UR drives for turnover-free ig­ni­tion

Spiders have been hurt by costly give­aways re­cently

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - SPORTS2 - BY JOHN O’CONNOR jo­con­nor@times­dis­patch.com (804) 649-6233 @RTDjohno­con­nor

Univer­sity of Rich­mond tail­back Deon­tez Thomp­son car­ried the ball to Stony Brook’s 13 three weeks ago. He lost a fum­ble. SBU re­turned it 87 yards for a touch­down.

Two weeks ago against James Madi­son, Dukes cor­ner­back Jimmy More­land in­ter­cepted a Spiders’ pass and re­turned it 100 yards for a touch­down.

Last Satur­day against Delaware, Rich­mond tight end Will Ger­aghty went air­borne for a catch at the Spiders’ 34. A Blue Hen stole the ball as Ger­aghty de­scended. Delaware re­turned it for a touch­down.

These episodes il­lus­trate how things have gone for Rich­mond (2-4, 0-3 CAA) head­ing into Satur­day night’s game at Al­bany (2-3, 0-2 CAA). With a 36-10 loss at Stony Brook, a 63-10 loss to JMU and a 43-28 loss to Delaware, the Spiders are 0-3 in league play for the first time since 2013.

“That’s been such a key to where we are these last three games,” UR coach Russ Hues­man said of turnovers. “You never want to turn the ball over. But when you turn it over [in your ter­ri­tory], or in the red zone, it’s a killer. And we’ve had those.”

In their past two games, the Spiders com­mit­ted 11 turnovers (three fum­bles, eight in­ter­cep­tions). They’ll try to clean it up at Al­bany be­hind sopho­more quar­ter­back Joe Man­cuso, mak­ing his sec­ond col­lege start af­ter stuff­ing a stat line against Delaware: 27 com­ple­tions in 37 at­tempts, 489 pass­ing yards with three touch­downs, five in­ter­cep­tions, and 15 car­ries for 71 yards.

“He’ll be fur­ther along, and I do think we’ll be fur­ther along of­fen­sively in what we want to do with him,” Hues­man said.

Turnovers have been wo­ven into de­bil­i­tat­ing starts to CAA games for Rich­mond. The Spiders fell be­hind 16-3 in the sec­ond quar­ter at Stony Brook; 21-3 to JMU mid­way through the sec­ond quar­ter; and 16-0 to Delaware af­ter about five min­utes.

Hues­man said he has shuf­fled his prac­tice rou­tine, with the goal of im­me­di­ately in­volv­ing his play­ers in up­tempo sit­u­a­tions, hop­ing that would lead to more con­cen­tra­tion early in games.

“We’ve kind of re­al­ized this is­sue. Last week in the pregame locker room, it was a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent than it was in weeks be­fore, kind of get­ting more fo­cused,” se­nior of­fen­sive line­man John Yar­brough said. “We’ve got to just take what we do in prac­tice and just do it in the game, be­cause we prac­tice well.

“You and I both know that prac­tice doesn’t make cham­pi­onships. Play­ing well in games does.”

Man­cuso, a 6-foot-4 215-pounder, was Rich­mond’s lead­ing rusher against Delaware, and Hues­man seems OK with that. While Chat­tanooga’s coach 2009-16, Hues­man’s of­fenses of­ten fea­tured run­ning quar­ter­backs. Be­hind Man­cuso, Rich­mond scored three touch­downs in the fi­nal 15 min­utes ver­sus Delaware.

“There are al­ways those nerves at the be­gin­ning of the game,” Man­cuso said. “Once you get that first hit, or the first play, out of the way, you be­gin to be­come more com­fort­able.”

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