Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lights, Camera...

As Georgetown prepares for the start of another football season, it continues an institutional record of sorts: this is the 49th consecutive season of varsity football among 108 years of intercollegiate football, dating back to 1887. With various interruptions variously related to a player’s death (1895-97), World War II (1943-45), and a unrepentant Jesuit president (1951-63), the Hoyas have taken the field every fall since 1964. Georgetown has never enjoyed such a uninterrupted run of football.

Were that more people could see it. On Monday, the MSF passed 2,900 days on its diaspora, there is no effort to add temporary seats for bigger games, particularly for Homecoming vs. Princeton, and the fond memories of a game winning kick last season on ESPNU have all but faded as students and alumni ask: when is basketball season?

A possible opportunity to raise the visibility of Hoya football appears to have fallen short, however.

It’s no secret that broadcast coverage of Georgetown football does not exist. No local TV. No local radio. Occasional home games online through an online feed from WGTB, but not consistent enough over the years to be completely dependable. But earlier this summer, the Patriot League announced a somewhat innovative approach: a state of the art video feed for hundreds of league events across all PL sponsored sports to raise the PL’s visibility outside its campuses.

“The Patriot League Network (“PLN”) debuted over the weekend with three women's soccer contests, and has its first full weekend ahead on the way to at least 246 telecasts during the fall sports season” reads a release. “There are already more than 50 regular-season games on the schedule in volleyball and men's soccer, nearly 50 in women's soccer, more than 30 in field hockey and 27 in football.

Continuing: “Each Patriot League sport will feature the majority of its League contests on PLN, with more than 55% of League games shown for the five fall team sports. The entirety of the Patriot League tournament will be broadcast for men and women's soccer, field hockey and volleyball, adding 16 postseason games to the fall broadcast slate.”

Well, this should make out of town Hoyas feel good right? A weekly kickoff right around the corner on their PC or iPad?

Here is the Patriot League network broadcast schedule. See if you can spot the problem:

Patriot League Network Coverage, Football

Holy Cross: 5 home games, 8 overall (plus one game on cable's CBS Sports Network)
Lehigh: 5 home games, 7 overall (plus one game on CBS SN)
Colgate: 5 home games broadcast, 7 overall (plus one game on CBS SN)
Bucknell: 5 home games, 7 overall
Fordham: 5 home games, 6 overall (plus one game on CBS SN)
Georgetown: 0 home games, 3 overall
(*Lafayette has two PLN broadcasts but will likely broadcast most of its season on its own local network.)

So, for nothing other than sheer emphasis, home games on PLN:

Holy Cross: 5
Lehigh: 5
Colgate: 5
Bucknell: 5
Fordham: 5
Georgetown: 0

No home games. Not one. Two of the three road games come at the end of the season: Nov. 16 at Bucknell, Nov. 23 at Holy Cross. Fans won’t be asking “when is basketball season”, it will be here by then.

(A fourth game may find its way online of the Lafayette sports network opts to pick up the Leopards’ Nov. 2 game with the Hoyas, but it is not listed on the PL network carriage list.)

At the very least, can someone in the PL headquarters explain this one? Why would one school be all but ignored in this scheduling setup--are affiliate members not welcome in the PLN? Is the MSF equipment not good enough for their video? Or do they simply don't feel like setting up cameras for a Georgetown game?

Or should we look to Georgetown?

This can’t be one of those Fox Sports One exclusivity clauses, or that the long since cancelled Verizon FiOS contract is still out there. There was Internet chatter a few weeks back that two schools were not part of the network, and you could have probably placed a friendly wager that Georgetown was one of the two. Maybe the cost was prohibitiv. Maybe the MSF lacked the minimum facility requirements or whatever, but still…how exactly does this benefit the Hoyas?

After all, this is a program that continues to fly under the radar media-wise (one of just four schools in all of Division I with no broadcast radio coverage) and who relies on people paying as much as $9.99 a game for what amounts to a video camera perched atop the MSF roof. And aside from the dedicated work of Chuck Timanus, fans get no graphics with time and distance, no instant replay, no slow motion, and if the broadband feed isn’t just right, you get a fair amount of video buffering to fight through, too.

How do you better recruit kids that aren’t getting a full ride without leveraging the best media tools at your disposal, assuming, of course, it is at their disposal. And what about out of town parents, alumni, or casual fans? The MSF is nominally sold out very game. If you can’t bring any more fans to the game,  bring the game to more fans.

This week’s game at Wagner is broadcast on the NEC’s own free video network. They get it, too. Otherwise, if you want to see the Hoyas on TV without a credit card after this week, see you in basketball season.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Five Questions, Defense

In the second part of some pre-season questions to consider for the 2013 Hoyas, this column focuses on defense and special teams.

1.How Will the 4-3 Defense Fare? Coaches are sometimes slow to adjust their defenses to meet the talent and situations at hand. Give credit to Rob Sgarlata and the Georgetown coaching staff, therefore, for making the move to a 4-3 alignment for 2013.

Georgetown enters the season as deep as it’s been on the defensive line since the MAAC days. The line has experience, it has options, and best of all, it can address the two areas where the Hoyas haven’t been as strong as its defensive numbers could be.

Overall, Georgetown ranked second in scoring defense in the Patriot League and second or third in most major defensive categories. However, Georgetown game up a league high 63 percent of opponents passing and was sixth of seven in pass efficiency defense. Putting more pressure on the quarterbacks should help in both categories, without exposing the linebackers to additional pressure to control the line of scrimmage. Sean Campbell is being moved from LB to DE, so the ability to move to a 3-4 on a situational basis is still there. If, however, Georgetown can do a better job controlling the line of scrimmage, it is more likely to exert the defensive pressure needed in games, especially on pass oriented offense like Lehigh and Fordham where Georgetown has traditionally struggled against.

2 Is this a breakout year for Jordan Richardson? Richardson has the physical tools to be a star in the Patriot League, and, in two years, to get a closer look from pro scouts. Richardson is big (300 lbs), and big tackles face challenges from endurance and avoiding the dings that often befall those in the trenches.  He’ll have to improve upon his tackle numbers and get more involved in sacks, but some of that is a function of defensive sets and schemes. Still, it would be promising to think of Richardson as a PL version of Jim Jeffcoat, the former Arizona State All-American  and Dallas Cowboys lineman who was never the showiest player on the field, but one of the most efficient.

3. Is this the year for Dustin Wharton? If he stays healthy, why not?  Wharton has the combination of physical tools, a good eye for reading offenses, and a work ethic that plays well for the kind of linebacker Georgetown is known for. Much as Robert McCabe made the jump from junior to senior season by letting his experience drive the action, every indication has Wharton making a similar move. In a three man LB corps, all the better.

4. Is the Secondary At Risk? Not as much as some would think. Jeremy Moore left some big shoes to fill, but he was only one man, and the Hoyas successfully transitioned in 2012 through the losses of three starters (Wayne Heimuli, David Quintero, and Jayah Kaisamba) with general success. Stephen Atwater figures to lead the charge in 2013, and the Hoyas probably have six strong candidates for the four positions. One thing to watch—the secondary remains small in stature, with no one over 6-1.

5. Is There Depth In the Kicking Game? A year ago, there was a real concern about the Georgetown place kicking game, but punter Matt MacZura stepped up in a big way in 2012 and gave the Hoyas consistent play on both punts and placekicks.  Joined by fellow senior Devon Papendrew on kickoffs, the Hoyas appear set, but the development of three freshmen will prove vital for 2014 and beyond.

Ideally,  freshmen Ben Priddy, Henry Darmstadter, and Harry McCollum won’t be called upon for a game-changing kick and can use their first year at Georgetown to grow into the roles each hopes to challenge for next season. Each must be prepared, however, to see time as circumstances warrant, and if any of the three go above and beyond in practice, they might get a look during the season.

MacZura is a punter first and was up and down in kicks (4-9 in PL play, 10-17 overall) but was 1-4 from kicks of 35 yards of more, and had only one attempt outside 40 yards. If one of the three freshmen challenges at all this season, it will be from long range.

Georgetown has had its issues in past season, but generally defense has not been the problem. The experience Rob Sgarlata brings to the table as a defensive coordinator cannot be underemphasized, and his defensive coaches should continue to elevate the careers of a number of underclassmen as eight defensive seniors face their final season on the gridiron.

In that sense, there may be five questions on the defense,  but they are all questions with promising answers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Five Questions, Offense

A year ago, depth was the operative word as a Georgetown club, fresh off a remarkable 8-3 record, was ready to step forward in the Patriot League.

That depth lasted about five plays.

Isaiah Kempf’s season ending injury three minutes into the opener with Davidson cast a cloud over the 2012 season, which saw the Hoyas down to its 2nd...3rd....4th...and finally 5th string QB, with a mix of late game triumphs (Wagner, Princeton,  Lafayette) and late game miscues (Yale, Fordham, Lehigh) befitting a 5-6 team learning its offensive game plan week to week.

Depth isn’t an issue at quarterback this year, and doesn’t figure to be one for a while, with four freshmen and seven quarterbacks overall (not counting one QB moved to WR and another on a year off).  But what should give Georgetown fans pause is that there are some big shoes to fill on the line and a receiver corps that will be play from behind in size, speed, and experience.

To start, here are five questions.

1. How Will Kempf's Fifth Year Drive The Offense? Isaiah Kempf has returned for a fifth season following the Davidson injury, and he understands the offense as well as anyone. Barring injury, he could carry the team all season, though history is not on his side. Only one Georgetown quarterback in the Patriot League era has gone from August to November in a starting role, and it’s more than likely Kyle Nolan will get his chance at establishing himself, if not for 2013, then certainly for ’14.

In that sense, Kempf provides a valuable commodity to a quarterback corps whose two returnees saw action in parts of  five games last season. Nolan has all the tools to be that next generation quarterback, something Georgetown will desparately need as it begins to swim upstream in the scholarship waters of the PL. Kempf can provide both the leadership to move the Hoyas forward, and set the table for 2014. And, if all goes well and the injury cart does not return, Georgetown should not go deeper than Cameron MacPherson this season. Let the freshmen grow and develop.

2. Are the Running Backs Able To Lead? The prototypical Georgetown runner of the PL era has been small, quick, sometimes overwhelmed by a porous offensive line and, unfortunately, prone to injury. From Kim Sarin to Charlie Houghton, backs like Dalen Claytor, Brandon Durham, and Joel Kimpela have been limited by injuries that have not allowed any of the three to truly step forward. For Claytor and Durham, senior year is the time to step up. For Kimpela, sophomore year is the time to make a case for a true starting role.

The problem for the backs, O-line excepted, is that rushing just hasn’t been a priority in recent offenses. Nick Campanella’s 501 yards was the most of any GU rusher in seven years, and 45 yards a game isn’t saying much, especially when 127 of that 501 came against Davidson. Claytor made it through seven games prior to injury, Kimpela finished with six.

Hoping against hope, Georgetown might want to revisit the blocking back that Troye Bullock can provide. The last consistent blocking FB in this lineup was probably Erik Carter, (2004-06) which says how long ago a two back setup actually focused on this. But if the line has problems, expecting Claytor, Durham, or Kimpela to simply outrun the defense isn’t enough. Similarly, Georgetown struggled in the red zone last season where a consistent fullback option could have helped.

3. Is the O-Line Ready With The Second Line? There is some good depth in the offensive line with three returning starters and a number of upperclassmen ready to challenge for the starting lineup. Additional care, however, must apply to the second string. Offensive lineman have a propensity to injuries and the starting five may not always be the ending five.

Sophomore Gerverus Flagg may be ready for that next step up if someone goes down. Overall, however, the line is a bit small relative to its PL brethren and that may take its toll in October. Staying healthy is the best prescription for this line…and this offense.

4. How Thin Is The Receiver Corps? Georgetown completed 175 passes last season. Returning players  account for just 70 of those catches, and only 42 from returning receivers. The transfer of Kevin Macari has exposed a considerable gap in Georgetown’s passing options. Only one returning receiver (Zack Wilke) had a touchdown pass in a Georgetown uniform, but at 5-9 he could be put to the test against quicker and taller defenders as the #1 option.

Maybe the larger issue is that the mix of Wilke, Elliott Owusu, converted QB Aaron Aiken, Michael Cimiluca et al. can grow into the role, but can they carry the team?  Georgetown finished last in the PL in passing last season.. and that was with Kevin Macari. Is there anyone out there which is going to change that?

5. Will The Offense Set A Balance? OK, so Vinny Marino isn’t Dave Patenaude, and yes, it’s not easy to retool an offense every other week as the depth chart evaporates. The challenge is that Georgetown finished near the bottom in nearly every passing category in the PL last season. If the Hoyas are going to improve on these numbers, it’s going to involve better leveraging its relative strengths in the run and avoid the “pass first, ask questions later” philosophy that got Jim Miceli into troublea few years back. "Kempf on the keeper" is not a winning formula.

Georgetown averaged a league low 5.6 yards per pass in 2012 and yes, five quarterbacks in 11 games can play a significant role. The challenge will be to know when to be aggressive, and when to take what the Hoyas can get, and rely on the kicking game and the defense to grind it out. But if the receivers aren’t ready, then what?

Next week: Five questions for the defense.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Around The Corner

While lacking the nostalgia of  pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, the arrival of students in August to begin practice for the 2013-14 fall season signifies that football is indeed around the corner.

If it seems that it’s been a long off-season, perhaps it has. Many of the weighty issues that follow the Georgetown program are just as you left them if you’re returning to these pages—recruiting, facilities, and the like. In the interim, some brief updates:
  • Six Patriot League schools introduced its first scholarship classes. Georgetown, of course, did not. The Hoyas’ 25 man recruiting class was criticized in some quarters for being short on talent and long on positions—nearly 30 percent of the class is either a quarterback (four) or a kicker (three). Scholarship classes tend to recruit well in the skill positions and these are areas the 25 member class seems to lack.
  • Robert McCabe’s All-America season was recognized with a free agent signing by the Miami Dolphins a day after he went undrafted in the NFL draft.  This was fleeting, however—the Dolphins cut McCabe a  week later.
  • Assistant coaches Cheston Blackshear (tight ends) and D.J. Mangas (running backs) are in, former assistants Tony Lucas and Doug Goodwin departed. Lucas joined the staff at Delaware, while Goodwin’s destination is unknown.
  • The usual numbers on attrition came in this spring. Georgetown lost two transfers, three rising juniors, and three rising seniors. For upperclassmen, the cumulative effects of injuries, the depth chart, academics, or just the growing process lead some not to return, but they’re still part of the Georgetown family. 
  • Georgetown takes seven quarterbacks into pre-season camp. Isaiah Kempf is back for a fifth year following his season-ending concussion in the second series versus Davidson in the 2012 season opener, while Stephen Skon is taking the season off and Aaron Aiken moves to fill the aforementioned gap in receiver.
  • Multi-Sport field got new turf. The MSF Clock keeps ticking along, however.
  • The Patriot League held its annual Media Day last week, where coaches and sports information directors placed Georgetown fifth of six, with Fordham remaining on double, not so secret, probation. Were there seven schools, Georgetown would have been sixth. Senior LB Dustin Wharton was named PL pre-season defensive player of the year.
  • Media Day is a big deal in some conferences, where in the SEC it  is a cross between Tuesday at Super Bowl and Fan Fest. Not so in the PL, where, in reality, it’s more like the “Allentown Morning Call and Easton Express-Times Media Day”. There was no coverage from Washington, New York, or Boston area papers—a free lancer covered it for the Worcester Telegram, and there was a brief story in the Sunbury Daily Item, the closest newspaper to Bucknell. It’s still important to have a media day, but any questions posed to Georgetown representatives will be filed away until the Engineers or Leopards find them on the upcoming week’s schedule.
  • The league also announced an Web-based network of sorts, replete with lots of home games for football and other sports being streamed free of charge. However, there is talk Georgetown is not participating, and it’s not clear if it’s mere technology holding Georgetown back, the lack of a press box at MSF capable of broadcasting the game or some sort of cross-media interference with the Fox Sports Big East contract. Conspiracy theorists at Lafayette are still casting a wary eye at Verizon Fios, even though the Verizon agreement (which bumped the 2011 Lafayette-Georgetown game off broadcast stations in the Lehigh Valley) expired shortly thereafter.
  • The Gridiron Club was cited as having topped $300,000 in donations for a second consecutive year. Over the summer, it has sent a series of e-mails noting some famous names and places from Georgetown’s football history. Recently, in an article on former Georgetown player, coach, and athletic director Jack Hagerty (F’26), the club cited this excerpt from a 1966 HOYA article:
World War II, for all intents and purposes, closed Hagerty's career. "Before then," Hagerty said, "the school was smaller. You knew everybody else. After the wars it was enlarged with the G.I bill and boys were taking from the school without trying to give anything in return."

The football teams under Hagerty [after World War II] still played .500 ball but the alumni wanted more.

"One time at an alumni meeting the men were yelling for 60 scholarships a year," Hagerty said. "I told them you're going to kill the golden goose. We gave 20 grants a year then."

Hagerty had many other coaching offers, The best, he said, was to coach the Detroit Lions. Mush Dubofsky screamed for him to take it, Hagerty said, but he said he was happy with the Hoyas. In 1948, in a move agreeable to everyone concerned, Hagerty, Murtagh and Dubofsky stepped aside and began new careers...football on a big-time basis went by the boards two years later. But it was a lot [later] than Frank Leahy suspected in 1931 [when he left Georgetown]. Without those Hagerty years, Georgetown probably wouldn't be what it is today...

So from 20 scholarships in 1948 (in a  year when Georgetown finished 3-4-1), the program was at 81 scholarships by 1950. Of course, it went from 81 to nothing one year later. But it makes one appreciate Hagerty all the more by the fact that through Georgetown’s golden age of football, of 23 straight wins, an #11 AP ranking, a dozen NFL draft picks, the Orange Bowl, and all that, he was getting by on just 20 grants.

Sixty five years later, what would 20 scholarships do for this team? Well, that will have to wait for another column. Next week, we begin the annual “five questions” for the 2013 season.