Monday, September 24, 2012

Week 4 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 21-20 win Friday over Princeton:

1. Support. For a school not known to travel well, the fan support at Princeton was encouraging and a confluence of location, opponent, and preparation.

One of the reasons Georgetown struggles to gather road attendance in places like upstate New York or western New England is distance and density--there aren't as many Georgetown alumni in the area, or aren't enough willing to wake up at 6:00 am to get to a place like Hamilton or Worcester on a biennial basis. The location of Princeton (one hour from New York, one hour from Philadelphia, and three hours from campus) was a great opportunity to play football in the heart of the alumni base and in an opponent students and alumni could get interested in.

That'a not a knock on the opponents of the Patriot League, but a recognition that despite its lean years of late, Princeton is the kind of program Georgetown fans would be comfortable playing on a regular basis. Barring a multi-million dollar change of heart, Georgetown doesn't figure to see Memphis or Louisville on future schedules, and the relationship with the scholarship aspirants of the Patriot League will remain a tenuous one. Teams like Princeton fit the mold of a philosophy that dates back to the 1965 "Football For Fun" case study undertaken by the Georgetown student body, and was expressed over a decade ago by former coach Bob Benson:

"There must be a vision...It is really quite simple. Utilize the game of football to create an environment and atmosphere among our students, faculty, and community on an autumn Saturday afternoon and bring to our campus a school spirit on a fall day that is desperately needed.
The move to the Patriot League was a perfect opportunity. Georgetown has always wanted to play peer institutions. As one of the top academic institutions in the nation, Georgetown wanted to be associated with schools in the Ivy League and the Patriot League...It is a vision:
  • Play peer institutions.
  • Build a new facility with all the tradition of the past in mind.
  • Place it in the center of campus.
  • Create a new school spirit among our students, faculty, and the community, and bring an environment with a wonderful aura of history and tradition to the Georgetown campus."
Friday's game was also a success because of preparation--working between staff and alumni channels to organize the tailgate, to get the cheerleaders and band to come to the game, and to get students to join them.  With the generous support of head coach John Thompson III to help make it possible for more students to visit his alma mater, and the coordination that for a game with national reach, the support would be fitting for the occasion.

Games like Princeton don't happen every year, and certainly not on national TV. The Tigers travel to Washington next season and the two teams return the series in 2016 and 2017. The seeds planted by Friday's game can, with continued support, be the start of a foundation of support among students and alumni to support the team.

For one night in September, anyway, you could hear the fight song from coast to coast.

2. The View Across The Field: Monday's Daily Princetonian had its take on the game:
"So where did Princeton go wrong? Well, the easy scapegoat is the kicking game. Freshman kicker Nolan Bieck missed three field goals and had an extra point blocked. Those points, of course, would have won the ball game. But blaming the kicker is a cop out. First off, two of those attempts were from a distance, 42 yards and 49 yards, which would be difficult for any college kicker (anyone see Alabama kicker Cade Foster in the regular season Alabama-Louisiana State game last year?). Secondly, Bieck was put into a bad situation as a true freshman. The Tigers’ first touchdown, which looked to be a fake field goal attempt, was actually a botched snap that ended fortuitously for Princeton. That’s no way for any kicker to establish confidence at the beginning of a game, let alone a freshman. So yes, technically it’s the kicker’s fault — but if he is to receive blame, so does the rest of the kicking unit as well as the coaching staff.

The harder answer as to why the Tigers lost on Friday night? Georgetown is simply a better team. That may not be the answer Princeton is looking for, but it’s true. The Hoyas are a top-flight opponent from the Patriot League that went 8-3 last season. What is remarkable about this season is that not only were the games with Lehigh and Georgetown competitive (which would be a stretch to say of some of last season’s games), the Tigers were actually threatening to win in the closing minutes of both."
3. The Third Quarterback: A lot of great individual performances followed in the game, starting with PK Matt MacZura and the outstanding defensive efforts from players up and down the depth chart. One can't underestimate, however, the impact that third string QB Stephen Skon had in keeping the Hoyas in the game and leading them to the game winning FG. It's never easy to take over from an injured teammate, much less make one's college debut on national TV, and Skon handled both of these. It's too soon to confirm when Isaiah Kempf or Aaron Aiken will be cleared to return, but Skon really stepped up Friday and appears to be  ready top do so again in the weeks to come.

4. Running Back Rotation. Even with a 3-1 record, Georgetown's one running back setup is a point of concern.

To date, Georgetown has been able to get strong yardage (211 yards per game, or 20th nationally) with a one RB set against weaker defenses and those defenses without significant size up front. That strategy figures to run into trouble over the next three weeks as Brown, Fordham, and Lehigh have size and quickness on its defensive line which could make it tougher for Campanella, Durham, Claytor, or Logan to make the kind of headway they have gained in the first four games.

If Skon sees continued time under center, good RB play is essential. Coach Marino has stayed away from a two back set in favor of more passing options, but there may be more opportunities to run two of the four backs in more plays, if only to provide blocking support to allow Skon to set up in the pocket. (This was done at least twice with Campanella moving up what looked like a wildcat or split zone formation, to some success.  One can expect brown coaches to be watching the game film intently on Campanella in that set, and whether similar success can be seen Saturday is yet  to be determined.

5. Rookie Of The Week: Congratulations to freshman Dezmond Richardson, named the PL rookie of the week following the Princeton game.

Big games are not new to Richardson, having played at prep powerhouse Euless (TX) Trinity, home of former defensive back Wayne Heimuli and fellow freshman Jo'el Kimpela. Richardson's seven tackles and a sack in his first college start Friday bring much promise to a young defensive line that will be tested in October and that, following the graduation of its linebacker corps, will be the defensive anchor for next season and beyond.

On to Homecoming..

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Week 3 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Yale's 20-17 win over Georgetown Saturday.

1. Win As A Team..."This past week, for a lot of us, was the toughest loss since we've been here." These were the words of head coach Kevin Kelly following the Yale game and it's hard to blame him for the sense that Georgetown let this one get away. Turnovers, missed opportunities, and a crushing defensive error that contributed to a 14 point swing at halftime all contributed to a deflating afternoon.

It would be easy, perhaps, but otherwise unfair to drop all of these mistakes at the foot of Aaron Aiken. Aiken did not look good in the game and the execution wasn't there when it counted. It bears repeating that this was Aiken's second career start, and no amount of controlled scrimmages can prepare one for actual game time decisions. Aiken has to get better and needs to reestablish his leadership Friday versus Princeton, and past experience shows it can be done--look no further than Isaiah Kempf, who suffered the indignity of  a last minute interception in his second start, a game Georgetown should have won, in a 14-11 loss versus Howard in 2009. He learned from it, and so did the team. In the end, teams lose together, and with better effort, win together.

2. Red Zone Efficiency: Is there any stat that jumps out from 2012 than this one? In 2011, Georgetown was 92%v scoring inside the red zone, 62% by touchdown. Defensively, GU held opponents to 68% scoring and just 46% by touchdown.

In 2012, just 45% of Georgetown's possessions have been converted from inside the 20, and 27% by touchdown. Opponents are 100% scoring inside the 20, 83% (5-6) by touchdown. Ouch! Fixing this statistic is priority one for the coaches.

3. The Kicking Game: News of an open tryout for kicker got some local attention, but by the look of the roster, no new addition was made. That's put additional pressure on junior Matt MacZura, the punter, place kicker and (mostly) kickoff leader for the team. His early numbers have been down from 2011, with only 32 yards per punt, down from just under 35 last season.The Hoyas are going to need MacZura to win a game or two down the line, and both punting and kicking can make the difference, as it did against Wagner...and might have against Yale.

Kickoffs are no less important--through three games, Georgetown is giving up a net -4 yards on kickoffs than opponents, with an average starting field position of the opponent 32. Stil time to correct this before confernece play, and definitely something to build upon with a good effort Friday.

4. Freshmen of Influence: Through three games, few freshmen have seen significant time, but a few names are making a positive early impression. Defensive lineman Dez Richardson (six tackles), Matthew Satchell (three) and Ty Parsons (three tackles, blocked punt return) have stepped up. With a veteran offense, it's not unusual to see little in the way of statistical impact from the newcomers, but that will come in time. Nine of the 22 freshmen have seen action to date this year, and other three or four may as well before it is all over.

5. Support: Another good crowd (2,689) at MSF Saturday. Numbers like that don't look like much at other campuses, but with the size and generally fan-unfriendly condition of the MSF, an oversold crowd is a positive sign that student and alumni support continues to build for this team. With Brown on the horizon for the 73rd Homecoming game in two weeks, get your tickets early.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Home Improvement

Sir Winston Churchill once said, "We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us." Such is the case as generations of Georgetown alumni walk with pride amongst the welcoming paths that have followed visitors to its Hilltop for generations. George Washington once stood here, Lincoln, over there. Jim Thorpe played football on what is now Copley Lawn, and Bill Clinton had a beer in that corner of The Tombs just like thousands have since.

We value space at Georgetown because there is a limited supply of it. In the last decade, it has taken--and improved--underperforming spaces and made each something which will endure for the generations to come--a performing arts center, a quadrangle of dormitories, a dining hall, a business school, a science facility. 

The same cannot be said for its athletic field, which has atrophied amidst the crosswinds of changing priorities, institutional indifference, and benign neglect. 

Fourteen years ago, Georgetown announced plans for a home stadium for Georgetown football. Seven years ago this weekend, it opened a temporary facility on its grounds with the understanding that it would be completed in a short while. In the interim, virtually nothing has changed since Brown University became the first Ivy League team to play a game on Georgetown’s campus. It is a monument to inaction.

But this column is not to retell that story. It is to tell another story, about giving the field and its environs the "spring cleaning" it needs to serve the next generation of Georgetown students, who neither know nor care about the internecine politics of the whole thing but want a safe, scenic, and sensible place to watch and play a game. 

We can do this. And we can do it soon.

It is time to redevelop the MSF footprint. 

Before you discuss the field. or the seating,  start with the fence. The 2005 construction project started--and stopped--after just 40 yards of fencing along the south side of the facility. The rest has been irregularly covered with chain link fencing better suited to a construction site. The place does not even have the permanent flagpole envisioned and approved by Hoyas Unlimited over a decade ago, well before the MSF even opened, to be dedicated in honor of Georgetown alumni lost on 9/11/2001.

Likewise, the concept of any landscaping or amenities were not a priority on opening day. Yet, the construction gravel and dug-out sand that was around for its debut is, in many cases still there. The construction sites of recent years that grew up around the MSF have come and gone. But the construction site that is the MSF still has the look that you might need a hard hat to go within its borders.

The footprint is now entirely surrounded--the Southwest Quad, the Yates access road, the Hariri and Regents Halls, Harbin. Is it now time to give three sides of the property the same fencing that one side enjoys, and to provide some level of basic landscaping so as to give the field (and its guests) a better sense of place? 

Georgetown didn’t build the Southwest  Quad and let the gravel sit untended. It didn’t build the business and science centers without the thought to provide some basic scenery around it. It didn’t build the Davis Performing Arts Center and left piles of sand laying around.

It is time for a conversation  to replace the field. 

Not the location, but the surface. The lifespan of a Field Turf installation is 8-10 years, according to its web site, with the caveat of "under normal conditions". Conditions at Georgetown are anything but normal for a sports facility, with use seven days a week, up to 16 hours daily. Many colleges use their in-game Field Turf maybe 16 hours a month, not 16 hours a day. 

Either way you slice it, the turf at MSF is reaching the end of its useful life. Before Georgetown makes the same mistake it did with the tattered Kehoe Field turf, it’s time to discuss a turf replacement in 2014.

It is time for a conversation to replace the MSF seating. 

In its online promotional  materials, the company that installed the 2005 seating at MSF stated that Georgetown : "initially thought that their need would be for a two season rental of our [seating]." Well, two years is now seven, going on eight. 

The materials are worn, the plastic seats are showing the effects of age and weather, and the odd configuration of seating when the MSF was constructed (seats were only installed from the 10 yard line to the opposite 40) wastes a lot of space and does not serve the long term interests of a fan-friendly and accommodating seating area. 

Reluctantly, it is unlikely that Georgetown is ready for the physical commitment to install permanent seating. However, that does not preclude the need for a second round of seating. This past spring, a private gift funded a renovation of North Kehoe Field that installed modern, through temporary, seating across the field of play, not across half of it:

If North Kehoe is an example, this is what is needed on, at the least, the west side of the MSF--80 yards of seating from the 10 to the 10, which can safely and comfortably accommodate students, parents, visitors and fans without them crawling over each other as is often the case in the current configuration. This would also increase seating from roughly 1,600 on the current west side to as many as 2,500.

Ideally, a similar effort would be undertaken to provide seating on the east side for visitors--a 5,000 seat stadium capable of welcoming Ivy and PL schools who do not feel like they are seating on wooden timbers to watch a game. Realistically, the funds may not be there for both sides, which suggests that the existing west side could be repurposed to the east side, with some of  the wooden seats moved to the undeveloped area in the north end zone where students could walk down from the Hariri and Regents buildings to watch activities on the field without formal admission.

Yes, this takes money, and the results are at best temporary. The North Kehoe expansion cost $750,000, according to But with a two year seating solution at MSF now entering its eighth year of service, it’s time to recognize that it’s at the end of the life cycle as well, and a new round of seating to accommodate the growing population of fans in the MSF’s primary activities of football and lacrosse is in order, if only to extend the current lifespan of the place for  another 5-7 years.

It is time to discuss a name for the facility. 

The name "Multi Sport Facility" (and its progeny, Multi-Sport Field) are redolent of an earlier era in Georgetown athletics where this would be the centerpiece of the athletic community at Georgetown; it was even hailed in print as the most important project in the history of Georgetown Athletics.

It isn’t anymore.

For whatever reason you choose (and there are many), the MSF was left by the wayside as other projects took precedent. Now, with the as-yet unnamed Intercollegiate Athletics Center (or as I would call it, with a few million dollars, the "John R. Thompson, Jr. Center for Intercollegiate Excellence") being the stated priority for Athletics, the need for the MSF to be the flagship facility is no longer applicable.

Nor is its name--the field only serves football and lacrosse. "Multi-Sport"? Yes, in a technical sense, but it is no longer being constructed for the wide range of activities planned for with the IAC. 

Georgetown University has a poor track record when it comes to naming buildings with any shred of creativity. For the first 100 years of its existence, its major buildings were merely named "North" and "South". Its striking landmark, the Healy Building, was originally named the "New Building" for its first 10 years, then called the "Century Building" when someone realized it wasn’t very new anymore. Sometime after 1912, someone thought to name it after a former college president who labored to find donors willing to finish the project.

"There is a good deal more to be done yet," wrote Patrick Healy, S.J. in 1879. "Oh, for the money to do it!" 

In recent years, it decided not to name its new apartment complex "Carrollton" in 1979 with hopes of a generous naming donor; today, forlorn Village A is waiting for a name after 33 years, while Village C, another placeholder name, now approaches its third decade without a title of its own. 

Neither names nor buildings, are eternal, even at Georgetown. Names like the Foreign Service Annex, Collier Hall, and the Ryan Administration Building now reside in a dusty corner of the Archives. If you have even heard of O’Gara Hall, chances are your kids haven’t got a clue what you are talking about.

Ideally, if a company would sponsor a name for the field for five or ten years, but Georgetown’s pursuits for corporate generosity likely start and stop with the IAC. Is it time to discuss a honor to name this field after one of its own? Calling the facility by a new name--"Rienzo Field", "Urick Park", the "Class of 1965 Stadium", et al.-- is eminently more useful that the awkward placeholder of Multi-Sport Field and lends some permanence to it. It doesn’t mean it will always be called thusly, but it’s an opportunity to honor some giants in Georgetown University while it is still appropriate to do so. 

It is time to plan the next generation of facility for football and lacrosse. 

Each of the topics discussed above are, at their core, temporary. I fully realize, understand, and concur that in the present campaign, the MSF is neither a priority nor something someone in McDonough wants to tackle. It’s all about the IAC until the doors open, and even after that. If any permanent plans are envisioned for an outdoor field, they would only start after the end of the current capital campaign in 2016 and, just as likely, a few years after that. 

If we begin to engage in a  dialogue about what can be done now to get another seven or eight years of passable service out of what GU has right now, we can then begin to provide the framework for Georgetown to commit to getting something built in our lifetimes--in the next decade. The present capital campaign will have concluded, a new campaign will be in the quiet phase, and barring the wholesale construction of a new campus in Southeast, the only likely facility project left on the Hilltop will be a renovation of Lauinger Library, which by that time will be a half-century old. Nothing will be in the way (figuratively or literally) from a permanent stadium that suits the contemporary needs of the campus.

But back to what can be done now. Fencing, landscaping, turf replacement, seating--when does all this get done when there are so many entities using the field? 

A suggestion. 

The last home football game of the 2013 season is Nov. 2--a little early, but a optimal time to close the MSF and begin its retrofitting so there are not, as was in 2005, construction workers bolting in bleachers the day of the first game. Lacrosse could play on North Kehoe for the 2014 season, and the new field (name TBA) opens in the fall of 2014 during the 50th anniversary of football, a season which includes the 75th Homecoming Game that season against (what should be) Harvard, in the Crimson’s first appearance ever in Washington. With so many alumni expected to return for the event, why not have a decent place to put them all, now to mention the question, where do all those Harvard folks plan to sit?

But let’s not wait until 2014 to talk about it.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Week 2 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Saturday’s 13-10 win over Wagner:

1. Staying the Course. Wagner is no Davidson and Aaron Aiken is not Isaiah Kempf, but give Georgetown credit for staying to a strong game plan in its win. The Seahawks are a considerable step up from the Wildcats, in scholarships (35), in defensive sets, and in the level of talent that can disrupt games. The Wagner defense successfully stopped two Florida Atlantic drives for touchdowns in the season opener which could have opened up that game, and Wagner did the same against Georgetown. But to its credit, the Hoyas didn't lose focus (or confidence) after two drives inside the 10  resulted in just three points.The defense tightened, and the offense found a way to win. In the non-conference, that's the recipe for success.

2. Who's the #1 RB? Over two seasons, Nick Campanella ran roughshod over Davidson, but has yet to maintain that level of momentum against other teams. Such was the case Saturday, as neither Campanella, Brandon Durham, Dalen Claytor or Wilburn Logan clearly established themselves as the go-to running back in the Vinny Marino offense. That's OK for a week or two, but at some point Georgetown needs a strong RB choice as opponents get more game film on Aaron Aiken and begin to limit his carries. A running back by committee option is still available out there, but someone need to step forward to be the clearer choice in the fall.

3. Robert McCabe. As a senior LB, he's really leading the charge and his efforts have not gone unnoticed in consecurtive week's honors by the Patriot League as its defensive player of the week--congratulations. Saturday's Yale game will be a test as the Eli offense has been traditionally tougher for Georgetown to manage, having scored no fewer than 28 points per game in each of the last five meetings. Size-wise, McCabe is a throwback to former LB Andrew Clarke (2000-03), who could pick up lots of tackles per game--granted, some of that was because of Georgetown's inexperienced lines during those years, but Clarke was a valuable asset to the Georgetown defense when it needed it the most. Yale figures to be a significant test for McCabe and the entire GU defense to rise to the occasion.

4. Whither Yale? While this is not quite the Yale team Georgetown saw last fall in New Haven, a new coach and a new QB figure to complicate the pre-game strategy of the coaches. Overall, though, teams do not change their stripes overnight and the Bulldogs will continue to be a formidable opponent for Georgetown, particularly along the lines and in the speed positions. In each of the prior games, and particularly in the last three, Yale set the tone early and was able to control the game late with its ability to get points on the board when it needed it. Last year's Bulldogs controlled time of possession (32:45, 18:07 in the second half) and red zone conversions (4-5) which proved the difference. With a new coach, new QB, and new running backs, it's easy to expect the unexpected, but Georgetown needs to prepare for much of the expected, too.

5. Break that streak. Since a 2003 win over Cornell, Georgetown has gone a discouraging 0-12 against Ivy league opponents in the intervening years: one loss to Columbia, two each to Brown, Columbia, and Penn, and five straight to Yale. This week, and this team, has an excellent opportunity to begin to undue that legacy and reestablish Georgetown as legitimate competition in Ivy circles.As noted in an earlier column, Georgetown needs to be considered as a capable Ivy opponent in an era where the scholarship gap with Patriot League is a clear and present danger. That journey begins anew Saturday.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Week 1 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Saturday’s 35-14 win over Davidson:

1.  Georgetown's Nightmare. Losing a starting quarterback is never easy. Losing one five plays into the first drive of the season, ever more so.

It's still early to speculate on the short and longer-term implications of Isaiah Kempf's collison will be. Obviously, as a senior, there are precious few weeks left of his football career, but such time must be tempered with the long term considerations to protect student-athletes from lingering effects and potentially more damage. Football has progressed from calling a concussion "having your bell rung" and simply shuttling a player back into the game to something much more preventive and attentive. 

At such time Kempf is cleared to play, it will be done with long-term, not short-term, interests at the forefront, which is what it's all about. Give credit--and give patience--to junior Aaron Aiken, who must assume the mantle and the inevitable adjustments opponents will bring--beginning with Wagner, as game films help define who he is and what he does. Wherher Kempf returns in week 3, 6, 9 , or not at all, Aiken figures to play a significant role this season and one where the practices over these last three years will pay dividends. 

2. Davidson's Nightmare.  Davidson had three goals in Saturday's game: a balanced offense, a tighter run defense, and avoid penalties. They missed on all three. 

You can't win games with a -18 yards on the ground. Period. The Wildcats have a talented quarterback and some fine receivers, but they are put at a disadvantage with such a one sided offensive array Yes, the GU defense was up to the task, but the Wildcats need running backs.

Maybe its real nightmare was defending Nick Campanella. After three touchdowns in the 2011 opener, he topped it with four in this one, both from short and long range. While Davidson is a career highlight, Campanella knows he must continue to gain ground during he season, where he had mixed results in 2011 after week one.

Penalties? Davidson went from 78 yards in 2011 to 117 in 2012. Teams that earn 100 yards in penalties can struggle, and Davidson learned this the hard way.

3. Defense! Lots of recognition is due the GU defense for a solid outing Saturday--the two davidson scores came froma  very short field following Aiken's interception and a late score with the outcome already in hand. Granted, Davidson is not Brown, much less Lehigh, but it's a meaningful first step in the post-Schaetzke era. 

4. Special Teams: For all the talk about tryouts for kicker, early results show that Matt MacZura is up to the challenge, having moved (at least in week one) ahead of Devon Papendrew on the depth chart. Georgetown will still need two kickers this year, because the kicking game will prove crucial down the line.

Missing from special teams this week was all-PL candidate Jeremy Moore. Without comment, he was not in the two deep in special teams nor in the secondary. It's not worth speculating for why and for when, but we look forward to his return to the lineup.

5. How 'Bout Those Seahawks? Wagner enters Saturday's game having been picked seventh in the nine team NEC, but opening some eyes in a defensive-minded 7-3 loss to Division I-A Florida Atlantic on Saturday. And FAU needed to score in the fourth to do it!

This raises the question whether Wagner was seriously underrated in NEC circles, or, well, is FAU that abd. Probably a little of both. The Owls are picked near the bottom of the Sun Belt and expectations are fairly low, even as school officials were telling the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel that the Wagner win counted for bowl eligibility.

"The Owls would need more than six wins to make a bowl game, in reality, as no bowl would take a .500 FAU team and a 5-3, or 4-4 record in the Sun Belt would likely not be enough to secure a bowl tie-in," writes the Sun Sentinel's Dieter Kurtenbach. "So while it's unlikely that we'll ever have to revisit the subject, let it be established, the Owls are one step closer to bowl eligibility. Seriously, stop laughing."

Still, how can a NEC team with 40 or fewer scholarships be a bowl eligible opponent? The devil is in the details, I guess.

Either way, Wagner held Florida Atlantic to 86 yards for the first half. That ought to be a warning that the Seahawks mean business in trying to stop the Hoyas at home this Saturday.