Sunday, August 22, 2010

Five Questions: Offense

So much for being an optimist.

Back in last year's preview of the offense, I made the claim that "The cynic can rightly say that Georgetown could easily lose every game this year. An optimist would look at the same schedule and make an argument that eight of the 11 games on the schedule are winnable, but with the right mix of talent, teaching, and execution."

Yes, I thought Georgetown could win its share of games, but can still hear the voice of Bob Uecker in the movie Major League with the call: "JUST a bit outside..." The 2009 season was a disaster in every sense of the word: no wins, flagging fan support, and the loss of a quarter of the returning lettermen from the season. For the first time in two decades, the mood of the campus was not when we will get better in football, but if we ever will.

OK, I'm not saying there are eight winnable games in 2010. (I'll post a number later in the week and get my prediction skills into more trouble.) But what is different about 2010?

Answer: Dave Patenaude.

The former New Haven head coach and Hofstra expatriate offers the promise of delivering something that a decade of offensive coordinatorrs (from Tim Breslin and Joe Moorhead to Elliot Uzelac, and Jim Miceli) could not (especially Uzelac and Miceli): a chance for excitement. You can only run so many quarterback keepers or line of scrimmage passes before the opponent takes it and stuffs it right back in your face; which, of course, is what happened eary and often in the 2009 season. This was the case most notably in the Oct. 31, 2009 game at Old Dominion, where Isaiah Kempf finished the first half 4-16 for 25 yards. The first year Monarchs simply took it to the staid and predictable Miceli offense and Georgetown had nothing to show otherwise.

The early word from practices suggests that Patenaude's experience with CAA offensive sets (a conference which, after all, has produced four national champions in the last seven years) will open up the Georgetown play book and make it a little harder for the Lafayettes and Lehighs of the world to drop eight in the box and kick sand in the Hoyas' offensive sets. Clearly, Georgetown's talent remains well behind its PL opponents, but some new play calls may be enough to keep Georgetown in games where they were demoralized early on, with nothing left in the arsenal from which to respond.

Last year's preview asked five questions of the offense, left largely unanswered last year. With that in mind, let's ask them again.

1. Is this the year for stability at quarterback? However new-look the Hoyas suggest they'll be, nothing suggests that the days of Aley Demarest, Bill Ring, Bill Ward, and J.J. Mont (the four starters of the entire decade of the 1990's) are back anytime soon.  With 14 different starters since 2001, Georgetown has no choice but to platoon Scott Darby and Isaiah Kempf until talent, injuries, or sheer frustration takes over. Depending on the offensive calls, however, a platoon setup at QB could be just enough of a wrinkle to make things interesting, which is why I'm rooting for Tucker Stafford to get into some sort of rotation.

Aaron Aiken may be the Hoyas' QB of the future, but too many Hoya QB's of the past have been ground into the dirt as rookies and any time Aiken can spend to develop before jumping into the fray could be time well spent.

2. Is this the year of the running back? If Charlie Houghton made it back for a fifth year, well, maybe, but it appears not to have happened and the GU running corps remains a little too small and a  little too slow to take over in 2010. Philip Oladeji and Wilburn Logan figure to get carries but neither has had the opportunity to really take over games, while freshmen Brandon Durham (5-7, 170) and Dalen Claytor (5-9, 180) might need a few more pounds to absorb the beatings that GU running backs face. If Georgetown gets away from the simplicity of the Uzelac and Miceli running back calls of the past, we might be able to see more from this group. Absent a better line, that may be asking a lot.

3. Can we "hold that line"?  It's the Achilles heel of Georgetown football: it can't recruit the line size and depth needed to compete in the Patriot League. The starters are too small and every team knows it.

Georegetown lost three senior stalwarts in the line and four reserves that left the team early. A lot of expectations fall on freshmen and sophomores to step up and learn the hard way--in the trenches. Seniors Dan Lenihan (6-3, 250) and Erik Antico (6-2, 265) are now the smaller members among a line that bulked up in freshmen recruiting, with an average OL weight entering training camp of 278 lbs. among the class of 2014. But even that isn't close to a Lehigh or Colgate offensive line that averages over 300.

Size is no guarantee of success--Billy Wuyek (6-5, 325) or Tom Amaro (6-6, 320) never settled in the starting lineups, but it is a bellwether of a team that intends to run the ball.

4. Whither the passing game? This is a point of legitimate concern. With just one of its top four wide receivers returning from 2009, Coach Patenaude really has to build from the ground up. WRs Kenneth Futlough and Patrick Ryan arrive with limited experience from 2009, while FAU transfer Jamal Davis has  the opportunity to become a game changer. The Hoyas haven't developed a major downfield threat in a decade, and it remains to be seen if the offensive line can give a quarterback enough time to create opportunities downfield. Davis might be that option.

Georgetown really needs to develop its receivers. Too much of its passing attack in recent years has been in short passes to running backs which defenses can adjust to. With no seniors among the receivers, this is an area for development and growth.

5. Can Keerome Lawrence be a game changer? I sure hope so. Now a senior, Lawrence has played three different positions in three years and gives it 100% every time. His play has been unpredictable at times but, with experience comes predictability. At least once this season, I think Lawrence can carry this team to an upset win. And with a former quarterback in the slot, a comment from last year's column which bears repeating:

Moving a quarterback to the slot is a risky move, but in this situation I think it could be a real given Lawrence's skill set and the ability to introduce something Georgetown hasn't had in the backfield in six years: unpredictability.

In 2003, Bob Benson introduced a lineup that, for the first half of the season, thoroughly confused opponents and led Georgetown to three straight wins by late October, by adding to a freshman quarterback named Alondzo Turner into the lineup. Announced as 6-0, but just barely, the 180 lb. Turner could run, pass, and when in a slot, add some interesting options to the backfield and was named the league's rookie of the week in two consecutive weeks. For 2003, his only season with Georgetown, Turner was third on the team in rushing and threw three touchdowns.

While the experiment with Turner didn't develop, the ability of Lawrence to develop in the backfield is in intriguing one...With his ability, Lawrence could be a great addition to the backfield that enters 2009 ranked among the bottom of I-AA in yardage per game.
These were questions that really weren't answered in 2009. For the Hoyas to improve, you'll see it first with these five.