2023 Richmond vs Rhode Island

FCS Playoffs Picture From CAA Perspective At 2023 Mid-Point

FCS Playoffs Picture From CAA Perspective At 2023 Mid-Point

At the midway point of the regular season, the Coastal Athletic Association looks as wide-open as it has ever been.

Oct 10, 2023 by Kyle Kensing
FCS Playoffs Picture From CAA Perspective At 2023 Mid-Point

In a distinguished career as the longtime and only head coach for Monmouth football, Kevin Callahan has endured by being a quick study. Thus, it's no surprise it didn't take the Hawks head coach long to realize the parity of the Coastal Athletic Association. 

"As we found out and experienced a year ago, our first in the conference, this is a league where whoever plays the best football on the three hours on Saturday afternoon is going to win," Callahan said. "Records don't matter. It doesn't matter what anybody has done the previous week or even the week before that, all that matters is what happens during those three hours on the field on Saturday and that's the message we're trying to instill in our guys: We've got to be at our best every week just to have a fighting chance of coming out on top." 

Through two conference games in its second CAA season, Monmouth has experienced both sides of the league's unpredictable nature. The Hawks rallied from down multiple possessions to beat Towson, but lost despite leading by multiple possessions against Campbell. 

Highlights: Monmouth Vs. Towson

Parity and the possibility for turbulence loom large with the Football Championship Subdivision regular season at the official midway point. Every team in the CAA has played at least five games now ahead of Week 7, and 12 of the conference's 15 teams have at least one CAA win. 

Eight of those 12 boast two conference wins, and 10 of the conference's teams have records no worse than 2-3. Going by the school of thought an 8-3 record is usually good enough to earn a CAA team an at-large bid to the FCS Playoffs, two-thirds of the league head into the back-half of 2023 still very much in that mix.

Now comes the hard part of navigating the treacherous conference waters. 

"I'm pleased where we're at, you've got the first half of the season under your belt. You're 4-2. But now, we've got murderer's row," Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming said. "We've got three very tough opponents in the CAA right in a row. 

"Our drive has always been to get to that eight[-win] number," Fleming added. "So we've got a lot of work ahead of us." 

Kasim Hill powered Rhode Island to its fourth win, a 34-30 defeat of longtime in-state rival Brown in Week 6. Hill threw three touchdowns to three of Rhody's outstanding wide receivers: Marquis Buchanan, Kahtero Summers and Darius Savedge. 

The 2023 Governor's Cup marks the fifth consecutive time the Rams staked claim to the rivalry trophy, a first since 1998 through 1993. But now, Rhode Island turns its focus to a milestone that has eluded it even longer with its first playoff bid since 1985.

The "murderer's row" Fleming said awaits the Rams starts with Richmond's visit in Week 7, a trip to nationally ranked UAlbany in Week 8 and a return home to host reigning co-champion New Hampshire in Week 9. 

Bookending that stretch are teams indicative of just how fluid the CAA title picture can and should be in the coming six weeks. 

Richmond went into Week 6 at 1-1 in conference play, having escaped a defensive struggle at Stony Brook before falling at home to Hampton in game where the Spiders offense struggled so mightily, an exasperated coach Russ Huesman asked sideline reporter Sean Robertson, "Did you watch the same thing I watched?" when asked to assess the quarterback play. 

One Saturday later, the Spiders moved to 2-1 in the CAA and boast the FCS National Offensive Player of the Week in quarterback Cam Coleman, whose six touchdown passes led them to a 42-31 win over Maine. 

Richmond's a program familiar with turning it on in the second half of the season. Last year's Spiders went into Week 7, a bye, at 3-2 and 1-1 in the conference. They won five straight heading into the Capital Cup showdown with William & Mary, an installment of The South's Oldest Rivalry wherein the CAA championship was also at stake. 

New Hampshire, which travels to Meade Stadium on Oct. 28, is in a much different place than it was a year ago at the midway point of the regular. The 2022 CAA co-champion Wildcats ran out to a 3-0 conference start, a stark contrast to this season's 0-2 beginning. 

But in losses at Delaware and in overtime to Towson — not to mention a non-conference setback against FBS opponent Central Michigan — New Hampshire's lost by less than a touchdown. 

"You're 2-3, at the end of the day, that's simply not good enough five games in," Wildcats coach Rick Santos said. "'I also think we've made a lot of plays on both sides of the ball. If we continue to do that, I think those breaks are going to go our way. We'll continue to fight, we're excited for the great opportunity this week [hosting UAlbany]."

UAlbany embarks on the second half of the slate among the three teams still undefeated in conference along with Elon, which remains on top as the only 3-0 squad, and Delaware. The Great Danes-Wildcats matchup is one to watch especially closely as a tone-setter for the month-and-a-half still to come in the CAA race. 

Tackles, Tackles And More Tackles

UAlbany went into a Week 6 visit to Towson featuring the nation's No. 1 and No. 2 sack-producing players, Anton Juncaj and A.J. Simon. And, while the most prolific tag team in the country went without sacks against the Tigers, they still had major impacts with Juncaj racking up eight tackles, 2.5 for loss; and Simon going for seven tackles with one for loss. 

The defensive line duo didn't accrue as many tackles combined as linebacker Ori Jean-Charles, however. Jean-Charles built off his monster performance in a Week 5 win over Villanova with 17 tackles and an interception in the 24-17 defeat of Towson. 

But it wasn't Jean-Charles taking center stage for the Great Danes. 

"I felt bad," said UAlbany coach Greg Gattuso. "I told Ori, 'It's pretty rare you get 17 tackles, an interception and play well and don't get Player of the Game internally, let alone in the conference." 

If it's any consolation for Jean-Charles — who in his last two games has combined for two sacks, 3.5 tackles of loss, 22 tackles, a forced fumble, a pass break-up and an interception — he lost Player of the Week to teammate Dylan Kelly after an incredible 23-tackle night. 


And it wasn't just the team's Player of the Game or CAA Defensive Player of the Week Kelly earned for his game-changing performance at Towson. Kelly was named the National Defensive Player of the Week in a game that also saw him both force and recover a fumble; break up a pass; and hurry Tigers quarterback Nathan Kent. 

So had Gattuso ever witnessed a 20-tackle game before last Saturday? 

"Actually I have, and it was a d-lineman," Gattuso said. 

Almost 12 years to the day of Kelly's incredible performance — Oct. 8, 2011 — Joe Vellano went for 20 against Georgia Tech's triple-option offense. Vellano played on the defensive line unit Gattuso coached for three seasons at College Park before taking the UAlbany post in 2014. 

Vellano kicked off Gattuso's time as a Terrapin that 2011 season with a fumble returned for a touchdown against Miami. 

While Kelly's day at Towson didn't include a touchdown, he did produce his own highlight reel-worthy fumble with a strip...

...and he contributed to a play worth six points when he got into the backfield to wrap up Devin Matthews at the ankles, setting up a touchdown-denying gang tackle on fourth down. 

Beware Second-Half Delaware 

A 68-yard Edward Robinson touchdown rush gave upset-minded Duquesne a 17-15 lead midway through the second quarter of last week's non-conference matchup between the Dukes and Delaware. 

Beginning with Marcus Yarns' second goal-line scoring carry of the game, however, the Blue Hens went on a 28-0 deluge to bury Duquesne, 43-17 — close to the projected final score in the Week 6 picks.  


The win's trajectory followed a familiar format through the Blue Hens' 4-0 start vs. FCS competition. Beginning with the final two minutes of the second quarter—a very specific starting point that must be included, given UD has remarkably scored with 114 seconds or fewer left before halftime in all four wins over FCS opponents—Delaware is outscoring teams 105-24.