for four touchdowns. Conversely, Bob Bentsen wasn’t all that sharp through the air, racking up just 156 yards, a touchdown and two huge interceptions. Meanwhile, URI’s defense did not record a single turnover.
Even with all that, the most painful thing to watch was Rhode Island’s punting game. Connor McHugh was charged with handling the punting duties… and it didn’t go so well. His first punt sailed just eight yards, and tacked on and 18 yarder and a (gulp) five yarder later in the game. He added punts of 32, 31, and 34 yards as well, but it wasn’t enough for Joe Trainer as McHugh sat the last one out. A 21.3 yard punting average isn’t going to get you much love with any head coach. Rutgers transfer Anthony DiPaula handled the final punt, sending it 31 yards. Not jaw-dropping by any means, but the junior was decently successful in his only attempt. One would think that DiPaula will be handling the kicking duties from now on; with their defensive struggles, the Rams cannot afford to give teams short fields to work with.
With that, game one is in the books. Rhody’s offense looks better than it did a year ago, but their defense looks to be… similar. The secondary should prepare for a tough week of practice as they get ready for CAA-newcomer Stony Brook. It will be the 2013 home opener at Meade Stadium.