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September 29, 2012

Game Day: Lafayette at RMU

Robert Morris is hoping the good vibes surrounding homecoming weekend create more than just a happy atmosphere in the stands.

In fact, the Colonials are hoping that the general sense of optimism and positivity ends up with RMU notching its first win of the season. It goes beyond any sense of excitement for playing a home game under the lights for just the second time in school history. Even prior to the buzz this past week for Saturday's game, the atmosphere at practice didn't fit that of an 0-3 team.

The Basics
Who: Lafayette Leopards
Venue: Joe Walton Stadium (3,000))
Kickoff/Radio/TV: 6:00 p.m., WPIT 730 AM/wpitam.com, rmucolonials.com
Series Record: Inaugural meeting

Head Coach: Frank Tavani
Record at Lafayette: 69-69 (13th year)
Total Record: 69-69 (13)

Base Offense: Pro-Style
Base Defense: 4-3

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 Lafayette.

Offensive Line: Lafayette isn't known for rushing the passer out of the 4-3 defense. The Leopards had just 13 sacks in 2011 and have a modest 6 through three games in 2012. But they are a stingy defense against the run, which will make it even more important for the offensive line to give RMU QB Jeff Sinclair time in the pocket. Establishing a running game would be a huge boost, but even if the line can keep Sinclair clean and give time to allow plays to develop, it'd be a winning performance.

The Linebackers: Everything starts with the linebackers on defense. Robert Morris had no problem shutting down Dayton's passing game last week, but it still had issues stopping the run. That's been an early hiccup for the RMU defense, and with Lafayette struggling to run the ball, this is a prime opportunity to get everything in shape. Two things are equally important: Get to the backfield and plug gaps to stop the run and stop it early, and get to the backfield to disrupt the Lafayette passing game.

The injury list is long but more optimistic for Robert Morris this week. Here's what it looks like entering Saturday: DB Clay Ilkin (elbow) - probable; OL Vince Mongelluzzo (shoulder) - probable; FB Ryan Thermil (shoulder) - probable; WR Chad Dawgiello (knee) - questionable; DB Antwan Eddie (ankle) - questionable; WR Quinton Pirl (shoulder) - doubtful; DB Eric Lowry (hamstring) - doubtful); LB Kyle Cooper (foot) - out; WR Rickeem Jackson (ankle) - out; TE Cory Nolton (head) - out; DB Ben Ridgeley (ankle) - out.

Some of that has to do with the team's schedule, complete with difficult opening stretch of North Dakota State, Albany, and perpetual nemesis Dayton. But it also has to deal with something that few teams can point to in mid-season. While most teams are slowly losing players to injury, Robert Morris is slowly getting healthy.

"Obviously the health factor, getting everyone off their legs for the first time since back in August is nice," senior linebacker Brad Banas said.

Corner Antwan Eddie and receiver Quinton Pirl could return from their respective injuries, as both practiced in full pads this week. But the big lift could be with even more experienced depth at those positions. Corner Clay Ilkin, the projected starter opposite of Eddie prior to camp, could make his season debut after recovering from an elbow injury. Senior safety Eric Lowry, a large component of RMU's special teams, could also make his season debut after missing all of camp with a hamstring injury. At receiver, sophomores Chad Dawgiello and Dustin Lowman could make their season debuts to help aid a receiving corps that was looking very thin against Dayton.

"We've had some bad luck there with (injuries)," Banas said. :It's very important to get people back that have experience, not just guys who can play hard but also practice hard and get everybody prepared for everything."

The other component to the aura of optimism is the bye week. Rather than stew on their 0-3 start, Robert Morris went back to the basics. Last week's practices featured a rare match-up of the first team offense against the first team defense, and there was a renewed focus on worrying about RMU football rather than a specific opponent.

"You take a step back and look at what you're doing wrong, stuff like that," Banas said. "That was really important. And it gave us a chance to come together even more as a team."

It also gave Robert Morris an extended look at Lafayette. Rather than worry about Dayton or Albany's spread offenses or the sheer power of North Dakota State's, the Colonials got a look at an offense that is relatively similar to their own.

"It probably does help because the scout team guys are used to running it, so they're probably better at giving us a look," Banas said. "People have seen it before and our coaches are always around it, so it should be easier to prepare for."

There might even be some similarities in what the two teams have been doing well on offense and what both teams have struggled with. Lafayette's benefited from turnovers and good field position - something RMU can only dream of - but has still struggled to establish a running game.

"You watch some of those games and you see teams are shutting them down, but their defense is putting their offense in a good spot," Banas said. "We have to win the field position on defense. Get the ball back to our offense, then force them to go 3-and-out."

Finally, there's the homecoming buzz. Robert Morris was admittedly amped up last year for the first home night game in school history and they subsequently pasted a bad St. Francis team. The opponent is tougher, but RMU is banking on the same adrenaline surge to get the Colonials out to a strong start.

"It helps with the anticipation. A lot of kids grew up with night games and having all day to think about it," Banas said. "I think they'd be lying if they told you they weren't getting more excited a little bit earlier than usual for a game like that."

As optimistic as Banas and the Colonials are, they're also realistic. Before they can get too optimistic or too confident, they have to prove it on the field.

"They're a really good team. 3-0 against 0-3," Banas said. "There's nothing you can say until you can go out there and compete and beat them in a game of football."

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

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