A general rule anyone who analyzes college football should follow says to avoid superlatives early in the season. Then again, every rule has an exception.
The Colonial Athletic Association opener set a remarkably high bar for any competitor to claim Game of the Year in 2019. If the first CAA showdown is an indicator for what to anticipate over the next two and a half months, buckle up. It’s a perfect tone-setter in the Big Picture.
Triple Your Fun
Delaware and Rhode Island had the honors of kicking off what anyone familiar with the league already knew would be an especially competitive CAA season. Their wildly entertaining, back-and-forth affair under the new lights at Meade Stadium sets an appropriate tone for the campaign to come.
The Fightin’ Blue Hens survived a triple-overtime instant classic, 44-36, exacting a measure of revenge for last year’s season-opening loss to the Rams. Delaware played from behind most of the night, down 13-0 at halftime before scoring two unanswered touchdowns.
Rhode Island regained the lead briefly before Pat Kehoe’s third touchdown pass moved Delaware ahead by three points with just 1:19 remaining. And that’s when the fun really began.
Vito Priore drove the Rams 47 yards in one minute to set up C.J. Carrick for his third successful field goal of the game, and force overtime tied at 22.
The ensuing three extra frames demonstrated why the collegiate overtime system is far superior to that of the NFL. An audience of more than 8,000 — almost 2,000 more than Meade Stadium’s official capacity — was treated to three rounds of haymakers.
Kehoe delivered the KO, setting up a one-yard touchdown with a beautiful, 23-yard wheel route connection to running back Will Knight. Knight finished the job with the scoring reception on the subsequent play — Kehoe’s fifth touchdown pass — and Bryce De Maille caught a successful two-point conversion.
Priore, who threw for a whopping 430 yards with three touchdowns, got Rhode Island down to the 3-yard line before a Justis Henley interception in the end zone ended it.
Only so many adjectives can be used to describe this game, but a recount doesn’t do it justice. Watch the replay, because Delaware and Rhode Island put on the Game of the Year, and it won’t be easily topped.
Dogs Will Run
Last week here at FloFootball.com, we spotlighted the talented wide receiving corps at UAlbany, which looked impressive Week 1 at Central Michigan. In a Week 2 romp against Bryant, the Great Danes rushing attack took center stage.
Alex James’ 80-yard touchdown rush in the first quarter provided the ideal mood-setter for UAlbany’s home opener, a 45-3 win. James and Karl Mofor teamed to rush for 353 of the Great Danes’ 362 yards; James accounted for 229 and Mofor for 124.
Highlights | @UAlbanyFootball blasts Bryant, 45-3, behind 362 total rushing yards, including -- 229 from Redshirt Junior Alex James and 123 from Junior Karl Mofor. The Great Danes are on the road next Saturday against Monmouth before hosting Lafayette on Sept. 21 at 330pm pic.twitter.com/16ZFSX8Dmi— UAlbany Sports (@UAlbanySports) September 8, 2019
Beat Them At Their Own Game
The Citadel employs a triple-option offense that physically batters opposing defenses and controls the tempo. The Bulldogs used it to take Towson down to the wire in Week 1. In Week 2, however, Elon turned the tables on its visitor from the SoCon.
The Phoenix’s Mayhem Defense played a spectacular game, nullifying The Citadel’s Flexbone to the tune of just 156 yards rushing. With an average of just 3.1 yards per carry, the Bulldogs faced longer down-and-distance than the option is designed to handle.
Marcus Willoughby led the defensive effort with a remarkable 14 tackles, including a sack. Daniel Ried-Bennett also had a big afternoon in Elon’s home opener with two breakups and an interception — lofty numbers given The Citadel passed just eight times.
Meanwhile, Elon out-rushed The Citadel with 255 yards. Brelynd Cyphers had 81, 30 of which came on the game-winning touchdown. De’Sean McNair also got into the end zone. Jaylan Thomas rushed for two touchdowns, including one off a sick juke that left a defender kneeling.
The Phoenix were more dominant than the 35-28 final score, but The Citadel turned up the heat with a surprise onside kick that quickly turned a two-touchdown deficit into a tied game.
Tigers Of Many Stripes
Coming into the 2019 season, Towson’s offensive chops were well-known. The Tigers returned two of the top individual playmakers to a unit that led the CAA in scoring a season ago.
Through two weeks of the new campaign, Tom Flacco, Shane Simpson, and Co. have not disappointed. However, the Towson defense is making some noise.
Towson held North Carolina Central to just 3.9 yards per play in a 42-3 romp, one week after the defense stepped up with some big plays to score a tough road win at The Citadel.
The biggest of those plays in Week 1 was Coby Tippett’s win-sealing interception. For an encore, Tippett picked off another pass and returned it 52 yards. Opposing quarterbacks may want to stop throwing his way, unless Keon Paye continues making plays on the ball like his pick on Saturday.
Add another big game from Roberty Heyward, who recorded a team-high 10 tackles with a tackle for loss, and Towson’s showing some saltiness on defense that could complement the CAA’s most prolific offense nicely.
The identity evolution the Tigers are experiencing mirrors that of Towson’s Week 3 opponent, and first CAA matchup of 2019, Maine, but in reverse. Maine’s ballyhooed for its defense, but Chris Ferguson’s play at quarterback to start the season suggests big things ahead for the Black Bears offense.
Ferguson’s work on Saturday included a 46-yard touchdown pass to Jaquan Blair, as the Black Bears nearly battled back from down 20 points in the fourth quarter against FBS opponent Georgia Southern.
Certainly the contrast of Towson’s hyper-speed offense against Maine’s Black Hole Defense headlines the matchup Saturday, but it’s that face-off of the progressing Black Bears' pass against the Tigers defense that could shape this important, early-season tussle.
James Madison played an outstanding defensive game Week 1 at West Virginia but fell just short in coach Curt Cignetti’s debut. The Dukes’ home opener in Week 2 delivered a statement that it doesn’t matter if you’re from the Big 12 or the NEC, the James Madison defense will bring it.
Saint Francis fell short of reaching 100 yards in either rushing or passing individually. The Red Flash could muster just 175 yards in total, while James Madison rolled off 533.
While the defense was its predictably stingy self, Ben DiNucci played a perfectly efficient game: 16-of-21 passing, 221 yards, and two touchdowns. Along with Solomon Vanhorse rushing for two scores, the first-team offense showed its stuff before turning things over to the reserves.
Week 3 should be a similar style of matchup with the Dukes facing Morgan State.
A Football Family
News of Sean McDonnell taking some time away from the gridiron to focus on health shocked the CAA ahead of the 2019 season opener. The Wildcats opened with a bye date before kicking off Week 2 at Holy Cross, but on their way to Massachusetts, they paid Coach Mac a visit.