You don’t have to remind Rhode Island coach Jim Fleming about the importance of hanging on to the football, since the main ingredient in Albany’s 35-28 triumph over URI last weekend was points off turnovers.
The Rams (1-6, 0-4 Colonial Athletic Association) committed five turnovers in their first six games, but turned the ball over four times in the third quarter against Albany. The Great Danes scored 22 points off those turnovers, which turned URI’s 14-6 halftime lead into a 28-21 deficit after three quarters.
“Things we’re going our way up 14-6 at halftime,” said URI coach Jim Fleming, whose team will be at home against Elon on Saturday. “I thought we were in really good shape. We were getting the ball in the second half and felt good about where we were.
“We’ve been sitting in every situation you can and to have interceptions and turnovers come up as a problem, which was completely unexpected, is a way we found to lose a football game. Unfortunately that one has come and gone. It was a winnable game for us, but we did not do it and now we’re on to Elon.”
Elon (3-4, 2-2 CAA) experienced something similar in its 26-10 loss to New Hampshire earlier this month. Elon quarterback Davis Cheek had done an exceptional job taking care of the football in Elon’s first five games, but was intercepted four times in that loss. Two of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns.
Cheek had a streak of 240 consecutive passes without an interception end the previous week in a loss to James Madison.
Elon, which had a bye last weekend, had no turnovers in its last game, a 42-7 victory over Delaware on Oct 12.
“They outgained Albany in rushing and passing,” Elon coach Tony Trisciani said. “They end up losing the turnover battle. The points off turnovers was similar to our situation up at New Hampshire a few weeks ago. We just couldn’t overcome it, and Rhode Island couldn’t overcome it.”
Elon enters Saturday’s matchup ranked fourth among CAA teams in turnover margin at plus-3. URI is sixth at plus-1.
“We have to make sure we do a good job protecting the quarterback and protecting the football,” Trisciani said.
Elon has the CAA’s No. 4 pass defense (215.3 yards per game), and it will be put to the test Saturday. URI quarterback Vito Priore leads the conference in passing yards per game (331.9), and the Rams have the most productive receiver tandem in the CAA.
Aaron Parker has 55 receptions for 838 yards and seven touchdowns this season. He leads the CAA in receptions per game (7.8) and receiving yards per game (119.7). Isaiah Coulter is averaging 6.5 catches per game and 101.4 receiving yards per game, and is second in the CAA in both categories. Coulter had 46 receptions for 710 yards and four touchdowns.
“It certainly starts with the receivers,” Trisciani said. “Those are two guys who are gonna be playing on Sundays, likely. Vito Priore’s done a nice job. He’s been efficient.”
Saturday’s key matchup may be the URI defense against the Elon offense. URI ranks 12th in the CAA in both total defense and scoring defense, and Elon is 12th in total offense.
Elon is averaging 314.0 yards per game and 5.0 per play, but has scored on 16 of its 17 trips to the red zone. Fourteen of those 16 scores have been touchdowns.
“They’re a good solid football team,”Fleming said. “They’ve had their moments where they’ve taken it to some people.”
URI is allowing an average of 459.9 yards per game, 6.6 yards per play and 34.3 points per game. The Rams rank 11th in the CAA in red zone defense. URI opponents have scored on 25 of 28 trips inside the Rams’ 20-yard line (18 touchdowns and seven field goals).
“It’s a one-week-at-a-time operation -- it really is,” Trisciani said. “In the CAA you have to toss out the records and you have to show up and play. Our success two weeks ago against Delaware was a product of the development over a tough three-week stretch. We were a hungry football team going into that game, had a good week of preparation and came out and executed in all three phases. That’s gonna be the same recipe for us this week.”
- URI’s four CAA losses have each been by eight points or less. The Rams had the lead or were tied in the fourth quarter in three of those games.
- Elon is 11th in the CAA in rushing defense (170.9 ypg). Only URI is allowing more yards per game on the ground (216.4).
- URI receiver Ahmere Dorsey is ninth among FCS players in all-purpose yards. He’s averaging 152.4 yards per game.