KINGSTON — No matter how good Rhode Island football coach Joe Trainer felt about his team’s preparation, mindset and execution last season, the reality was the Rams suffered through an embarrassing 0-11 season with 10 of the losses coming by three touchdowns or more.
Needless to say, there needed to be some changes heading into spring practice.
The Rams had a chance to show off the changes they’ve made in Saturday’s annual Blue-White game at Meade Stadium.
While the defense, which gave up over 5,200 yards last season and 6.9 yards per play, was missing influential senior linebacker Doug Johnson, the squad showed in the 80-66 victory over the offense that it was ready to get better. According to one of the team’s four captains, James Timmons, the defense’s mindset is simple.
“There are three things we can control and that’s what were trying to do,” Timmons said. “We’re just trying to get better as a defense as a whole, make sure everyone knows their assignments and techniques and play as hard as you can.
“We were just saying after last season we can only control what we’re going to do. We can play hard, play fast and know our techniques. We have talent so we can’t worry about that.”
“We have the motivation of never feeling like that again,”
senior quarterback Bobby Bentsen said. “That was a low point in a lot of our lives. There’s not much positive in being 0-11, but moving forward there’s a lot of positive energy.”
As the team’s head coach Trainer has to focus on all areas of the field, but as coach who moved up the ranks because of his defensive acumen, last year’s inability to get off the field on third down – teams were 62-for-132 on third downs against URI – and an inability to make big plays was particularly frustrating.
Trainer said he’s seen his team work hard since the season-ending defeat 55-6 defeat to Maine on Nov. 17.
“In life don’t stress about things that are beyond your control,” Trainer said. “I’m not bragging, but we’ve had a phenomenal offseason. Guys got bigger and stronger and there was no drama, which sometimes you have. I’m just really excited.”
URI’s offense, which really struggled to generate first downs and point all of last season, actually looked the stronger of the two units to start Saturday’s annual scrimmage. Bentsen hit Xavier Ferland and Jawaun Wynn for two big pass plays before East Providence’s Robbie Delgado scored a two-yard touchdown.
What became clear early is the Rams want to run a high-tempo offense. While URI’s attack will never be confused for Oregon’s Blur offense, the Rams still hope to keep defense confused with a no-huddle approach.
“I think being up tempo gives you a lot of advantages because it keeps the defenses off balance,” Bentsen said after completing 18 of 29 passes for 158 yards. “There’s so many things you can do as an offense to get the defense back on its heels. You have to keep the ball moving, because we’re not moving you can’t go fast.”
“We’re going to be as fast as we possibly can,” Trainer said. “We’re going to be up-tempo. We’re going to be like a Clemson or an Auburn or some of those guys.”
The speed of URI’s attack ground to a halt over the next few drives because Timmons, Dave Zocco, Greg Doutre and the defense started imposing its will. The defense, after giving up the game’s first 13 points using the coaches’ modified scoring system, scored 29 of the game’s next 30 points.
Defensive back Rondell Lane produced the defense’s biggest play of the afternoon, picking off a Danny Fenyak pass and running it the other way for a touchdown.
Timmons, who started every game last season, believes the 2013 defense, which is relying on more athleticism in the back seven, will be better.
“I think we are better,” Timmons said. “Everybody knows what we have to do and now it’s just playing as a team. That’s all we can control.”
The offense, which uses a zone-read attack run out of the shot-gun formation, played better in a quicker second half. Bentsen punctuated the afternoon with a 16-yard touchdown run on the final play of the afternoon.
Bentsen said the biggest key Saturday was to come out of the scrimmage healthy because a number of projected were injured this spring.
“Our goal as an offense was to finish the spring healthy because we have a lot of guys hurt right now,” Bentsen said.
“We were keeping it up tempo and we were trying to show the fans what we’re looking like going into next year.”