Sunday, September 15, 2019

Week 3 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 69-0 win over Catholic Saturday.

1. Stating The Obvious: Well, this is why Division I teams do not schedule Division III teams. The disparity in size and speed will eventually take its toll and such was the case in this game. From the first crack of the line in the blocked punt through nine straight possessions where the Catholic defense was a size too small and a step too slow, you see outcomes like this.

Georgetown's situation was not unique. Morehead State walloped Kentucky Christian 73-34, Delaware State beat Lincoln 58-12, UA-Pine Bluff overwhelmed Langston 53-15 and Florida A&M defeated Fort Valley State 57-20.

Unless you're Mount Union or Mary Hardin-Baylor, it is difficult if not prohibitive for Division III schools to recruit to the talent and the depth of even lower tier I-AA teams like a Georgetown or a Morehead State, not strictly on scholarship status (since neither GU nor MSU offers scholarships) but on training, conditioning and strength of schedule. A Division III club can have a great player or two each year, much as Georgetown did during the Scotty Glacken years, but depth will always be an issue.

What each school gained out of this game isn't altogether clear. Catholic will use it as an opportunity to play above its usual schedule (the NEWMAC is one of the weakest D-III leagues overall) and save some money on travel costs. Georgetown gets a win heading into the first bye week but not much else. The cynic will suggest that if Georgetown finishes 9-2 or 8-3, a win over a Division III opponent may cost them an NCAA at-large playoff bid; the realist would suggest the Patriot League has no business proferring an at-large candidate this year. If the Hoyas play .500 football the rest of the season, they've got their second winning season since 1999, which is as tepid a reason as any to play a game like this.

Meanwhile, the original opponent for this week, Howard, lost to Hampton, 41-20, before a smaller than expected crowd of 19,425 at the Chicago Football Classic at Soldier Field. The 0-3 Bison aren't looking back asking "what if" with the Hoyas, having signed a new four year deal with Hampton, which for now is the "real" HU as far as that rivalry goes. Georgetown doesn't share future schedules but it's not likely we'll see Howard soon.

And then there's the question--is the Steven Dean trophy series back on? Named for the late Georgetown alumnus (1972) who served as sports information director at Catholic in the 1970's, it's not cited in any Georgetown wrap-up but mentioned in pre-game and post-game releases from the CUA sports relations team. Either way, the trophy still sits near Rob Sgarlata's office, where it has held residence at McDonough Gym for the last 26 years.

2. Grading The Hoyas: What can you say? Excepting a couple of missed kicks, everyone did largely as expected, which is to say, executed on what they should.

The offense was strong but not running it up, taking advantage of speed on the receivers and a lack of defensive sets that locked down pass plays. Gunther Johnson was solid if not overwhelming at quarterback, while Joe Brunell (8 for 9) continues to get better every week. By November, these names could well be reversed in the depth chart. Offensive line? Not challenged as they will be the rest of the season, but they held Catholic without a sack and allowed the Hoyas on offense to do as they saw fit.

The defense played to its expectations. The Hoyas had advantages across the line in every position, which it should. It held Catholic to a net 72 yards on 2 of 15 on third down conversions. The Cardinals had one first down after halftime.

Maybe to some, the 69 points was  a surprise. To the defense, the 0 was not.

3. Goals For The Bye Week: First, watch the game film, then put it away for good. Catholic has no relevance to any other opponent for the rest of the year. Players, coaches, and fans would do well not to use it in any relevant comparison to Columbia, Cornell, or the PL schedule.

Three goals: rest, recharge, and refocus. Columbia (Sep. 28 at Baker Field/Wien Stadium) returns 16 starters and as Hero Sports' pre-season review put it, "The Ivy League is going to be insanely competitive this year. There's no reason the Lions shouldn't be looked at as one of those teams battling at the top. Hitting eight wins again should be the goal for this team, with the ultimate goal of winning even more."

4. Time Flies? There were some comments on the Internet suggesting that with a 2:25 time of play, the third and fourth quarters may have been shortened.  It didn't happen.

NCAA rules allow a shortened game upon the consent of both head coaches, but the box score clearly shows a full 15 minutes in the two quarters of the second half. NCAA rules do not allow a running clock, and no such clock appeared to be in use.

5. Around The League: Another rough week for the PL, which is now 4-16 out of conference (2-15 excepting Georgetown.

No easy answers why, since the PL teams have not only lost to teams they expected to (Navy, Temple), but a fair number of losses to teams they should beat (Monmouth, Central Connecticut, and twice to Sacred Heart). Some point to three fewer scholarships, others to the PL's redshirt policy, or that the league isn't competing in recruiting. I'll go with an easier answer: of the 20 games to date, 12 have been on the road, where PL teams are 1-11.

Next week, three of the four PL games are on the road. Your guess is as good as mine.



Friday, September 13, 2019

They Can't Be Serious?

If you didn't read the post below, this prophetic quote:

"But as Northeast schools continue to realign their early season schedules to major opponents, it reduces the pool of available games to which Georgetown is a candidate for...Or they could get stuck with Division III games, which is a net negative on the reputation of the University to recruits and other opponents?"

Avert your eyes at this quote from the Catholic University game notes of September 13:

"The germination of Saturday's game began when Catholic Athletic Director Sean Sullivan first communicated with Georgetown officials in August of 2016.

"They reached out to us," Sullivan said, "and I jumped on it."

The Hoyas and Cardinals will play again in 2022 at Cardinal Stadium and at Georgetown in 2023."




Wednesday, September 11, 2019

CUA: WTH?

Two years ago, the weekend of September 14 seemed to be a golden opportunity for Georgetown football. Howard University, led by former Virginia coach Mike London, had scheduled games with Maryland and Georgetown to help open the 2019 season. Though the previous games between the schools had been somewhat lackluster (the 2008 game was moved to a Sunday over weather, while the Bison band did not travel to the 2009 game at Georgetown), the premise of another local game would be otherwise favorable for the schedule, at either school's location.

Instead, Georgetown will play a Division III team for the first time in a quarter century. Before we ask why, we must know how this took place.

Scheduling Georgetown has never been popular in Howard football circles. Excepting "guarantee games", Howard prefers its non-conference games are held against other historically black colleges and universities (HBCU's) for the purposes of raising money for its football team and ostensibly the rest of its sports programs. A "classic" game between Howard and another HBCU could draw as many as 25,000 people, with copious amounts of corporate sponsorship to bring the band and dance teams to a community outside the Northeast. Though its schedule is not exclusively HBCU (Howard traveled to Youngstown State last week and to Harvard next month), a game with Georgetown in football is like Georgetown playing GW in basketball--not a lot to gain, but a lot to lose.

When London left for William & Mary after the 2018 season, new coach Mike Prince saw an opportunity to schedule Hampton (having left the MEAC for the Big South) and pick up a corporate payday.  Goodbye "Mayor's Cup IV", hello, "Chicago Football Classic".

Truth be told, Howard-Hampton will draw a lot more interest than Howard-Georgetown. The web site for the game promotes such ancillary civic activities as  a  pep rally in downtown Chicago, an HBCU college admissions fair, a "Battle of the Bands", and a step dance show to raise interest in the school's in the nation's second largest African American media market, one without an HBCU football program of its own.

Howard was out. But there now was a hole in a Georgetown schedule, a schedule which wasn't strong to begin with. Instead of casting a net for I-AA schools with an open week on September 14 or September 21 (Georgetown's bye week), it stayed small time. Very small. While Georgetown could have potentially worked a deal with Western Carolina, Cal Poly, Youngstown State, or 12 other schools looking for games in week 3 earlier this spring, that would have come with a cost--none of these schools would accept a game on the Cooper construction lot, and the travel costs to places like Cullowhee, NC or San Luis Obispo, CA would cost Georgetown money and weren't going to be met by a corporate sponsor. Instead, the fan-unfriendly confines of Cooper Field will welcome Division III Catholic University Saturday for the first time since, well, since Rob Sgarlata was a starter in the  Georgetown backfield and Cooper Field was part of the New South parking lot.

Byproducts of the club football era, the schools played 26 times between 1966 and 1993, with Georgetown winning 17 of them and eight of the last 10. With the Hoyas' move out of Division III and into the MAAC after the 1992 season, the teams played one final time on October 30, 1993, an unremarkable 10-0 Georgetown win that retired the Steve Dean Memorial Trophy.

The Catholic team that arrives on the bus Saturday bears scant resemblance to that 1993 team. The Cardinals now compete in a league known as the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference, with most opponents in Massachusetts, Maine, or  Vermont. The Cardinals were 1-9 last season in the NEWMAC and lost its opener last week to Kenyon (OH), 32-31. Last year's CUA team traveled to Utica, NY for its week 2 game, so a visit to Georgetown isn't unwelcome given its own travel budget.

Short of the final score, it's a no-lose situation for a program that hasn't posted a winning season since 2013. But what does it mean for Georgetown? Is this the best the Hoyas can do?

Many fans ignore the low-wattage schedules the Hoyas build as an opportunity to get a winning season. Better to beat Marist than get slaughtered by Maryland, a false choice notwithstanding. But the Hoyas' arcane scheduling patterns are increasingly contrary to that employed by the Patriot League and increasingly the Northeast Conference, a group of schools like Duquesne, St. Francis, Wagner, etc. that are no less competitive than GU but which has suddenly attracted major college opponents.

Let's start with the PL, whose out of conference record to date is 2-12 but which has seen its teams face the likes of Air Force, Navy, Temple, and Villanova. What these teams lose in outcomes they are gaining on recruiting, fan interest, and the game experience against better competition.

Six PL teams now up-schedule with I-A opponents, and one does not. I'm sure that playing Syracuse at the Carrier Dome does not fit the "ethos and culture of Georgetown" but the other six schools provide its opponents something Georgetown does not--a win for bowl eligibility.

And so do Northeast schools, despite a scholarship limit 20 below the PL. Former Division III opponents like Duquesne (with future games against Coastal Carolina, Charlotte, Hawaii and West Virginia through 2024), Robert Morris (Buffalo), St. Francis (Eastern Michigan, Akron) and Wagner (UConn, Miami) are all jumping into the pool. Even LIU, a Division II school joining the NEC,  has already lined up a game at West Virginia in 2021.

I'm not arguing Georgetown needs to play West Virginia to be relevant. Howard's foray into Byrd Stadium meted a 79-0 outcome, the second largest margin for an opening game in I-A since 2000. But as Northeast schools continue to realign their early season schedules to major opponents, it reduces the pool of available games to which Georgetown is a candidate for.

What about Ivy League schools? Ivy schools don't schedule any opponents in the first three weeks of the season and are themselves increasingly looking beyond the Patriot League for who they do play, though not at the same competitive levels as the PL and NEC.  But as PL and NEC schools fill their schedules, Georgetown either has to go further away from the Northeast to find opponents, something they have not shown they are willing to do, or load up on fan-agnostic opponents that are regularly among the 10 or 15 worst teams in the nation by statistical rankings.

Or they could get stuck with Division III games, which is a net negative on the reputation of the University to recruits and other opponents? What does it say when a Holy Cross coach can discuss their games at Boston College and UConn to a recruit  and Georgetown is left with filling a schedule with such lightly regarded opponents?

Georgetown has chosen not to competitively schedule outside the non-scholarship ranks for a decade, so we should not be altogether surprised with a 2019 lineup of Davidson, Marist, and Catholic that is lamentable compared to its fellow PL schools. Even lowly Bucknell will feature the likes of Temple, Villanova, and Princeton on its 2019 slate.

A new(er) Cooper Field might help. A winning record might help. But in the end, there are less fish in the sea from which to land opponents in the years to come, none moreso than for a program with a record of conservative scheduling that has offered little in return.

It's not 1993 anymore. Georgetown can and must aim higher for its scheduling in the years to come, to give the fans something it has lacked for years--something to look forward to.

"You are what your schedule says you are," says the football proverb. Scheduling is identity. What is Georgetown's identity?















Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Week 2 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 43-3 win over Marist Saturday:

1. Mission Accomplished: Excepting an injury to Duval Paul, Georgetown got exactly what it wanted out of the game: first a win; second, game time experience for a lot of players; and three, momentum.

Georgetown needed all three. The Davidson opener was flat on many levels and a bounce back was in order. The Hoyas were certainly favored over Marist in the Red Foxes' first game of the season, but Marist seemed to fold its tents following the second quarter. This is often a byproduct of a game one effort--the contrast with pre-season practice will take a toll on a team when it falls behind.  The Marist running game has a long year ahead of it and the caliber of its remaining non-conference games (Cornell, Dartmouth) will be another tough test on Jim Parady and the Marist coaching staff.

Sgarlata and Parady go way back. Parady was in his third season when the Red Foxes joined the MAAC in 1994--they won the conference title that first season. He helped guide the program to be the last survivor from the sunken ship that was the MAAC Football League, a feat that the likes of Fairfield, Iona, St. Peter's, Siena, Canisius, and St. John's were not able to do. But at 138-147, with one Pioneer title since joining that league, it won't be an easy season for him of the Foxes take a sixth consecutive season under .500. 

Does Georgetown gain any momentum from this win? A little, perhaps. No one wanted to go into week 3 at 0-2, but getting Joe Brunell some game time experience that he will need and rotating the defense through a variety of options will prove vital as October nears.  Marist will never be a marquee opponent for a program that doesn't get on the marquee, but it was a good early test.  Georgetown excelled in all there areas of the game and a fourth which can be jsut as important: expectations.

We don't know how good or bad Marist will turn out, but maybe Davidson is a whole lot better than its Pioneer brethren would give them credit for.

2. Stadium Coverage (without the stadium): An A+ to the new high definition broadcast of Saturday's game. For a tight budget, Stadium/PL Network continues to hit the ball out of the park, to mix sports metaphors.  Compared to some ESPN3 broadcasts where it sounds like the announcers are calling the game from a studio in Bristol, CT, the PL Network crew is connected to the game and makes the best out of what Cooper Field gives them, which isn't very much.

Also, to its credit: no wisecracks about the Cooper press box, arguably the worst in Division I. Where the press is usually afforded a sandwich tray and snacks in the areas surrounding the press box, there are no such amenities this year st Georgetown. Next year? You would think but...wait a minute, we've been down this road before...

3. Upon Further Review: Saturday's official attendance took a nosedive this week. The original count for the game was 3,336, which would not only have made it the best attended home opener since 2005, it would have been the second largest crowd in the history of  2,500 seat Cooper Field (fka Multi Sport Field).

Except at least half the seating no longer exists, having been razed in 2017 for the 2018 2019 2020 grand reopening.

The revised total is now 1,943.
















Monday, September 2, 2019

Week 1 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Davidson's 27-20 win over Georgetown:

1. What We Learned: This was a disappointing game in a lot of ways, not merely as a reflection of the score.

For all the pre-season factors which were prepared to send the Hoyas skyward in 2019 (depth, defensive talent, team speed, recruiting), none of these were in evidence at the Davidson game.

Start with the defensive line, which was incapable of understating nor compensating for the Davidson run game. Granted, the Wildcats' motion option isn't a common strategy but after 30 or 40 carries it's no longer new. Actually, it was 75 carries, with a grand total of two tackles for loss. However you define it, this was a major step backward for a nationally ranked defense such as Georgetown.

Davidson controlled the game from start to finish and were it not for an unusual run of three consecutive turnovers in as many series might have run away (no pun intended) with the game.  Davidson controlled the ball for over 40 minutes in the game, 10 of 17 (58%) on third down and 5 of 6 (83%) on fourth down--compare that to Georgetown's 2018 season totals of 32% and 36%, respectively.

We learned that the Georgetown offense still isn't very good. Granted, you can't do a lot with less than 20 minutes on the field, but the 20 minutes weren't much to remember. Against a Davidson defense that gave up over 40 points a game last season and didn't allow fewer than 35 points all last season in the Pioneer League, the Hoyas got one offensive drive and a pair of short fields off turnovers. The Georgetown run game managed 89 yards and four first downs. Georgetown's 234 yards total offense was just 23 yards more than an undermanned Bucknell offense could grind out versus Temple in a 56-12 walkover.

This wasn't a late game spoiler. Lehigh lost to St. Francis on  a missed field goal on the last play of the game. Fordham lost to Central Connecticut on a CCSU field goal with no time remaining. Georgetown gave up touchdowns on drives of 15, 12 and 19 plays to open the game. No spoiler, but a little stinky.

2. What We Did Not Learn: The defense will get better. But what about the offense?

Gunther Johnson finished as the sixth of seven PL quarterbacks in 2018 and Saturday's game was evidence that the Hoyas may have reached his peak skills. He doesn't have the line strength which forces him in to run situations--he'll get them early in games, but is usually shut down by the late second quarter and onward. While not altogether tall (6-1), he tende to throw a lot of passes low to receivers, as if he is compensating for the crown of college fields, which on turf fields don't exist as they once did. He doesn't have time to throw deep and while he usually gets one long pass (Saturday's being a 51 catch and run by Joshua Tomas), the other stats are remarkably understated. Take out that pass and Johnson was 10 for 18 for 83 yards against a pass defense ranked 117th in 2018, giving up an average of 275 yards a game against the likes of Brevard, Chowan, Guilford, and eight Pioneer teams. Johnson has thrown under 100 yards in five of the last six games.

Georgetown has receivers that can run the long patterns but aren't getting the time to do so. Johnson is forced to rely on the dump-off pass when he has no pocket time. If the O-line can't protect Johnson better, all the Michael Dereuses and Joshua Tomases on the depth chart won't matter.

And above it all, the running game looked remarkably unchanged. If the Hoyas can't run on Davidson, who can they run against?

3. What To Look For, Week Two: Over the years, it's best not to read too much into the annual game with Marist--there are years where the Hoyas have dominated and struggled the rest of the year, while in 2018 the Hoyas fell late and still managed a productive season.

But Georgetown doesn't want to stare at 0-2 with the schedule they have ahead of them. Marist enters the game ranked ahead of Davidson in the pioneer pre-season poll, and take advantage of a recruiting option that the PL stubbornly refuses to do--redshirting. The Red Foxes will feature 22 redshirt freshmen, 18 redshirt sophomores, 30 redshirt juniors and six redshirt seniors--that's 76 redshirts on a roster of 107.

Saturday's game won't settle that issue, but Georgetown has to settle it on the field. The Hoyas haven't allowed more than two touchdowns in a game in any of the last five games in the series and given the state of the 2019 offense so far, that's a good number to repeat this week.

Look for a more consistent effort on both sides of the ball Saturday.





Monday, August 26, 2019

2019 Preview: Secondary & Special Teams

The Georgetown defense enters the 2019 season as talented as any in the last two decades, with depth across the board. One area worth watching on depth is the secondary, where a number of talented reserves will be expected to challenge four starters from 2018.

The Hoyas are solid to open the season at cornerback. Junior Cameron Deen and senior Jalen Goldwire have grown into the roles which saw each play a strong role in 2018, as the Hoyas bent but did not break in the secondary, finishing third in the nation in 2018 in pass efficiency defense. At 6-2, Goldwire is taller than many of his predecessors in the GU lineup, which were often at a disadvantage against taller receivers. However, both will be tested on speed, where the Hoyas are at risk against deeper routes.

Five reserves will back up Deen and Goldwire, but do not yet have the game day experience. One to watch is junior Jonathan Honore, who saw action in 11 games last season but will look up to pick up the momentum as junior Andre Danove is sidelined in 2019.

When Georgetown goes to the three safety package, two positions are in good hands: senior Leon Agee and Ahmad Wilson combined for 77 tackles and five interceptions last season. Junior Roemello Walton figures to be a strong contender for the nickle package and has a great oppotunity to  be that bridge to the 2020 secondary leadership when Agee and Wilson graduate.

"Leon has really progressed through camp and is looking sharp, right where we need him to be," said assistant coach Trey Henderson at GUHoyas.com. "Ahmad is also doing a nice job as we are moving him around a bit at a few different positions, but mentally he is doing a good job out there as far as making calls and getting guys lined up. Roemello has started to come along, playing more of a spur position for us and has done everything we have asked of him. His length and athleticism helps us out a lot. Dawson, Zaire and Delano are all working extremely hard and I think they have gotten better from practice one of preseason camp to now. They are really coming along and will provide excellent depth and be key components for us in the fall."

Georgetown's reserves are untested, and injuries could be a big factor in evaluating how well this team can defend against the pass. The Hoyas were only fifth of seven in the PL in pass defense and improved offenses at Bucknell and Lehigh figure to test them deep.

The kicking game is a test of a different kind. Senior Brad Hurst remains a solid punter with a career arc that should put him into the top five on the Georgetown record books.  Pencil Hurst in 11 games at punter.

The kicking, that's another story. Hurst did not make a single FG in the last nine games last season, missed five of five versus Lehigh, and struggled mightily down the stretch. It seems likely that Tulane transfer Davis Walker will get a look to back up ore replace Hurst on PAT's and field goal attempts. A steady kicking game may mean the difference for a winning season in 2019, just as it (wasn't) in 2018.

All in all, there's a lot to look forward to in 2019, even with another year where the mirage of Cooper Field stands in the distance. Fans will have to wait yet another year for the promises of 1999 and 2000, much less 2005, 2009, or 2018. Those who do find their ways to the windswept east stands should take some solace in the fact that the Hoyas figure to send out the 15 year temporary seats out in style, with its best season in eight years.



Sunday, August 18, 2019

2019 Preview: Defensive Line & Linebackers

With a varsity football program that dates to the first Grover Cleveland administration, I'm hesitant to suggest that any one team or one player is the "best ever" at Georgetown University. While it's admittedly difficult to compare players across years or decades or even centuries, a case can be made that the 2019 Georgetown defense could well be the best such group of the last 50 years, and then some.

The 2018 Hoyas were defensive standouts, ranking eight in rushing defense nationally and 11th in total defense--numbers you don't normally see from the lower wattage leagues such as the Patriot. In 2019, Georgetown returns nine starters from that 2018 group, and the reserves may be just as good at season's end.

The defensive line discussion starts with senior Khristian Tate, who in his three seasons has made a case of being one of Georgetown's very best at the position. His 145 tackles and 16.5 sacks are team bests, but Tate has yet to reach the national stage as a defensive tackle, as much for his size (6-0) as well as his alma mater, because...well, Georgetown doesn't produce football stars. Even in the Patriot League, Tate takes a back seat to Colgate DL Nick Wheeler, who was named the pre-season Defensive Player of the Year candidate. If Tate stays healthy, his skills and maturity will make this a special year on the defensive line, not only for Tate being there, but for those around him.

This could be a big year for junior Duval Paul, whose growth at tackle in the 3-3-5 alignment opened the way for Tate to move to the outside. Like Tate, Paul is smaller for his size in the position (6-1) but had a strong 2018, with 41 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and two fumble recoveries. Along with fifth year senior Mike Taylor, the Hoyas are solid up front, but the depth on the line is remarkable. Any combination of Brennan Sawicki, Kingsley Umemba, Marquis Parris, Ibrahim Kamara, and Quincy Chunwuko could challenge for the starting lineup, and that's not to mention a pair of freshmen and sophomore candidates in the deepest defensive line Georgetown has every fielded.

The Hoyas' biggest enemy up front may well be injury. It's unlikely Georgetown will platoon the linemen, but the defensive line can tire in games and the coaches will likely see this in a pair of September games against capable rushing offenses in Davidson and Marist. How do you keep the defensive line fresh? Ask the offense.

Georgetown appears equally loaded at linebacker, returning three juniors who can be game-changers, led by Wes Bowers. If Bowers can pick up more lateral speed, he's going to be a real tough option for opposing offenses, where he is a strong defender on and off the ball and underrated for his impact on the defensive charts.

Georgetown carries 12 LB's this season, and not as many will see time in 2019 as will the linemen. Owen Kessler and Xavier Reddick are pre-season favorites to return to the starting lineup, and will be challenged by sophomores Justin Fonteneaux and Palmer Nix.  Add in junior George Ikott and GU has one of its deepest linebacker corps in a generation.

While the sheer number of returnees is impressive, the defense will be expected to pick it up in 2019. Historically bad offenses at Bucknell and Lafayette depressed the PL last season and Georgetown (and other teams) took advantage. As the offense improves at these schools, as well as the returning core at Lehigh and Holy Cross, Georgetown's defense may again have to carry the load for an offense which is not at the caliber of the other schools. This time, they've got all the tools to do so.