Robert Morris falls to Eastern Kentucky in Banaszak's coaching debut
First-year Robert Morris coach John Banaszak promised to put his “thumb print” on the Colonials' offense, and planned to do it by transitioning away from the methodical offense used by predecessor Joe Walton and toward a multifaceted no-huddle system.
After his Colonials opened their season with a 29-10 loss to Eastern Kentucky on Thursday night at Joe Walton Stadium, Banaszak put his finger on exactly where the new system broke down.
“This offense is designed to run the football,” said Banaszak, whose Colonials finished with 250 yards, just 28 of which came on the ground. “We just didn't get the — and until you look at the film, you don't know where the breakdown was — but we just didn't get the seams that we'd seen all through camp against our defense.”
Eastern Kentucky provided a more impressive no-huddle model — it had 624 yards, including 407 rushing — but turnovers and penalties limited the Colonels' chances to translate their yards into points.
Three Eastern Kentucky turnovers in the second half — a fumble and two interceptions — kept Robert Morris' comeback hopes alive.
Interception returns by junior cornerback David Taylor preceded the Colonials' two scoring drives.
Taylor took the ball to Eastern Kentucky's 34-yard line, and freshman running back Rameses Owens raced up the middle of the field for a 17-yard touchdown six plays later to cut Robert Morris' deficit to 23-10 with 11:46 left in the game.
Unfortunately for the Colonials, those 17 rushing yards accounted for more than half of their ground game.
“We ran the ball well all through training camp,” Banaszak said. “We'll figure it out. I have total confidence in our staff that we'll figure out what needs to be done and what changes need to be made in order for us to run the ball 51 times.”
In the first start of his career, Colonials redshirt freshman Luke Brumbaugh, a Seton-La Salle grad, set a school record for pass attempts, as he completed 28 of 51 throws for 222 yards.
“Coach Walton had a lot of long-term plays, and this offense is very quick, very short,” Brumbaugh said. “We just tell our line the protection, and then everyone else knows the play. There's not a lot of terminology. … It's honestly easier, because it's just so quick. You don't think. It's just instinct. And I like that a lot better.”
Junior receiver Sean Gavin, a Shaler alum, finished with eight receptions for 102 yards, while senior Duane Mitchell had nine catches for 62 yards.
A 7-yard reception by Mitchell with about three minutes left in the first quarter led to the initial first down for Robert Morris, which went three-and-out in its first three possessions.
“We had a lot of missed opportunities,” Brumbaugh said. “I think it was a lot of nerves, because we're a young team. We have a bright future ahead of us, and I think we'll be all right.”
A 22-yard interception return by Taylor set up Robert Morris' first-half scoring drive. Taylor got the ball to Eastern Kentucky's 31-yard line. Less than two minutes later, Hunter Khaleghi kicked a 39-yard field goal.
While Robert Morris' no-huddle offense struggled to find a rhythm during much of the first half — it gained 144 yards in 44 plays — Eastern Kentucky's up-tempo assault rolled.
Colonels coach Dean Hood noted neither team followed the offensive blueprints used in Eastern Kentucky's 38-6 win over Robert Morris a season ago.
“It was like a totally different game last year, because we were slow-down, and Coach Walton was slow-down,” Hood said. “You probably could've taken a short nap between the plays last year. But some of the things that we were looking at with (Robert Morris') coaching hires, we thought we might see an up-tempo team.”
The Colonels gained 289 yards on 44 plays in the first half, and if not for two interceptions thrown by quarterback Bennie Coney, they might have headed to the locker room at halftime with an even greater lead than their 17-3 edge.
“We definitely had to be well-conditioned for them,” Taylor said of Eastern Kentucky's offense. “I think we did all right with it, for the most part. We were on the field a lot, so that played a big part.”