By Derek Mancini
The monsoon that rocked Rhode Island Saturday afternoon may have dampened Meade Stadium's field conditions, but not Rhody's plans of getting back on track. After losing consecutive conference games – a heartbreaker in the final seconds to Maine and a blowout at Stony Brook – the Rams got back on track with a win over William & Mary. In a sloppy game where both teams had trouble holding onto the football because of the downpour rain, it was Rhode Island who was able to battle through Mother Nature's best punch.
Rhody came away with a 21-10 victory, improving to 5-3 overall on the season and 3-2 in the CAA. Behind the career-best day for running back Naim Jones, a 67-yard touchdown pass from Vito Priore to Aaron Parker and six turnovers by the defense/special teams, the Rams were able to take advantage of a William & Mary team that had trouble dealing with the elements. William & Mary only had 101 total yards of offense, the fewest number of yards allowed by Rhode Island on record.
By no means was it Rhode Island's most impressive win of the season, but it very might have been the most important. Last Saturday's win puts head coach Jim Flemings' team in striking distance of getting back in the conference race. They'll get back on the road this weekend for their fourth-straight conference game, a crucial matchup against Elon. Elon has a 3-1 conference record (5-2 overall), and is coming off a 38-28 win over the Richmond Spiders.
Although Elon has some statement wins this season, including a 27-24 road win over powerhouse James Madison, Rhody has a good chance of coming away with a crucial conference win. But in order to come away with their third road win of the year and fourth CAA win, they'll have to keep these keys in mind.
Slowing down Elon's top-ranked rushing attack
Last time Rhode Island faced an electric rushing attack was just two weeks ago, when they gave up a season-high 354 rushing yards and two 100-yard rushers to Stony Brook. This could be a great opportunity for the Rams defense to redeem themselves when they face the number one rushing offense in the CAA.
Elon averages 209 rushing yards per game, and has scored 17 rushing touchdowns this season, also the most in the CAA. The scary thing about their running game is that they use a variety of young backs who are all capable of doing damage against opposing defenses. Four running backs on their roster have three or more rushing scores on the season. Elon's leading back is senior Malcolm Summers, who leads the team with 626 rushing yards and three touchdowns. But last week against Richmond, it was freshman Jaylan Thomas who broke out, leading the team with 150 yards and a touchdown.
Rhody has had good and bad moments all year against the run, ranking sixth in the CAA 143 rushing yards allowed per game. If Rhody can get strong games out of junior defensive linemen Brandon Ginnetti, redshirt sophomore Andre Bibeault, freshman James Makszin and the rest of the front-seven, they should be able to get the job done. All three are coming off strong games against William & Mary. Ginnetti had five tackles along with a combined sack with Bibeault, who also came up with a sack of his own. Makszin had a breakout day, recording the first interception of his career, as well as the first two sacks of his young career. The Connecticut native also forced a fumble and had three solo tackles.
Keep Naim Jones going against soft-run defense
We know Elon will be trying to establish its top-tier running game Saturday afternoon. But could it be Rhody's run game that steals the show in North Carolina this weekend? It would be a good time to go back to last week's rushing game plan. Even though Rhode Island's bread-and-butter has been their high-flying passing attack this season, Rhody should try to see what kind of damage they can do with their running backs against a team that has struggled at stopping the ground game.
Elon has given up the third-most rushing yards per game this season (156.7 Yds/G), and 4.1 yards per carry. Good news for the Rams is they have been running the ball a lot better in recent weeks. Junior running back Naim Jones has been solid over the past two weeks filling in for the injured Zoe Bryant, Jr., who has been Rhody's leading rusher this season.
Against William & Mary last week, Jones had a career-high in both carries (37) and rush yards (132). He also scored a touchdown and now has four total on the season. Jones was the first 100-yard rusher for the Rams this season, and the first since Harold Cooper rushed for 155 yards against Elon in 2016.
It looks like Jones has the trust of the coaching staff as he's earned most of the carries since Bryant's been sidelined. Rhody would be in great shape this weekend if they can get another top-notch performance by Jones. Getting him going early could help get the defense on their heels and open up opportunities for Aaron Parker, Isaiah Coulter, and the rest of the passing game to take advantage.