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September 15, 2012

Game Day: RMU at Dayton

Between his college and pro career, Robert Morris head coach Joe Walton has won hundreds of games. He's had high-intensity showdowns, felt humbled after blowouts, elated after key wins, and had his own share of success against particular teams.

The Basics
Who: Dayton Flyers
Location: Dayton, Ohio
Venue: Welcome Stadium (11,000))
Kickoff/Radio/TV: 1:00 p.m., WPIT 730 AM/wpitam.com, daytonflyers.com
Series Record: 12-2 Dayton

Head Coach: Rich Chamberlin
Record at Dayton: 34-11(5th year)
Total Record: 34-11 (5)

Base Offense: Spread
Base Defense: 4-3

POSITION FOCUS
A couple of key areas could play major roles in deciding the game on Saturday for Robert Morris. Here are the two positions under the spotlight against Dayton.

Wide Receiver: With Rickeem Jackson and Quinton Pirl hurt, along with a few depth guys out, it'll be up to Donte Jeter to lead a very inexperienced group. Look for Jeter and Duane Mitchell to play together often, but also look for D.J. Pearson to fill a role as a possession receiver as a hybrid receiver/tight end. Freshmen Warren Fields and D.J. Hayes are also likely going to see the field often.

The Secondary: At some point this year, Robert Morris will have to start forcing turnovers. Considering the Colonials could end up spending a lot of time in nickel or even dime packages as Dayton spreads the field, it might be up to the secondary to do it this week. A key interception or two could really change the complexion of the game.


INJURY UPDATE
The injury list grew for Robert Morris over the week. Here's what it looks like entering Saturday: DT R.J. Cook (Ankle - probable), OL Vince Mongelluzzo (shoulder - questionable), LB Mark Centofanti (leg - doubtful), DB Clay Ilkin (Elbow - doubtful), DB Eric Lowry (hamstring - doubtful), WR Rickeem Jackson (ankle - out), WR Quinton Pirl (shoulder - out), LB Kyle Cooper (foot - out), TE Cory Nolton (head - out), DB Ben Ridgeley (ankle - out)

No team vexes him more than Dayton.

"They drive me bananas," Walton said prior to the season.

It's understandable. In Walton and Robert Morris' 19 years as a program, they've played Dayton 14 times and won just twice. This despite winning six Northeast Conference titles in the same time frame. Robert Morris has not defeated Dayton since 2000, a nine-game losing streak that means the Colonials have more NEC titles since the dawn of the new millenium than they have wins over Dayton.

The frustration goes beyond Walton. Nearly every player grimaces when Dayton is brought up. There's a healthy respect for what Dayton does on offense and defense. The spread offense has always been tricky to defend, especially with the Flyers have a mobile quarterback. And the defensive line's ability to stunt and twist their way into the backfield without bringing the house on a blitz can wreak havoc on a team.

There's respect, but there's also a sense that the series record should be much closer.

"Even when we had our championship season, we were 20 times better than that team and we came out and lost," senior QB Jeff Sinclair said. "Then we won out."

Sinclair is hoping he has an idea as to why that's been the case.

"We've been playing them first. It's always early," he said. "The first game to me, even when I was in high school and we were winning every first game, I always felt it was the toughest game to get through. Everyone's rusty, and it's tough. I always blamed it on that."

In the recent stretch of games between the two teams, RMU opened with Dayton in 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2011. They also played the Flyers third - just like this year - in 2008 and 2009. All were losses.

"We have two games under our belt. This is obviously my first game but I feel confident," Sinclair said. "

As difficult as its been for Robert Morris against Dayton, Sinclair said it's not always the Flyers. Sure, the days of Steve Valentino emerging as Dayton's ultimate dual-threat quarterback just one week after playing wide receiver will haunt RMU for decades. But many of the issues have also been self-inflicted.

Among the eight sacks Sinclair suffered in the 19-13 loss in the season opener last year, a couple were self-inflicted. They weren't because of Dayton's stunts but because Sinclair held the ball too long. This week, the senior quarterback put the onus on himself to be better, to not take a 15-yard sack to put the Colonials out of field goal range like he remembered doing last year.

Turnovers will be the key. Dayton always seems to force a few while protecting the ball well against Robert Morris. Sinclair said coming out on the opposite end of that battle for once will go a long way to deciding the game.

"No interceptions, no fumbles, keep the ball longer, convert our third downs, and we don't want to punt as much. We want to keep the defense off the field as long as we can and have them come out rest and play as hard as they can," Sinclair said. "I'm excited. I just can't wait to get out there and hopefully things are different this time."

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



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