Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Week 9 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 20-17 win over Lafayette Saturday:

1. One on One: There were lots of positive news from Saturday's game, from forcing seven turnovers to a pair of second half drives which proved the difference in the game. But in the individual matchups, Georgetown held its own in a big way.

  • WR Mark Ross entered the game with 100 or more yards receiving for the Leopards in each of the previous four games. Saturday, he was held to 30 yards.
  • RB Ross Schuerman entered the game averaging 4.5 yards per carry. The 2011 PL Rookie of the Year averaged just 3.8 yards in 13 carries.
  • QB Andrew Shoop entered the game averaging 242 yards per game. His 186 yards passing was the fewest in any PL game this season for the Leopards.

Clearly, Georgetown had its share of struggles as well--seven turnovers produced just ten points, and the offense continues to struggle with a three-and-out approach early in games. But football is a game played on the margins, where one foot short can end a drive and one missed tackle can end a game. Holding Lafayette's three best offensive weapons below their peak may have provided the margin--ever so slight--for  Georgetown to stay close, to take the lead, and to prevail.

2. Freshmen Of Influence: At this point of the season, playing a lot of freshmen is often seen as 1) a sign of injuries, b) a lack of faith in the upperclassmen, or c) a little of both. In fact, it can be seen as the elevation of players who are poised to take a step up to become the kind of four year players that a competitive team needs.

As the season enters the home stretch, the Class of 2016 has been a productive group on the field. It wasn't planned that Kyle Nolan or Dezmond Richardson would be starting so soon, but their efforts are reflective of a number of classmates making their mark in their debut season, among them Spencer Ball, Cameron Gamble, Jo'el Kimpela, Ettian Scott, Jake DiCicco, Matthew Satchell, Ty Parsons and Hunter Kiselick.  With three PL Rookie of the Week awards in nine weeks to date, the Georgetown class has exceeded the usual chatter that falsely assumes "under-funded Georgetown" isn't getting the recruits. Most of the freshmen have seen at least some action this season with the exception of the offensive linemen, who usually needs a season to get up to college speed (and size).

And it bears noting that the seniors are stepping up, too. Nearly every healthy senior has seen time in the games each week, even though only five are starting regularly.

3. Second Act: Freshman QB Kyle Nolan turned in another strong effort Saturday in only his second college start. The two fourth down conversions Nolan executed were as big as any plays Georgetown has seen all year, and his while his accuracy wasn't remarkable (15 for 32), he allowed just one interception to a Lafayette team having made 17 picks in the previous seven games. And, as noted above, a second interception at any point of the second half might have been the deal-breaker in this game.

4. Rumor Has It...More than a few fans took note at the opening paragraph of Brad Wilson's game recap in the Easton Express Times, which read: "After tonight, Lafayette College must now wish the rumors of Georgetown University dropping football a few years ago had came true."

What's that again?

This wasn't an issue even in Kevin Kelly's leanest years, and the subject of whether to maintain varsity football hasn't been in the campus zeitgeist since Georgetown had to decide whether to upgrade from Division III in 1992. But on the outside, people see an 0-11 season and assume the worst, that a school not willing to invest in a big stadium or scholarships isn't in it for the long term. In fact, it's quite the opposite.

Fans and alumni familiar with athletics at Georgetown understand that the dynamics of sport sponsorship at Georgetown are more than wins and losses--winning is important, but not at the expense of providing students with competitive opportunities that fit with the traditions and history of Georgetown--which is why a Division I football team works at Georgetown where a wrestling or water polo team would not.

At six Patriot League schools, football is #1 and basketball gets in line. That there is a different model at Georgetown doesn't make one right and one wrong, but that at a handful of schools, football has a place in the fall calendar but doesn't drive the entire discussion.

5. The Home Stretch: The bye week is great for recharging the batteries for the team and coaches, but the turning of the seasons tends to take the wind out of football when it comes to fan support, especially with basketball season arriving.  The number of thread reads by game on the HoyaTalk board is one very unscientific measure of how interest has begun to shift away:

Princeton: 2,880
Brown:  1,756
Fordham: 1,678
Lehigh: 1,654
Colgate: 1,321
Lafayette: 722

Georgetown isn't winning the Patriot League title, but the next two games remain important for a winning 2012, for momentum into 2013, and for the continued growth of the program-- consecutive home games offer an opportunity to pick up wins against the bottom two teams in the PL to date. Finishing the season with three straight wins would be a great statement heading into next season, and would also be a great statement to the seniors as well.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Week 8 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Colgate's 57-36 win over Georgetown:

1. And Then There Were Four: Accentuating the positive, Kyle Nolan's debut in college football was as good as what could be expected--efficient, mobile, and (until the last three series when he was clearly rushing the pass), largely error-free. There were no reasonable expectations in August that a freshman would ever be in the lineup at quarterback, much less starting, so Nolan's preparation and execution served Georgetown quite well versus an opponent who is on quite a roll over the last three games, averaging 51 points a game.

To be sure, Colgate had no game film on Nolan and he wasn't even discussed as the pre-game starter until Friday, so the Colgate defense was flying blind, so to speak, on Nolan's technique and preparation. Not so for Lafayette, who will dutifully tear apart the game film to figure out what makes Nolan tick, and jsut as imnportantly, what Nolan did that  Kempf, Aiken, or Skon did not. That's going to be a challenge to the offensive play calls in this game, which in recent years appeared to have caught Lafayette off guard. Merely playing the Colgate playbook runs the risk of getting shut down by lafayette, getting too imaginative invites turnovers that Georgetown cannot afford. The Leopards have a resounding +11 on turnover ratio this season, most of it on interceptions.

Like many statistics, the historical numbers do not favor young Georgetown quarterbacks. A few weeks ago, we noted that Georgetown was 1-11 in the Patriot era in games with first time quarterbacks, and now that's 1-12. Its record in the second game for these quarterbacks is 1-11 as we speak.

2. Three For The D: Lafayette's defense arrives Saturday third in the PL in rushing passing, and total defense. Georgetown's numbers have slipped to fifth of seven...but that includes all games, not just league games.

The numbers for PL only games?

Lafayette is #1 in scoring defense, Georgetown last (of seven).
Lafayette is #1 in rush defense, Georgetown 6th.
Lafayette is #2 in passing defense, Georgetown last.
Lafayette is #1 in pass efficiency defense, Georgetown last.

Those numbers don't turn around overnight, but with Lehigh and Colgate in those numbers for Georgetown, it overstates the case a little bit. Still, there are three things it can do Saturday to set the tone:

1. In each of the last four games, an opponent RB has rushed for 99 or more yards.
2. In each of the last four games, Georgetown has averaged one sack per game.
3. Opponents continue to enjoy a near-automatic red zone efficiency (92.3%)

Those should be the three areas of interest--and concern--heading into Lafayette.

3. One Big Play? Each of the last two games in the series has stayed remarkably close--a combined seven points between the two games. It's come down to fourth quarter turnovers in each of the last tow years, but it needs to remain close for turnovers to make a diference.

A close game is on the mind of Lafayette coach Frank Tavani, in no small part because how the Lehigh Valley press views Georgetown, which is akin how the Big East press views, well, DePaul. A loss to Georgetown is unexplainable in their view, which is why is stings Lafayette that they've done what Lehigh has never done--lose to Georgetown not just once, but twice...and in a row. Tavani's goal? Get up in front and pull away.

4. Father & Son: No mention on the broadcast, but Colgate's 47 yard touchdown run by running back Nat Bellamy had a Georgetown connection.

Bellamy is the son of former Georgetown basketball great Gene Smith (C'84). Nat changed his last name when his mother remarried following the divorce and moved to Los Angeles. Gene was an outstanding student and athlete and it's clear his son shares many of those same qualities. Ironically, the 47 yard run was only the second carry of the season, and the only carry of the game with the Hoyas. If that run is any indication, the next two years will be memorable for Bellamy, his parents, and ultimately his team.

5. Grandfather & Grandson: The Time-Warner cable broadcast of the Colgate game had an unexpected guest--and apparel--in the third quarter.

TWC's sideline reporter caught up with the MacPherson family of Syracuse, whose son Cameron is the 5th string (well, 5th string at the beginning of the season, anyway...) quarterback for the Hoyas. Sitting with Cameron's family is a well known figure in Syracuse sports, Cameron's grandfather, Dick MacPherson, 81, who coached the Orangemen in football from 1981 to 1990, with a 4-1-1 record in bowls and three top 25 finishes en route to the College Football Hall of Fame. Other than Ben Schwartzwalder, there is no more revered coach in Syracuse football annals. MacPherson's Georgetown cap, however, was a surprise to many of the home town viewers.

When asked why he was wearing a Georgetown cap, MacPherson simply said, "I was told to wear it...and so I'm wearing it".

Coach Mac had few comments on Georgetown and basketball, saying he remembered the 1980 Manley Field House game but didn't pay attention to all the other games along the way--which by the way, is not unusual for college coaches. Did John Thompson worry about what Scotty Glacken was up to?

The elder MacPherson also said that Georgetown was "a wonderful opportunity" for his grandson. (Another grandson, by the way, is a tackle at Syracuse.)

A final MacPherson-Georgetown connection? In 1988, MacPherson hired a alumnus from his alma mater, Springfield College, and helped him get a foothold in Division I coaching as a graduate assistant at Syracuse. Twenty four years later, that graduate assistant was on the field at Andy Kerr Stadium, coaching MacPherson's grandson as the head coach of the Georgetown Hoyas: Kevin Kelly.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Week 7 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Lehigh's 17-14 win at Georgetown Saturday:

1. Every Play Counts. With under 30 seconds to play in the NFL game between Dallas and Baltimore, the Cowboys were on the verge of a major comeback, recovering an onsides kick and driving into field goal range. But on the penultimate play of the game, needing just a few yards to get into safe field goal position, the team's receivers failed to get back to the line, Tony Romo took their final time out, and the 51 yard attempt, nearly the longest in PK Dan Bailey's career, sailed left.

Thirty miles south and 24 hours earlier, it was the Georgetown Hoyas on the verge of the comeback, needing  a matter of yards to set up Matt MacZura for a makeable field goal, or to aim for the end zone to win it. Instead, a run up the middle and a spike of the ball left MacZura with a 37 yard attempt--not exactly insurmountable, but no sure thing given MacZura's career long was only 35 yards and he had missed two earlier in the game. MacZura's kick sailed left, and so did the Hoyas' momentum.

It wasn't the only error of caution in the game--two fourth down plays also cost the Hoyas chances at points:

3rd quarter, 4th and 8 at the Lehigh 34, game tied: Stephen Skon loses seven yards on a sack.
4th quarter, 4th and 3 at the Lehigh 33, game tied: Aaron Aiken loses six yards on a sack.

But back to the end game strategy. There has been a palpable inside the 35 for the Hoyas, and with some reason--Georgetown isn't converting. The specter of the INT versus Yale has led Georgetown to settle for field goals when it could be going for touchdowns, sometimes to its benefit (Princeton), others not (Lehigh). But among all the plays on a unlikely Saturday in October, settling for three instead of a chance at the win is one that coaches Kelly and Marino need to reexamine.

2. Turnover Margin. How does a team have a turnover margin of 5 and still lose a game? Answer--two fourth quarter sacks and three missed field goals. No good excuse for this one. Yes, Lehigh is a very good team, but to convert only one takeaway via an offensive touchdown was breathtaking in the scope of lost opportunities. How many similar opportunities face the Hoyas at Colgate or at Lafayette?

3. Answering The Call. After having been called  out following the loss to Fordham, Georgetown's defense  had a superb effort. Put aside the turnovers for a moment--Georgetown held the #10 team in the nation to 17 points. How many teams have held the Engineers to 17 or fewer points? Since the 2008 season, Georgetown is just the second PL team to hold Lehigh to 17 or fewer.

4. Aaron Aiken's Return? Aiken made his first appearance in three weeks Saturday in relief of Skon during the early fourth quarter, The results weren't overwhelming (2 for 6 passing) but it's a subplot for the remaining games--stay with Skon, return to Aiken, or platoon the quarterbacks as was done with Isaiah Kempf and Scott Darby for the better part of three seasons? For Colgate, Georgetown may want to stay with Skon because his passing can be more effective against a porous Colgate pass defense. Lafayette may be another story. Stay tuned.

5. The Home Stretch. Finally, there are just two home games left in Jeremy Moore's career. Even if you can't make it to Colgate or Lafayette, you owe it to yourself to see him in action once (or twice) more next month. There hasn't been a defensive back this good at Georgetown in 30 years, and it could be another 30 years again until fans see the talent he has brought to the position. And if you're one of these other PL teams, they will be on watch to see what Moore will do next. As should we.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Week 6 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Fordham's 38-31 win over Georgetown:

1. Halftime: At the midpoint of the 2012 season, where is Georgetown right now?

Maybe it's easy to say that the season changed with Isaiah Kempf's injury versus Davidson, but it's a larger issue than that. Offensively, the team averages 21.8 points per game versus 30.2 at this point a year ago, with the defensive numbers  within the margin of error (23.8 in 2012 vs. 25.8 in 2011). This year's team is 3-3 after six games, last year was 4-2... and with a little better luck, this could have been a 5-1 team going into Saturday's Lehigh game.

It's about conversions.

The 2011 team took a drive and converted in the red zone: 92% of conversions involved points, of these, two-thirds were touchdowns. In 2012, just 68% of red zone drives are converted into points, and just over half are touchdowns. If Georgetown was converting at 2011's rate, a 5-1 mark is certainly not out of the question.

It's about scoring.

The Hoyas are falling behind early and late in games--a net -25 in the first quarter, -23 in the fourth quarter. last season, the Hoyas finished a net +1 in the first and a net +35 in the fourth.

It's about momentum.

Last year's team was ready to go on an impressive four game run in mid-October and early November, holding opponents under 10 points a game and winning the four games by an average margin of 17.9 points. In 2012, Georgetown faces the toughest portion of its schedule and has two of its next three on the road. The Lehigh game isn't make or break--it's the first game of the PL season, after all--but the second half of a season can be every bit more productive than the first, if all the phases of the game are on the same page. it was in 2011. It can be in 2012.

2. Goal Line Groaner: A lot of fans who saw the late game defensive stand by Fordham had to wonder what OC Vinny Marino was thinking with four running plays from inside the two. More than the run, which had worked fairly well for the game, my question: why up the middle? Georgetown had done very well on option plays, something Stephen Skon has improved on each week. We'll never know if Dalen Claytor or Brandon Durham or Wilburn Logan could have picked up the yard, but it's conventional wisdom that option plays don't work well on goal line stands. Unfortunately, neither do three plays going to the same back.

3. Short Hand-ed: Georgetown has allowed 37.5 points per game in each of the last two games and it's a result of two factors, one not preventable, one preventable.

First and foremost, Brown and Fordham were vastly better offenses than those which preceded it on the schedule. Princeton is the #92 ranked offense, Davidson #93, Wagner #105. Brown is #65, Fordham #22.

The preventable issue is field position. In 14 opponent scoring possessions over these last two weeks, ten of them--ten--were scoring drives of less than 50 yards. The Georgetown defense works best when it is in a "bend, but don't break" mode, where an opposing team can drive 70 yards but settles for a field goal. But when the roll call of touchdown drives over the past two weeks shows drives of 41, 49, 0 (the blocked/bobbled punt vs. Brown), 53, and 47 yards, the defense is being dealt a short hand and it's a lot to ask them to fight through--to its credit, it held on half of the 14 drives for field goals, but it's not going to be enough.

4. Number One: LB Robert McCabe enters Saturday's game ranked #1 nationally in tackles (13.83 per game) and tackles for loss (1.75 per game). McCabe had 14 tackles in last season's game at Lehigh, and will again be called upon to help stop the Engineers where they are strongest: passing offense--25th nationally.

5. NextStep Fundraiser: For those who didn't see the note on the front page, it's worth repeating:

"A fundraising effort is underway with former Georgetown football captain Janne Kouri (B'97) to open a Washington location for NextStep, the fitness and rehabilitation center founded by Kouri following the spinal accident he suffered in 2006. Per its web site:

"Thursday, October 11th, NextStep presents its 4th Annual “Help Make a Difference” Benefit, in Washington, DC. NextStep is on a mission to open a NextStep Fitness facility in the DC community by December 31, 2013. The benefit is intended to help NextStep raise funds to complete this expansion project. The evening will host 300 professionals with cocktails, delicious food, and a silent auction. This year the benefit will take place at the beautiful House of Sweden at the Georgetown Waterfront."

Tickets and donation information can be found at http://www.fanfueled.com/Event/Details/3085-nextsteps-4th-annual-help-make-a-difference-benefit-washington-dc

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Week 5 Thoughts

Some quick thoughts following Brown's 37-10 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. A First-Class Event. Congratulations to the Alumni Association, the office of Alumni Relations, and the office of Advancement for all their efforts to make Homecoming Weekend and the 73rd Homecoming Game such a success, final score notwithstanding. This weekend has resumed its rightful place as a signature alumni weekend on campus, and now draws more on-campus attendees than any other event during the year. From academic seminars to the TedX presentation, from receptions to the outdoor competitions, and from the tailgate to the class parties, the "best of Georgetown" was on display for all to see this past weekend. Well done, and on to the planning effort for 2013.

2. Third String, First Seat: A little discouraged, but not surprised by the Hoyas' struggles under quarterback for Stephen Skon, and you can't blame him for everything that ground to a halt Saturday. Going back over the last 12 Georgetown quarterbacks in their first start under center, the results are not always crisp:
Morgan Booth: Lost 69-0 to Lehigh  (2002)
Andrew Crawford: Lost 27-2 to Florida Int'l (2002)
Alondzo Turner: Lost 45-24 to Lehigh (2003)
Keith Allan: Lost 17-6 to Lafayette (2004)
Nick Cangelosi: Defeated Bucknell 19-16 (2005)
Ben Hostetler: Lost  34-3 to Brown (2005)
Matt Bassuener: Lost 31-14 to Colgate (2006)
James Brady: Lost 47-7 to Yale (2008)
Scott Darby: Lost 23-21 to Marist (2009)
Isaiah Kempf: Lost 31-10 to Yale (2009)
Aaron Aiken: Defeated Wagner 13-10 (2012)
Stephen Skon: Lost 37-10 to Brown (2012)

What separates these names was which QB's improved over the succeeding games and which did not, which is why Morgan Booth or Keith Allan or even James Brady are among the lesser names in Georgetown quarterbacks in the PL era. Skon needs to improve ever week, if for no other reason that there will be a quarterback battle in 2013 and he (and Aiken) need to be at the forefront.

3. Running On Empty: The Brown game exposed a continuing weakness in the Vinny Marino offensive sets: a one back offense doesn't cut it against stronger defensive teams and those which can put losts of pressure on the quarterback.

None of the RB's this season have stepped up as they are capable of. Nick Campanella has 295 yards, but 127 of that was against Davidson, averaging just 42 yards per game in the other three. While the rushing numbers are good, they are not great, and the weakness in the passing game that is exasperated by the injuries to two quarterbacks is not balanced by the runners. 

A second back in the backfield, particularly one that can block like Campanella, gives a young quarterback like Skon more time to maneuver, helps provide run support for smaller backs like Dalen Claytor and Wilburn Logan, and reintroduces an old wrinkle from days gone by: the screen pass. Realistically, I don't expect a coordinator to change his horses in mid-stream, but fans may see similar struggles in the backfield as the Hoyas prepare to face three stout defenses over the next three weeks.

4. Matt Matters: He's probably not the most valuable player after four games, but one can make the argument that P/K Matt MacZura has been on the edge of some very important numbers for the Hoyas over the past five games.  His field goals won two games for the Hoyas, but the net punting numbers are now at 29 yards per game and Georgetown is losing field position as a result. Three times in the first half against Brown, short punts set up the Bears at midfield and they scored 17 points as a result. The blocker/bobbled lick which led to a Brown TD in the fourth quarter wasn't a game-changer, but is a sign that the special teams work needs continued work.

MacZura is a good kicker. He just needs to get work harder on the punts and start pinning the opponents deep on their side of the field. The defense can do the job, but it's easier to stop an 80 yard drive than a 40 yard one.

5. Hold That Line: In the game with Brown, Georgetown earned no sacks for only the second tie in the last 2+ seasons. Defensive linemen account for just 5.5 of the 13 sacks to date, and only one lineman is in the top 10 on tackles (Dezmond Richardson). Yes, injuries are in play, but for Georgetown to give Fordham's soaring passing game a test, the defense needs a step up--and a step through--the Fordham offensive linemen.

"On Sunday, what I told the guys was that I didn't do a good enough job of preparing them and that we, as coaches didn't do a good enough job in any of the three phases of the game," Coach Kelly said in his post-game notes. "On offense, we did not score enough points. On defense, we did some nice things, but we were too inconsistent and did not play well enough to win. Our special teams unit gave up the touchdown and did not have its best game. Now our task is learning from this game and moving on."

The defensive line needs to be at the forefront as Georgetown enters its toughest stretch of the season.