Rhode Island Looks To Eliminate Turnovers, Snap Skid vs. Merrimack

HIGHLIGHTS: Elon vs Rhode Island

Rhode Island has found many different ways to lose football games this season, and lately the No. 1 problem has been turnovers.

The Rams turned the ball over five times — three interceptions and two fumbles — during Saturday’s 38-13 home loss to Elon. That came one week after they committed four turnovers in a 35-28 setback against Albany.

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URI (1-7, 0-5 Colonial Athletic Association) turned the ball over five times in its first six games, but will enter Saturday’s non-conference game against Merrimack ranked 10th among CAA teams in turnover margin at minus-3. Quarterback Vito Priore has been intercepted seven times this season, but four of those have come in the last two weeks.

URI had a 13-10 lead against Elon midway through the third quarter before the Phoenix scored the game’s final 28 points. 

“This turnover bug’s kind of bit us the last two weeks and it’s killing us,” URI coach Jim Fleming said. “We ended up not finishing the (Elon) game the way I hoped we would have and found a way to win it, but back to the drawing board. … Credit the opponent and move on to Merrimack.”

Merrimack (4-4), which was a Division II program that competed in the Northeast-10 Conference until this year, will be a full member of the Northeast Conference in the 2023-24 season. The Warriors are coming off victories over Delaware State (30-21) and Presbyterian, and are 2-4 against FCS opponents this season.

“They got some belief, they have some wins,” Fleming said. “They’ll come in here and probably approach this with an opportunity to come make a big mark, so I would expect we’ll get their best. Another good football team coming to town. We’re at home. We have to find a way to win on our new field at some point in time.

“We have to be able to handle the disappointment of where we are right now and get back up and honor the game the way it needs to be honored with good preparation and hard play. Can’t do anything about the past, but we certainly can do something about this week’s preparation and this week’s game.”

Top Threat

The Rams are allowing an average of 34.8 points per game and 443.9 yards per game, and are at the bottom of the 12-team CAA in both categories. Their biggest challenge Saturday may be containing Merrimack quarterback Christian Carter, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound sophomore.

Carter passed for two touchdowns and ran for another in last Saturday’s victory over Presbyterian. His 9-yard touchdown run with 3:08 to play erased a 21-17 deficit. He passed for 287 yards and ran for 57 in the win.

“He played one of the better games he’s had all year,” Merrimack coach Dan Curran said. “Did a good job in the passing game, spreading the ball around. Had some big conversions on our quarterback draw stuff. At the end of the day he’s competitive, he’s tough and the kid’s a winner. We’re certainly fortunate to have him here.”

Carter has completed 154 of 276 passes for 1,757 yards — an average of 219.6 per game — and 13 touchdowns this season. He’s been intercepted seven times. Carter is also third on the team in rushing with 214 yards and four TDs on 79 attempts.

The Big Three

The ability to convert on third down has been a key for Merrimack in its two FCS victories this season. The Warriors were 9 of 18 on third down during their victory over Delaware State, and converted on 8 of 14 third-down situations in last weekend’s triumph over Presbyterian.

URI ranks eighth in the CAA in third-down defense. The Rams have allowed 44 first downs in 100 third-down opportunities, but held Elon to one first down on 10 third-down plays last Saturday.

“We talk all the time about being situationally great in football, whether it’s red zone, four-minute offense, two-minute offense and particularly on third down,” Curran said. “We’re big believers in if you’re good on third down you’re giving yourself an opportunity to win the game week in and week out.”

Extra Points

  • There are five Rhode Island residents on the Merrimack roster.
  • Priore leads the CAA in passing yards (2.534) and passing yards per game (316.8).
  • Merrimack has a 3-10 all-time record against FCS competition. In addition to this season’s victories over Delaware State and Presbyterian, the Warriors beat Wagner in 2017.
  • URI posted a 42-7 triumph over Merrimack in the only previous meeting between the programs, which came during the 2006 season.
  • URI’s Aaron Parker is the only CAA player averaging more than 100 receiving yards per game (111.2).

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