If you paid attention last season, you would be at least a little familiar with Fordham football. In a sloppily-executed game in the Bronx last year, the Villanova Wildcats fumbled away their chances to even their record and helped the Rams build big-time momentum for the rest of their season. The 'Cats are set to take on Fordham again this season in week-two, with hopes for a much-better season resting on the outcome.
To help us prepare for the game, we had Mike Watts of WFUV 90.7 -- Fordham's listener-supported radio station -- answer some questions for us about the Rams. You can check out some of his work, including writing, audio and more at either WFUV.org or MikeWattsOnAir.com.
(1) True or False: Fordham football is all about Michael Nebrich this season. Has Fordham had any other big-time transfers?
That is probably true in terms of any kind of national title aspirations Fordham has. This is a very good team without Michael Nebrich, but it is special with him. He seems to make every player on the offense better through accurate short passing, extending plays with his legs and his ability to consistently hit on the deep ball. When Michael plays, the offense looks like a video game.
That isn't to short change a defense that forced more turnovers than any other defense in FCS last season and played very well last week. But Michael is the prototype for the Joe Moorhead system and to win against top opponents he will need to play well.
(2) Chase Edmonds had a huge debut last weekend. How important is it for him to stay so productive? Who are the Ram's other weapons on offense?
Three hundred all purpose yards and the freshman singe game rushing record (181 yards) in his first college game set the bar pretty high. But in truth, Chase Edmonds picked right up where Carlton Koonce left off. It is easy to forget that CJ ran for over 3,000 yards in the past two seasons in 26 games. Edmonds possesses the ability to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. Coaches and players raved about him through fall camp and fans saw why immediately. A 65-yard kickoff return on your first touch is obviously a good introduction to college football.
Since Joe Moorhead got to Rose Hill, he has done a great job using the run and pass game as compliments to one another. That was the case with Carlton Koonce, Kendall Pearcey and now Chase Edmonds. Chase won't average over nine yards a carry every week, but he doesn't need to in the most prolific passing attack in the country. While Chase may not run for 181 every week, the offense's insistence on balance will make sure his hot start doesn't cool too much.
As for the Fordham offense, the weapons are numerous. It's possible Sam Ajala (led FCS in receiving yards per game in 2013), Tebucky Jones Jr. (UConn transfer), Brian Wetzel (multiple 1,000-yd receiving seasons), Dan Light (All-American tight end), and Chase Edmonds comprise the best skill position group in the country. Last year's team was the first to ever have a 4,000 yard passer, a 1,000 yard rusher, and three 1,000 yard receivers in one season. They all have the ability to stretch the field and catch passes in the precision passing game. Phazahn Odom got a ton of playing time last week as well in double tight end sets the team worked on throughout the offseason. There's skill across the board, including an offensive line led All-American left tackle Mason Halter and three other returning starters.
(3) The Rams easily dominated St. Francis, but the Red Flash managed to hang 20 in the fourth quarter. What happened? Was the defense tired? Not trying too hard? Mostly walk-ons?
I think the first six drives were a better indication of the defense's ability: 19 plays, -4 yards, 5 three and outs and 6 punts. The fourth quarter's defensive numbers have a couple factors involved.
First, the team was out-possessed by 18 minutes. In the first game of the season, that's an exhausting length of time for a defense and fatigue may have played a role to open the fourth quarter. Then, Fordham played their second team defense on the last couple drives, which coincided with a quarterback change which seemed to help Saint Francis a bit late in the game as they broke a couple of bigger runs. Finally, the Saint Francis offensive line is big and experienced - three fifth year seniors who blocked for an All-American tailback last season can be taxing after three quarters.
(4) When Fordham added scholarships ahead of the rest of the Patriot League, it was a pretty gutsy move. Do you think they would have left the PL if the conference hadn't eventually voted to follow suit?
I don't believe it would have come to that is the obvious answer. The Patriot League fits Fordham University's profile very well from a football standpoint.
It would have been very difficult to be ineligible every year for the Patriot League, though. It makes the margin for error almost zero. Fordham wasn't even seeded after an 11-1 season without the automatic qualifying bid to the playoffs. That said, I think the scholarship move is already making the conference more competitive with the top FCS conferences.
(5) We know that the Rams have some scary talent on offense, but what about their defense? Who are the guys on defense that should be concerning for John Robertson on Saturday?
The name that Villanova fans will surely know is Victor DiFusco. He had a monster game in this matchup last year while starting middle linebacker Jake Rodriquez was out to injury, Victor starts now, and racked up 12 tackles in three quarters last week.
Stephen Hodge was the preseason defensive player of the year in the Patriot League, but is out indefinitely with a lower body injury. The secondary is loaded with seniors and they shut down any semblance of a passing game from Saint Francis, although they don't really pride themselves on throwing anyways. Corners Jordan Chapman and Ian Williams are more than adept in man coverage, Levon Williams had five interceptions last year at safety and Jake Dixon and JQ Bowers have a ton of experience. The defensive line is led by returning starters DeAndre Slate and Brett Biestek.
(6) Which recent former-Ram has a better shot at Canton: John Skelton or Patrick Murray?
Sadly for John Skelton, it looks like his shot at Canton has passed him by. It's disappointing that his chance in Arizona ended so quickly. Now he isn't even on an NFL roster to start the season.
Patrick Murray on the other hand is just starting what I think will be a good career. He's got the distance to kick 55+ yard field goals. He can kickoff and punt at an All-American level. He's an incredibly hard worker who is dedicated to his craft. The sky is the limit for him, or maybe Canton someday.