The University of Rhode Island football team dropped to 0-3 on the season when they fell to the Harvard Crimson 51-21 at Harvard Stadium in Cambridge, MA on Friday night.

Rhode Island’s quarterback struggles continued as sophomore starter, Wes McKoy, was pulled with just under four minutes left to go in the second quarter.  Senior and last year’s initial starter, Paul Mroz, replaced McKoy.

“Anyone who has watched us the last three weeks understands that quarterback has been a conversation,” URI head coach Jim Fleming said.  “We will continue to have that conversation.”

McKoy’s early departure left him with a 4-10 evening, passing for just 31 yards.

At the time of Fleming’s decision to pull his starter, URI found themselves in a massive hole, trailing the Crimson, 24-0.  Harvard scored on four of their five drives during the first half, while the Rams struggled to generate any scoring opportunities. The offensive woes could be attributed to the ongoing recovery of Harold Cooper, whose ailing ankle again left him limited. The running back managed 21 yards on five carries, while T.J. Anderson ran the ball nine times for 38 yards.

The Rhody offense went three-and-out on three of their first drives. One of the ill-fated drives ended in a fumble, and the other two went for only 16 and 13 yards, respectively.

The Rams were desperate to get the ball moving when Mroz was called upon late in the first half.  On his first drive, the Rams pieced together a 12-play, 55-yard drive culminating with a 1-yard touchdown run from Mroz as time expired.

The Rams trailed 24-7 at the break, and their fortunes would not improve in the second half. The Harvard offense was clicking, which showed on their first drive of the third quarter when they marched down the field and entered the red zone.  The Crimson’s senior starting quarterback Joe Viviano completed a pass to tight end Jack Stansell at the URI 11-yard line.  Stansell lost the ball after being hit by URI defensive back Ahkema Evans, but his teammate Jake Barann scooped it up in the end zone for a touchdown.

The Ram’s first touchdown of the second half came just two minutes into the fourth quarter.  Mroz, still under center, connected with junior wide out Harold Buckner III in the back of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown, to cut the deficit to a still-daunting score of 37-14.

The quarterback play proved to be the big difference in another game where URI’s glaring weakness in the passing game prevented them from manufacturing sufficient offense to compete. The Rams, who used their starter and both backups as Jordan Vazzano made his debut in the fourth (2-for-6, 67 passing yards and one interception), only managed a 13-33 night with 194 yards through the air and one touchdown.

Harvard on the other hand, could not have asked for a better performance from Viviano, who completed 24-of-32 passes for 290 yards and 3 touchdowns. The score was 51-21 when time expired, adding another loss that for Fleming and company is a symbol of how much more work needs to be done.

“When you are talking about a 51-point football game there’s really no turning point that you say we could have done this and pulled this one out,” Fleming said. “There’s no crystal ball or magic wand here. We have to be able to throw and catch and make blocks for our running backs to make it upfield.”

Harvard enjoyed an opening night win, while the Rams now look forward to Saturday’s game back home at Meade Stadium where they take on New Hampshire.

As for the quarterback situation in Kingston, Fleming has made up his mind for the moment.  He announced over the CAA weekly coaches conference call that he intends to start Paul Mroz come Saturday morning.

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Stone Freeman
Stone Freeman is a junior at the University of Rhode Island majoring in journalism. He can be found at either the Ryan Center, Boss Ice Arena, Meade Stadium, or Bill Beck Field covering URI athletics for the Good Five Cent Cigar and WRIU 90.3 FM. To contact Stone you can email him at stone_freeman@my.uri.edu or on Twitter @StonePFreeman.