By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
Heading into the season opener, the biggest question marks for the Colonels were focused on the offense.
After losing a record-setting quarterback, an All-American running back, a big-play receiver and two NFL-caliber offensive linemen, there certainly were reasons to be concerned.
But, EKU’s new-look offense delivered a solid and efficient performance in an emphatic victory over Robert Morris Thursday at Roy Kidd Stadium.
Junior quarterback Jared McClain rushed for two touchdowns and threw two touchdowns passes as the Colonels rolled to a 38-6 victory.
EKU did not commit a turnover, had 22 first downs and finished with 401 yards of total offense, including 200 yards on the ground.
“We are talented, but we’re inexperienced,” McClain said. “Some guys had to step when their names were called — and they did that.”
The victory gave the Colonels a victory in their season opener for the first time since 2000.
EKU’s defense forced two turnovers and blocked two kicks — an extra point and a field goal attempt.
Robert Morris was limited to just 232 total yards. The Colonials finished with 55 yards on the ground on 25 attempts.
“It’s a great way to get (the season started),” EKU senior linebacker Ichiro Vance said. “Robert Morris is a great team. They played hard. We came out on top and we are blessed for it.”
The EKU offense took control right away.
The Colonels scored on four of their five first-half possessions, including the first two drives.
EKU opened with a six-play, 56-yard possession that McClain capped with a 10-yard pass to Ike Ariguizo.
Four minutes later, McClain scored on a 1-yard run, then in the second quarter the junior quarterback hit tight end Nathan Watts on a 2-yard TD pass to give EKU a 21-0 lead.
“We played with energy,” McClain said. “We played with tempo. That’s something we were lacking in summer and in camp. But, I feel like the guys knew what was at stake.”
Robert Morris got a 20-yard TD catch from Alex Caratelli with 1:56 left before halftime, but the Colonels answered right back.
Caleb Watkins scored on a 2-yard run just two seconds before the end of the half.
“Other then putting the ball on the ground three times, I thought we were really physical up front,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “I thought we pass protected better than we ever have. Our kicking game was the best its been since we lost Taylor Long three years ago. I thought we were good in all three phases.”
The Colonels fumbled three times, but recovered each time.
In the first minute of the fourth quarter, McClain scored on an 8-yard run. Later, Andrew Lloyd hit a 37-yard field goal.
“It was just a team effort,” Vance said. “It started back in the summer. Everyone has just come together as a team step-by-step. We enjoy each other’s company and we are working hard.”
McClain spread the offense around.
Eight different receiver had a catch — Jeff Glover had four, Nathan Rawe and Nathan Watts with three each — and all four of the Colonels top backs got carries.
Jared Sanders had 53 yards on eight carries. J.J. Jude had 50 yards on nine carries, Caleb Watkins had 38 yards on nine carries and Thomas Owens had 21 yards on five carries.
“They’ve all got a different skill set,” Hood said of EKU’s running backs. “They bring something different to table, but they are all good running backs.”
McClain was 16-of-21 for 155 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 44 yards.
“This is a confidence boaster for us,” McClain said. “I think we just wanted it more and I think you could see that out there.”
The Colonels are set to return to action next Saturday (Sept. 7) at Louisville.