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September 8, 2012

Game Day: Albany at RMU

It's hard to suggest that a football game two weeks into the season is a must-win. With so much time left on the football calendar, especially with a key player or two returning in the near future, a required victory in Week 2 seems a bit foolhardy.

The Basics
Who: Albany Great Danes
Location: Moon Township, Pa
Venue: Joe Walton Stadium (3,000))
Kickoff/Radio/TV: Noon, WPIT 730 AM/wpitam.com, rmucolonials.com
Series Record: 7-6 Albany

Head Coach: Bob Ford
Record at Albany: 246-157 (39th year)
Total Record: 255-179-1 (43)

Base Offense: Multiple
Base Defense: 4-3

After ten freshmen made their debut against North Dakota State, several could play significant roles on Saturday as Robert Morris hosts Albany. Here are the freshmen to watch

#37 Kimani Smith: With Albany's speed in the backfield and penchant for running, Smith could see more action at linebacker. Smith has the speed and athleticism, and if the Colonials see a match-up problem with a redshirt freshman on the right side of Albany's line, look for Smith to be used more.

#30 Brian Jones and #4 Marcelis Branch: The two defensive backs could be used often along with Malik Johnson as Albany uses a wide variety of sets, often with multiple wide receivers. It'll be absolutely imperative for the Colonials to be strong tacklers, and when you're relying on corners rather than linebackers, it can be dicey. Jones & Branch will have to be strong in coverage and sure-handed tacklers.

#77 Maxwell Robertson: With guard Vince Mongelluzzo hobbled, Robertson will need to be ready to go. He may play only on special teams, or he may start. Robertson, a 6-foot-3, 295 pound native of DeLand, Florida, needs to be ready for any and all possibilities when it comes to replacing Mongelluzzo. Robert Morris can't afford to miss a step when it comes to the line.

Along with suspended QB Jeff Sinclair, here's a list of Colonials whose status might be in question for Saturday. Injuries are officially listed by the RMU Athletic Department: DL R.J. Cook (ankle - probable), OL Vince Mongelluzzo (shoulder - questionable), DB Eric Lowry (hamstring - doubtful), LB Kyle Cooper (foot - out), DB Clay Ilkin (elbow - out), TE Cory Nolton (head - out), DB Ben Ridgeley (ankle - out)

Not for Robert Morris.

The Colonials are eying Saturday's home opener against Northeast Conference rival and defending champion Albany as a watermark game. It's not just because of the 52-0 opening week loss to North Dakota State, but how the Colonials played against the Bison. The offensive line wasn't physical, the defense missed tackles, and Robert Morris was never in contention. Senior offensive tackle Nate Hargraves said that absolutely cannot happen in any conference game, let alone this week.

"This next game is a must win. They're in the same 4-3 (defense) as North Dakota State," Hargraves said. "We just have to go out there and win this one, give protection, and run the ball."

Even in last year's 2-9 debacle, Robert Morris put up a fight against Albany. Down 21-0 at the half, the Colonials scored 10 straight points in the third quarter to pull within striking distance in the final frame. But Albany rattled off six straight runs, pounding the heart of the RMU defense on the ground to score and seal an eventual 28-17 win.

It was a classic drive from Albany. As much as the Great Danes love to spread the field, their game has always been about running the football. Albany is physical and tries to impose its will on opponents. North Dakota State imposed its will on Robert Morris last week, and the Colonials are now in a position where they have to find a response.

The easiest answer is to keep Albany's offense off the field. It's what Robert Morris did two years ago, thrashing Albany 38-0 at Joe Walton Stadium en route to RMU's first conference title in a decade. And it's no secret that establishing the run will be a high priority for Robert Morris on Saturday.

Doing so could be tougher than expected, and not just because of Albany's defense. Left guard Vince Mongelluzzo has been hobbled by ankle and shoulder injuries and is listed as questionable for Saturday. If he can't go, freshman Maxwell Robertson is expected to take his place. Robertson played late against NDSU and has worked at times with the first team through training camp and practice.

"He's a freshman, but he'll get it. Things will start to click with him," Hargraves said. Probably the hardest hurdle is the adjustment. "He's new so he doesn't know how fast these kids are going to be. He needs to stay on his blocks, be more physical, and just go 100 percent every time. Even if you're wrong, just go 100 percent and hit someone in the other colored jersey. If he gets that through his head, he'll be fine."

The idea of physicality isn't just for the defense. As Hargraves said, Robert Morris' blockers need to put people on the turf and set a tone on offense.

Robert Morris is in the midst of a brutal three-game stretch to open the season, with three unique challenges facing them in the form of NDSU, Albany, and Dayton. They flunked the first test spectacularly, and the Colonials recognize Saturday is a chance to right the ship.

"North Dakota State was very physical and was probably one of the most physical teams we'll play. And I expect that from Albany," Hargraves said. "I expect them to come out and try to hit us right in the mouth. I'm prepared for it and I'm pretty sure our offensive line is prepared for it."

If Robert Morris wants to win, the line and the rest of the team will have to not only be prepared but capable of handling it.

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

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