Rhode Island has been struggling on the gridiron for some time now, after waffling on conference affiliation, reducing and increasing scholarship numbers, and a coaching change, perhaps that wasn’t unexpected. After winning just one game (against Delaware) in 2015, the Rams have already matched that win-total this season, with a victory over in-state rival Brown last weekend.
(1) Rhode Island beat their local Ivy team, Brown, last weekend for their first win of the season. That hasn't always been the case in the past -- how important was it for the Rams to get that victory?
I think it was huge for a number of reasons. The first is obvious: URI needed to get that first win out of the way. Additionally, the Rams are on their third different starting QB right now, so there's been plenty of inconsistency in the passing game. And although Saturday's game didn't see that inconsistency vanish, Rhody was able to win despite it. Finally, from a fan perspective, the win was great because this is a big in-state rivalry game (with a trophy and everything!). So it provided a bit of an adrenaline shot for the Rhode Island faithful that are still hoping that this can be a successful season.
(2) Harold Cooper starred for the Rams last week on an offense that relied on the ground game. How are the Rams in the air this season?
Lost in Cooper's exceptional numbers from Saturday was the fact that URI starting QB Jordan Vazzano was 4-for-24 through the air. With the caveat that it was his first career start -- and the game was a rainy slop-fest -- that's still... not great. The Rams used sophomore Wes McKoy as their starter early on in the season, but the dual threat turned out to be not much of a threat through the air. So Jim Fleming turned to senior Paul Mroz, but he suffered a knee injury against UNH and he's out for the season. Which brings us to Vazzano -- a red-shirt freshman who, at the very least, looks the part. He's 6'6" with a rocket arm, but accuracy has been a problem. It seems like the team thinks his ceiling is high, so URI fans might be watching some on-the-job training for the rest of the season.
(3) URI is one of the league leaders in Sacks this season, is their unit a threat to shake up Zach Bednarczyk?
I think so, especially if they play like they did last week. Rhody has a young, active group up front, with linemen like Jose Duncan, William Mack, III, and linebacker Tez Wilson doing much of the damage. The Rams defense relies on getting to the quarterback because their secondary can be shaky in coverage at times. If they can't generate pressure, expect Bednarczyk to have a field day in the pocket.
(4) Can the Rams improve upon their rather abysmal record from last season? What are some of the positives they have been able to take from the first couple weeks?
Man, I hope so. Jim Fleming's recruiting ability is evident (#1 recruiting class in the CAA this past February), but a lot of the talent he's brought in is still young. The biggest positive is that several of the young players are already starting to shine. Unfortunately, winning games and developing underclassmen aren't mutually exclusive, so another brutal record could be in the cards. But the hope is that the youth movement can power a couple more victories this year.
(5) What are your keys to victory for Rhode Island this weekend?
Getting a win when your quarterback goes 4-for-24 in the passing game is almost unheard of, and I don't expect it to happen again. So the first key is some improvement from Vazzano. Additionally, Harold Cooper is going to need to get something going against 'Nova's top ranked run defense -- not an easy task. Finally, last week was the first time that the Rhody 'D' was even remotely successful this year (and they're still last in the conference), so they'll need to replicate that effort. You should be able to tell earlyon Saturday if the Brown game was an anomaly, or if the URI defense is actually starting to put something together.