Jones leads Robert Morris to win in home debut
As his former college team wrapped up a blowout win over Eastern Michigan more than 150 miles away, Paul Jones walked up the steps of Robert Morris' Joe Walton Stadium and through the hundreds of fans still in the stands. No one among the crowd of 1,485 bothered him. Praise floated in from here and there.
Jones would never have known such moments had he stayed at Penn State.
A sense of ease has entered the life of Jones, a redshirt junior quarterback who made his home debut Saturday during Robert Morris' 31-14 win over nonconference foe Morgan State (0-2). Jones, a former Sto-Rox standout who transferred to Robert Morris (1-1) after three difficult seasons at Penn State, finished with 194 yards and three touchdowns.
“It was different, but at the same time, I liked it,” Jones said of the home-game experience. “I got to keep to myself. It was quiet.”
Jones, a prized recruit when he arrived at Penn State, left Happy Valley to find a place that still wanted him at quarterback — the Nittany Lions experimented with Jones at tight end in 2012. Robert Morris, close enough to Jones' hometown that Sto-Rox's band provided postgame entertainment, is where Jones can revive his career as a passer.
“I think leaving high school was a bigger transition” than going from Penn State to Robert Morris, Jones said. “My high school, I graduated with 81 people. So I'm used to the smaller (school). I feel right at home.”
The 6-foot-4, 265-pounder completed 13 of 26 pass attempts and connected on touchdown throws of 8, 23 and 38 yards. He also threw an interception and was sacked twice.
His finest play of the day came on Robert Morris' first possession of the third quarter. Jones rolled to his right, shoved away 6-foot-3, 250-pound defensive lineman Lucson Noel with his free arm and fired a dart over the middle to wideout Chad Dawgiello, a former Seton-La Salle star, for a 23-yard touchdown.
“We always joked back and forth when he first came here about Seton and Sto-Rox being rivals,” Dawgiello said. “But it's nice to play with him and get a chance to do something with him.
“He's real laid-back, a real calm guy. He definitely fits in with our program.”
The home opener gave fans numerous glimpses of Jones' mobility in and outside of the pocket, arguably his most valuable asset.
Twice during Robert Morris' first touchdown drive, Jones scrambled on third-and-7 to generate first downs.
One play after his second conversion, Jones rolled to his left on first-and-goal at Morgan State's 8-yard line and lobbed a touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Digby late in the first quarter.
On the first play of the second quarter, he zigged right and zagged left under heavy pressure to pick up 14 yards on third-and-5.
Late in the second quarter, Jones used his size and deceptive speed to turn would-be sacks into manageable incompletions. That tactic actually backfired just before halftime, as his effort to pull himself away from pass rushers led to an intentional grounding penalty on first-and-10 at Morgan State's 28-yard line. The Colonials faced second-and-25, and on third-and-long, Jones heaved a desperation throw into the end zone, which cornerback Joe Rankin intercepted.
“He made a couple errors, but he's getting better every week, and I'm sure glad we have him,” coach Joe Walton said. “I think (he was) taking his keys better and looking for the right people. He was much better than last week in that aspect of the game.
“And also I thought he scrambled better, too. … (Morgan State) talks about their quarterbacks, but our quarterback scrambled pretty well, too.”