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At UR in FCS playoffs, Davidson's triple-option throws 'cold water in your face'

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University of Richmond defensive tackle Ray Eldridge dealt with a challenging question Sunday afternoon following the Spiders’ on-campus gathering for the FCS playoffs selection show.

What was the last triple-option team UR faced? Eldridge quickly sacked that, with some historical context.

“A (school) that doesn’t even have a team anymore,” he rapidly replied. “Jacksonville.”

Jacksonville discontinued its program following the 2019 season, which started for the Dolphins at UR’s Robins Stadium.

Jacksonville was a member of the Pioneer Football League, as is Davidson, which will run its triple-option offense at the Spiders (8-3) Saturday at 2 p.m. in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

“It’s going to be just a gritty football game in the trenches, so there we go,” said Eldridge, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound redshirt senior from McDonald, Pa., who was named third team All-CAA. “You’ve got to stay disciplined, because the thing with option teams, they pound you, they pound you, they pound you, and then one goes loose, and touchdown.”

A handful of current Richmond players participated in that 2019 meeting with Jacksonville. UR won 38-19 after leading 38-6 in the third quarter. The Spiders held the Dolphins to 141 rushing yards on 51 attempts (2.8 ypc).

But that was a Jacksonville team that went 3-9, 1-7 in the Pioneer Football League.

Davidson went 8-3, 6-2 in the PFL. For three consecutive seasons, and for the fourth time in Coach Scott Abell’s five years at Davidson, the Wildcats have led the nation in rushing. This year, they average 350.5 yards.

“It puts a lot of pressure on a lot of different people,” said UR coach Russ Huesman. “It’s all about eye discipline, tackling in space, those types of things, whenever you play the triple-option teams.”

Often, these uncommon offenses are successful early in games, and then their effectiveness fades. Huesman pointed out a reason for that trend.

“When you play option football teams, the biggest thing is you can’t simulate the (opponent’s) speed on the scout team, you can’t simulate the speed in practice,” he said. “It’s a little bit of cold water in your face ... Sometimes it takes you a series or two to kind of get acclimated to it.”

On offense, Huesman said the Spiders in recent games have “been kicking way too many field goals, and that’s not going to work. Didn’t work against William & Mary (in last Saturday’s 37-26 loss), and it’s not going to work this week. We have to put points on the board and it has to be touchdowns.”

Davidson is in the FCS playoffs for the third straight season, and UR is making its first appearance since 2016.

The winner of the Davidson-at-Richmond game moves on to a second-round meeting with second-seeded Sacramento State (11-0) in Sacramento on Dec. 3. The Hornets captured their third straight Big Sky Conference title and have won 19 straight conference games.

“We know no matter who we see in the playoffs it’s going to be a really good team,” said Spiders quarterback Reece Udinski, who has thrown for 300 or more yards in six of his last nine games. “There’s no time to let up. This is the crunch time of the season.”

When Davidson and UR last played, in 1973, Richmond won 42-0 in a Southern Conference game. The Wildcats finished with minus-15 yards rushing. That was one of five shutouts for an 8-2 Spiders team that was ranked No. 20, behind No. 19 Texas, in the AP poll of Oct. 22.

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