The University of Rhode Island’s football team wrapped up their season on Nov. 19 with a 32-31 loss against Towson University on senior day, and finished their season with a 2-9 record, continuing a dismal streak of futility that has become the accepted norm in the minds of a student body who sees an equally dreary future on the horizon. The Rams, however, gave people the biggest cause for optimism in years with a season in which the adage “You are what you record says you are” would have to be stretched in order to see the visible change and improvements URI made during their 2016-17 campaign.
Rhode Island football has developed a culture that dooms the team to failure weeks before kickoff, with an often inferior recruiting class making it difficult for them to compete against even the middling CAA teams. The constant losing and lack of energy that tends to permeate through Meade Stadium can beg the question, why is there still money being funneled into a perennially substandard program? A glance at the schedule, and sea of L’s would appear to validate what has become a natural response built into to anyone who has attended multiple games. URI, though, in a subtle, yet perhaps potentially telling way, turned a corner.
URI failed to eclipse two wins for the third straight season. So why the positive spin? Firstly, The Rams bested their interstate foe, Brown University, in a game that always has buzz surrounding it, no matter what the teams’ records. Pride and celebration ensued as the Rams hoisted the coveted Governor’s cup in front of the home crowd. The Bears ultimately finished with a record of 4-6, which while below .500, is as close to a big and meaningful win the Rams have enjoyed in quite a while. Their defense showed great composure in game where quarterback Jordan Vazzano was unable to generate much offense, completing just 4-of-24 pass attempts for 24 yards.
URI’s defense proved to be a mixed bag for head coach Jim Fleming. The secondary did a fine job of keeping the Rams quietly competitive in more than half of their games (Albany and New Hampshire turned ugly in the fourth quarter) and when opponents did run up the score it was usually because of their insufficient rushing defense. The line surrendered more than 200 yards on the ground per game, a staggering number that will lead to defeat almost every time. Opposing running backs would instantly become the main attraction in a Rhode Island game, ravaging the Rams for multiple touchdowns and massive yardage that exhausted the defense and kept the ball out of the offense’s hands. Fleming and company boast a formidable recruiting class from a year ago, and there is the hope, or rather the necessity that among them there is a competent lineman or two.
Unlike last year, the offense was overshadowed by the team’s efforts on the defensive side of the ball, with injury and quarterback questions giving opponents something to hone in on pre-game preparations. Jordan Vazzano emerged early in the season as the starting signal caller after Paul Mroz again succumbed to injury and Wesley McKoy proved to be too limited in the pocket. Vazzano had historic lows, performances unfitting of a starting quarterback at any level, but ultimately earned himself strong consideration for the job going forward. It is not just because there are not many options, but rather Vazzano’s ability to throw the ball down field. He had a rollercoaster ride of a season, looking poised in a beat down of Elon, but then completely rattled in a two-week stretch in which he threw ten interceptions. He did, however, form solid on-field chemistry with wide receivers Harold Buckner III and Aaron Parker. Parker, a freshman, had a team-high four touchdowns, and should only improve as Vazzano becomes more comfortable in the