BY RALPH D. RUSSO
NEW YORK (AP) — Jack Coffey Field, capacity 7,000 on the Fordham University campus, is a long way from the Southeastern Conference — literally and figuratively — until the home team’s offense takes 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 Division I football.
Fordham (9-2) enters his first-round playoff game of the NCAA Championship Subdivision in New Hampshire Saturday at an average of 612 yards per game while running basically the same scheme as Tennessee, which has the bowl subdivision at 540 yards leads per game.
Fordham quarterback Tim DeMorat grew up in Orlando, Fla. and supported Chris Leak and the Gators in the 2000s. But connecting with the ninth-grade volunteers led him to a new affiliation.
“I definitely fired for Tennessee all season,” he said.
The Patriot League Rams are on track to become the second FCS team to average more than 600 yards per game in a season. Mississippi Valley State set the record for 640 yards per game in 1984, with future Hall of Famer Jerry Rice running as a wide receiver in 1984.
The FBS record is held by Houston, who used running and shooting to muster 625 yards per game in 1989.
The last Division I school to average 600 yards per game over a season was Baylor, who did so 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 spread across almost the entire width of the field, the defense faces a tough choice. When you commit additional defenders to stopping the deep passes to those wideouts, the offense has room to run in the middle of the field with a good ratio of blockers to potential tacklers. Sneak security guards and linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, and it’s bombs vs. one-on-one reporting.
“That’s the goal of the whole thing, just to give our guys more space to make plays,” said Fordham offensive coordinator Kevin Decker. “If we spread them out and their intention is to spread out 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.”
In Tennessee, 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, Briles’ former assistant who was Heupel’s offensive coordinator for two seasons.
So how did the Bronx offense come about?
Enter David Weeks, a former equipment manager at UCF who entered coaching in 2017 as a student assistant to Scott Frost. Weeks spent two years at Heupel and Lebby working with quarterbacks before moving to New York and internship with Fordham coach Joe Conlin in 2020. He is now the Rams’ tight ends coach.
Decker, a former New Hampshire quarterback and student of UCLA coach Chip Kelly’s version of the spread offense, began wrecking Weeks about what UCF was doing under Heupel and Lebby.
First, Decker scattered parts of the Heupel offensive into his system. A few games into the 2021 season, Decker decided to fully commit to the new system.
“If you look at a really good offense, no matter what it is, they have an identity,” Decker said.
The Rams’ identity took shape during a six-game winning streak in 2021. They’ve really picked up speed this season.
Fordham is averaging 50.2 points per game, is second in FCS behind Incarnate Word’s 52.9, and is on track to become the third-best in FCS history.
DeMorat’s 414.6 passing yards per game ranks him third in FCS history behind Mississippi Valley State’s Willie Totten with 455.7 in 1984 and Alcorn State’s Steve McNair with 442.1 in 1994.
DeMorat’s 53 touchdown passes is 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.
The Rams don’t always go full throttle. Still, their pace and tendency to score goals 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 to Patriot League champion Holy Cross. If the Rams can beat New Hampshire on the road, there will be a rematch in the second round.
“It was tremendous fun,” said Conlin. “It was crazy.”
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