Dukes Still a Class Ahead, But RMU Showing Promise Under Bernard Clark
PITTSBURGH — Duquesne head coach Jerry Schmitt improved to 11-3 against his cross-town rival Robert Morris with his 48-24 victory on Saturday night. It is safe to say that Schmitt is familiar with what is going on over at a football program that is not only a city rival but a conference foe as well. However, Schmitt stated that this was not the same Colonial team that he has always seen. He did notice a difference at all three phases.
“It wasn’t the same things we saw in the last couple years,” Schmitt stated. “They had a lot of different things. They had new schemes on offense, defense, and special teams.”
In losing 48-24 to their cross-town rivals, the Robert Morris Colonials looked like a team that was given an entirely new playbook with just five games to sort through it so far. First-year head coach Bernard Clark is not here for the quick fix. He is for the rebuilding of a program. That is not going to happen overnight, which is reflected in their 1-4 record.
One thing that needs to be preached from the Colonials early season woes is patience. The team has not had a winning season since 2010 when they brought home the NEC conference championship. They’ve gone 21-56 since then, including a 12-36 record in their conference. This thing is not going to get turned around overnight.
However, with patience needs to come progress. In that regard, Clark has shown life. His offense has potential. He currently has pass-catching running backs and tight ends who can create with the ball in their hands. He gets the football out of his quarterback’s hands quickly and uses quick passing to set up deep passing.
Last season, Robert Morris averaged just over 10 points per game. This season, the Colonials have put up 27.6 points per game. Tight end Matt Gonzalez came into the game ranked third in yards per catch and 11th in touchdowns across all FCS schools. On Saturday he put up seven receptions for 103 and two touchdowns.
Running back Terren Stephens rushed for 112 yards on the ground, needing just 16 carries. He also caught seven passes for 103 and two touchdowns, making him the first Colonial to record 100 receiving and rushing in the same game in over 20 years.
The team also has promise in freshman running back Alijah Jackson. Jackson had back to back 100 yards games and was named the NEC rookie of the week before the Dukes held him in check on eight carries for just 42 yards. Still, he averaged over five yards per carry.
However, while the offense hung up 24 points against Duquesne, it is fair to wonder how much of that was because the defense was forcing their hand. The Dukes marched up and down the field without any hesitation in this game.
Duquesne put up 513 yards against Robert Morris. Even more devastating is seeing Duquesne run for 321 yards right down their throats. Robert Morris hardly contained Duquesne on defense. In fact, Duquesne was set to punch in a 61-yard scoring drive to start the game when a fumble in the exchange between quarterback and running back turned the ball over. It is tough to credit the defense for the goal line stop, but the offense did do their jobs by taking the football over at the six-yard line and marching down the field for the opening score.
Unfortunately for the offense, Duquesne was not coughing the ball up that easily anymore. On top of that, the offense shot themselves in the foot multiple times and turned the football over three times, leading to ten points. The other turnover flipped field position, and while Duquesne did not take advantage of the fumble, they did force a three and out and scored right after. There was no slowing Duquesne down, and the offense was not ready to get into a shootout.
Most of the issues on offense came down to pure muscle. While Robert Morris has credited their offensive line for allowing just six sacks this season, a lot of that is on the quick passing nature. Against Duquesne, the better athletes in the trenches showed, and pressure on the quarterback forced most of the turnovers.
When a team runs for over 300 yards, it is fair to say that the Robert Morris got out-muscled on defense as well. However, the lack of communication and understanding on defense was what was more glaring.
Early into the game, Duquesne had success going with an up-tempo offense. Duquesne does not typically play that fast, but they clearly had Robert Morris phased as the team was scrambling to communicate pre-snap.
That lead to blown assignments, and holes in the second level that burst big runs. It is no surprise to see that Robert Morris sits in the bottom ten in most defensive categories. So while the offense came into the game putting up their most points in a two-game span since 2001, the question has to be how much of that feat did the defense force? They did go 0-2 in that span after all.
While we can all call it a cross-town rivalry, at this point Robert Morris is a program looking to get to a level as consistent as Jerry Schmitt has with Duquesne. Schmitt took over in 2005 and only had three losing seasons to go with seven conference championships. However, the team Schmitt took over was 7-3 the season before and had won a MAAC Championship.
This is not to say Schmitt has not worked hard to instill his principals as a coach. However, the institution of winning did not need to be built up around the entire program when he took over. Bernard Clark is entering a much higher hill to climb to get to the level of consistency that Schmitt is instilling year in and year out on the Bluff.
The fact that Clark was able to step in and immediately improve the offense shows promise. It shows something that hasn’t been in the Robert Morris football program in a while. As the season goes on, and Clark continues to start his foundation, wins may not be the moniker of his success.
On offense, it is time to be consistent. They need to force the shootout rather than find glimmers when trailing. They need to move the football without turning the football over, because their defense is not good enough to play with a small field. You know what your strength is, play to it.
On defense, you are looking for understanding. Fewer missed tackles, less explosive plays allowed in the passing and running game and with that, potentially more turnovers that are forced rather than gifted.
Robert Morris has life and hope with a fresh face at a head coach and some new philosophies instilled to the team. However, Saturday showed that they have a long and hard road ahead to get to the level of their rival Duquesne. It will be interesting to see what this new coaching staff looks to do to try to close the gap as they close out their first season.