When the Duquesne Dukes host their cross-town conference rival Robert Morris, it will be more than just a return to the field against a familiar foe. It will be a return to normalcy after the Dukes emotional week. After teammate Marquis “Jaylen” Brown passed away just last week, the team is now in the healing process as head coach Jerry Schmitt put it.
“I think Sunday was the start of the healing,” Schmitt stated.
Sunday, the entire team attended the services of their teammate together, along with over 1,200 Duquesne staff, students and administration. The group sat together to pay their respects to Brown.
“We just now are starting the healing process. It happened Thursday, we voted as a team to play Friday, and we played the game,” Schmitt said. “It just hit them, and everything was a whirlwind for two days. Sunday was the start of the healing process.”
Schmitt mentioned that some players have stepped up for emotional support and that it was some of the closest teammates to Brown standing up the strongest during this process. Schmitt also added that the coaches have had their doors open, urging players to come to them with any issues as well as providing access to counseling.
In part of the healing process, Schmitt is looking to get his group back into a routine as they try to avoid a three-game losing streak on the football field. Aside from the emotion surrounding the team, they also have had a few schedule quirks recently.
“We were in Hawaii, which is a changed up schedule,” Schmitt noted about the last three weeks. “You get back and get to rest, you get a bye week, but that is always hard, and it disrupts a routine. Then you are preparing for Bryant, and a young man died Thursday night. Even the game, we got to the game and had an hour delay. There was nothing normal about the last three to four weeks. So the normalcy has started to get us back on track and as the week went on you could tell the focus was getting better.”
Duquesne will have to bring their focus to continue a recent trend of dominance over their cross-town rival. Schmitt is 10-3 all-time against the Colonials and is 6-0 on his home turf.
Matchups to Watch
New Colonials aerial attack
Robert Morris is bringing in first-year coach Bernard Clark who is bringing a fresh face to the rivalry. He is also bringing a fresh offense and one that is racking up points and stats. Robert Morris has scored 81 points in the past two weeks, their best two-game stretch since 2001.
Last week they rode freshman running back Alijah Jackson for 124 yards and two touchdowns, enough to have him named the NEC rookie of the week. However, the fresh faces at head coach and running back have ignited a veteran passing attack.
Their offensive line has allowed just six sacks this season. This has allowed quarterback Jimmy Walker to amass for over 900 yards with seven touchdowns so far this season, ranking in the top 50 nationally in most quarterback statistical categories. This has allowed him to spread the football around to a variety of pass catchers, none more valuable than tight end Matthew Gonzalez. Gonzalez is 3rd among FCS tight ends averaging 17.61 yards per reception. He is also 11th nationally with five receiving touchdowns.
This will be a test for the Dukes who have been stout in the back end, allowing just a little over 200 yards per game through the air. However, in recent weeks they have been shuffling a lot of personnel, and their passing metrics have trended down. With Daquan Worley, Jonathant Istache, Reid Harrison-Ducros, and Greg Clayton shuffling at corner and Spencer DeMedal, Brandon Stanback, Tim Lowery, and Leandro DeBrito all seeing time mixing and matching it will be vital for Duquesne to have the right personnel on the field at the right time or they will get burnt by the high flying attack.
Battle in the box
Duquesne has typically been a team that likes to use the run to open games and close games. The run opens up the pass early and closes out teams when they have leads late. This comes naturally to the Dukes, who have A.J. Hines, a physical presence between the tackles who can set the tone.
However, Hines has been banged up early into the season, and despite efforts, the offense has not flowed well through him. He left the Dayton game after 12 carries in the first half. He missed the next week at Hawaii, but thanks to the bye week was healthy for Bryant. However, against Bryant, he ran for 75 yards on 19 attempts, by far his lowest yard per attempt rate of the year.
Hines has gone over 100 yards just once this season, after eclipsing 100 yards six times last year, averaging 115 rushing yards per game on the ground.
Hines will look to get rolling after getting back into the swing of things last week, but an exciting challenge presents itself. Amir Fenwick was a preseason All-NEC performer on the Robert Morris defensive line, and he has lived up to his billing so far. Fenwick already has a ten tackle performance this year and will look to continue his strong campaign against Hines.
Nehari Crawford big game watch
While Robert Morris is high flying offensively, they sit at 1-4 for a reason. They are one of the worst defensive groups in the country overall. The rank 121st in total defense allowed, 105th overall in passing yards allowed per game and 115th in yards per reception allowed per game.
Nehari Crawford broke out last season and is putting together a season just as impressive in 2018. Crawford has caught five receptions every week, has been held under 100 yards twice and has only been held out of the end zone in one game. Crawford made up for that with a two-touchdown performance against Lock Haven and Dayton. The Dayton game saw a career-high 11 receptions for 223 yards. In a high flying shootout, Crawford may be looking to match or break that total. Crawford is two receptions and two touchdowns from being in fourth all-time amongst Duquesne wide receivers. Expect him to take a leap in the all-time Duquesne record books on Saturday.