Tomorrow kicks off the football season for the Jayhawks. Unlike last year, this season’s FCS opponent gives Kansas what should be a very winnable game. But how much do we know about Rhode Island other than the fact that they went 1-10 last year? I reached out to URI expert, and the man behind Rhody Rampage (a great site to visit if you want even more info about the team beyond what we cover here), Dave Ascoli. Below is our Q&A session.
RCT: For most Kansas fans, all they really know about Rhode Island is that they went 1-10 last year. Can you give us some context for last year's performance? Was it a young team, a rebuilding process, some bad breaks, or is the program struggling right now?
RR: Is there an e. All of the Above option? If I were forced to pick one, I'd file last year under "rebuilding process", but it wouldn't be difficult to make an argument for any of the other three. Head coach Jim Fleming is entering his third year at the helm, and he's been charged with the tough task of resurrecting a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2001 (You thought Kansas was struggling?). It's going to take patience from the fans, but the Rams are taking steps in the right direction, particularly when it comes to recruiting. Year three is usually when the rebuild starts to show results; let's see what happens.
RCT: Do you have a sense of how Rhode Island and their fans are viewing this game? Is it a situation where they can play freely with nothing to lose, since losing to an FBS team doesn't really do any harm? Or is there some pressure to get the upset, because it's not every day an FCS team gets a chance to play an 0-12 FBS team?
RR: I think it's a "nothing to lose" situation. URI has only won four games total in their last four seasons, and they're 0-13 against FBS teams all time. 0-12 or not, Kansas is still a Big 12 team that's favored by around 30 points, depending on which site you check. I think the annual FBS game is an opportunity for the players to play on a big stage and get some tough competition under their belts before they get rolling with the rest of their schedule. Oh, and it's an opportunity for the school to get a nice check.
RCT: What are the greatest strengths of this year's Rhode Island team?
RR: I think it starts with star running back Harold Cooper. He was a first-team all conference kick returner last year, and a third-team all conference RB. He's a bit undersized (5'9", 183), but he has some serious explosiveness both on the ground and in the passing game. Rhody is also strong at wide receiver, and they can go six deep at the position with very little drop-off, talent wise. And although it seems weird to mention a kicker, they have an outstanding one in sophomore Justin Rohrwasser. The Rams have had their fair share of #CollegeKickers, but Rohrwasser is as steady as they come.
RCT: What are the biggest weaknesses for this year's Rhode Island team?
RR: Rhody has a solid linebacking corps (led by Adam Parker), but outside of that, there are some question marks on defense. Rhody's secondary struggled at times last year, and they've lost both their best corner (Myles Holmes) and best safety (Tim Wienclaw) to graduation. Additionally, their front four struggled to get to the quarterback all of last season (10 total sacks in 11 games), so that could be an issue once again. Lastly, there's questions about consistency at the quarterback position. Rhody will use their fourth different Opening Day QB in four years on Saturday in sophomore Wesley McKoy. I love McKoy's game and I'm not saying he specifically is a weakness, but it's been tough to build any sort of rhythm and chemistry with the revolving door at QB.
RCT: What style of offense and defense can we expect URI to run?
RR: McKoy is a dual-threat QB, so expect there to be a fair share of options, QB draws, and the like. They'll also occasionally bring in linebacker-turned-running back T.J. Anderson to run the Wildcat. Rhody mainly uses a one RB, one TE set and split three wide, although you'll see a fair share of two TE sets as well. McKoy is more of a dink-and-dunk type QB (look for Cooper to be a threat in the passing game), but he can burn teams with his legs. One defense, the Rams play a base 4-3. They have very active linebackers who are tough against both the run and the pass, but - as mentioned above - there are definite question marks about the rest of the D.
RCT: What needs to happen for URI to pull of an upset?
RR: The Norovirus needs to spread through the Kansas locker room? In all seriousness, if the URI defense can be disruptive for 60 minutes, slowing down Ke’aun Kinner and exposing the Jayhawks weaknesses (hopefully) in the passing game, that'll be a good start. On the other side of the ball, they'll need McKoy to make the proverbial freshman-to-sophomore year leap and shine against a Kansas D that - if it's anything like last year's - can be exposed.
RCT: What's your prediction for the game?
RR: I think Rhode Island has the ability to keep things close for maybe a half. If they can keep it close for three quarters, that's the ceiling for me from a URI fan perspective. In the end, though, Big 12 talent is gonna win out. I like Kansas to win by 2+ scores, although if it's Rhody +30, I'm saying the Jayhawks don't cover.
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