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November 4, 2011

Colonials, Blue Devils could ignite the scoreboard

Outside of their dominance over St. Francis (Pa.), Robert Morris has not had success against a team quite like they have against Central Connecticut State.

The Colonials are 13-4 against the Blue Devils, including last year's 42-24 win that clinched the Northeast Conference title. But it's not just the wins - it's how they've won. In the 17 game series, Robert Morris has scored 35 or more points seven times, and 27 or more points 10 times.

That's fairly unbalanced and fairly prolific. The series has also ebbed and flowed a bit in recent years, and now the scoreboard is beginning to reflect that offensive output.

Robert Morris won the first ten games, dominating CCSU whether it was at home or in New Britain. Then, for a three-game stretch, the games were decided by a single score. But in the last three years, the two teams have combined to score 161 points, or over 50 points per game.

Though both teams have struggled this year, Saturday's game could be similar. The main reason? It's strength against strength, weakness against weakness.

Robert Morris has the league's best run defense, and while Central Connecticut no longer leads the league in rushing yards, they've still been prolific at 165 yards per game. The Colonials, meanwhile, have struggled on the ground. But the Blue Devils have struggled stopping the run, succeeding far more at shutting down the pass (second in the NEC), which has been Robert Morris' only successful method of moving the ball at times.

So this could likely come down to the little things, like third down conversions and sustained drives, two topics that the Colonials have focused on this week.

"We have to convert on third down. We have terrible stats on third down completions," quarterback Jeff Sinclair said. We have to limit our mistakes, with penalties at the wrong time, and we have to manage the game better."

Some of that may come with Sinclair looking for little hitches in his game. Like a golfer tweaking a swing, Sinclair has been ironing out his movements on run plays in an effort to help spark the moribund ground game.

"I haven't been carrying out my fakes too good," Sinclair said. "Carrying out my fakes will hold other guys, at least for a split second, and that sets up blocks and everything."

The performance of backs Deontae Howard, Justin Brooks, and Duane Mitchell might be the key. Though they've yet to crack the 100-yard barrier - Sinclair remains the only Colonial to pass that mark on the ground - going up against CCSU's beleaguered run defense might be the tonic. And Sinclair said they just need to keep it simple.

"I think they're working hard and they just need to keep pushing and running hard," he said. "They're improving each week, which is good. We just have to build off that and keep getting better."

It hasn't helped that the injury list is growing, too. While most of the injuries have been on defense, the offense has been bruised and battered as well. Defensively, linebacker Brad Banas (thumb) could play, as could Andrew Douglass and Connor Sullivan. But depth is being tested on the offensive line and elsewhere, and the long bus ride always tightens players up.

"Right now we're just pushing through it. We have our set guys right now and we have to get those guys better," Sinclair said. "We can't be subbing them in and out because everyone has that game experience. We're getting limited. We're trying."

At the core of the long trip to New Britain is Robert Morris' attempt to ensure history repeats itself: A strong finish in the 2009 season led to last year's NEC title. With so many players back in 2012, another strong finish could be the same catalyst.

"If we get this win and we get a little jump in our step, then maybe it will carry on to Wagner at home," Sinclair said. "We always play better at home in my opinion, and then we go down to our rival Duquesne. We always play good against them. I think it could carry over pretty good if we get this win."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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