Rhode Island is struggling. After making the switch from current 'Nova assistant Joe Trainer to new head coach Jim Fleming in an offseason effort to right the ship, the Rams have found themselves in quite the 0-5 quagmire. Their struggles have been well-documented over the years, but eventually these guys are going to win a game, so we've sought out some professional assistance to learn about URI's program before they arrive on campus this weekend.
We reached out to Dave Ascoli of Rhody Rampage (@RhodyRampage), to catch us up on the Rams. Make sure to check out his coverage of Rhode Island sports over at RhodyRampage.com.
(1) Andy Talley is a big fan of Joe Trainer, but the URI administration obviously wasn't. Was it Trainer's fault that the Rams were losing, or did the aborted move to the NEC have something to do with that?
If you has asked me back in August if Trainer was to blame for the recent failures, I probably would have said yes. But after an 0-5 start under new head coach Jim Fleming, including a pair of losses to two teams (Albany and CCSU) that Rhody beat last year, I'm changing my tune. Certainly the aborted move to the NEC set the Rams back a bit, but the problems run much deeper than that. URI hasn't had a winning record since 2001, and they'll have to win out to secure a winning record this year. Just a hunch here: that's not going to happen. So the futility streak will extend to 13 years, spanning four head coaches. A stretch like that obviously can't be pinned on just one thing. The problems run deep: coaching, recruiting, conference, facilities... you name it.
(2) The Rams had a pair of terrible losses to open the season, but the offense seemed to pick up against Albany and Brown appears to have been a close one. What has been the biggest improvement during that stretch?
I think some would make the case that there hasn't been any improvement. URI's first two opponents were top-tier teams in the FBS and FCS, respectively. There was a bit of a drop off from there in Rhody's next three opponents, giving the illusion of an improvement. Brown was winless before they played URI, and Albany will likely come back to earth once they have to face teams like Richmond, UNH, and Villanova.
While I think all of that is partly true, I also think the Rams have shown slight improvements on both offense and defense. Of note is freshman quarterback Mack Lowrie, who transferred to Kingston from Boston College. He's cutting down on his freshman mistakes while showing a decent ability to sustain drives and make smart decisions with the football. Unfortunately, it's still not enough to get in the win column just yet.
(3) Villanova has the top scoring offense in the CAA right now. What does URI's defense do well, and how do you think they will approach this game?
Through five games, the Rhody defense is allowing an average of 517 total yards and 39.4 total points per game. So what do they do well? I guess no one's put their jersey on backwards yet. There's that.
It generally seems that the URI defense approaches each game with a "bend, don't break" philosophy. Granted, that generally turns into a "bend, then break, then break some more" model, but the Rams have shown the ability to end drives with a key turnover or a big stop. Look for guys like junior safety Tim Wienclaw or senior linebacker Andrew Bose to be making some of those big plays.
(4) How long do you expect it will take to rebuild Rhode Island into a legitimate CAA Football contender? What needs to happen on the road there?
As mentioned earlier, Rhody has become an expert at this whole losing thing, and they've been at it for quite a while. There's certainly a growing opinion that says that the Rams will never be a legitimate contender in the CAA, and that the University should drop the football program altogether. Given this epic streak of failure, it's hard to argue with that kind of thinking. But the Rhode Island basketball program was in a similar state a few years back, and URI AD Thorr Bjorn has righted that ship. A new head coach, some facility upgrades, and a few solid recruiting cycles later and Rhody hoops is a year or two away from an NCAA berth. Can Bjorn do the same with football? Furthermore, is Jim Fleming "the guy"? As of right now, the jury is still out.
(5) Of the remaining games on the schedule, pick one that you are most-confident that the Rams can win.
"Confident". "Win". Nice try, but you can't sneak a trick question by me! The so-called "easy" part of URI's schedule is now in the books, and they're sitting at 0-5. I suppose they could maybe steal a win against a team like Towson or Stony Brook, but I certainly wouldn't bank on it. Sadly, 0-12 is looking like a real possibility right now. Frown face.