NEW YORK (AP) — Jack Coffey Field, capacity 7,000 on the campus of Fordham University, is a long way from the Southeastern Conference — literally and figuratively — right up until the home team’s offense takes the field.
The Rams have 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 Division I football.
Fordham (9-2) enters its first-round NCAA Championship Subdivision playoff game Saturday at New Hampshire averaging 612 yards per game while running basically the same scheme as Tennessee, which leads the Bowl Subdivision at 540 yards per game..
Fordham quarterback Tim DeMorat grew up in Orlando, Florida, rooting for Chris Leak and the Gators in the 2000s. But the connection to the ninth-ranked Volunteers led him to a new allegiance.
“I was definitely rooting for Tennessee all season,” he said.
The Rams of the Patriot League are on pace to become only the second FCS team to average more than 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, which used the run-and-shoot to put up 625 yards per game in 1989.
The last Division I school to average 600 yards per game over a season was Baylor, which did it twice (2013 and ’15) under coach Art Briles.
Tennessee’s offense — and now Fordham’s — is a version of what those Baylor teams ran. With receivers split out almost the entire width of the field, defenses face a difficult choice. Commit extra defenders to stop the deep passes to those wideouts and the offense has room to run in the middle of the field with a good ratio of blockers to potential tacklers. Creep safeties and linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and it’s bombs away against one-on-one coverage.
“That’s the goal of the whole entire thing is just to create more space for our guys to make plays,” Fordham offensive coordinator Kevin Decker said. “If we spread them out, and their intent is to spread out with us and leave a thin box, we’re going to attack the box. If they load the box, we can still run it, but also we can attack the exterior.”
At Tennessee, the offense turned quarterback Hendon Hooker into a Heisman Trophy contender before he was injured last week and helped the resurgent Vols beat Alabama and LSU.
Vols coach Josh Heupel brought the offense with him from Central Florida, where he was head coach for three years. The Baylor connection at UCF was Jeff Lebby, the former Briles assistant who was Heupel’s offensive coordinator for two seasons.
So how did the offense end up in the Bronx?
Enter David Weeks, a former equipment manager at UCF who broke into coaching as a student assistant for Scott Frost in 2017. Weeks spent two years with Heupel and Lebby, working with quarterbacks before he moved to New York and took what amounted to an internship with Fordham coach Joe Conlin in 2020. He is now the Rams’ tight ends coach.
Decker, a former New Hampshire quarterback and disciple of UCLA coach Chip Kelly’s version of the spread offense, began picking Weeks’ brain about what UCF was doing under Heupel and Lebby.
At first Decker was sprinkling parts of the Heupel offense into his system. 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, they have an identity,” Decker said.
The Rams’ identity began to take shape during a six-game winning streak in 2021. This season, they have taken off.
Fordham is averaging 50.2 points per game, second in the FCS behind Incarnate Word’s 52.9, and on pace to be third-best in FCS history.
DeMorat’s 414.6 yards passing per game places 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 touchdown passes are tied for fourth most 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.
The Rams don’t put the pedal to the metal all the time. Still, their pace and propensity to score quickly can put a lot of pressure on their defense.
The result: Fordham has become America’s most exciting college football team.
The Rams won consecutive games early in the season 52-49 against Monmouth and 48-45 against Albany. They scored over 50 points in both of their losses, including against Patriot League champion Holy Cross. If the Rams can beat New Hampshire on the road, it will set up a rematch in the second round.
“It’s been a heck of a lot of fun,” Conlin said. “It’s been crazy.”
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