By Derek Mancini
Rhode Island continues to put the CAA Football conference on notice with another statement win, this time in a blowout fashion. The Rams are now in sole possession of first place in the league after a dominating 45-26 win over UAlbany Saturday afternoon in their home opener at Meade Stadium. The Week 2 victory marks the first time Rhode Island has started the season 2-0 since 2005, and the first time the Rams have started 2-0 in conference play since 2001. It's also the first time since 2005 that Rhode Island has landed on a national Top 25 poll, moving from No. 29 to No. 25 in the latest STATS FCS Top 25 Poll.
Unlike in Week 1 at Delaware, Rhode Island got off to a fast start, particularly in the passing game. The Rams scored on the first seven possessions, scoring six touchdowns and a field goal. The defense also continued its dominance and scored 14 points off turnovers for the second straight week. Special teams also played an important role for the second straight week, after junior Ahmere Dorsey returned a 69-yard punt for a touchdown to put the game on ice.
Now with a record of 2-0 on the young season, the Rams will travel to play the UConn Huskies in a non-conference game on Saturday, the first meeting between the schools since 2009. The Huskies are off to a tough start this season, dropping their first two games to UCF and Bosie State by a combined score of 118-24. Going up against a young Huskies team, the Rams will look to keep their season rolling into Connecticut. Here are three things we learned about the Rams after their big Week 2 win.
Lawson Could be the Most Dangerous QB in the CAA
Senior quarterback JaJuan Lawson had the best game of his Rhody career on Saturday against UAlbany, and his performance might have defensive coordinators across the CAA nervous. After a Week 1 win over Delaware in which the passing game struggled at times to get into rhythm, Lawson had the offense firing on all cylinders early and often. The quarterback who transferred from New Mexico was dazzling, throwing for 317 yards and four touchdowns on 22-of-28 passing (78.6 percent). Lawson's stellar performance earned him CAA Football Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time in his career.
Lawson showed great poise and his ability to rely on multiple receivers, completing his four touchdowns to four different receivers. Head coach Jim Fleming believes that a year in the system has benefited Lawson and is a reason for his early season success.
"JaJuan understands where he's supposed to go with the ball, he knows how to win games and he's settled himself into a very effective performer," Fleming said Monday morning.
In his second season in Rhode Island, Lawson is proving to be one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the conference. He leads the CAA in both touchdown passes (5) and passing efficiency (184.5). He's also second in completion percentage (71.4) and third in both passing yards (487) and passing yards per game (243.5). And don't forget, Lawson is also dangerous with his legs, a part of his game he didn't even need to use to put up big numbers against UAlbany. If that doesn't scare the CAA conference, then I don't know what will.
Receiving Corps Stars, and Depth is Settling In
Speaking of scaring the CAA Conference, how do you think other team's view Rhode Island's receiving core after the Week 2 win over Albany? The wide receiver unit was expected to be a major strength for this team coming into the season, and was even praised as the best receiving core in the entire CAA by some. Saturday was a true example of how explosive the Rams' receivers could be. Lawson's four touchdown strikes went to Aaron Parker, Marven Beauvais, Isaiah Coulter and tight end Tyler Burke.
Parker showed the difference he brings to this Rams' passing attack, exploding for a game-high 146 receiving yards on nine catches, including a 59-yard play on a pitch from Lawson which burned Albany's defense down the sideline to put the Rams inside the 20-yard line. A couple plays later, Lawson found Parker in the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard touchdown that put the Rams up 21-7 in the second quarter.
Parker wasn't the only receiver to make an impact on this game. Coulter also had a big day, matching Parker with nine catches of his own for 109 yards and an 18-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first quarter. Parker and Coulter combined for 18 catches, two touchdowns and 155 yards. Coulter's emergence could be big for this team, giving the passing game another weapon to work with.
"I'm real hopeful that you watch a kid who's a true sophomore continue to blossom," Fleming said of Coulter. "He's a real threat in this league.
But the play of the day came on the first score of the day, when Beauvais leaped over a defender to score a 28-yard touchdown. Beauvais finished the day with two catches and 29 yards. Parker, Coulter, and Beauvais are proving to be Lawson's top targets this season, giving this offense a lot of receiving depth. All three receivers have elusive speed, are good route runners and have the ability to hurt a defense in multiple ways. They can take the top off the defense and kill you on short, intermediate passes. CAA secondaries are going to have a tough time slowing these guys down.
Mack Making a Name for Himself on Defense
The Rhody defense was once again dominant at times in Week 2, holding Albany to just seven points going into the fourth quarter before Albany scored 19 in the final period. Rams' defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis' unit forced two more turnovers that helped URI score 14 points of turnovers for the second week in a row. Their five fumble recoveries through two games rank No. 1 in the nation.
The man leading the way for the defense was junior defensive end L.B. Mack III, who continues to make a name for himself as a playmaker. Mack had his second career two-sack performance, and tied teammates Nas Jones and D.J. Stewart for a team-high six tackles, with 3 of them coming for a loss of yards. Mack also forced one of the two fumbles on the day.
Fleming was very pleased with Mack's play, saying he was tremendous and played his run responsibilities very well.
"He's got a tremendous first step, good speed and an ability to close in on the quarterback, and productivity wise it was off the charts," Fleming said.
Mack and the defense will have a key role in determining Saturday's outcome at UConn.
Rhode Island senior journalism major Derek Mancini will check in throughout the season with his Tuesday Take for GoRhody.com. Before his current internship with the communications office, Mancini interned with WPRI 12. In high school, he was part of a state championship football team for North Providence in 2013.
Tuesday Take: Rhody's Dangerous Offense Causing Others to Take Notice
By Derek Mancini