The University of Rhode Island football team suffered a historic defeat on the road versus James Madison University, the No. 5 ranked team in the FCS Coaches Poll, Saturday afternoon in what was a 84-7 drubbing at Bridgeforth Stadium.
Rhode Island (1-8) came into Harrisonburg, Virginia, following two competitive games, but again fell short. Their matchup against James Madison (7-1), however, was a different story, not in terms of outcome but rather the way the narrative unfolded. The underdog Rams lived up to their billing and then some in a game that was decidedly out of reach after the first quarter.
URI found themselves playing from behind from the game’s opening drive, as the team proved susceptible to the big pass play. James Madison quarterback Bryan Schor connected with receiver Brandon Ravenel for a 44-yard completion to the Rams 11-yard line. Running back Khalid Abdullah ran it into the end zone on the next play to give his team the 7-0 lead, and kick start another day in which the URI defense would be outmatched by the opposing offensive line and rushing attack.
Head coach Jim Fleming expected to run into a good football team, but could not excuse some of the self-inflicted wounds Rhode Island incurred in all facets of the game.
“We gave up initial scores, they continued to score at will,” Fleming said on Monday, in his weekly CAA conference call. “We did not play well on offense, did not play well on defense, did not play well on special teams, and James Madison did.”
Including their first touchdown, the Dukes would score on their first five offensive drives, as the Rams continued to descend into an abyss they would fail to escape. Schor continued to let the ball fly past the outmatched secondary, throwing for 309 yards on a near perfect 21-of-22 passing day. The dominant performance was aided by a trio of backs in Abdullah, who tallied 97 yards on the ground to go with his touchdown, Cardon Johnson, who found the end zone twice in the first quarter, and Trai Sharp, who ran 83 yards- averaging almost 6.5 yards per carry.
URI’s struggles carried over into the offensive side as well, with redshirt freshman quarterback Jordan Vazzano unable to generate much offense. He completed just four of his 25 pass attempts for 12 yards, along with five interceptions, two of which were brought back for touchdowns. It was a telling stat line that reflected the one-sided affair, and one Fleming knows will need to improve if his team is going to return to playing competitive football in the season’s final stretch.
“We obviously have problems we need to fix,” Fleming said of the offense as a whole. “We’ve thrown ten interceptions in two weeks and it’s an incredible amount. We’ll look like we look every week what we need to do schematically to give us a chance, but we need to get better fundamentally. We need to steady our feet after a staggering blow.”
The Rams trailed 35-0 early in the second quarter, but found a spark immediately after another Dukes touchdown. Junior running back Harold Cooper put URI on the board with a 99-yard kickoff return. The momentum would be short-lived, however, as Vazzano threw one of the aforementioned pick-sixes, allowing James Madison to add to an already insurmountable lead.
URI went into halftime down 49-7, and would never enter the red zone again, having no answer for their superior opponent in the air or on the ground. Cooper ran the ball three times for six yards, while fellow back T.J. Anderson also mustered just two yards per carry with is eight rushes. Markey Clarke was one of the Rams’ lone bright spots as he totaled an efficient 77 yards on 13 carries.
Despite having the game well in hand, James Madison did not relent and even attempted a play on fourth down on URI’s eight-yard line, which they failed to convert. Fleming took no offense, shouldering the majority of the blame due to sloppy play.
“I never felt that it was anybody’s responsibility to take their foot off the gas, I think it’s our responsibility to stop them,” Fleming said. “We had a number of turnovers that turned into scores, there’s nothing you could really go ahead and take your foot off the gas in those situations. Our job is to people, and the rest of that nonsense doesn’t play with me.”
The final of 84-7 was the most points URI ever allowed as well as their biggest deficit. They have a bye week to heed Fleming’s words and improve the fundamentals for their road matchup against Elon University (2-6) Saturday, Oct. 29 in North Carolina.
“I do believe we could right this ship, and we’ll continue to fight to do so,” Fleming said.