The URI football team has been playing out of their minds lately. A lot of that can be credited to quarterback JaJuan Lawson.
Since the second half of their opening night win at Delaware, Lawson has been on fire. He’s completed 53 of 72 passes for 830 yards and nine touchdowns, while only throwing one pick. And that’s just through the air. He’s got 122 rushing yards and two touchdowns as well.
Lawson has been awarded CAA Offensive Player of the Week for the last two games, despite losing to the University of Connecticut. The Rams are now ranked as the No. 22 team in the FCS STATS top 25, and the upcoming schedule shows only room for improvement.
The success of Rhode Island’s Football team has been unreal, coming off of five straight losing seasons and a 3-8 record in 2017. They were picked to finish last in the CAA this season and now sit at the top of the rankings.
Look back to last season. Despite throwing three touchdowns in the opening night game, Tyler Harris and the offense never really evolved. The Rams scored once in each of the next two games, and the team sat at 1-2 with a few interceptions under Harris’ his belt. In nearly every game, Lawson found himself starting a drive or even more, trying to find rhythm with the offense. When Lawson took over as a starter, he threw for 234 yards and one touchdown in a loss to Elon, and couldn’t overcome 200 yards through the air for the rest of the season.
And now we’re here. Lawson is one of, if not the best quarterback in the FCS and the Rams are a dangerous team. The receiving core and the quarterback have an excellent connection, and the sky’s the limit with Rhody’s offense. So the normal, smart thing to do would be nothing. Ride the hot hand and don’t change a thing. Right?
That’s where my take comes in. The program is finally where it wants to be. Coach Fleming’s team is outperforming everyone’s expectations for them. People are talking about URI Football. You wouldn’t want anything to happen to that, would you?
Take Harris and Lawson in 2017. There’s a learning curve with every offense when you’re just beginning to be a starting quarterback. Next year, neither Lawson or Harris are going to be here, but a good chunk of the receiving core is returning, as well as the running backs.
Vito Priore is likely URI’s 2019 starting quarterback. In his one appearance this year in the win over Albany, Priore completed all three of his attempts for 21 yards. With Maine, two Ivy League schools and William & Mary on the upcoming schedule, URI is going to be in a good position to get ahead early.
Unless the program wants to go through that grace period again while Priore gets his feet wet in the offensive system, he should see some time before the fourth quarter. Give him the chance to hold, or even blow a lead. Let him make mistakes, miss receivers or read plays wrong. Let him bounce back and succeed after- give him the highs and lows that a starter would see.
It may sound crazy, I know. But in order for success, the quarterback needs to feel comfortable, connected and confident with his offense- and Priore isn’t seeing any of that from the bench.