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‘A little nastiness’ on defense, trimmed tailback rotation, on Spiders’ agenda for Great Danes

October 6, 2017

Based on what has happened and what’s coming, the University of Richmond may need to beat Albany Saturday to take a fourth consecutive trip to the FCS playoffs. In early October, perhaps that seems an overstated critical condition.

But the No. 14 Spiders (2-2, 0-1 CAA) already dropped one Colonial Athletic Association home game, 36-33 to Elon. After hosting the No. 24 Great Danes (3-2, 1-1 CAA), the more demanding segment of Richmond’s conference schedule commences.

Starting next weekend, four of UR’s final six games are on the road: at Towson, at Delaware, at No. 12 Villanova and at No. 1 James Madison. Also, No. 23 Stony Brook visits UR. Seven of 12 CAA teams are ranked among the nation’s top 25.

The Spiders lead the FCS in passing (417.5 ypg), but they’ve experienced problems running the ball and defending. UR opened the season with a 48-34 loss to Sam Houston State, and Elon’s Malcolm Summers rushed for 294 yards at Richmond. Following that deflating defensive performance, the Spiders were off last Saturday.

“It’s definitely been a long two weeks, a sour taste in our mouth,” said junior Micah Keels, a linebacker/safety hybrid in UR’s 4-2-5 system. “It kind of hurts because we know we have the talent to be a lot better.

“We kind of felt going into the year that we were going to be a really good defense. …We’ve got the guys who can make the plays. It’s kind of frustrating now that we’re not making the plays.”

UR coach Russ Huesman would welcome an escalation of defensive aggressiveness.

“I told our defensive guys, I said, ‘We’ve got to get a little nastiness about us, a little swagger about us,’” he said. “I think they’ve taken that to heart.”

In an effort to pump up his running game, Huesman intends to trim the four-man tailback rotation that has included Deontez Tompson, Gordon Collins, Xavier Goodall and Jay Palmer.

“We hurt ourselves a little bit by trying to play so many guys there,” said Huesman. “We’ve got to narrow that down. We’ve got to go with a couple, probably. And then the third guy would be more like a special type of player, and do just certain packages for him.”

More practice work for two tailbacks should help them improve, and may tighten their connection with Richmond’s blocking schemes, Huesman believes. Short-yardage situations have been particularly troublesome for the Spiders.

“We can’t continue to go the same way we’re going. We’ve got to figure a better way than what we’ve been doing,” said Huesman. “(The four tailbacks) are all good payers, but unless you’re getting work, you’re getting practice, you’re seeing these reps in practice, you’re seeing what’s going on, probably you’re not getting anybody better.

“You’re probably just staying the same.”