The uniforms are the same, the venue is the same and the players are the same. But the way the players play, oh that's different.
After struggling to keep up its intensity for a full game during the first four games of the season, the University of Richmond has done just that the past three weeks and has gone 2-1 during those games. No game exemplified this change than Saturday's 28-6 trouncing of Towson University.
The Spiders scored in every quarter, including 12 in the first quarter to set the tone of Richmond dominance early in the game. Even on Towson's final drive of the game, with Richmond's fourth win of the season just 18 seconds away, the defense continued to play hard. Cornerback Tremayne Graham intercepted a pass in the endzone to give the game an appropriate ending.
"All season long, [Richmond] coach [Latrell] Scott has been telling us to play four great quarters and finish at the end," defensive tackle Martin Parker said. "Today, it was a progress from the [University of Virginia] game to now. Now we know how to play a full game."
Saturday's game had all the makings to shape up to be similar to one the Spiders had earlier this year against Coastal Carolina University. In both games, Richmond was expected to win, Richmond jumped out to a big lead early and the game before a big road test against a Colonial Athletic Association foe. But the second halves of those two games differed greatly.
Against the Chanticleers, a 20-0 second-quarter-lead for Richmond had been cut to eight with about eight minutes left in the game. Only an interception by Patrick Weldon on third-and-goal from the Richmond 2-yard line saved the game for the Spiders.
This time, there was no need for that type of dramatic play.
The Richmond defense exerted its dominance on Towson's first drive when linebacker Darius McMillan stopped Erron Banks three-yards short of the first down on a fourth-and-four play. That physical play continued all game long, as the defense recorded a season-high five sacks and registered 11 hits on Towson quarterbacks Chris Hart and Bart Blanchard.
"We blitzed him, we did a three-man rush, a four-man rush," Parker said. "Like I said, we wanted to get close to him, to get pressure on him. And today, it ended up getting four or five sacks and a handful of qb pressures."
The pressure created by the defense caused the Tigers to turn the ball over four times and led to nine points for Richmond.
Coming into Saturday's game, Scott had raised expectations of his defense by saying that he wanted to see if his defense could shut out a team. That challenge was almost met as Richmond gave up one touchdown, but Scott didn't seem to mind the six points.
"Extremely proud of those guys," Scott said. "We wanted the shutout for them, but we didn't get it. But we'll take the win along with a strong defensive effort."
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It was not just the defense that showed improvement from earlier this season. The offense, despite being down its top-three quarterbacks and two of its three top wide receivers, showed a different intensity than in games past, especially in the running department.
The Spiders ran 50 rushing plays compared to just 10 passing plays. But even though Scott's playbook was limited because of freshman quarterback Montel White -- making just his second-career start -- the offense was still able to produce 237 yards on the ground.
"The offensive line, you have to be proud of those guys the way we ran the ball early and when you finish the game running consecutive plays over and over again," Scott said. "We talked to these guys about just trying to take Towson's will away and at some point they did."
Now comes the challenging part for Richmond. Next week, it travels to Villanova University -- the defending national champions -- before hosting James Madison University. Two weeks later, Richmond finishes its season with a trip to the College of William & Mary. All three of those teams were in the top-12 of this week's The Sports Network/Fathead.com Top-25 poll.
But if the Spiders can maintain their growth, those early season struggles will become distant memories.
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