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Marshall foe Rhode Island comes in Saturday with new coach

By Doug Smock, Staff writer

HUNTINGTON — If you want some hints why Rhode Island has a new coach this year, let us drop a few:

n The previous coach, Joe Trainer, went 12-44 in five seasons. That included a 1-10 first season of 2009 and an 0-11 fourth season of 2012.

n Trainer’s road record was far worse: 2-29. An overtime win at Albany in 2013 snapped a streak of 14 losses away from Kingston.

n The Rams averaged 13.3 points and 297.9 yards per game last year, vs. 33.5 points and 439.6 total yards allowed.

n And finally, this most damning item: The Rams have not scored in 140 minutes, 51 seconds of game time.

Yes, that’s more than two full games. Going backward, that’s a 41-0 loss at Maine, a 45-0 skunking by Villanova and the final 20-plus minutes of a 66-14 pounding by Old Dominion. Opponents have scored 114 unanswered points.

OK, so Maine was ranked sixth in the FCS at the time and ODU was transitioning to the FBS. Still, that didn’t save Trainer’s job, and it doesn’t make Rhode Island an attractive opponent, at least on paper.

With new coach Jim Fleming and some infusion of veteran talent, the Rams will try to present a better look when they open their season Saturday at Marshall. Game time is 7 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards, with the game airing on WVAH-TV, Channel 11 in Charleston-Huntington.

In general terms, FBS teams schedule those from the lower division to maintain a desired home-away balance of games. In Marshall’s case, the Thundering Herd has played a five home/seven away split three times, in 2003, 2006 and 2011. The 2003 team went 8-4 with no bowl; the 2006 squad was 5-7 and the 2011 team went 6-6, then won a bowl game.

But really, MU officials never want to do that again, and they faced a chance of doing it this year.

Understand that once upon a time, the Louisville Cardinals were due in this weekend. Realignment unaligned those plans, as the Cardinals had to readjust their schedule for their new membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference. In the process, their scheduled trip to Huntington was pushed to 2016.

Mike Hamrick, MU’s athletic director, said the MU-Rhode Island deal was struck 15 or 16 months ago, somewhat close to a point of no return for the 2014 schedule.

“We had to find somebody with that particular date [open],” Hamrick said. “We didn’t want to go on the road to start the season two times. Rhode Island was looking for a game that week, they qualify as a ‘bowl win’ and that’s how it worked out.”

(If you’re really wondering, FBS-killer North Dakota State is visiting Weber State this weekend.)

For the second consecutive week, Marshall will face a transfer starting at quarterback. Mack Lowrie is not a graduate transfer, but he is a Boston College recruit who transferred to Rhode Island after his freshman year.

The more notable newcomer is a graduate transfer, former Connecticut running back Lyle McCombs. He ran for 2,681 yards over three seasons for the Huskies, with a career high of 164 last year against South Florida.

Fleming got offensive lineman Shaban Dika from Iowa State, plus receiver Phadrae White and defensive back Dunston Payne from the junior-college ranks. Behind McCombs at running back are two freshmen, Harold Cooper and Markey Clark.

Of the returning talent, two are All-Colonial Athletic Association picks: linebacker Andrew Bose and wide receiver/punt returner Robbie Jackson. Both were second-team picks, Jackson as a returner. Bose was picked despite missing four games.

But Fleming and his staff will be breaking in a lot of new faces. Of 93 players on the roster, 31 were not with the team in 2013. More than half of those 93, 49, have not appeared in a Division I game, FCS or FBS.

“We haven’t done the old-school thing, balancing the classes,” Fleming said. “We’re bringing in our guys and trying to get this thing flipped around.”

In several ways, the Rams are one game behind the curve, having not opened last week.

“The advantage that we have is we have played a game and they haven’t,” said Bill Legg, MU’s offensive coordinator.

Conversely, Marshall is still preparing for the unknown, as it did before its 42-27 win over Miami (Ohio).

“The advantage that they have is we’ve played a game and they haven’t,” Legg said.

Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsmock@wvgazette or follow him at Twitter.com/dougsmock.


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