No, that wasn't your eyes deceiving you early in Saturday's game against Bryant. Robert Morris reverted back to its old 4-3 defense for stretches against the Bulldogs, all in an effort to contain Northeast Conference leading rusher Jordan Brown
Robert Morris started in the 4-3, with linebacker Kyle Cooper on the sideline and defensive tackles Farren Mason and Sam Miller starting next to each other on the line.
The goal was to clog up additional gaps with Mason and Miller's extra heft, and outside of a couple mental lapses, it worked early in the game.
"That was the game plan. We knew they wanted to run the ball. We knew they were a physical team. They're big every year," defensive end Nolan Nearhoof said. "We came out in the four, and then in passing situations we came out in the 3-4 and got our pass rushers in there. Chris Thompkins did a great job today. The game plan was good. It was just mental lapses and big plays that killed us."
Thompkins had a sack and Nearhoof had two as Robert Morris brought down Mike Croce four times. But breakdowns late in the game allowed Croce to consistently find receivers and gave Brown room to run.
"We had some lapses on the defensive line with gap control, linebackers not picking the right gaps," Nearhoof said. "The (second) play of the game, we didn't have any outside personnel and we have up a 40-yard touchdown run. You can't start out like that. You have to be mentally sound every play or you're going to give up big plays."
In past games, turnovers had killed Robert Morris. Jeff Sinclair's one interception did little to impact the game. Instead, it was those mental lapses that hurt the Colonials in the end.
"We beat Monmouth at Monmouth because we didn't make any mistakes and they made some," head coach Joe Walton said. "It's a tough league, and you have to be ready each week and you can't make mistakes."
WHO WANTS TO BE A FEATURE BACK?
A couple of late runs improved his overall numbers, but Deontae Howard's shot at being the featured back in Robert Morris' offense didn't go as well as he might have hoped. Howard had 16 carries for 62 yards, but was under three yards per carry for much of the day.
He didn't have much help. Jeff Sinclair finished with 35 yards on 13 carries, although he technically had 72 yards rushing and lost half of that due to the four sacks he took. Justin Brooks had 25 yards on six carries.
The struggles were most evident in the second half, where Robert Morris failed to get its offense going consistently enough to stretch and preserve a late lead.
"We've tried a number of different backs and there isn't one that's done well enough to be the feature back," Walton said. "They all have little different quirks that they can do, but nothing that fits exactly what we want. We'll keep searching, keep trying some of these young kids and see if they get better."
The struggles in the running game have started to impact the play-calling. Despite Robert Morris leading most of the game until late, Sinclair threw 42 passes.
"We've tried to pass the ball to open up the running game, and it worked a little bit today," wide receiver Jamie Cobb said.
Indeed, Robert Morris had a respectable 116 yards on 21 carries in the first half. They finished with 131.
Rickeem Jackson hurt his upper arm/shoulder early in the game but ended up returning to action after taking some time off...FB Nick Groat got his first career start at fullback, although Jamar Cromwell played often...TE Shadrae King extended his streak of consecutive games with a reception to 26. He also now has 21 career receiving touchdowns, tying him with Tyjuan Massey for the school record.
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.