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.