RICHMOND — Jared McClain ran for two touchdowns and passed for two Thursday night as No. 19 Eastern Kentucky kicked off its football season with a 38-6 rout of Robert Morris.
"I thought we were really physical up front," Colonels Coach Dean Hood said. "I thought we pass-protected better than we ever had. Our kicking game was the best it's been since we lost Taylor Long three years ago — that's the best we've kicked off, the best we've protected field-goal and extra-point, the best we've kicked field-goal and extra points. I thought we were good in all three phases and, in particular, in those areas."
The Colonels scored on four of their five first-half possessions to lead 28-6 at intermission.
McClain, a junior from Hiram, Ga., found Ike Ariguzo for a 10-yard touchdown pass, ran one in from a yard out, then tossed a 2-yard scoring pass to Nathan Watts. EKU added a 2-yard TD run by Caleb Watkins with two seconds left in the half.
EKU outgained Robert Morris 401 yards to 232, including 207-55 on the ground.
Jared Sanders led a balanced ground game with 53 yards on eight carries. J.J. Jude gained 50 on nine tries, while McClain ran 12 times for 44 yards.
McClain, who sat most of the fourth quarter, also completed 16 of 21 passes for 155 yards.
"We just played with energy. We played with tempo," McClain said. "That's something we were lacking in camp and in summer, but I felt like the guys knew what was at stake. This was a home opener, a Thursday night. We had some big shoes and some big things to live up to, so I thought the guys came out and played with a lot of energy."
The Colonials went three-and-out on their first two possessions.
"We were just ready to go," said defensive end Shawn Shupperd, who was in on three tackles. "We've been looking forward to this day for a long time, and our new thing is 'relentless effort for about four-to-six seconds every play,' and that's what we did."
In between those two quick exits, Ariguzo gave EKU the early lead.
Key play on a 56-yard, six-play drive was a third-and-five throwback pass from Ben De La Cruz to McClain, which gained 33 yards to the RMU 8-yard line.
Thanks to a short punt and a personal foul, Eastern began its second drive on the Colonials' 16-yard line.
McClain got the score on a naked bootleg to his left.
McClain's toss to Watts, with 7:24 left in the second quarter, helped increase the lead to 21-0.
The big play on a 76-yard drive was a third-and-eight conversion of 13 yards on a McClain-to-Watts pass near midfield.
Robert Morris' points came on a 20-yard pass from Paul Jones to Alex Caratelli.
The PAT, as well as an earlier field-goal attempt, was blocked.
RMU quarterback Jones finished 16-for-28 for 177 yards, with one interception by Johnny Joseph.
Robert Morris converted a fourth-and-two play en route to its only score. The touchdown came on a third-and-10 play, Jones finding Caratelli.
With 1:56 left, though, RMU left too much time for the Colonels.
McClain scrambled to keep a play alive before finding Joel Brown for a 33-yard gain to the Colonials' 6-yard line.
Three plays later, Watkins was in the end zone.
After a scoreless third quarter, McClain pushed the lead to 35-6 on the second play of the fourth quarter, scampering in from 8 yards out.
McClain sat the rest of the way.
Andrew Lloyd tacked on a 37-yard field goal.
"This is a great confidence booster for us going into the season," McClain said. "This was a great team that we played ... but we wanted it more. I think you could see that out there. Our guys wanted it."
EKU, which had lost 12 season debuts in a row, has now won five consecutive home openers at Roy Kidd Stadium.
Eastern Kentucky at Louisville
When: Sept. 7, Noon
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.