Coming into this season, Robert Morris appeared to be a team built through the run. Certainly it looked like that was going to be the case when the team put up 180 yards rushing on 41 carries (4.4 ypc) against Howard back on September 25th in a 22-16 victory, the first win for Robert Morris in two years. However, in the following two weeks Robert Morris has combined for just 86 yards on 52 carries. The math comes out to 1.63 yards per carry.
Establishing the run is important for Robert Morris this week as they face North Alabama, who remains win-less in six games thus far. They’ve given up an average of 35.5 points a game thus far, the worst mark in the conference, and an average of 209.2 rushing yards per game. If there was ever an opponent to get the run-game back on track against, it’d be this week.
“I think our outside zone has to pick up for us,” said Robert Morris head coach Bernard Clark on improving the run game. “We’re trying to get it going as much as we can. Just trying to get the right blocks. The thing about it is, we’ve been playing good football teams… we’re just trying to find those cracks in the defensive line and they haven’t been there.”
If the run game fails to establish though, Robert Morris could look to the passing attack which thrived this past week against Charleston Southern. Fifth-year senior George Martin had a career day last week when he threw for 292 yards. That’s almost three times what his career average is (102.9 ypg) and is the second most he’s ever thrown in his career. In the spring, Martin eclipsed the 300 mark when he threw for 304 yards also against Charleston Southern.
The big difference between those two games is that Robert Morris came out as the winner. While he had two touchdowns and one interception in both games, his completion percentage was up significantly in the game last week. Last week against Charleston Southern, Martin completed 68.3% of his passes while in the spring game he only completed 47.4%.
“The big thing that really makes him work is him being a fifth-year senior,” said Clark. “This being his fourth year involved with this offense, he’s gotten a feel for it. He’s been our captain on the field, a catalyst behind driving this machine that we have.”
Defensively, Robert Morris is coming off a big game. In the win against Charleston Southern, the defensive line caused all sorts of trouble for star quarterback Jack Chambers and shut down the run game. Chambers was sacked only two times, but was under pressure all game, and the run game had a net of just 32 yards.
The defense also had the play of the game when defensive back Lorenzo Euline had a 50-yard pick-six to seal the victory late in the fourth quarter. It was a clutch play that could be credited not only to Euline, but to the entire defense as a whole. All game long it seemed like Chambers was under pressure with very few uncovered receivers to throw to.
“The word to describe of us is togetherness,” said Clark. “We’ve done a great job at being together this summer, after the spring debacle we had trying to battle COVID and everything else going through the spring season. These guys have been together since they’ve been back and they’ve been committed to what’s going on.”
Of course, the focus this week should be on the run game for Robert Morris. Alijah Jackson, a standout from the 2019 season in which Robert Morris almost captured a NEC title, has struggled thus far. He remains the team’s leading rusher with 136 yards, but averaged 1.2 yards per carry in the loss to North Carolina A&T and averaged an even worse 0.6 yards per carry in the win against Charleston Southern.
The red shirt senior has struggled since the team moved to the Big South. In three conference games last year he managed just 174 yards on 59 carries, a 2.9 average. That’s a far cry from his NEC statistics in 2018-19, when he ran for 1,539 yards on 290 carries in 18 games, a 5.3 yards per carry average.
“Alijah has been a good, solid running back,” said Clark. “Being a running back is tough. You get that ball and you get hit, we’re trying to give it to him 20-30 times a game, it’s a tough situation. We’re trying to put our running game at the forefront of our offense. He’s done a good job of doing it, we just haven’t gotten it going the way we want it to be going.”
Robert Morris will play North Alabama in Florence, Alabama at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday. It’s the first of a two-game road stretch for Robert Morris that will include a trip Boiling Springs, N.C. to play Gardner Webb.