This is the first of a 12-part series previewing each of the Thundering Herd’s 2014 opponents. We’ll be going through in reverse order of difficulty instead of the usual chronological order.
Opponent #12: Rhode Island Rams
Inexplicably, in 2007, a live-action Underdog movie based on the 1960’s cartoon was released. Wikipedia describes the movie as being “universally panned by critics” and a “box office bomb.”
Why is this relevant to the University of Rhode Island? Some of its scenes were filmed on the school’s Providence campus so we’ll be using actual reviews of the movie to preview another event that probably should never have been conceived, the Herd’s 2014 home opener against the Rams.
“Whatever the intent, the result is unfit for humankind.” – Scott Tobias, AV Club
Underdog doesn’t even begin to describe Rhode Island’s status when they take the field at the Joan on September 6th. Apart from the North Dakota States of the FCS world, few teams from the lower subdivision would have little more than a puncher’s chance against a Top 25 caliber FBS opponent.
The CAA has a few of those teams. Rhode Island is not one of them.
The Rams are 12-44 over the previous five seasons and were winless in 2012 before snapping a 15 game losing streak early last year with a win at Albany. They were then able to pick up a win against Central Connecticut State and also shocked conference mate Richmond 12-10 in what surely must have been a low point for the Spiders.
“It’s a harmless bore.” – Roger Moore, Orlando Sentinel
As in Rhode Island’s offense. On November 2, 2013, Robbie Jackson caught a touchdown pass from Bob Bentsen (Bob Benson?) with 5:54 left in the 3rd quarter of a 66-14 loss to Old Dominion (SPOILER ALERT: The Monarchs will be much higher on this list than you probably think). The Rams haven’t scored since. That’s 144 scoreless minutes and 114 points allowed over the rest of the ODU game and in blowout losses to Villanova and Maine to end the season.
In fact, the Rams only scored 58 points over the final six games of the season, a number that Marshall bested twice in a single game during 2013 (61 and 59 against Southern Miss and ECU, respectively).
“A mostly forgettable adaptation that relies far too heavily on recycled material and sloppy production.” – Rotten Tomatoes
The 3-9 season wasn’t far outside of the underwhelming norm in Kingston. You have to go back 13 years to find the Rams’ only winning season of the 21st century, an 8-3 campaign in 2001. Their last FCS (I-AA) playoff appearance? Tony Petersen hadn’t even led Marshall on its initial thrilling run through the postseason. It was 1985, and the Rams’ two playoff opponents that year were teams quite familiar to the Herd faithful, Akron and Furman.
So you get the point. This isn’t going to a be a team you see on ESPN in December as you desperately try to get your college football fix between conference championship weekend and bowl season. This is going to be a team happy to tack a field goal on the board sometime between Cato taking off his pads for the evening and leaving to head back to New England with a nice paycheck.
“If you set your expectation just low enough, or are an easily satisfied 8-year-old, you might have a bit of fun.” Ken Fox – TV Guide
Who are we kidding? We’re going to be the giddily clapping 8-year-olds as the Herd rolls up 49 by the half.
Tactics and Such
2013 was head coach Joe Trainer’s fifth and final season in Kingston. He was released at the end of the year and replaced by defensive guru Jim Fleming. You’re probably not familiar with the name, but Fleming comes to Rhode Island fresh off of a two year stint as defensive coordinator at UCF where he won the Fiesta Bowl and absolutely throttled Cato and company on a rainy 2012 night in Huntington. Don’t like the guy now? He was also the opponent’s defensive coordinator in this game.
Unless Fleming’s consistent history of defensive success is based entirely on dark magic, his squad simply won’t be able to do much to slow the Herd attack this time around. The Rams gave up 33.5 points per game in 2013 and allowed three opponents to break 50. They were gashed for 439.6 yards per game, almost equally on the ground and through the air. Senior linebacker Andrew Bose from the impostor town of Huntingtown, Maryland, returns after leading the team in tackles last season.
Rhode Island’s offense has even bigger challenges. Bentsen graduated after starting at QB for two and a half seasons. Jackson also departs after accounting for half of the team’s 10 receiving touchdowns in 2013. The Rams only managed 13.2 points per game and were held to under 300 total yards on average while being shutout in four contests. The race to replace Bentsen will go into summer camp, but South Alabama transfer Kolt Peavey, the only other Ram QB to see any playing time last year, is favored to take the job.
These sort of mismatches lend themselves to pretty formulaic plans from both sides. Just as it did against Gardner-Webb, Marshall will expect to dominate both sides of the ball from the get go, allowing the starters to rest for Ohio and the younger guys to get some reps. Rhode Island will try to put together some long, methodical drives that keep Cato off the field and will try to at least make the Heisman candidate gain his yards in smaller chunks when he is on the field. Fleming will probably focus more on the performance and improvement of his team than the scoreboard for most of the evening.
Know Thy Opponent
Location: The University of Rhode Island is similar in size to Marshall with an enrollment of 15,800 and is located in Quahog Kingston, a small town of about 5,000 30 miles south of Providence. Meade Stadium, with a capacity of 6,555, has been the home of the Rams since 1928, one year after Fairfield Stadium opened.
Conference: URI plays in the Colonial Athletic Association, one of the premier FCS conferences. Fellow members Delaware, James Madison, Richmond, and Villanova have all won the national title since 2003. Towson opened 2013 with a blowout win over UConn and made it to the title game before falling to North Dakota State.
Mascot: Rhody the Ram
History: The Rams are 391-573-45 (41%) since they began playing in 1895, the same year Marshall first played Ashland High School. As the record reflects, there hasn’t been much success. There were seven Yankee Conference championships (all in the 50’s and 80’s), three appearances in the early days of the I-AA playoffs, and three very peculiar “bowl games.” The first was against Jacksonville State in the 1955 Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Indiana. The other two were played in Europe – a 1973 Turkey Bowl in Frankfurt against what is listed as an “Air Force team” and something called the Wild Geese Classic during the 1993 season in Limerick, Ireland against UMass.
Famous Alumni: URI is a journalistic powerhouse that has churned out CNN mainstays Christine Amanpour and John King. The school’s most well-known sportsman is was the 2nd best athlete in the Kardashian family, Lamar Odom. But we’re most impressed with Tony Horton. That’s right – the P90X guy is a Rhode Island Ram. Dude is 56 years old and still BRINGING IT. Get him in the locker room at the Joan for a pregame speech and we might have a ballgame.
Chance of Victory
100%. Obviously, no prediction can be truly 100%, but we’re rounding up here. No statistically significant combination of bad luck, injuries, overlooking the opponent, hangovers, and Tony Horton pregame speeches can give the Rams any sort of hope here. Yes, this happened once. And yes, Southern Illinois almost beat the 2009 Herd. But those were very good FCS teams against bad to mediocre Marshall teams with poor offenses.
Rhode Island is far more like Gardner-Webb, and you can expect to see this game play out similarly. Butler will rack up yards on the ground. Cato will get his stats in two quarters. The Rams might have more punts than first downs. Most of the crowd will tailgate in the parking lot throughout the 2nd half.
Marshall 59, Rhode Island 0