Fordham Football: 5 Things We Learned About the Rams in Week 1
Fordham's goal this season has been clear since day one: The Rams are going for it all—which means they're playing for a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) title.
After getting to the second round of the FCS playoffs a year ago, Fordham is in it to win it this year.
The 2014 season got underway Saturday night with the Rams routing the Saint Francis Red Flash 52-23 in front of 3,462 fans at Jack Coffey Field in the Bronx.
The game was never really in doubt. Fordham led 10-0 after the first quarter and 24-3 at halftime. It wasn't perfect, and one shouldn't expect anything even close to perfection from a team in their opener, even one like Fordham which hopes to still be playing in January.
In terms of what we learned about the 2014 Rams after one week, the focus has to be on the team's strengths (there are many) going into the season—quarterback play, experience and depth—and also on the question marks—running the ball, stopping the run and handling the expectations. Those areas will be analyzed on a week-to-week basis.
Here are the top five things we learned about Fordham in its season-opening win against Saint Francis.
Chase Edmonds Is the Rams' No. 1 Back
In his debut, running back Chase Edmonds was spectacular, far and away the game's most valuable player.
Edmonds ran for 181 yards, a school record for a freshman, and had 119 yards on kick returns, setting the tone from the start by returning the opening kick 65 yards.
Last year, Carlton Koonce led the Rams in rushing with 1,462 yards. A big focus of the preseason centered on who would replace him. It's only one game, but it sure looks like Fordham found the guy.
"Coaches always emphasized to us during camp that the running back position was the question mark," Edmonds said after the game. "I've been doubted my whole career. Fordham was the one school that believed in me. It was a good first step."
Edmonds' performance did not surprise Fordham head coach Joe Moorhead, who saw something special in his running back from the beginning.
"From the second he stepped foot on campus for summer workouts he's conducted himself like a fifth-year senior," Moorhead said. "His approach to the game, his practice habits, his workout habits, his study habits—he treats the game with the respect it deserves and practices as hard as he plays.
"It didn't come as a surprise. This is the way he prepared. You don't have to be a senior to lead. He doesn't say two words, but he leads by example."
On Saturday night, he led the Rams to their first win of the season.
Not His Best Performance by Any Means, but Mike Nebrich's Star Still Shines
Mike Nebrich, Fordham's senior quarterback and the 2014 Patriot League Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, will have better games than he did on Saturday. Still, there are a lot of quarterbacks who would settle for the kind of night he had.
Nebrich was 11-for-26 for 188 yards and three touchdowns. It took him, and the offense for that matter, a few possessions to get going, and at times he wasn't as sharp as he can be, but this was the opener after all. Consider also that one of his top targets, Sam Ajala, an All-American who caught 93 passes last year, did not play on Saturday.
"It was definitely a little different with the new formations and some of the new guys we had out there," Nebrich said. "Once we figured things out, I think we got rolling a little bit."
Even with Ajala out, Nebrich has plenty of weapons to throw to. Tebucky Jones, Jr. (five receptions), Dan Light (four receptions, one touchdown), Brian Wetzel (three receptions, one touchdown) and Robbie Cantelli (one reception, one touchdown) stepped up in Ajala's absence.
But great players are great for a reason. They have a drive that those of us who've never been in that position can only try to comprehend. Nebrich is a superstar on a team that could win it all. He's the leader of an explosive offense that scored 50 or more points on four different occasions last year, one that scored 52 in its opener, flaws and all. Still, he expects more out of himself.
"Just going off the numbers, I have a certain standard for myself that I just didn't get to today," Nebrich said. "There are things to clean up on my side, and for everybody, but I think it was a good first step."
One Week to Shore Up the Run Defense
Fordham's defense was good. In fact, while the offense took a little time to get going, the defense was the story early on.
The Rams held Saint Francis to 242 yards and stopped the Red Flash 12 times on third down. The defense was on the field for a good part of the game, however, and by the second half the unit showed signs of wearing down.
It was then that Fordham struggled to stop the run, proving that the team's biggest concern heading into the season is still very much a question mark.
Saint Francis running back Khairi Dickson had his way in the second half, running for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game with 244 yards, the only offensive player to do anything against the Fordham defense.
"We anticipated they were going to run the ball," Moorhead said. "We kept a cap on it for the most part. In the second half, toward the end of the game, we got worn down a little bit."
Moorhead never makes excuses, but the fact remains that the defense was on the field for 38 minutes and 21 seconds. There is some merit to the theory that they just simply got tired.
Run defense is something the Rams will have to shore up before taking on the Villanova Wildcats on Saturday. Villanova ran the ball 60 times in its opener Friday against Syracuse.
"We wanted to improve our run defense," Moorhead said. "I think at times we did.
"We're going to have to make a marked improvement against a team like Villanova that runs the heck out of the football."
Fordham Shows 'Resolve'
When asked what he learned about his team in the 60 minutes of football played Saturday night, Moorhead didn't have to watch any film to provide an answer.
"I learned that our team has resolve," he said.
"I was most proud of our team, with the number of guys we had out in this game, for us to be able to play some solid ball in all three phases, I think it showed a lot about the resolve of our team—that when adversity hits, we're neither going to give or accept an excuse."
Ajala wasn't the only key player out. Linebacker Stephen Hodge, the 2014 Patriot League Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, is out indefinitely. According to WFUV Sports, Hodge has a lower-body injury and surgery has already been performed.
On Saturday, Fordham was able to overcome losses to key personnel. That bodes well for a team that will face a number of challenges this year before it can even think about the playoffs.
Next week's game at Villanova, a Patriot League schedule that is never easy and a road game at Army to close out the regular season will test the Rams.
And for the first time in a long time, they're expected to win on a weekly basis.
"[We have] a long way to go, a lot to clean up, but it was a good start," Moorhead said.
Villanova Will Be a Good Test
As soon as the schedule was released, the Villanova game was circled.
For starters, the Wildcats are consistently one of the best FCS teams in the country, ranked No. 11 in The Sports Network Poll and No. 12 in the Coaches' Poll this preseason, one spot behind Fordham in each.
Fordham knocked off Villanova last year in Week 2. It was one of those statement games announcing that the Rams had arrived.
This year, they face a Villanova team that nearly beat Syracuse on Friday night, dropping a close one, 27-26, at the Carrier Dome.
The Wildcats are talented, and they'll be ready for the Rams, especially after what happened last year.
"They're a good football team," Nebrich said. "I don't think it was a shock to any of us that they almost beat Syracuse."
"We're a very confident football team," he added. "We know the kind of players we have. Our mindset going in is that it's going to be a battle. We're going to have to [play] 60 minutes of perfect football to beat them."
Moorhead likes to say that it comes down to preparation, effort and execution. That, he said, will determine who wins Saturday's game.
"If we prepare well, we give great effort and we execute, we'll have an opportunity to win the game," Moorhead said. "You're talking about two top-15 teams going at each other.
"It should be a heck of a football game. We have to have a great week of practice to give ourselves an opportunity. If we don't prepare well, we have no shot."
Quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.