Rhode Island Analysis: Great Receivers, But Lacking Talent Elsewhere

Virginia Tech
Bud Foster’s defense will face talented wide receivers, but overall this is a great matchup for the Hokies. (Ivan Morozov)

The Rhode Island Rams had their first winning season since 2001 last year, but are having a bumpy ride this go round with a 1-4 record. Going into this year, they had two preseason all-conference picks: WR Aaron Parker and RT Kyle Murphy. They were picked to be better than W&M (2-5) and Richmond (2-3), which have both lost to ACC teams this year.

Offense

The Rams spend most of their time in 12 personnel (one RB, two TE/HBs) either under-center, traditional gun, or pistol. They’ll move to more spread-out and bunch looks in long yardage and when they’re behind. They run the same mélange of passing concepts as most everybody these days, with an emphasis on posts and slants; Tech needs to watch for the “Mills concept” (slot WR dig/outside WR post.) Their best run play looks like weak zone being bent back to the formation strength. As a big underdog against FBS Ohio (and eventual loser by a score of 41-20), they went for it on fourth-and-nine at the end of the first quarter, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see similar aggression against Tech.

QB Vito Priore (#17) puts the ball in play, but he’s inconsistent and doesn’t get a lot of speed on his throws. Blitzes unsettle him. He’s not afraid to exploit a big gap in the line for a scramble, but his running style is precarious.

Despite all that, he’s also got a QB rating of 149.2 and averages 343 yards a game. How? Rhode Island has a trio of really good receivers surrounded by mostly unimpressive FCS players. Aaron Parker (#6) is the headliner, but Isaiah Coulter (#8) and Ahmere Dorsey (#11) are right there with him. These guys can play, and each of them constantly bails Priore out of bad throws and 50/50 balls. Here’s a sample:

Those were all from one game. I did see a drop from Parker when it hit him square in the hands and in-stride—he obviously wasn’t expecting that.

The receivers are also big parts of the run game. The first video is a Wildcat-ish formation with Dorsey at QB, and next is him on a jet sweep:

Justin Fuente wasn’t exaggerating about this group. They’d all be starting or grabbing serious minutes if they were Hokies, and Tech’s defensive backs will have their hands full. Against Ohio these receivers literally had DBs falling and grabbing for shoelaces trying to keep up with their breaks. Perhaps counterintuitively, Priore’s scatter-gun approach could make things even tougher for Tech—Farley and Waller will have to make sure they don’t get accidental pass-interference calls when they’re playing off-target balls. And to bring back old memories, they have trick throws for them, too.

Moving to the other skill spots, top RB Zoe Bryant (#4) won’t scare anyone as long as defenders stay home; here’s him bending the zone on what looks like a schemed cutback: