Monday, October 24, 2011

Week 8 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown’s 40-17 victory over Colgate on Saturday:

All Three Phases: I’ve followed Georgetown football closely for 18 years and have seen games for a dozen more, and I will pay a compliment when it was due—Saturday’s effort against Colgate was among the top two or three games I’ve seen for the Blue and Gray. Yes, there were some well played games out there: Duquesne, 1997, Holy Cross, 1998, Cornell, 2003, but what was remarkable about Saturday’s effort was something coaches like to talk about: the "three phases" of the game: offense, defense, and special teams.

Every phase came up big Saturday.

Offensively, start with the line. For a decade, Georgetown has suffered with offensive lines that were too small, too slow or just injury-plagued, allowing defenses to flood the box and provide Georgetown’s running backs with little protection. Saturday, the line continued its growth this season and owned the line of scrimmage, allowing the running backs opportunities to get yardage, while protecting the quarterback and giving him time to find receivers. In Saturday’s game the offensive line, which have up five sacks in the 2010 loss to the Red Raiders, allowed one coverage sack this year, for no net yards lost.

The running backs also excelled. Wilburn Logan averaged 6.6 yards a carry, Brandon Durham seven. With line support, backs can get it done, and when the backs are getting yards, it opens up opportunities for receivers. Jamal Davis’ opening TD paved the way for Georgetown to dictate tempo and  maintain offensive consistency after Colgate had dominated time of possession in the first quarter.

Defensively, the game was a gem. Anytime a team holds the #7-ranked rushing game in the nation to 84 yards entering the final series of the game, it’s worth saluting. Nate Eachus was stopped in a way no one before (or maybe since) will do, and you saw inspired tackling and defensive focus from the line and the linebackers. Georgetown’s secondary continues to make big plays and its reads on Colgate QB’s Gavin McCarney and Ryan Smith shut down three second half drives that could have got Colgate back in contention. Robert McCabe’s 15 tackles was one of many outstanding individual efforts defensively.

Special teams, the third "phase", was efficient throughout. Matt MacZura’s punting has struggled this year but he got it done without incident Saturday, Brett Weiss was 4-4 on the field goals and the kick return game (Jeremy Moore and Kevin Macari at he forefront) gave Georgetown vital field position all day. One stat tells it all: between return yardage and turnovers, the average starting field position for the Hoyas was midfield, and that’s a great place to start for any team.

Well done to the team, well done to the coaches who really studied the film on Colgate despite the uncertainty on Eachus’ recent absence, and well done to all the preparation in spring and in August that has now completed what was once a lofty goal for the program: a winning season. Now, an even more impressive goal awaits, and it starts at Holy Cross Saturday. A win over the Crusaders would put Georgetown in line for a shot at the PL title in three weeks versus Lehigh, something once unthinkable in PL circles.

Time to put away the plaudits from Colgate, and now focus on the task (and the opportunity) at hand.

How Many More? Saturday’s attendance was 3,215, and so many people tried to get in the game that Georgetown students migrated over to the visitors seats to get a better view, and others were left watching the game from the Hariri (business school) steps. For the amount of people on campus that afternoon (well over 5,000, by some estimates), the MSF should have been accommodating to as many of these guests as possible.

Which raises at least three questions.

1. What is the plan to provide Homecoming seating for home fans? At some point, Georgetown needs to assign seating so it knows when it is oversold.

2. Why can’t Georgetown employ temporary seats in the end zones or along the thick brush along the 40 yards in the northwest corner not occupied by stands? If people knew there were seats to be had, maybe they’ll be more likely to attend.

3. Can there be some effort to provide suitable pre-game and halftime activity at the field and not just at the tent?

And, while we’re at it, THAT question:

Is Georgetown any closer to keeping the promise it made a decade ago about actually finishing the MSF, and not letting what purports to be a field degrade even further?

Myopia, Or HoyaVision? For out of towners such as myself, the video feed from is an essential means of following the team...when it works. Saturday’s game had no audio for the entire first half.
Audio and video overage is vital in the Internet age but still seems to be a point of confusion at the Hilltop.

Football needs more than a one camera setup on top of the press box, and hope that someone is picking up the transmission. By contrast, Verizon FiOS broadcasts home games with a full production setup, yet 99.99% of fans will never see it. There has to be a way whereby Chuck Timanus could have more resources to broadcast the game with the ability to reach more fans in a way that people will want to watch, and that any agreement to show the games on cable TV gets the opportunity for wider clearance (even if tape delayed) than the FiOS public access channel.

Yes, we know the campus can see the games. Let's take a longer view.

A Tree Falling In The Forest: Which is more surprising: a) no local reporter sent a reporter to cover the Georgetown game, b) that the Howard Homecoming game was equally shut out, c) Georgetown was oversold and no one covered it, or d) that Howard had 3,000 empty seats at its game?

If the papers don’t or won’t commit to regular coverage of local teams, it’s time to revisit an old practice in the print medium—the stringer. A stringer is a free lance writer paid per story to cover what the staff cannot. Certainly there are writers at The HOYA, the Voice or Howard’s Hilltop who would be thrilled to see their name in print in a major newspaper with a recap of the game and would do so for little or no remuneration (though, we hope, it is the former).

With coverage comes awareness. With awareness comes interest. With interest comes support. With support comes growth. It’s got to start somewhere.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Week 7 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Saturday’s 21-3 win over Howard:

How To Build A Rivalry:  In his post-game comments, coach Kevin Kelly was right on target that Georgetown-Howard can be a rivalry game to benefit both schools. But are the parties listening?

Saturday’s game drew a MAAC-like 1,891 to Greene Stadium. No Hoya Blue caravan, no Showtime Band halftime, nothing. Subtracting  Magruder and Gwynn Park, the two high school bands that played in Howard’s own absence, you might have had 1,500 people there. What gives?

First, Howard has to start caring about this rivalry. This week, the Bison play its Homecoming, a mix of activities and celebrity watching that would dwarf anything on the western side of the G2 bus line. YardFest, step shows, a Homecoming Parade, and wondering which rappers will find their way to fraternity row draw thousands to the weekend of events, though not always the game itself.

The game is very much a celebration of the HBCU experience, while the buildup to Saturday’s game with the Hoyas had all the enthusiasm of a women’s volleyball game. The Howard athletics web site didn’t even post a pre-game article, by contrast, its front page was a three minute video touting the Homecoming experience, with the words and music sounds of the late Notorious B.I.G.: "Ain't no tellin where I may be..May see me in DC at Howard Homecoming." (He was said to have made his professional debut at YardFest.)

But in 2011, would Howard promote a game with Georgetown? Why? Do Howard students even want to play a school like Georgetown?

Second, Georgetown has to start caring about this rivalry. For much of the last decade Georgetown ahs put all its promotional assets into basketball and students come to assume that since no other sports are promoted by the school, no other sports are worthy of their support. Two thousand showed up for Midnight Madness, but how many of them took the bus to Howard? How many of them were even aware of it? Was it mentioned at Midnight Madness? Was it promoted by Hoya Blue? Do Georgetown students even want to play a school like Howard?

Third, the DC community has to start caring abut this rivalry. Earlier this year, Howard signed a deal with AT&T to sponsor an annual game with Division II Morehouse at RFK stadium. AT&T provided promotional support and the game drew 18,403. How much excitement would be leveraged for Hoya football if it could play before 18,000 at RFK Stadium?

Nothing against the fine men of Morehouse, but there are probably 60,000 alumni of Georgetown and Howard in a one hour range of RFK Stadium, and with any, iota of coordinated publicity, both schools could gain a tremendous boost from a game of this magnitude and a sizeable walk-up crowd as well. It takes a village, and some sponsors too. Will either school reach out from its comfort zone and support an event that is not Howard Homecoming or Georgetown Basketball?

Where Was The Mayor? Can there be a Mayor's Cup if the Mayor isn't there to present it?

Mayor Vincent Gray's schedule Saturday included a rally with the Rev. Al Sharpton from 9:00 am to 1:00 pm which drew "several hundred", according to press reports, to push for DC voting rights. That evening, he attended a MLK dedication dinner. His web site did not list any official events from 1:00 to 6:00 pm.

Various reports in the DC press suggest Gray never made it to Greene Stadium that afternoon. If the current DC chief executive isn't supportive of an event which bears his office's name, maybe the Mayor's Cup needs a new sponsor who is more supportive

Air Defense: One number that really jumped out from Saturday’s game wasn’t the stout run defense or the third down conversions from the game recap, but the way Georgetown’s pass defense stepped up its efforts. Howard has been in the rise in the passing game and it just wasn’t there Saturday, in part to a better effort in the secondary. Yes, the Hoyas miss Jeremy Moore (of whose ongoing suspension nothing has been said in official or campus reports) but Stephen Atwater has stepped up and filled the role well.

Ground Control: Meanwhile, the rush defense faces its toughest test of the season Saturday against Colgate. The Red Raiders have endured another slow start but are picking up the momentum, and their ability to win the game usually rests on the shoulders of its running backs, which always seem to run roughshod over Georgetown’s defenses.

Two keys to the Colgate ground attack-- QB Gavin McCarney and RB Nate Eachus—were each held out of Saturday’s overtime win over Cornell. Eachus is working through the effects of a concussion, and with a doctor’s OK would be back in action Saturday. Eachus rushed more in the first quarter than Georgetown rushed all day in last year’s game, and finished with 44 carries for 214 yards against the Hoyas. Clearly, he would be the focus for Georgetown’s upset-minded hopes should he play in the game.

Ground Control, Pt. 2. On Georgetown’s side of the line, the rushing numbers are in decline.  The Hoyas have rushed for 1,024 yards in six games, but nearly half (485) come against the two Pioneer opponents on the schedule. Between Claytor, Logan, Campanella, and Durham, the coaches have to figure out a better way to leverage their speed if they can’t plow inside. These four accounted for only 85 yards against Howard Saturday.

Home-coming: For a five game road trip, 3-2 is a good outcome. It’s a little disappointing that students aren’t following the team as closely as they should, but these kids deserve a loyal and loud following on Saturday. Over the last year and a half, Georgetown has gone from 0-11 in 2009 to 9-9 (.500)—a number not insignificant given the size of the hill to which it is climbing and the amount of road games needed to do it.

Georgetown has never defeated Colgate in this century, most of the games haven’t been close, and the fans of the Red Raiders usually don’t take this game very seriously. Ah, what a win could mean for these kids and this program. Let’s make this a week to get ready for a great game.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Week 6 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Saturday’s 24-10 win over Wagner:

Kempf: A Step Ahead? During Georgetown’s platooning of quarterbacks, it was said that Scott Darby was the running QB who couldn’t consistently throw, while Isaiah Kempf was the passing QB who couldn’t consistently run. In recent games, however, Kempf may be proving conventional wisdom wrong.
In the Wagner game, Kempf had 11 carries for 46 yards, before three sacks netted to 35 yards. Not a huge number, granted, but Kempf is developing as a better runner when necessary, and that’s the operative word—necessary. Georgetown neither needs nor wants its quarterback to lead the stat sheet in carries, but if Kempf can keep opposing defenses honest, it’s going to open up opportunities—if not with Wagner, than in upcoming games.

The platoon still seems to be in action, so the job isn’t Kempf’s to stay. Still, he’s making a positive impression into the Howard game.

Defensive Stat Of The Day: I can’t say enough about how the defense has stepped it up this season. Here’s one number that is fairly obvious: Wagner (entering the game at 160 yards rushing per game) ended up with 33 carries for 77 yards, with a long of 21. Outside that one run in the third, Wagner was rushing 1.7 yards per carry, and managed only six rushes for first downs in the game—three each in the first and third, but none in the second or fourth quarters. Well done, Hoyas!

Defensive Stat Of The Day, #2: Wagner was held to 3-18 on third down conversions, a big improvement from Bucknell’s 9-17 conversion the week before.

Here Comes The Cup: Georgetown and Howard return to the gridiron in the best regional rivalry that really isn’t one. For some reason, this game gets no “pop” from the fan bases of either school, and local interest seems to be at about the level engaged during the Steve Dean Memorial trophy games with GU and Catholic.

It’s not enough to say that I-AA city rivalries don’t draw interest. Morgan State and Towson (one HBCU, one not) battle for local bragging rights and draw representative crowds, with just short of 10,000 in the stands to open this season. In Philadelphia, Penn and Villanova drew 10,071. In New York,  Columbia and Fordham drew 6,820 to 7,000 seat Jack Coffey Field.

Obviously, the unfinished Multi-Sport field isn’t accommodating crowds like this, but 10,000 seat Greene Stadium can. It remains to be seen, however, what interest the Bison can draw this season after such a poor start to open its season. Howard’s only home game at Greene this season drew 4,063 versus Norfolk State.
In 2008, columnist Dick Heller of Washington Times had this description of the outcome of the first game between the schools:

“Howard coach Carey Bailey tried to explain how the Bison managed to lose their opener to a poor opponent while a few thousand home fans mumbled and grumbled in the stands. The Bison lost the ball four times and didn’t do much when they hung on to it. After Floyd Haigler’s 5-yard TD pass to Willie Carter in the first quarter, Howard’s attack was totally inoffensive.

"We have to do a better job of coaching," Bailey said, using a standard excuse after a losing game. Not to mention a better job of playing. As Bailey spoke, three Bison players sat morosely at his side. Losing to a team like Georgetown is enough to depress anyone."

But, hey, cheer up, coach. Regardless of the outcome, doesn’t it make a lot of sense for Howard to play Georgetown? Dry chuckle. "It would make lot more sense if we had won."

And Heller added: “Nowadays, both football programs have nowhere to go but up, and it’s fitting that they try to do so together. Mediocrity marked their first joint appearance, but that impression need not be lasting.”

Three years later, the teams have as many wins in the 2011 season (seven) as the two teams managed in all of 2009 and 2010 combined. It would be great if the coverage and the crowd reflected it.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Week 5 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Saturday’s 35-18 loss to Bucknell.

Bucknell isn’t Marist. We said as much last week, but Bucknell proved a significant step up in competition from the previous week’s effort. Although the Hoyas made its share of mistakes (and no matter what a team can do, fumbling on the second play carries no excuse), this game was won by a Bucknell team that did its homework and controlled the three phases of the game.

Offensively, Bucknell was  not afraid to mix up the calls, especially seizing opportunities against a Georgetown secondary that has underperformed this year. Defensively, the Bison shut down the Georgetown running game and further wounded its ability to be an effective option in league play. The disappearance of stats for Nick Campanella (229 yards in three non-conference games, 22 yards over two league games) bear this out. Special teams-wise, the Bison overcame a pair of poor punts and held its own on punt returns, less so on kick returns. Most of all, Bucknell won the turnover battle, and that was the key stat from this game.

Yes, Georgetown had its chances, particularly to start the second half, but a lack of depth can hurt down the stretch, and it did. The offensive line never seemed to adjust to Thomas Gallagher’s absence, the same for the secondary minus Jeremy Moore. When starters struggle, Georgetown does not have the firepower to pull from its bench. That’s a point of concern as the season enters the second half of the schedule, when injuries take its toll and the strength of schedule starts to climb.

Moore’s Status: The announcement on Saturday that Jeremy Moore was suspended  for the game was rare for Georgetown—if a player has been suspended in the last decade before a game, I’m not aware of it. The last time I’m even remotely aware of players were removed from the roster was in early 2004, when sophomore Alondzo Turner and senior Byron Anderson were placed off the pre-season roster without fanfare.

If this was men’s basketball and a player of Moore’s talent was suspended for a game, the HoyaTalk boards would be ablaze, but again, this isn’t basketball. Nonetheless, Moore is a good kid and I hope whatever was at issue Saturday can be resolved for his prompt return.

Strength Of Schedule: Some sobering numbers in this regard: in the 59 games of the Kelly era, Georgetown is 12-47, but 6-2 against Davidson and Marist; put another way, they’re 6-45 against everyone else. Of Georgetown’s 12 wins since 2006, 11 have come against teams which ended their season below .500 --only a win over 6-5 Holy Cross in 2010 could be categorized as a upset.

So what awaits the Hoyas in the second half of 2011? Saturday’s game at 1-4 Wagner should be one the Hoyas can win. The Seahawks are struggling, albeit with scholarships: Wagner has played just over .500 ball over the last two seasons at Grimes Hill, but Georgetown hasn’t won a non-conference game beyond Davidson or Marist since Howard in 2008.

As for Howard, that’s a competitive game, too—the Bison have wins over Div. II Morehouse and MEAC newcomer Savannah State, the latter of which ended a 0-29 streak in MEAC play for the Bison dating to 2007. But following Howard, the Hoyas must end the season with the PL’s best: Colgate, Holy Cross, (Fordham), and Lehigh—all of which expect to end the season over .500.

Hoya fans are a remarkably patient group, and a 5-6 record in 2011 would represent progress across the board. To do so, Georgetown needs to step it up over the next two weeks.

The Freshman 15: At the halfway point in the season, half of the 30+ newcomers have seen action, with significant contributions from starting DL Jordan Richardson, OL Mike Roland, and WR Kevin Macari.  Each of these three have been great additions this season, and Richardson figures to be a prominent GU lineman after Andrew Schaetzke graduates in 2012.

Most of the action from the frosh has been on defense and special teams, with DB Javan Robinson, LB Nick Alfieri, DB Chad Coleman, DB John Egan, DL Kevin Bond, DL Alec May, DL Xander Carpousis, DL Peter Daibes, and DL Joe Rosenblatt getting on the field through five games this season. But I wouldn’t be too concerned of the lack of time for the remaining freshman—it’s OK to serve some apprentice time and not be thrust into the lineup, especially in skill positions. Hard work and learning the college game should be the prime ingredients for the freshmen, whether or not they are on the field this season.

Most Unusual Georgetown Football Sub-Reference. Ever. From the Georgetown Voice:
During his lecture on Friday afternoon, filmmaker and author Michael Moore demonstrated an acute sense of his audience and location. Not only did he acknowledge that Georgetown has been or will be host to such conservative figureheads as Karl Rove and Ann Coulter, but he drew a political parallel that would make Hoyas from any corner of the political spectrum crack a smile. When discussing the voting patterns of young people, he explained why so few 18- to 25-year-olds bothered to vote in the 2010 midterm elections. “[Obama]’s been playing it like Georgetown football,” he said. The crowd erupted with laughter, whoops, and applause.”
OK, so someone probably slipped this into his speech, right? That is, unless Moore is:

a) a secret Georgetown football fan, 
b) a fan of the Hoyas’ Michigan products (Mose Hogan, Chad Coleman, James Spaly, Mike McIntyre), or
c) a very happy man now that Jim Schwartz (C'88) has  the Lions at 4-0.

Either way, it’s probably the only time you’ll hear a major speaker mix presidential politics and Georgetown football.

For this year, anyway.