The fall may be a new season, but the COVID issues are still here. Robert Morris was set to start their season this past Saturday against Dayton, but had to cancel due to a COVID-19 outbreak among their team. Hopefully this doesn’t persist into the fall for Robert Morris as it could be their first full-season as a member of the Big South, a conference they joined last year.
Two of Robert Morris’s three games were against Big South opponents last season. Those games, against No. 7 Kennesaw State and Charleston Southern, both resulted in losses as did their lone non-conference game against No. 2 James Madison, a perennial powerhouse in FCS football.
“I don’t know if we have any expections in the Big South,” said Robert Morris head coach Bernard Clark when asked if he had any expections regarding the new conference. “I have expectations of our team and our players and I expect them to compete and be involved in each game and understanding that it’s a process. It was a process when we were in the NEC and it’s a process in the Big South. Understanding that each week there’s an opponent, and each day you must prepare for that opponent. So that’s what we’re trying to do, really get prepared for each week.”
Half of their six scheduled games were cancelled last year and Robert Morris played all three games on the road. In fact, they haven’t had a home game since they beat Sacred Heart 16-14 on November 23, 2019 which was also Robert Morris’s last game in the NEC. Thanks to the NCAA for allowing an extra year of eligibility among it’s fall athletes, much of this year’s team is similar to that 2019 team that went 7-5 (6-1 NEC). This includes starting quarterback George Martin and leading rusher Alijah Jackson, two players who will be key to the Robert Morris’s season this year.
Martin returns with two seasons of starting experience under his belt, granted last season was only three games. Still, he’s a veteran leader with career numbers of 16 TDs and 10 interceptions. In his three starts last season he averaged 173.3 yards per game, slightly over 50 more yards than what he averaged during his starts in 2019.
Those passing yards per game numbers may seem low and that’s because this team’s offense is built heavily through the run. In 2019, Jackson and Terrance Stephans Jr. combined for over 1,400 yards rushing. Jackson almost had a 1,000 yard performance himself (971 yards) while Setphans was among the FCS leaders in all-purpose yards. Stephans is long gone though, and Jackson, who averaged 2.9 yards per carry in three games last season, is being counted on to step-up big for the offense.
“We’re expecting (Jackson) to take a huge step forward this year, to be totally honest with you,” said Clark. “Especially with our o-line. We have a veteran o-line this year… basically the whole side of our left line is coming back as well as (Jackson) coming back, as well as Jordan Johnson and some other guys who have contributed coming back in our backfield. We’re expecting to do a great job in our rushing attack.”
The team will be well experienced on both sides on the ball. Overall there are 17 upperclassmen in the starting lineup. This includes nine for the defense and eight for the offense. All of the key players on special teams are made up of seniors and graduates as well.
This level of experience helps when adjusting from last season to this season. While no player will ever experience something like last season again, this team is able to say that they have experience playing with each other. Not just in the three games this past spring, but in their successful 2019 season as well.
Defensively the team features a defensive line that is ripe with experience. All eight defesnive lineman of the listed players on their two-deep depth chart are upperclassman. This is in stark contrast to the linebacker core, who only have two upperclassmen listed and will see redshirt sophomore Jamar Shegog start. Shegog and true sophomore Lorenzo Euline are the only underclassmen starting on defense for Robert Morris.
Shegog was one of two players that Clark said he expected a lot from, the other being fellow linebacker Aniello Buzzacco, a senior on the team.
The schedule is difficult for Robert Morris as the team makes the jump from the lowly NEC to the much more competitive Big South. Monmouth, North Carolina A&T, and Kennesaw State are all teams in the conference that can compete for a 10-win season. Robert Morris will also take on FBS school Central Michigan, in what Coach Clark said will start a trend in Robert Morris playing more FBS and nationally relevant programs. They already have games scheduled against Miami (OH), WVU and Air Force.
The Colonials start this season on Saturday at Dayton, but won’t play their first home game in two years until September 25th at noon against Howard.
“In actuality I didn’t even think about it until you said it,” said Clark with a laugh when asked about having a home game again. “It’s been two years since we played at home, you shocked me with that one, I didn’t even think about that. I think it’ll be excited for our guys to finally come home and play in front of a crowd.”