Over the course of his coaching career, the key to Joe Walton's offense has always been balance. When the veteran coach has a running game that is as equally dangerous as his passing game, his offenses can do some damage.
Morgan State found that out Saturday afternoon against Robert Morris, as Walton's offense chewed up 174 rushing yards and got three touchdowns from quarterback Paul Jones in a 31-14 win in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.
Jones, a redshirt junior transfer from Penn State, was 13-for-26 for 194 yards, but he was mostly in a caretaker role as Robert Morris' running game went to work early and often.
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"It always slows down the rush," said Walton, who will retire at the end of the season after 20 years at Robert Morris. "They can't jump at us with everything, so now we have a chance to throw the ball."
Morgan State (0-2) came in with the reputation as a dangerous running team, but it was Robert Morris (1-1) who took control early on the ground. A methodical 9-play, 57-yard drive ended with Jones' 8-yard touchdown pass to senior tight end Tyler Digby with 3:59 left in the first quarter. Morgan State struggled to mount a response, as the offense never got in sync in the first half. The Bears managed just 65 total yards of offense and had three turnovers in the half.
"We picked the worst day to play our worst game," Morgan State head coach Donald Hill-Eley said. "It was stuff we can control, and it was definitely a totally different team that took the field than it was last week."
It was junior corner Antwan Eddie's 35-yard punt return, not one of the turnovers, that set up Robert Morris for its second score of the half. Eddie returned the ball to the Morgan State 22-yard line, and four plays later Deontae Howard scored on a 4-yard rush to give Robert Morris a 14-0 halftime lead. Eddie had three punt returns for 96 yards, with two of his returns setting up Robert Morris touchdowns.
"I've been telling (special teams) coach John Banaszak since I got here to put the ball in my hands," said Eddie, who also had an interception on defense. "I was real close. At some point I'll break one this year."
The trend on offense continued in the second half, as Robert Morris forced a 3-and-out to start the third quarter. Three plays later, Jones found Chad Dawgiello for a 23-yard touchdown and a 21-0 lead.
Morgan State had a chance to get on the scoreboard late in the third quarter when Moses Skillon, Morgan State's third quarterback of the day, tossed a 44-yard pass to Chris Flowers that set the Bears up at the Robert Morris 4-yard line. But the Bears stalled there, and Chris Moller's 31-yard field goal was partially blocked by Marcelis Branch. Skillon, however, stayed in at quarterback the rest of the game as Hill-Eley tried to find a spark for his sputtering offense.
"At the quarterback position, you have to have guys that play with him. He has to be able to motivate those guys around him," Hill-Eley said. "Skillon's first series looked kind of fluttery a bit, but as the game went on he started playing with more poise than the other guys."
The Bears finally converted on a drive with 13:20 left in the fourth quarter. Skillon threw a 55-yard pass to Tubotein Taylor to put Morgan State on the 6-yard line. Skillon connected with Andrew King for the 6-yard touchdown on the next play to cut the deficit to 21-7.
Robert Morris quickly responded, as the Colonials took advantage of a running into the kicker penalty to keep a drive alive. Jones capped the drive with his third touchdown pass of the day, threading a 38-yard pass in tight space to junior Duane Mitchell.
"I didn't know it was going to be that close, but it was a great throw and a great catch. It's what you look for," Walton said. "I thought Paul did well. He made a couple of errors, but he's getting better every week."
Robert Morris added a 27-yard field goal from Connor Shennan, and Morgan State capped the scoring with a 44-yard touchdown from Skillon to King as time expired.
Skillon finished 9-for-18 for 207 yards and two touchdowns for the Bears, while Cody Acker led the way on defense with ten tackles. Forrest Mason had two sacks for Robert Morris.
Robert Morris hosts Dayton next week at noon.