By Derek Mancini
Rhody fans have been used to seeing a high-fly passing attack through the beginning of the 3-1 Rams' 2018 season. But Friday night at Harvard stadium, Rhody showed that it can beat opponents in multiple ways, not just through the passing game. Head coach Jim Fleming has preached that he wants his team to dominate in all three phases of the game, by being able to wear down opponents on offense, defense and special teams. That culture of football he created was on full display in their 23-16 victory over Harvard fresh off the bye week.
This game was a lot like the Week 1 21-19 win over Delaware, where the Rams prevailed to victory through special teams touchdowns, turnovers, and just enough offense. They scored early in the game on a safety after Harvard fumbled the ball in their end zone. Redshirt senior quarterback JaJuan Lawson still played well, passing for 153 yards on 12-of-16 passing. His only touchdown pass came on a 37-yard strike to junior tight end Joey Kenny, who caught his first career touchdown. Lawson also rushed for a 9-yard touchdown run, and now has three rushing scores over the last two games. This was also the play when Lawson got injured on. More on that later.
It was more of the same for sophomore wide out Isaiah Coulter, who had his third straight game with more than 100 receiving yards (six receptions for 106 yards). But overall, CAA Football's third ranked scoring offense was held in check with 216 yards of total offense, well below the season-average of 374 yards per game. Which is why it was so important and great to see the defense and special teams step up the way they did. This Saturday, the Rams will head home to Meade Stadium for a matchup against the 1-2 Brown Bears, an in-state rival who's fresh off a 35-7 win over Georgetown. Here are some things to keep an eye on going into the annual Governor's Cup showdown.
The defense can be relied on to win you games
Coming off a rough performance in the shootout loss to Connecticut in which Rhode Island gave up a season-high 56 points, the Rams defense came out of the bye week to put together their best game of the season. Besides that UConn game, the defense has consistently created turnovers that have helped this team get off to the best start in years. But Friday against Harvard is when they put it all together.
Rhody's defense held Harvard to just 16 points, well below the Crimson's season-average of 33.5 points per game coming into the game. Most importantly, URI stopped Harvard on critical third-down plays, with Harvard only converting two of its 14 third-down plays.
The most impressive part of the defense's performance came against the run game. For a defense that at times this season looked vulnerable against the run, there was nothing vulnerable about them this week. For a Harvard team that came into the game averaging 251 rushing yards per game, Rhody shut them down to only 101 rushing yards. They now rank sixth in the CAA against the run.
Junior defensive end L.B Mack III was a huge reason for the defenses success, having a career-best 11 tackle game with three tackles for loss. This was the junior's third career multi-sack game and the second time he's had two sacks in a game this season. Mack has been a well-needed force stepping up for senior Tez Wilson, who hasn't played this season due to injury. Mack is now second in the CAA with 5.0 sacks and tied for fourth with 7.o tackles for loss.
"He's on fire right now," Fleming said of Mack. "He's grown to be a dominate force for us."
Senior linebacker Nas Jones continued his strong season, racking up nine tackles to add to his team-leading 29 tackles. Jones was flying all over the field, and had multiple big hits on Harvard receivers throughout the game. Senior defensive lineman Monte Sinisi also had a strong performance adding three tackles of his own with two for a loss.
After Harvard scored its first touchdown in the beginning of the fourth quarter, it was two senior captains who put the game away with two big plays in the last four minutes of the game. Senior safety D.J. Stewart made his third career interception, and was then followed by linebacker Justin Hogan's 28-yard interception return that helped secure the win. If the defense keeps this play up, the Rams will continue to roll in the CAA.
Dorsey gives Rhody another big play threat
There's a reason why Rhody ranks second in the CAA in kickoff return average (27.7), and it's because of the speed of junior wide receiver Ahmere Dorsey. Dorsey, who won the STATS FCS National Special Teams Player of the Week, was a huge factor in Friday's win over Harvard.
In the third quarter, Dorsey returned a 97-yard kickoff for a touchdown that was the eventual game winning points of the game. It was the Rams first kickoff return touchdown since 2016 when Harold Cooper took a 98-yard return to the house at Elon.
Dorsey has been a major threat in the return game all season long. He's 1st in the CAA in kick return average (37.5) and 2nd in punt return average. Dorsey now has both a kick return and punt return for a touchdown this season. He returned a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown back in week 2 against Albany.
Fleming views Dorsey as someone who is a major threat every time he touches the ball, and a player who is as important as anyone on the team.
"He's been a great addition to everything we do," Fleming said about his star returner.
Tuesday Take: Mack's Play Has Defense Pointed in Right Direction
By Derek Mancini