Monday, November 14, 2011

Week 11 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown’s 34-12 loss to Lehigh Saturday.

1. What Worked, What Didn’t. Georgetown came into the game as an underdog and was able to take advantage of many of its strengths—turnovers, red zone defense, special teams returns. To its credit, Lehigh scoured the films of the past three weeks and picked apart a pass defense that had been ineffective in the cover 2 scenarios. It helps to have a Drwal and a Spadola running the patterns, of course, but lacking a rush game, Lehigh turned to its demonstrated strengths in the passing game and it worked exceedingly well for them.

Not that Georgetown didn’t have its chances. I’m convinced that if Georgetown scores a touchdown on that opening turnover, holds Lehigh on its next series, and executes a capable drive on its next series, this was a different game. Not necessarily a different outcome, of course, because Lehigh had the firepower, but the 2011 Hoyas were a team that had much more confidence playing ahead rather than playing from behind. If the Hoyas could have opened the second half at 20-17 instead of 20-6, Waizenegger’s third quarter TD could have been a real game changed. Instead, the ensuing pick-six deep-sixed the Hoyas thereafter.

2. Fan support. Thanks in absentia to all the fans who made it to the game. I am sure it meant a lot to the parents and local fans to be there, and even to a few of those who passed on the men’s basketball opener to see this potentially historic game in person. I would have very much liked to have attended but the air fare was absolutely prohibitive, but it was encouraging to watch the game and hear so many cheering on the east end of the stadium and the announcers remark favorably about the turnout. Having been there at the low point of Georgetown football attendance (the 20 or so of us who sat through the game at Old Dominion in 2009), I hope those who attended can be encouraged to make it a return affair next year at Princeton and at other road games next fall.

3. Press coverage. Another measure of thanks to the local papers that rediscovered the Hoyas. A trailing horse doesn’t get race coverage, and it’s been that way for a decade or more of Georgetown coverage in the PL. John Feinstein’s column used the word “remarkable” when comparing the Hoyas to its 2009-era struggles, and I think it’s an appropriate term. Georgetown isn’t a Top 10 team, of course, but with many of the same members from that 2009 team, the Hoyas were able to do considerably better and do so with purpose and conviction.

4. Lessons Learned. There is a temptation to see a game like this as an accomplishment for a formerly 0-11 team, or as a source of frustration for reaching the precipice and not being up to the opponent at hand. Instead, I’d like to see a game like this serve as a lesson to the next generation of student-athletes to rededicate themselves to the season to come.

In 2010, Georgetown was 3-1 and finished 4-7; in part, because the talent had not matched up with the game plan, and mistakes were common. In 2010, Georgetown was 3-1 and finished 8-3 because the talent level rose and the mistakes diminished—a +17 in turnover margin is no accident. Yes, there is no shame in losing to Lehigh—plenty have done so this season, and plenty more in prior years—but it’s up to the team and the coaches to use the off-season to rededicate itself to doing the things necessary to be back in a position to compete at the highest level of the conference in 2012, and to develop the talent coming up through the ranks to maintain the standard that this year’s team set.

5. Goals for 2012. Here are ten:
1. Build on success. It’s not easy to recruit kids at 0-11, but look at the sophomores on this team which made a strong contribution, and the freshman which have followed. Every prospective recruit needs to hear the call—this is a program on the way up and you need to be a part of it.

2. Tell the story. Recruits need to know what 8-3 means. So do alumni. Early and often. For all those who have stood on the sidelines in the Kelly era and not supported the team, it’s time to remind them of just what this program is capable of doing with better support. Let’s not understate this point: the program with the smallest budget in the league ($1.6 million), half of the next closest team and a third of the others, not only can compete but can win games against these schools. If the Hoyas can compete on this level at $1.6 million, what more could they do at $2.1? Georgetown doesn’t need to spend Fordham money ($5.1 million) to be successful, but it has to be able to compete with decent financial aid to its recruits. This may be one off-season when that message gets out, or it better.

2A. Tell That Story, Too: Announce a plan to finish the MSF, or at least mow the weeds.

3. Develop the next quarterback. Isaiah Kempf is the senior incumbent, but Georgetown needs to look to Aaron Aiken, Stephen Skon, or an incoming freshman as both a strong challenger to Kempf and a capable substitute should the need arises next season.

4. Recruit another power back. A reflection of Georgetown’s competitive imbalance in PL recruiting, it has long relied on smaller RB’s in the absence of larger power backs and, with a banged-up offensive line, have paid the price for it. Nick Campanella’s play this year was a welcome addition, and if there is a power runner out there that can join the backfield, it’s going to make things better not only for the offense, but for the sets that Dalen Claytor, Brandon Durham, et al. are running as well.

5. Recruit a placekicker. Brett Weiss’ results against Lehigh should not obscure a fine two years as kicker for the Hoyas; remember, Weiss walked on the team from Maryland , following another walk on in Jose-Pablo Buerba from 2007-09. Weiss missed only two kicks inside the 40 all season and only four since the second week of the season. With Weiss and David Conway graduating, developing a strong replacement is a priority.

6. Keep fighting for the belt. For my two cents, the development of the offensive line has been the story of the 2011 season. The work in the weight room, er, weight area, and the commitment to be the very best they can be paid off this year and can be even more effective in 2012, especially as the Hoyas have the wide receivers necessary to open up the passing game in ways they were unable in prior years.

7. Jordan Richardson. All the tools to become a great player. Keep up the hard work.

8. Rebuild the secondary. Three seniors leave behind a lot of experience and some battle scars in the Georgetown secondary over the years, and this is the only part of the lineup that suffers significant losses from 2011. There’s a lot of good talent among the upperclassmen and now is their time to step up.

9. Stay together. This is not a time for attrition. The rising class of 2013 numbers just 14 juniors, a victim of students giving up or giving in, following the rough endings in 2009 and 2010. Georgetown needs all its freshmen and sophomores to recommit to 2012 and bring the experience and dedication for next year that returning players can bring. There is no substitute for experience in college football.

10. Remember, but don’t forget. Yes, it’s OK to call this season a success, but the players and coaches should remember that Lehigh clinched consecutive PL titles with wins over Georgetown, and for Lehigh to capture a third consecutive title in 2012, they will have to go through Georgetown to do it. The next 41 weeks, the next 293 days, the next 7000 hours of the off-season should be all about what it will take—in recruiting, in weight training, in plain hard work, to get Georgetown to lift that trophy on Nov. 17, 2012. And for the first time in its PL tenure, the pieces are in place for Georgetown to be a credible option to do just that.

The late Scotty Glacken once said that it’s the 40 weeks of the off-season that builds winners. Let’s win that day.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Week 10 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Georgetown's 30-13 win over Fordham:

First and foremost, well done. The home fans may not all appreciate the level of commitment and hard work of this team over the last two seasons, but Saturday's effort should remind even the most fervent doubters out there that when it sets its mind to it, Georgetown can be a competitive football team no matter how steep the climb.

And without looking into too much of a rear view mirror (after all, this post is a few days late), on to Lehigh. Most of my thoughts on the game are found in the Pre-Game Report, and if you didn't have a chance to read it, I've reposted it below. Needless to say, Lehigh is the favorite in this game and for good reason, and no one is going to set couches ablaze if Georgetown falls short in this one. Yet, they're one game, one game from something quite remarkable.

Do your best, and don't leave anything behind. The seniors know this all too well. Here's the preview:

Saturday's unexpected but eagerly anticipated Patriot League final is not an accident.

Statistically speaking, Lehigh and Georgetown enter the game among the 2011 league leaders across the board, with significant national statistical rankings to back it up. The Engineers are one overtime possession short of an undefeated season, while the Hoyas have leveraged a steadier offense with a ferocious run defense to put together a run unlike seen by a Georgetown team since the MAAC days. Talent and home field advantage may favor Lehigh, but the Hoyas shouldn't be counted out.

The fans of the Lehigh Valley have never quite figured out the Hoyas, who are 3-18 against the home town teams (Lafayette, Lehigh) and 0-10 versus Lehigh. Georgetown might be viewed the same way DePaul is seen in the Big East--a geographic outlier with a small budget and unfulfilled potential. Georgetown's task is not to make believers out of the Murray Goodman Stadium crowds, but instead to believe in what got them to this point in the schedule and execute upon it.

The Engineers have maintained a wide open passing attack with a veteran defense to pick up big leads in many of its games this season. Last week's 14-7 win against Holy Cross could be seen as an anomaly, but may have also provided Georgetown with some leads as how to solve the Lehigh game plan.

Here's a review of the major matchups of the game:

Lehigh rush offense versus Georgetown rush defense: The Engineers have ben efficient on the ground all season, with junior RB Zach Barket now leading the way. Barket rushed for 102 of the Engineers' 143 yards against Holy Cross, and has been on a roll of late, with 111 against Colgate and 185 versus Colgate. Barket (and to a lesser extent, RB Keith Sherman) help open up the Lehigh offense so that it does not depend exclusively on the pass. Lehigh was held below 120 yards a game in five of its first six, with a season low of 43 versus Bucknell, but has largely been untouched down the stretch. The Georgetown rush defense has been especially strong on single-back sets and stopping Barket remains a high priority. Advantage: Georgetown.

Lehigh pass offense versus Georgetown pass defense: Lehigh QB Chris Lum is an outstanding dual-threat passer, and his numbers reflect it. Lum's 12.1 yards per catch among four top receivers will put pressure on Georgetown's pass defense to play a little tighter than they did in the past two games, which led to easier gains in yardage before the red zone. WR Ryan Spadola (71-1215-10 TD) is the obvious point of defense, but two other receivers will be options as well, including Jake Drwal (64-732-9), and RB Zach Barket (30-309-5). If Lum gets the time, he will find his receivers, but Georgetown needs to take advantage of a smaller Lehigh offensive line (average weight=289) and put pressure on Lum with its 3-4. That may prove to be a tough task. Advantage: Lehigh.

Georgetown rush offense versus Georgetown rush defense: Both teams don't allow much in the way of rushing; in fact, the schools are less than a yard apart in average rushing yards allowed per game. DE Andrew Knapp will be counted upon to work the Georgetown offensive line (average weight=311) and force the Hoyas to outside running tp pick up yards. Smaller backs like Wilburn Logan and Dalen Claytor may struggle early as a result, but if Nick Campanella can get some traction and more 4-6 yard gains, the Hoyas will benefit greatly. No team in the last six weeks has rushed for more than 107 yards, and if Georgetown is to win, that has to change. Advantage: Lehigh.

Georgetown pass offense versus Lehigh pass defense: Like Georgetown, Lehigh has been a bit more liberal on pass defense but tends to lock down opponents in the red zone (only 13 TD's in 29 opponent possessions). The Hoyas have not relied on a heavy passing game due to the success on the ground, but Isaiah Kempf will need big games from Jamal Davis, Patrick Ryan, and either Jeff Burke or Max Waizenegger to pick up yards after the catch to extend the Lehigh defenses. Kempf must be careful with sacks, as Lehigh enters the game with 25 on the season. Advantage: Even.

Lehigh kicking game versus Georgetown return game: Lehigh punter Tim Divers is averaging 37.5 yards a kick, with 10 inside the 20 and only one touchback all season. Lehigh stands to gain on field position if Divers is at the top of his game, and Jeremy Moore will be tracked very closely. Advantage: Lehigh.

Georgetown kicking game versus Lehigh return game: The Hoyas have been, for the most part, capable of containing kick and punt returns, but the advantage isn't overwhelming. The efforts of the return teams really need to be heightened, and avoid post-possession penalties. Advantage: Even.

Intangibles: This is Georgetown's first trip to Goodman Stadium for nearly two thirds of the team, and while the pressure is on Lehigh to win the title in front of the home crowd, the younger Hoyas need to settle down and not get overwhelmed by the atmosphere and the nature of a title game. Lehigh has been there, done that, not so for Georgetown. Advantage: Lehigh.

Some keys to the game:

1. Get Ahead Early: Georgetown is 8-0 this season when leading at halftime, and are not considered a comeback team when trailing by 10 or more points. Lehigh may strike early to put the Hoyas in a deep hole early, something they were unable to do against Holy Cross. For its part, Lehigh is 7-0 when leading at halftime.

2. Linebacker Penetration: Watch to see how eager either defensive coordinator will be to commit linebackers to the run or to drop a linebacker into midfield protection. Establishing a ground game early for Georgetown may force all-PL candidate Mike Groome (78 tackles, 4.5 TFL) to stay closer to scrimmage.

3. Playing The Fourth Quarter Like any boxing match, the favorite is hoping for an early knockdown and a decision before things get late. Georgetown must play to be in contention by the fourth quarter, and when it has a lead to play with the same intensity as it would in a comeback. This balance was best seen in the Colgate game and will be crucial as Georgetown tries to manage the clock as well as the scoreboard.

Georgetown would do well to follow the road map of the past three games: shut down the run, control the passing lanes and lock down Lehigh in the red zone, and pick up turnovers in the secondary. The task is a steeper climb against Lehigh, but so is the reward. Underdogs thought they may be, Saturday's game is both an opportunity and an affirmation of a remarkable turnaround, and opportunity that doesn't come along every year...or decade. Make the most of it, and while the Lehigh fans may still not understand the Hoyas, it's time for them to respect them.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Week 9 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Georgetown's 19-6 win over Holy Cross:

This was the first (and likely only) game this season I wasn't able to catch a radio or TV feed, owing that I was at the Georgetown campaign kickoff events. As a result, it would be improper to relay game day thoughts and impressions. But one cannot help but be impressed by the effort and the result.

In its last 24 games where its opponents were held under 20 points, Holy Cross was 23-1. Now it's 23-2.

Holy Cross had its opportunities, a given. But Georgetown had its opportunities to stop the Crusaders on fiurth down, to force a fumble and to make their own history, and they stepped up to do it. After a decade of grumbling by various Patriot League fans (and a few Georgetown ones) that the Hoyas were not up to to the task of being a competitive Patriot League program, you don't hear as much of that anymore.

So, as we near the Senior Day game with Fordham and a memorable finale with Lehigh, it bears repeating how much Georgetown needs to express its thanks to these seniors, the ones that lost 18 of its first 20 games, and 11 straight in 2009, when nothing was going right. These are the men that didn't quit, that didn't transfer, that found a way to keep working and keep training and keep looking forward and not back. The ones that lost six of its last seven games last season and didn't quit. The ones that took a hard loss to Bucknell a month ago and didn't give up.

Many years ago,a Prairie View A&M running back was asked what he though of that's school's monumental losing streak in the 1980's. "Nobody gets used to losing." And while Georgetown has never faced the struggles of a Prairie View, a Northwestern,  a Columbia or schools tagged with long and bleak losing streaks, the past ten years of Patriot League football have been a dark cloud around the program, that the budget and the unfinished field and the losing ways were all endemic of a program which could never succeed.

In 2009, these then-sophomores faced another challenge, one which was never proven to be more than a hoax or a sad prank. On the night of the season finale, with the 0-10 Hoyas about to face Forham on Senior Day, a phony e-mail was sent to players claiming that the University would close the program in 2010. There was nothing of the sort, but as those players trudged off Multi-Sport Field after losing 40-14, the sophomores had to be asking themselves what they had gotten themselves into. The next week, a parent responded on the football message board.

"My name is Pat Matheny. My son Daniel was a four year starter at center and two year captain. Unfortunately he missed 7 games due to injury. He played his last game against Fordham [on] 11/21. This ends 14 years of football. I am not a football coach, I am a supportive parent. We are not unique. There are a hundred other players and parents with the same story.

"This season was extremely difficult for all of us. Believe me when I say that ALL persons involved worked very hard to make this program successful from a win loss perspective. Over fours years things happen within the team you never hear of. Death in someone's family, loss of close friends, cancer, serious player injuries, the list goes on. Then add to this year an anonymous previous player/parent sending e-mails directly to the players the night before the Marist game that Georgetown is dropping football after the 2010 season and you have a recipe for disaster. Believe me no one on this blog wanted success more than me and my son. It just did not come in the form of victories.

That having been said, think about this:

There are multiple factions that occur when a team goes 0-11. Everyone involved carries some blame. That does not mean players/coaches are not GOOD. The worst player on the 2008-09 Detroit Lions was a superstar in Div-I football.

"These players are basically volunteers. There are need based grants,. Yes they are admitted to an outstanding university, but I basically pay tuition. It's very difficult for any coach to get players into this system...

"I know some of you played here. The perception of this program is very negative. The university does not offer any viable support for the team and coaches. No matter what anyone thinks the fact that recruits come to campus and see unfinished Multi Sport Field with its temporary stands and porta potties is a turn off...The athletic department told the parents that there are no plans to drop football. they are close to finishing the field. I have heard that story multiple times over the past 4-5 yrs. I talked with Daniel about that. I said it doesn't do anything for you. He responded "Yes I know, but it helps our program improve."

"My suggestion is to put pressure on the school administration to show STRONG signs of support that include facilities. Make our non Patriot games reasonable competition. Focus on the benefits of a Georgetown education. We ALL want success on the field. There are multiple problems. They can be worked out. Remember 900,000 young men play high school football. approx. 28000 play in all of Division 1. Our players have much potential.The glass is half full...Move ahead."
This is the circumstances to which the seniors endured, overcame, and in Senior Day this week, can stand above.

In 2010, the Georgetown Voice wrote: "There is no easy cure for Georgetown football’s ills. In the end, it comes down to unwavering commitment from everyone involved. The University has to back the program with its full financial and administrative support. The coaches have to always keep working, whether on the field, in the film room, or on the recruiting trail. Fans and alumni need to show up and pay up. The players need to go hard on every play in games and in practice. For those who have watched the Hoyas flounder in recent years, that may seem impossible."

There is nothing impossible when it comes to sports and if the 2011 Georgetown Hoyas have taught us anything, it's precisely that.