Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Five Questions, Offense

There's no denying it--football season is around the corner, and for those that wonder about it, Georgetown is back at work trying to improve on a 4-7 record which looks better than what it was.

The Hoyas started 3-1, yes, but thee of these opponents were in their first game against Georgetown's retooled offense and Holy Cross took a siesta in the second half in the fourth. While Georgetown played well in these games, the element of surprise was in force in the Lafayette win and the near-upset at Yale. By October, with tapes exchanged and opposing coaches tuned in to the style of play, Georgetown dropped quickly, losing six straight before earning a 14-7 win over Marist that should not been that close.

So, half-full or half-empty? It's August, so I'll go with half-full. And returning to some pre-season questions, fans need to take note of a simple truism--the defense will come to play every week, but unless the offense steps it up, it'll be another long season.

1. Quarterback-- Safety or security? The Darby-Kempf rotation returns for a third season. Is experience the better teacher, or is Georgetown playing it safe with the platoon system? In Scott Darby, you have a quarterback which can run the option and lead the various run-heavy formats that Dave Patenaude (and before him, Jim Miceli) favored, but he has never been a prolific pocket passer. By contrast, Isaiah Kempf is comfortable looking downfield, but seems a step slow in the backfield. I think there were two, maybe three games where opposing coaches saw this too, keying on the Darby-Kempf rotations as telegraphing Georgetown's game plan. In one game, Kelly substituted the two QB's by play, which was no less successful in 2010 than it was nearly forty years earlier, when Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry tried to solve the riddle of his own QB dilemma by substituting Craig Morton and Roger Staubach likewise, and all it did was give the Chicago bears' defense a field day in the backfield.

Georgetown needs to see more efficiency from its quarterbacks and a little more in the way in surprises. Absent an unforeseen appearance from backups Aiken and Skon, the two veterans provide a level of comfort for the coaches in that they understand the system better than anyone, but it's got to work better than it did in the second half last season.

2. Are the backs too small? It seems that there hasn't been a sizeable running back at the Hilltop since when, Marcus Slayton? With the likes of 5-8 Wilburn Logan, 5-8 Dalen Claytor, and 5-7 Brandon Durham figuring to get many of the carries, the coaching staff should be taking a look at 6-0, 215 lb. Nick Campanella, who moves into the backfield in 2011. No, there isn't a Slayton or even Charlie Houghton out there, but if Campanella can reduce some of the defensive keys on the smaller backs, Georgetown may be able to build a more effective running game and not one where the defense floods the holes for the backs and puts Darby and/or Kempf on improvisation mode. Since the position of fullback has fallen out of the GU vocabulary in lieu of the slot receiver, the Hoyas could use some bigger backs to help out Logan and Claytor hitting the trenches. For now, anyway, smaller ball is what they have to work with.

3. Watch That Line. After years of the Hoyas fielding the smallest offensive line in the patriot league (once starting a 240 lb. center), this year could see a change in that perception. With five returning linemen over 300, the Hoyas have size, but must replace four starters up front which is never easy.
A big addition will be the return of junior Fino Caliguire from injury, and the efforts of Donald Rhodes and Kevin Sullivan continue to improve each season. Two to watch from the underclassmen will be sophomore Fred Eggert and sophomore Thomas Gallagher. That Gallagher was a little too big for the line was in evidence last season, when his 365 lb. frame could not fit into a standard sized jersey--he's dropped 20 lbs. according to the pre-season prospectus and could be a big help on the line if his conditioning improves.
Patriot League teams win on the offensive line.

There's a big difference whey Lehigh and Colgate are playing in late November and Georgetown and Bucknell are making plans for basketball season--it's the line. A step up for the Georgetown line this fall is two steps up for the team.

4. Just Given Them The $%$%# Ball! No, there's no Keyshawn Johnson on the sidelines, but for the first time in Kevin Kelly's six seasons on the unfinished Multi-Sport Field, he has some real options at receiver. The return of Brandon Floyd, the speed of Ken Furlough, and the toughness of Patrick Ryan could give the quarterbacks a number of options down the field...if Georgetown will do so. Line of scrimmage passing, made somewhat famous at GU by Matt Bassuener shortens the field and allows opponents to jam Georgetown inside. Slot backs are fine for the line of scrimmage, but this is the year Georgetown needs to start looking long--if the line can do its part, Floyd, Furlough, and Ryan can as well. Georgetown had just three completed pass plays over 40 yards all season, and they should at least twice that this year if the gamelan accounts for it.

5. Who Will be The Player To Watch? I'll admit it, I've proven a poor prognosticator in picking a player that will take games over, once hoping Tucker Stafford would get his shot at QB, that Charlie Houghton would get a second wind, or that Keerome Lawrence would put down the jitters and hold on to the big catch. Instead, in 2011 I'm rooting for Donald Rhodes across the line, an outside candidate for all-PL honors based on his development over his first two years. No matter how many of the PL experts would hold their nose to select a Georgetown lineman to league honors, if Rhodes and the line can do its part, the Hoyas have a lot more options to make a difference on the offense, and a lot less excuses than they've had in recent years.

One of the by-products from the 2010 season is that the Hoyas can't sneak up on anyone this year. When Frank Tavani and Tom Gilmore warn their squads about Georgetown, the kids will listen this time. It's time to add a couple more believers from the PL coaching fraternity that this offense is capable of knocking them around.