Fordham’s powerful offense brings a taste of Rocky Top to the Bronx

NEW YORK (AP) — Jack Coffee Field, the 7,000-capacity capacity on the campus of Fordham University, is so far from the Southeast Conference — literally and figuratively — that the home team’s offense hits the field.

The Rams brought a taste of Rocky Top to the Bronx.

The Jesuit Catholic school that produced Vince Lombardi and the Seven Blocks of Granite has the most prolific offense in Major League Soccer.

Fordham (9-2) enters the first round NCAA Championship Subdivision playoff game Saturday at New Hampshire averaging 612 yards per game while running essentially the same scheme as Tennessee, which leads the Bowl Subdivision at 540 yards per game..

Fordham quarterback Tim Dimora grew up in Orlando, Florida, rooting for Chris Lake and the Gators in the 2000s. But its association with volunteers ranks ninth led him to a new allegiance.

“I was definitely rooting for Tennessee all season,” he said.

The Rams of the Patriot League are on course to become just the second FCS team to average over 600 yards per game in a season. Mississippi Valley State set the record at 640 yards per game with future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice at wide receiver in 1984.

The FBS record is held by Houston, who used both running backs and kickers to rack up 625 yards per game in 1989.

The last Division I school to average 600 receiving yards per game over the season was Baylor, who did so twice (2013 and 15) under head coach Art Briles.

The Tennessee offense – and now Fordham – is a copy of what the Baylor teams ran. With the receivers divided up almost the entire width of the field, defenses face a tough choice. Force extra defenders to stop deep passes into that goal and the offense will have room to run in midfield with a good ratio of blockers to would-be attackers. The safety and linebacker crawled close to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, pounding away against individual coverage.

“That’s the point of everything is to give players more room to make plays,” said Kevin Decker, Fordham’s offensive coordinator. “If we deploy them, and their goal is to scatter with us and leave a thin box, we will attack the box. If they load the box, we can still run it, but we can also attack the outside.”

At Tennessee, the offense turned quarterback Hendon Hooker into a Heisman Trophy contender before he was injured last week and helped the Vols’ rookie team beat Alabama and LSU.

Fols’ coach, Josh Heubel, brought the offense with him from Central Florida, where he was head coach for three years. Baylor’s connection at UCF was Jeff Lebby, a former Briles assistant who was Heupel’s offensive coordinator for two seasons.

So how did crime end in the Bronx?

Enter David Weeks, a former equipment director at UCF who got into coaching as a student assistant at Scott Frost in 2017. Weeks spent two years with Heupel and Lebby, working with quarterbacks before moving to New York and taking what amounted to a stint with coach Fordham Joe Conlin in 2020. He’s now the Rams head coach.

Decker, a former New Hampshire quarterback and protégé of UCLA coach Chip Kelly’s version, began picking weeks brain about what UCF was doing under Hebel and Libby.

At first Decker would sprinkle bits of Heupel offense into his system. After a few games into the 2021 season, Decker decided to fully commit to the new system.

“If you look at any really good offense, no matter what it is, it has an identity,” Decker said.

The Rams’ identity began to take shape during a six-game winning streak in 2021. This season, they took off.

Fordham averages 50.2 points per game, second in FCS behind Incarnate Word’s 52.9, and is going to be the third-best in FCS history.

DeMorat’s 414.6 passing yards per game put him third in FCS history behind Mississippi Valley State’s Willie Totten’s 455.7 in 1984 and Alcorn State’s Steve McNair’s 442.1 in 1994.

DeMorat’s 53 tackles is tied for fourth in a single season. Fordham has a 1,000-yard rusher in Trey Sneed and two 1,000-yard receivers in Fostis Kokosioulis and MJ Wright.

Rams don’t put the pedal to the metal all the time. However, their speed and tendency to score quickly can put a lot of pressure on their defence.

The result: Fordham became the hottest college football team in America.

The Rams won back-to-back games early in the season 52-49 against Monmouth and 48-45 against Albany. They score more than 50 points in each of their losses, Including against the Patriots League Champion Holy Cross. If the Rams can beat New Hampshire on the road, a second-round rematch is set up.

“It was a lot of fun,” Conlin said. “It was crazy.”

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