The first part of the season is done and Richmond has gone 3-0. Although the record is pristine, three quarters, two key injuries and one major problem have put a damper on the team’s future.
But, as interim coach Wayne Lineburg said following his team’s 21-6 victory over Wagner College last weekend, there’s no apologizing for a win.
With that said, let’s go over the positives, negatives and down-right brutal from Richmond’s now-finished out-of-conference schedule.
• Any mention of what has gone right so far this year has to start with Richmond’s win at Duke to start the season. Granted, the Spiders got lucky when Blue Devils kicker Will Snyderwine missed a pair of field goals in the final minutes of the game — including a 28-yard attempt — that would have given the Blue Devils the win. But you have to give Richmond the credit to be in position to take advantage of those mistakes.
• The play of quarterback Aaron Corp has been encouraging. His highly-anticipated debut season last year ended prematurely with a major knee injury which also had the threat of hampering him this year. But through three games, he looks like the quarterback that Spider fans expected. He has thrown for 649 yards on 56 percent (which should be higher if it weren’t for a bunch of drops by the receivers) and five touchdowns to go with three interceptions.
But the biggest thing to come from Corp’s three starts this year is his health. Outside of the bulky brace on his knee, it is hard to tell that he had a severe injury less than 12 months ago. He still has his mobility, which is a big part of his game, and he has learned how to slide.
• The team’s big-play ability on offense has been a big surprise. The wide receivers have stepped up in a big way this year. Senior Tre Gray is leading the way with 18 catches for 310 yards, but it is the way that he has accumulated those stats that is the most impressive. Twice on third downs against Duke, Gray not only got enough yardage for the first down, he turned it into a big play to help Richmond recapture the momentum. And against Virginia Military Institute yesterday, Gray continued to be a pain for defenses to catch with his array of spin moves and jukes as he caught four passes for 96 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
It hasn’t been just Gray who has done damage from the receiver spot. Ben Edwards had a 56-yard score last week against Wagner to start the game and again scored early yesterday when he recovered a blocked punt for a 34-yard touchdown. Freshman Stephen Barnette has also gotten in on the action, scoring the first touchdown at Duke and getting a 69-yard catch that set up a Gray touchdown.
• The play of the defense has been stellar again this year. Whether it was the defense limiting Wagner to just three first-half points off of five Richmond turnovers or stopping VMI on a first and goal from the Richmond 9, the defense has been key this year. There were questions about how the unit would play with the loss of key players from last year’s squad — including cornerback Justin Rogers who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills — but linebacker Darius McMillan and safety Cooper Taylor have helped to make this team solid.
• There haven’t been many ‘negatives’ but one would have to be the play of the offensive line. The center spot has been especially poor, as the combination of freshman Austin Gund and sophomore Mark Speros have had their struggles snapping the ball to Corp in the shotgun formation. Although the line has given up just four sacks this year, Corp has been hit many times and the running back tandem of Garrett Turner and Kendall Gaskins are averaging under four yards per carry.
• Kick coverage struggled in a big way against VMI and allowed the Keydets to get back into the game. Tracy Hairston returned a kick 74 yards to spark a 16-0 run for the Keydets to turn what had been a blowout into a tense game. If the Spiders want to be a top-team in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Spiders will have to make sure that was just a fluke.
• Richmond has been plagued by turnovers and potential turnovers. Richmond has turned the ball only one time in games against Duke and VMI, but did it five times against Wagner. And yesterday, Richmond fumbled the ball twice more but found a way to recover it to prevent the turnover. Against CAA foes, starting with New Hampshire next weekend, Richmond may not be so lucky.
• Richmond survived its first two games without a major injury, but were not so lucky this past weekend. On the third play of the game, Richmond lost senior defensive tackle and team captain Corey Jackson to a serious knee injury that required him to get carted off the field. Even though he returned to the sidelines later on with an air cast on his injured right knee and joked around that he would play next week, it looked like he will miss a chunk of time.
Things got worse later on in the fourth quarter when defensive end Kerry Wynn left the game with a serious arm injury. He walked off the field with trainers holding his left arm between the bicep and wrist and he had to be carted to the locker room when he got to the sideline. Wynn has collected three of Richmond’s five sacks this year after missing much of last year with an injury.
Take away three quarters from this season (the first half of Wagner and the last quarter against VMI), and Richmond looks like a dominant team. Even with those quarters, Richmond is still a good team, as it was ranked No. 6 heading into this week. I don’t know how good this team will be now that it starts CAA play, but as I wrote after the Duke win, it can be a special team.
Now, it’s up to the players and coaches to learn from their mistakes and continue to play well in certain areas in order to make a run to Frisco, Texas for a shot at the national championship.