3 things to watch in district football: Robert Morris’ Bernard Clark debuts
Three storylines to watch this weekend in district college football:
1. Clark era begins at RMU
New coach Bernard Clark Jr. makes his debut as he starts his quest to return Robert Morris to a Northeast Conference contender. He opens with a nonconference game Saturday at Dayton, which is 17-3 all-time against the Colonials.
Defense isn’t likely to be a problem for RMU. Clark was a linebacker at Miami and in the NFL. As defensive coordinator at Albany, his team ranked ninth in FCS in yards allowed per game in 2017.
The Robert Morris defense is anchored by two preseason All-NEC honorees: linebacker Adam Wollet, who led the conference with 108 tackles, and defensive tackle Amir Fenwick, a 2017 first-team All-NEC honoree.
The bigger issue facing Clark will be pumping life into a flat-lining offense. The past four seasons, RMU has averaged 9.9, 14.0, 11.1 and 10.2 points -- last in the NEC each time.
2. The ‘D’ in IUP
Much has been made -- and rightfully so -- about IUP’s offense. But the fourth-ranked Crimson Hawks are loaded on the other side of the ball, too.
Linemen Deandre Easterling and Dondrea Tillman combined for 17 sacks, 27½ tackles for loss and 88 overall tackles. Cornerback JR Stevens had seven interceptions and broke up a nation-leading 18 passes on his way to AP first-team All-American honors.
Linebacker Damon Lloyd also is a returning All-American (third team, Don Hansen Football Gazette).
That defense will be tested right away when IUP travels to No. 15 Ashland on Thursday. The Eagles feature a former Division I quarterback, Billy Bahl, who started 15 games over three seasons at Miami (Ohio).
Last season, IUP edged Ashland on a late 46-yard field goal by Dillon Sarka.
3. Big-play Titans
Westminster lost several of its key offensive players to graduation: quarterback Paul Columbo (leading passer, second-leading rusher), receiver Jametrius Bentley (second-leading receiver) and running back Dominique McKinley (leading rusher).
But coach Scott Benzel said he believes he has players capable of filling those voids. Two of them have big-play capability.
Receiver Jaevon Hardy returns after missing all but one game last season with an injury. Knocked out in the opener against Wittenberg -- the Titans visit the Tigers on Saturday afternoon -- Hardy is back at full strength.
Before his injury, Hardy was one of the best sprinters in Division III, placing third in the 100 meters at the 2016 NCAA championships. And at 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Hardy has the size to go with his speed.
Stepping into Bentley’s role as a rush/receive dual threat will be junior Bryce Hill. He carried only 23 times last year but averaged 7.2 yards.
Wittenberg is ranked 17th in the nation in the AFCA preseason poll.