They say that patience is a virtue. Perhaps no team has been more patient than the Robert Morris football team. After their season was moved from the fall to the spring, the team was finally able to take the field on Feb. 27 in a losing effort to the now top-ranked FCS school in the country, James Madison.
Since that game, the Colonials have seen their season come to an abrupt halt due to COVID-19 issues within the program throughout the month of March. Bernard Clark, now in his third season as head coach, managed to chuckle about the team’s situation while recognizing that the circumstances are difficult to navigate for everybody right now.
“It’s part of the new norm, I guess, what we’re going through,” Clark stated in his weekly presser. “So we’re doing the best we can, as coaches, to keep our guys motivated, to make sure they stay focused. Not only on the field but also off the field and in the classroom.”
Over the last month, the team’s schedule has been completely reworked. Instead of tangling with Monmouth for its first-ever conference game in the Big South, RMU (0-1) opens its conference schedule on Saturday with a game against no. 7 Kennesaw State (3-0). The lack of in-game action has, admittedly, been upsetting for Clark and his team, but a month-long period of practice has allowed the Colonials to fix some small things within their game.
“Its been frustrating when it comes to the part of playing, but it has been a situation because we are learning, we are growing, fundamentals on the field have gotten better because of all of the practice that we have had in doing those things.”
Three of the team’s centers went down as a result of COVID-19, in addition to a quarterback. With those absences, practices for the Colonials looked far from normal and even included what Clark called “Colonial Games”, where players compete in drills and obstacle courses. Aside from those efforts, RMU has zeroed in on keeping the ball moving upon its return to the field.
“The thing we’ve done is just kind of stayed steady. We’ve worked more on situational football than anything else, making sure we work on third down stuff, our redzone stuff, just making sure our coaches are covering those things with every aspect of the game. We want to make sure we cover those situations.”
A non-COVID-19 related absence is likely for star safety Jacob White. After recording an interception against JMU, White went down with a leg injury that put him in a boot for some time. David Plungas, the team’s defensive coordinator, admires how hard White is attempting to get back on the field.
“Jacob White is still a little banged up,” said Plungas. “He’s trying to get back out there, trying to move around a little bit, so we’ll see with Jacob. I don’t foresee him being in it, but he still might. He’s trying his butt off to get back in the two-deep and to get that starting spot back.”
No other specific players were mentioned in regards to being at risk to miss Saturday’s game. From a health standpoint, Clark seemed content with where his team stands as of right now. He was quick to point out that it has been a challenge to navigate this season thanks to the unfamiliar waters coaches and players are treading through.
“We’ll be close to full strength. I don’t know if anybody is full strength right now. As you can see, Tennessee Chattanooga, they opted out, Cal Poly opted out, just because of the simple fact that we don’t know how to feel it out right now. You’re not sure how hard to push your guys because you’ve never been in this situation where you’ve played games in the spring.”
RMU may need to feel out the Kennesaw State offense, specifically, the heavy use of the triple-option that the Owls have used to reach their current 3-0 record. Plungas is pleased with how the players have adjusted to the scheme that the Colonials plan on utilizing on Saturday and is confident that the extra prep time can lead to promising results.
“It’s a whole different offense, however, we’ve had about three weeks to prepare for it. If they don’t know the triple-option offense by now and what they’re trying to do, shame on us as coaches. They’ve done a good job but it’s difficult. It’s totally different playing cut blocks, playing the different option schemes of what they may get, the different formations. So its been difficult, but our guys are up for it.”
After more than 30 days between games, RMU can finally look to build off of their promising efforts in its season opener. The Colonials and Owls are set for a 1 p.m. kickoff on Saturday. The game will be streamed on ESPN+.