KINGSTON — The beginning of Saturday’s scrimmage exhibited the chicken-or-the-egg conundrum the up-tempo Rhode Island offense faces this season.
The Rams want to run their zone-read attack at a fast pace, but they can’t play fast if they aren’t make plays. However, the Rams make plays when they are moving quickly and keeping the defense off-balance.
Through the first six drives – two each for the first, second and third units – of Saturday’s scrimmage the Rhode Island offense had five three-and-outs to go along with a touchdown-scoring drive from a second unit which proved to be the most consistent for the 70-minute scrimmage at Meade.
“We obviously got off to a slow start and you don’t want to do that, but it was just a little jitters,” senior starting quarterback Bob Bentsen said. “You’re right, you start going fast when you move the ball and you can’t just move fast and have nothing happen. It’s about me completing a ball and guys winning one-on-one battles.
“Once everyone starts executing and we get our fitness levels up, that’s when everyone starts moving fast.”
On the opening drive of the scrimmage Bentsen handed the ball off to junior running back Jordan Sebastian, who gained four yards on two runs to set up a third-and-6 at the offense’s 39. Bentsen followed with an incomplete pass.
The next drive followed a similar pattern. URI ran the ball early and then tried to pass late, to no avail. URI coach Joe Trainer knows how important it is for his fast-paced offense to move the chains and keep the defense off the field.
“The goal’s not to go three-and-out,” Trainer said. “All of stats matter and in an up-tempo offense the three-and-out is more critical than in other offenses because you saw once we got that going the defensive guy isn’t where he should be and his technique isn’t perfect.”
While the offense wasn’t pleased with its slow start to the game, linebacker Dave Zocco and the rest of the defense was happy to shut down Bentsen’s zone reads and passes. Even though Warwick’s Doug Johnson and all-CAA linebacker Andrew Bose combined to play just 34 snaps, the defense still performed well.
“We were just playing mistake-free football,” Zocco said after producing four tackles, including one for a loss. “We’ve been facing this offense for about a week now and it’s great competition. Towards the end of the scrimmage we were missing our assignments and that’s why they were going up and down the field against us.”
Freshman cornerback Naiquan Thomas led the defense with eight tackles and a pass breakup, while defensive lineman Greg Doutre of Johnston had five tackles and two sacks. Johnson had four tackles in limited action. Sophomore Randall Lane had the only interception.
Cracks started to appear in the defense on the seventh drive of the scrimmage when Bentsen simply handed the ball to Sebastian and Miami of Ohio transfer Justin Semmes. Semmes, on a fourth-and-1 play, found a hole for a 39-yard touchdown.
Semmes ended up carrying the ball six times for 61 yards, while Sebastian chipped in with 34 yards on nine carries. Bentsen, who along with the other quarterbacks wasn’t allowed to be tackled, rushed for 25 yards on three attempts.
“I can’t say enough about these guys in the backfield,” Bentsen said after going 8-for-13 for 86 yards. “They’ve got much better in the offseason. Having an older guy like Semmes is going to help us a lot because he has experience and he’s played at a high level. They’re always looking to make plays.”
Semmes, Sebastian and freshman Eerin Young scored rushing touchdowns, while junior transfer Kolt Peavey threw two touchdowns. The transfer from South Alabama threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to freshman fullback Nathan Holmes and a touchdown pass to junior tight end Josh Gross.
“I thought we competed well on both sides of the ball,” Trainer said in summation. “I thought there were some good plays on both sides of the ball. It’s hard to assess, but the offense probably won.”
The one-and-a-half guys
Trainer knows who most of his starters will be when the Rams open up the 2013 season on Thursday, Aug. 29 at Fordham University. That’s why Saturday’s scrimmage wasn’t about analyzing the play of Johnson, or Bose or Andrew Belizaire or Robby Jackson or South Kingstown’s Justin Favreau.
Saturday’s scrimmage – and the scrimmage this coming Saturday at Meade – was about the guys who aren’t starters but are expected to have supporting roles in the upcoming season.
“My goal coming out of this was to find who were the one-and-a-half guys,” Trainer said “We know we’re going to play with Bose, Zocco, Dougie. We know who some of the guys are on the offensive line. So, who are the guys who are going to be in that one-and-a-half deep?”
Trainer said a number of non-starters played well, including defensive lineman Mike Ezikire, Connor Caponegro, Mackenzie Elliot, Peavey, Semmes, Elijah Saintfleur and Andrew Matos.
“We just need to keep moving in a position direction,” Bentsen said. “We can’t take a step back in practice. We constantly need to get better and move in an upward direction. Today, there were more positives than negatives.”