Thursday, November 5, 2015

Week 9 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Lehigh's 33-28 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. A Slow Start. Fifteen years of watching Georgetown in the Patriot League has pounded one truism pounded into my head: Georgetown is not a team that does well with a slow start. Granted, there was a nice comeback given Lehigh's suspect pass defense, but the fact remains that this is not a team where it can give up 17 points to anyone without consequence.

The Hoyas opened the game slow on offense, giving up three sacks in the first two possessions while Lehigh goobled up yardage at an average of nine yards a down. Give the Hoyas credit for adjustments which narrowed the gap, but this was still an offense that gave it problems.

Georgetown has been outscored 68-37 this season in the first quarter, and is up 147-145 for the remaining three quarters this season. A good start in its remaining games would be essential for Georgetown to be competitive after halftime.

2. Lessons For Fordham: So, can Georgetown learn from this game in the bye week en route to its game with Fordham? Yes, but there's still no good way the Hoyas will win that game.

The Rams play at a high competitive level than the Hoyas and that's a function of talent. Chase Edmonds will be playing in the NFL in a few years, and at least a couple more of his teammates will be in a training camp. While Georgetown fans are hopeful about Cooper Field, Fordham has a game scheduled in Yankee Stadium next year against Holy Cross. Never mind the likelihood that this isn't going to be a sold out event, the mere fact that recruits can be sold on a game like that speaks to a collective vision for football in the Bronx you do not find in Washington,.

Then again, the Rams have been to one NCAA basketball tournament in the last 44 years, so the vision thing goes both ways.

But back to football: Colgate's upset win over Fordham last week was about run defense, where the rams were held to 54 yards on the ground. Colgate got that proverbial hot start with touchdowns on each of its first three possessions (something Georgetown hasn't done since the MAAC days) and hung on at the end for the win. The Red raiders kept penalties to a minimum (three), gave up only one turnover, and caught a little luck, as Fordham missed two field goals, either of which ahve provided the margin of victory.

Run defense, few penalties, limit turnovers, hope for a little luck. These may not be enough to withstand the talent gap,. but it would make a great Senior Day for the homestanding Hoyas.

3. Hope For the Future: Georgetown is going to lose a lot of talent on both sides of the line at graduation this spring, but especially on offense, Kyle Nolan, Jo'el Kimpela and Jake DeCicco have been mainstays in their respective positions over the past two seasons.

We haven't seen much as to the next generation of QB and probably won't for a while. Tim Barnes will be a senior, Jowan Watson and Clay Norris will be sophomores, and at least one or two freshmen will be in the mix. As the I-A ranks embrace the pinball approach to offensive formations typified by Baylor (where touchdown drives routinely take place in under 90 seconds of game time), the skill set of the Patriot League in general and Georgetown in particular still favors a more traditional approach. Which of these men can pick up from where Nolan brought the program is down the road, but there is talent there, and that's good.

At running back, Georgetown has some work ahead of it. The Hoyas lose seniors Jo'el Kimpela and vastly underutilized Troye Bullock, leaving sophomores Alex Valles and Isaac Ellsworth, along with freshmen Christian Bermudez and Carl Thomas,  At 5-6, 160, Ellsworth may be too small for a pounding 30-carry effort, but Valles had a nice game against Lehigh and could be groomed into the role of a back similar to Nick Campenella a few seasons back. A good recruiting effort in this area woudl be helpful, but let's be frank: Georgetown is fighting at a major disadvantage when it comes to recruiting players in skill positions because of scholarships.The Hoyas haven't had a true impact runner in a generation and schoalrships won't make that easier.

But some better news on the receiver front, where we're seeing the growth of some key assets in the Georgetown lineup. Justin Hill will be a senior next year and should do well, but the development  of Luke Morris and Branden Williams should provide some foundation to what the Hoyas can do next season with a new quarterback.

4. Picture-Perfect. One couldn't ask for better weather or better hospitality than that afforded to Georgetown fans at Lehigh last week. The weather was outstanding, with a bit of fall in the air but not enough to dissuade a healthy crowd of almost 8,000 at the game, replete with tailgates, cornhole games, and plenty of footballs afloat in the parking lots.

And unlike Georgetown, you see the families that makes these trips each week from the local area. If GU could take one positive step forward with its new facility, it would be to make Cooper Field and environs family-friendly, not just student-friendly.

If you've never seen a game in the Lehigh Valley, you should. The Lehigh side of the crowd was well represented:

And the fall foliage was just beyond the perimeter of the stadium:

Goodman Stadium has plenty of fan amenities, including a wide variety of foods, but one thing it could add is some history. Granted, it's not Taylor Stadium, the former home of the Engineers from 1914 to 1987 and which was literally in the middle of the Lehigh campus:

(Now that's a design for Cooper Field!)

But there's a lot of history in the Lehigh program that you'd miss by looking around the 25 year old facility that currently serves as its home. In fact, the Engineers' 1977 Division II national title is on a small banner below the scoreboard and otherwise relegated to a list of playoff appearances.

Lehigh fans might want to follow the approach by other schools when it comes to saluting past accomplishments and give its title some prominence:

Finally, I had the opportunity to meet two of the regular PL posters on the AGS message board and thank them for stopping by to say hello. Never met them before, but sharing a few football stories and some pre-game talk is what a good tailgate is all about.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Week 8 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 17-9 win over Bucknell last Saturday:

1. A Defensive Gem: For better or worse, I've probably seen (or followed on some scratchy Internet radio theme) nearly every Georgetown game in the Patriot League era, not all of them enjoyable. That having been said, Saturday's defensive performance against Bucknell may have been one of the best efforts in all those 15 years as it related to key plays at key times of the game.

Remember, Bucknell led the Hoyas in total yards, in rushing yards, passing yards, and in time of possession. I cannot recall a single game where a Georgetown team had the ball for just over 23 minutes and still managed to win the game. Five defensive plays were the difference:

  • 11:14, 1st quarter: Bucknell is moving towards its first score of the afternoon--not an inconsequential number when you've got the top defense in the league and can shut an opponent down. On a third and 6 at the Georgetown 22, R.J. Nitti's pass is picked off by freshman Blaise Brown, who returns it 51 yards and helps set up a field goal to give Georgetown the early lead.
  • 0:07, 2nd quarter: Trailing 10-9, Bucknell is at the Georgetown 20 to take the lead. DB Jethro Francois breaks up a a pass and forces a field goal attempt which veers wide right. Georgetown, not Bucknell, holds the lead at halftime.
  • 9:00, 3rd quarter: Bucknell's first drive of the second half moves to the Georgetown 30. Leo Loughery forces a four yard loss and two incompletions follow. Rather than take the field goal, the Bison, Ettian Scott breaks up a pass that might have led to a Bucknell tocuhdown. The Hoyas' lead holds again.
  • 6:36, 4th quarter: A critical interception at midfield gives the Bison its best chance yet at closing a 17-9 score late in the game. Driving to the Georgetown 12, the defense forces a fourth and five and answers with Matthew Satchell's 19 yard sack,
  • 0:42, 4th quarter: back come the Bison, successfully completing a fourth down and 18 for 59 ayrds and advancing to the GU 12 with seconds remaining. First down, incomplete pass. Second down, sack. Third down, incomplete. Fourth down, a pass in the back of the end zone broken up.
Five series, each of which drive inside the GU 30. No points. That's how it's done.

2. Defensive Standouts: A big game for LB Matthew Satchell. His 18 tackles tied for third all-time in a single game, a number that has been reached only once in the I-AA era. And  a big game for freshman Jethro Francois, with 15 tackles, up from nine in the first six games of the season.

3. On Offense, Well...: The Georgetown offense remains a srep behind anyone in the patriot league not named Lafayette. The Hoyas are sixth in rushing offense (Jo'el Kimpela was the only RB with any carries versus Bucknell) and sixth in passing efficiency at just 116 yards per game.  The Hoyas are last in time of possession which makes it doubly difficult to come back from deficits, which rendered it all but hopeless once Harvard got up on the scoreboard earlier this year, and why the defensive stands cited above were so, so, important.

4. Fourteen and Counting: Saturday's game at Lehigh offers Georgetown its best chance in many, many years of overcoming a losing streak that is among the longest in the nation.,

The Hoyas have lost 14 straight games to the Engineers since 2001. Among active annual series, only two in Division I are longer: Florida's 27 straight wins over Kentucky and Pennsylvania's 18 straight over Columbia. While some streaks were not in consecutive years (such as the recent snap of a 61 year streak by Penn State over Temple, a loss Saturday would match the longest losing streak in PL history, currently the 15 straight wins by Lehigh over Bucknell form 1998 through 2012.

Unfortunately for Georgetown, its games at Murray Goodman Stadium haven't been close. In six games in Allentown, the Hoyas have not been within 21 points at the finish, having been outscored by a combined total of 266-50, with three shutouts.

In the last trip to Goodman Stadium, also on a Family Weekend, the Engineers roared to a 38-3 lead at the half en route to a 45-24 win.

In case you are wondering, the longest consecutive game streaks in Division I-AA history (Division I opponents only):

32—Grambling State over Prairie View, 1977-2008
23—William & Mary over VMI, 1986-2008
22—Eastern Kentucky over Tennessee Tech, 1976-97
20—Eastern Kentucky over Austin Peay St., 1978-97
18—Western Illinois over Southern Illinois, 1984-2001
18—Eastern Kentucky over Morehead St., 1972-89
18—Penn over Columbia, 1997-current
17—Princeton over Columbia, 1954-70
16—Montana over Montana St., 1986-2001
16—Harvard over Columbia, 1979-94
16—Middle Tennessee over Morehead St., 1951-66
15—Dartmouth over Brown, 1960-74
15—Lehigh over Bucknell, 1998-2012
14—Dartmouth over Columbia, 1984-97
14—Marshall over VMI, 1983-96
14—Appalachian St. over East Tennessee, 1982-95
14—Yale over Princeton, 1967-80
14—Lehigh over Georgetown, 2001-current

5. The Last Halloween: When was the last time Georgetown played a game on Halloween? It was Oct. 31, 2009, bnefore 19,782 at Old Dominion, then in their first season of college football since the school was a branch of William & Mary in the 1930's. The Hoyas were in the midst of an 0-11 season and weren't much for the up and coming Monarchs, who held a 350-39 lead in total yards and a 31-3 lead at the half en route to a 31-10 finish. The school cancelled the next three scheduled games in the series against the Hoyas, and Kevin Kelly gladly obliged.

Where are the Monarchs today? In Conference USA, currently at 3-4, with opponents such as Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, and Appalachian State. One thing that hasn't changed: sellouts at every game.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Week 7 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Colgate's 17-13 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. A Slow Start: In the second half of seven games this year, Georgetown has scored the same number of points (51) that it has given up, and while that's not a lot, it shows the Hoyas are competitive down the stretch. In the first quarter, however, a different story, where Georgetown has been outscored 52-27. Put another way, the Hoyas are averaging three points a game in the first 15 minutes of games.

Saturday's game might not be the bellwether for any great trends on the Hoyas season, with the number of fumbles and general bumps along the road for both teams, but Georgetown would have been in a much better position in this game not trailing 17-0 after three. In each of the games this season where Georgetown leads after the first quarter, it has won. And where it has trailed, it has lost.

2. Rookie Of The Week: Congratulations to freshman DL Brennan Sawicki, the PL rookie of the week following Saturday's game. While such weekly honors are altogether fleeting, it was notable in that it's the first Georgetown defensive player so awarded in three years. Twelve tackles in a game is a good number regardless of graduating class, but with a number key seniors graduating in 2016, the next generation of defensive players is vital to a team that is not as deep as its scholarship brethren.

3. Late Arrivals: Saturday's attendance at Cooper field topped 3,000 for a second straight week, marking one of the six largest crowds on the temporary tundra since it opened in 2005. But you wouldn't have known it by the game time crowd. Here's a photo of the captains approaching for the coin toss:

It's important that when the Cooper Field planning takes place, assuming it is in progress, that there is incentive for people to actually arrive to the game on time and find a pleasant environment to watch the game. No stadium in the PL is as close to its campus as is Georgetown, but the current seating configuration is uncomfortable at best and unwelcoming at worst.

We can do better. With the Cooper gift, now we can.

4. It's Good To be At Home: While the Hoyas s welcomed the Red Raiders in Washington, here was the scene in Hamilton as the GU field hockey team traveled to play up there:

It may be a sign of things to come. Colder weather awaits, and Georgetown has only one more home game this season, which (again) is scheduled against the home basketball opener.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Arms Race

From time to time, people ask why (or if) Georgetown is at a disadvantage with other Patriot league schools, regardless of scholarships. I found a brief comparison to share here.

In 2003-04 (Georgetown's third year in the PL and the peak of the league's post-season performance with Colgate's run to the I-AA finals), here was the amount of the football budgets per school:

Colgate University $3,277,347
Fordham University $3,255,639
College of the Holy Cross $2,938,306
Lehigh University $2,735,715
Bucknell University $2,500,396
Lafayette College $2,461,679
Georgetown University $1,164,010

Looking at it another way, here was the gap between the top team on the list (Colgate) and the bottom (Georgetown):

Colgate University
Fordham University -0.7%
College of the Holy Cross -10%
Lehigh University -17%
Bucknell University -24%
Lafayette College -25%
Georgetown University -64%

Now, in 2013-14, see how the numbers have changed:

Fordham University $5,755,583
Colgate University $4,696,235
Lafayette College $4,682,194
College of the Holy Cross $4,359,373
Lehigh University $4,337,184
Bucknell University $3,346,961
Georgetown University $1,683,686

And the gap:

Fordham University
Colgate University -18%
Lafayette College -19%
College of the Holy Cross -24%
Lehigh University -25%
Bucknell University -42%
Georgetown University -71%

Fordham, with its head start on scholarships, zoomed past the other schools. But it's not solely about Fordham. Consider this: the gap between Georgetown and these six schools, which was roughly 41 cents of Georgetown spend for every $1.00 spent at the other schools in 2003-04, is now at 31 cents to the dollar.

And that's with only two years of scholarship spend. These numbers are going up, and so too the gap.

Week 6 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Georgetown's 38-7 Homecoming win over Lafayette:

1. A Complete Win: Putting aside the 130 yards in penalties in this game, this was as dominant a win Georgetown has undertaken in the Patriot League era--put another way, when you can give up 130 yards in penalties and still win by 31, you've had a good game.

While this was not the Lafayette team of recent years, given its injuries and lack of depth, it was nonetheless surprising to see the Hoyas take the measure of a Patriot League team and control the game from start to finish. In 15 years of PL play, Georgetown had won all of four games - four - by more than eight points. A 10 point win over Holy Cross came in 2010, while the other three were completed in a 2011 season that remains one of the great anomalies of recent college football. Not many schools can (or do) go from 0-11 in one season, then 8-3 within two seasons, and back to 2-9 two years later. Even stranger still, it did not involve a singular talent that left after a year, a run of transfers that rotated out, or some sort of NCAA chicanery.

The best stat of the day was undoubtedly the rushing defense. It doesn't matter who the opponent, holding a team to nine yards rushing  is a great defensive accomplishment.

2. What's In A Name: Yes, I understand why the ceremonies honoring Peter Cooper and his family were appropriate this week, and yes, I understand why there would be interest in a naming ceremony, but I was hoping that Georgetown would exercise some restraint and not name the aging MSF infrastructure Cooper Field until the new facility was constructed.

Columbia didn't put the  Lawrence A. Wien's name on the decrepit wooden stands at Baker Field, but waited until they had actually built something new. When the University of Houston rebuilt the former WPA project variously known as Public School Stadium, Jeppesen Stadium or Robertson Stadium, they didn't give it its new name, the somewhat antiseptic TEDCU Stadium, until the new place opened. In the long range, it won't matter much, but the Cooper Field name should be more  - al lot more - than what was named on Saturday.

To that last point, and worthy of a column all it own later this season, three requests:

1. Georgetown needs to communicate the progress of the construction. Don't fall into the analysis paralysis trap that doomed the MSF.
2. The University needs to reach out to previous and potential future donors. The Cooper gift is great, but if another $5 million could raised through the football and lacrosse communities, even better.
3. Set a date and meet it. No more of this "Phase 1(b) , bullet point 2, romanette (iii)" approach.

Get. It. Done.

3. Turnout. An announced crowd of 3,104 is great for the 2,400 MSF, but there must have been a lot of sitting-room-only on the home side, as there were noticeable gasps in seatint along the visitors side. What's also in that number? Student turnout, or the lack of it. It's waned over the years, and not just for the reasons cited at other schools.

"The most common complaints included restrictions on tailgating at the stadium, or the quality of presentation of the games on television compared to the sight lines and breaks in the action at the stadium," wrote an 2014 article. "Fans of the worst teams complained that the games weren't competitive enough, yet so did did fans of the best teams. One thing that wasn't an issue? Ticket prices, as most are either free or heavily subsidized."

Georgetown has no defined student section. Students that arrive late (and let's face it, most do), either get a really poor seat or insufficient seats with their friends. Why would they stay otherwise? When open seats are available, there is a tacit understanding that the visitors side is off-limits to students.

And it's not just about seating, either. Another interesting item from that article:

"In an effort to better pin down reasons for no-shows, the University of Tennessee keeps some of the most detailed data. Percentage of tickets scanned for each game is matched up against weather, kickoff time and which network the game is on. The conclusion? The highest percentage of tickets used in each of the last four seasons came at night games, including a 6 p.m. kickoff against Tennessee-Martin in Sept. 2010, which had only a 7 percent no-show rate, the best over the last four years of home game."

Georgetown maintains only one night game a year. Other than Homecoming, it generally draws the best attendance of the year, yet GU might have one night game a year. A missing opportunity?

4. Now Playing. Yes, the PL Network games are great and a decided step above paying $9.95 for a camera hanging out of the MSF press box, but is anyone else experiencing problems with latency (buffering) toward the end of each half? It's as if the broadcast is running out of bandwidth after about an hour and the video starts to lag. That's less of an issue at the user level and more about the size of the connections it's using to send the video - in layman's terms, there's too much water trying to go into the pipe.

And in issue that almost no one at Georgetown was aware of, a small group of Lafayette fans were grumbling online that their broadcast crew was not "allowed" to broadcast the game at MSF this weekend. Lafayette is blessed by the best game-day broadcast team in I-AA, with a production effort that is good as any out there, including the big schools.

The Lafayette Sports Network broadcasts all games, home and away, for both broadcast and online properties, but in the last four years they've on;y missed two games, both at MSF. Comspiracy theorists out there may claim it is some sore of punitive move by Georgetown, I don't know. Maybe it's the lack of space for a second production truck aside the PL Network setup, or, just as likely, the lack of room in what is generously referred to as a press box atop the stands. Either way, they were missed, and maybe by the time the Leopards return in 2015, they'll have a real press box (and a parking space) that can welcome the LSN back to town.

As for WGTB, well. I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Week 5 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Harvard's 45-0 win over Georgetown Friday night:

1. Almost There. This was the game to which I had made some rather elaborate plans to get to Boston Friday night and back to Washington Saturday morning, but the weather led to a change in heart and in hindsight, it was the right move. Sitting on the concrete of  Harvard Stadium with the potential of a cold, driving rain for three hours wasn't a good use of common sense, and instead I watched it from a entirely vacant food court in the Leavey Center.

Not that it would have mattered, because the homestanding Crimson were more than the Hoyas could handle and that's not a knock on Georgetown. Playing a near penalty free game (one), Georgetown still couldn't hang with Harvard, as this was as deep an opponent across the board as Georgetown has faced since it lost 48-0 to a Richmond team en route to the 2008 I-AA national title. They're that good.

Of course, that's a matter of debate. A school like Harvard could probably play a lot of teams, and even to pick up a I-A opponent now and then--if Wagner can play Rice, surely Harvard could. But that's not the Harvard football "culture", so to speak, and instead the Cantabridgians play teams like Georgetown instead of Boston College, and go on to pound the Ivies another year. Over the last five years, Tim Murphy's men have made a case for the Crimson as the most powerful Ivy eleven, year over year, since Bob Blackman and Jake Crouthamel were leading the Dartmouth Indians to five straight Ivy titles through 1972. Harvard was #24 in the I-AA polls this year, while the Indians were 14th in the major college national poll in 1970, ahead of USC and right behind Georgia Tech.

This kind of talk isn't new.

"Yet a glance at future schedules and future squads makes it look as though this season...will be the pattern for several years to come. Someone is to blame, and it isn't the law of averages. It is the alumni," wrote the Harvard Crimson.

"These distinguished members of the company of educated men feel that their Harvard diplomas qualify them as expert football critics. Consequently they come with a flask on Saturday afternoons and spend two hours impressing their wives by second-guessing the quarterback. Then they go to a cocktail party and slander the coach. Then they go home and sleep it off. And that's all."

"The Administration also likes football for its money value. This one sport supports virtually all the others, varsity and intramurals alike, and keeps Harvard's fine "athletics for all" program alive. Without gate receipts at the Stadium, there would be no money to pay for shells or for squash and tennis courts. Therefore, the people who have to sign checks for upkeep and replacements on Harvard's colossal athletic plant want big names in the Stadium [that] draw more people than little schools which we can beat."

The commentary was written in 1949.

2. Patriots At The Break: Like all college seasons, it goes by too fast. The Hoyas are at or near the halfway point in the race, five down and six to go. By all competitive measures but Sisu, it won't be competitive for the rest of the season, Non-scholarship teams don't beat 45 and 60-grant teams as a matter of due course.

But all isn't seashells and balloons around the league, however,  Spending that money connoted a ticket to the good old days for schools to which the Patriot League has been a retirement home for the sport from way back when, Outside of Fordham, no one's very happy.

Fordham: There are good times at Rose Hill: The Rams lost a ton in 2014 and have reloaded in 2015 behind the running ways of Chase Edmonds, who seems a likely All-America selection as a sophomore.  A narrow loss to Villanova has been the only setback in a season which began on national TV with an upset over Army and three straight wins, including last week's 35-7 win over Lafayette. Edmonds rushed for more yards (234) than Lafayette put in the air (224).

After a game at Penn, three of the next four PL games will be at home before the Rams travel to DC for the season finale. That will be a tall order for anyone in this league to overcome.

Bucknell: While the Bison haven't won a PL title in two decades, there were many early signs that suggested Bucknell could give Fordham a fight to the finish. So far, it's not there. Following a underwhelming 17 points in a win over Marist, the Bison lost to Duquesne, needed a late touchdown to steer past Cornell, and was forced into overtime by VMI. The combined record of its first four opponents is 5-13 (.278). A key game with lehigh awaits this week followed by a game at Army before the Bison host Georgetown on Oct. 17 and three of its final four on the road. If the Bison are about to make a move, now is the time.

Holy Cross: There was some grumbling about the status of veteran coach Tom Gilmore , who remains below .500 in his 11 years in Worcester, following a 1-2 start. The Crusaders have hit a chance to pick up the wins, with a shutout of Albany last week and and a winnable home game with Brown this weekend. This could be a 5-5 HC team entering its season finale versus Georgetown, where they have dropped three of the last four in the series.

Colgate: The grumbling persists at Colgate, where the Red Raiders started 0-3 and have won two straight, the latest being its win over a winless Cornell team with a late defensive stand. The Red raiders lead the league in rushing, are last in passing, and in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories. The Bison also finish with three of its final four at home, including Fordham and Bucknell; still, this has the earmark of another frustrating season for a program which was once one of the nation's best.

Lafayette: The Leopards have settled into a consistent pattern over he years: struggling in the non-conference, finishing below .500 overall but a competitive entrant for the PL title. This finish reminds some Lafayette fans of ten days of former Detroit Lions coach Wayne Fontes, who always seemed to get his team to the finish line better than he found it, but never enough to win the hearts of the fans. At 1-4, Saturday's game against the Hoyas may be a must-win with Harvard lurking in two weeks. The Leopards don't want to be 1-6 entering the home stretch, but a win over Lehigh always makes a long season a little shorter.

Lehigh: The Engineers have dropped three of four, and face Bucknell and Fordham over the next two weeks in a gut-check for the 2015 season, before beginning three of its next four at home, including Georgetown on Oct. 31. Lehigh is last in the PL in defense, an unaccustomed place but one reflective of the changing tides of younger players in key roles.

Coming later this week: where is Georgetown at the halfway point?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015