Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What Changes Next Year?

In the last fleeting moments of Saturday's Note Dame game against Connecticut, with a dark cloud hanging over the head of Charlie Weis and his sweatshirt, a producer at NBC drew a proverbial knife and slipped it right in.

NBC switched from the game to a scene at Weis' first press confernce, where a younger, thinner and somewhat cockier New England Patriots assistant confidently told his alma mater, "You are what you are, folks, and right now you’re a 6-5 football team. And guess what? That’s just not good enough. That’s not good enough for you, and it’s certainly not going to be good enough for me."

Weis' record after the game? 6-5.

Kevin Kelly was smarter than to make that claim upon taking over Bob Benson's 4-7 Georgetown Hoyas in January 2006, but he has lots of other questions ahead this off-season. An 0-11 season never goes down very well with fans, but there are some years where a coach can get away with it: a quarterback injury, probation, a mostly-freshman lineup. A one time occurrence.

Except Georgetown had none of these. Georgetown was 0-11 because it wasn't very good, isn't very good week after week, and hasn't been very good for a long while.

Good men can agree to disagree about what it will take to get better sooner, but it raises the key question for the staff during the off-season, the question the staff will hear from parents and recruits and parents of recruits:

What changes next year?

What will be different in 2010 to make this team competitive? A look at the off-season needs makes this a very, very difficult answer.

What changes at quarterback next season? In the last 10 years, only one incumbent has held the starting role the following season (Matt Bassuener), with a revolving door in the post.

At the end of 2007, Robert Lane was the returning QB, but he was passed over for Keerome Lawrence, John O'Leary and James Brady. At the end of 2008, Lawrence and O'Leary were passed over for Brady, who was passed over by Isaiah Kempf by week two, who was passed over eight weeks later by Scott Darby. For all we know, Darby could be starting with O'Leary at WR in 2010, or Tucker Stafford will finally get a chance to start, or that there's yet another high school senior out there prepared to take a pounding to call plays for the Blue and Gray.

The inconsistency at QB has mirrored the inconsistency of the team, and there's no telling if any changes among the positional coaches throws this position into question at spring practice once again. It's no secret that a veteran QB paced Holy Cross to the PL title this season. And it's also no secret that the last time Georgetown had consistency at QB, with there starting QB's from 1993-1999, it was a winning program.

Since 2001? 14 different starters.

What changes at running back next season? Maybe Charlie Houghton and Robert Lane come back for a fifth year next season, maybe not. But the position is still in need of an upgrade, especially with a power back blocking for Houghton or Philip Oladeji or whoever gets a look at tailback. There hasn't been a power back in the lineup in probably ten years, when Rob Belli (1997-99) ran for 826 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Think about those last two numbers: 826 yards, 17 touchdowns. In 2009, the entire Georgetown offense combined for 555 yards and two touchdowns. Outside of Oladeji and Houghton, the Hoyas combined for 124 carries and 52 net yards, So how does it get better next year, because it absolutely has to.

What changes at offensive line next season? A lot of people point to the O-line as the source of Georgetown's frustrations--too small, too slow, and overwhelmed on the line. It's an exaggeration in some cases, but not always. When healthy, the offensive line can hold their own, but it's resembled a MASH unit over the last few years. Three seniors graduate off the line this spring, and none of their replacements are much bigger than 280 lbs. Georgetown is hard pressed recruiting any 300 pounders and relies, if by default, on smaller players. But at what cost? Isaiah Kempf doesn't get sacked nine times in a game for being slow. He's sacked nine times because the line gets beat up all season and was shot by week 11.

Who among the returning players steps up, or is it more of the same?

What changes on defense next season? The front seven will reload, as usual, although the Hoyas cannot seem to establish a consistent run defense. One reason: less pressure on the quarterback. In the Fordham game, the front line combined for 0.5 sacks against Fordham, and the Hoyas ranked 100th in the nation in average sacks per game (1.3). In the season finale, the defensive line gave up 38 pounds, on average, against Fordham's line.So what happens when a 260 lb. lineman meets a 310 lb. one? Don't plan on a sack.

The secondary loses three mainstays in Rau, Jackson, and Mack, with Bodrick a close fourth.  Kyle Miller and Jeff Gazaway have to get up to speed this spring or Georgetown will be vulnerable again in the air.

What changes on special teams next season? A lot. One of the recrurring misfires in recruiting in the last 5-7 years has been special teams, and Georgetown has relied on a wing and prayer to find consistency. Its last punter with more than two years experience was David Paulus in 2002, its last three year kicker dates back to the MAAC era.  

GU was fortunate that walk-on and football newcomer Jose Pablo-Buerba and WR-turned-punter Brian Josephs succeeded under short notice (having seen Kilgo Livingston, Casey Dobyns and Rafael Notario leave the team over the last two years) but both Buerba and Josephs will have graduated this spring. The Hoyas need real help on special teams next year.

What changes on the schedule next year? Richmond is out, Davidson is in, but that doesn't buy you much, given that Georgetown hasn't won a road game outside the District in over two years. OK, so Georgetown beats Davidson and Marist--is 2-9 in 2010 a sign of improvement? I hope not.

There's not much that can be done, of course, as it's not good practice to tear up contracts, but the 2009 schedule was a no-win situation (literally) for the Hoyas.

So what changes next year? It's hard to say in November, but it's time to get to work to do so, even if it is the off-season. Or, as Weis might have said, "You are what you are, folks. And guess what? That’s just not good enough."