David Borne | Staff Writer
In their 2016 home opener, the Duquesne football team devoted itself to the ground game as the Red & Blue rolled to a 30-19 win over the Bucknell Bison.
Freshman running back A.J. Hines wasted no time to introduce himself to Dukes fans as he was spectacular in his first game at Rooney Field. Hines rushed for 74 yards and scored three touchdowns in his collegiate debut.
The Dukes took full advantage of the absence of Bucknell defensive lineman and Preseason All-Patriot Conference selection, Ben Schumacher. Combined with the efforts of P.J. Fulmore, who rushed for 72 yards, there was little Bucknell could do to stop the run game.
The production from Hines and Fulmore also opened up opportunities for quarterback Dillon Buechel. Buechel, who threw for 322 yards against Bucknell, will benefit from having two efficient rushers behind him this year. Opposing defenses will not only have to worry about Duquesne’s passing game, but will have to focus on Fulmore and Hines at all times. This may lead to defenses overloading the box to stop the rushing attack, and will leave receivers with less coverage for Buechel.
Last year, the Dukes relied heavily on running backs Rafiq Douglas, Klartel Claridy and P.J. Fulmore to make an impact offensively. Fulmore is the only one of them who returned to the team this season. Both Hines and Fulmore need to fill the gap left by the departure of last year’s two top rushers, and it appears that they are more than capable of doing so.
Hines, a freshman, and Fulmore, a sophomore, should be prominent features of the Duquesne offense for years to come. They have already shown signs of brilliance, and have plenty of time to improve upon their game.
The run game played a huge role in Duquesne’s NEC Championship season last year. They led the conference in total rushing yards (2,091), average yards per carry (4.6), and were second in the conference in rushing touchdowns (16). If Fulmore and Hines can emulate the success found last year by the running back committee, the Dukes have a great chance to win their second consecutive NEC Championship.
Their next game is against Dayton, who beat Duquesne 24-13 last season. Opposing teams averaged 142.9 rushing yards against Dayton last season, so the young tandem of Duquesne backs should be busy again this weekend. This year, Dayton is 2-0 with wins over Central State and Robert Morris. The Flyers are allowing just 92.5 rushing yards per game so far in the 2016 season. Dayton is expected to be one of the top teams in the Pioneer League this season and will be a difficult test for the Dukes.
It remains to be seen whether head coach Jerry Schmitt will stick to the ground game or if he will switch things up on the Flyers and air it out in week three.