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October 13, 2012

Game Day: RMU at Bryant

Bryant is learning what other teams, including Robert Morris, have learned in the past. Throw a lot of youth into an offense, and there will be struggles. And the more an offense struggles, the more a defense - even a good one - can get exposed.

Despite one of the league's best backs in Jordan Brown, Bryant is winless and its rushing offense is the worst in the league.

The Basics
Who: Bryant Bulldogs
Venue: Bulldog Stadium (4,400))
Kickoff/Radio/TV: 1:00 p.m., WPIT 730 AM/wpitam.com, NECFrontRow.com
Series Record: Bryant 4-0

Head Coach: Marty Fine
Record at Bryant: 53-32 (9th year)

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 Bryant.

Middle Linebacker: Once again, Robert Morris takes on an offense built around the run. The Colonials did a good job shutting down St. Francis last week, thanks to strong play by the defensive line and linebackers. It'll even more imperative for the middle linebackers to step up, especially if Mike Neilson doesn't play. Dan Mignogna stepped up admirably last week, but now he's on film. He'll need to be on his toes to see if Bryant learned anything about his tendencies, and he and Mike Cook will need to be on-the-spot when it comes to filling any holes.

Wide Receiver: The receivers were off, well off, of their game last week. They allowed routes to be disrupted, and they weren't on the same page as QB Jeff Sinclair. Some of that falls on Sinclair, of course, but as a general rule of thumb, not nearly enough focus goes on the receivers when a passing game struggles. Wherever the issues may lie, Robert Morris needs a big game from a couple receivers on Saturday to help the offense get started.

Here's what the injury list looks like entering Saturday: WR Chad Dawgiello (knee - probable); DB Eric Lowry (hamstring - probable); LB Mike Neilson (ankle - probable); FB Nick Groat (shoulder - probable); LB Kyle Cooper (foot) - out; WR Rickeem Jackson (ankle) - out; TE Cory Nolton (head) - out; DB Ben Ridgeley (ankle) - out.

Yes, it's hard to believe that a unit that's been as inconsistent as Robert Morris has out-performed a league foe, but that's the case with Bryant. It's forced Bryant to be more reliant on the pass, and while QB Michael Westerhaus has been good, it's put a lot of pressure on the defense. Bryant's played from behind - a lot - just like Robert Morris, and Colonials fans have seen what that's done to the Colonials.

"Any time that you're in the situation where we were where you haven't been winning in some cases or you're behind and you're trying to catch up, sometimes you try to do a little bit more than what you should," receivers coach Bob Morris said.

The receivers might be a focal point on Saturday. As crucial as the running games are to both teams, it's the bigger picture that might be at play. Robert Morris has the Northeast Conference's least productive offense; Bryant has the NEC's worst defense. Something will have to give, and the team playing from behind will likely be the one giving it up.

Robert Morris is 86-12 all-time when leading at halftime, and a meager 10-63-1 when trailing. It's imperative Robert Morris gets off to a hot start, and it's likely Robert Morris will try to have its receivers play a part in that.

They didn't against St. Francis. Robert Morris had its first 100-yard performance from a running back since 2010 and still failed to win, mostly because the passing game was out of sync. Against the league's second worst passing defense, that simply can't be the case. Morris said the receivers have to be adaptable Saturday.

"(Former college coach) Hayden Fry said a really long time ago you can just scratch where it itches," Morris said. "We've just got to find out where it itches whether it's the pass or the run. Whatever it's going to be to win the football game."

With the focus on Robert Morris' inconsistent offense, there will be less attention on Robert Morris' defense. But this is a team that's frustrated the Colonials in the first four meetings, as Bryant's found a way to stick it to Robert Morris late.

In fact, Bryant holds one of the rare comeback wins over Robert Morris. The Colonials were up 20-13 at the half last year, only to be outscored 21-7 in the final two quarters. Brown played a large role in that comeback for Bryant, including the game-winning 10-yard touchdown with just 32 seconds left.

While the offense's performance is part of the larger thread, Robert Morris will try to ensure that this is the year that Bryant's running game won't beat the Colonials. In all four meetings, Bryant has had a back go over 100 yards.

"You have to be gap sound when there are more guys up front. When they spread you out, they can get you with speed," linebacker Dan Mignogna said. "But you know what Bryant's going to do. They have big guys up front, big fullbacks. You have to do your assignments to stop the run."

Last week was supposed to be the start of Robert Morris' renaissance. They were supposed to use the momentum of the win over Lafayette to springboard to a strong finish. Now that's in doubt, with an opponent that's flummoxed Robert Morris recently looming as the opponent.

"That loss to St. Francis was kind of a knock down. The rest of the season is going to be how we respond to it," linebacker Mark Centofanti said. "Is Robert Morris going to get back up and finish out the conference strong?"

Robert Morris will provide the first part of that answer, one way or another, Saturday afternoon. ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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