Monday, September 23, 2013

Week 4 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Georgetown’s 45-7 loss to Brown on Saturday:

1. Perspective. A lot of grumbling in Georgetown circles following Saturday’s loss –grumbling about the head coach, or what people see as the University's ongoing non-commitment to winning football. But while people want to win, was anyone surprised by this outcome?

Brown has won each of the prior three games over the Hoyas by an average of 23 points. In fact, last year’s last minute win over Princeton was the only win Georgetown has collected over any Ivy League school in the Kelly era—we tend to forget the more egregious losses, like the two week period in 2007 where Cornell and Penn outscored the Hoyas 77-20, or the six straight losses to Yale.

Why is this? Many factors, among them recruiting, the Ivies’ generous financial aid packages, or just plain old tradition (Franklin Field > MSF), but in many cases it comes down to talent on the field. Any team with 11 seniors on the starting offense is going to be formidable. Kevin Kelly knew that, and those that followed the game knew that. Brown was experienced and prepared. Georgetown, minus Wharton and Alfieri, were not. Yes, it would have been great if Brandon Durham’s kick return would have been a touchdown to close to 10-7, but the Georgetown offense was still not prepared for the relentless defensive surge by Brown’s senior-laden defense.

And don’t discount Brown, either. Phil Estes has built a program in Providence, right alongside that of Murphy and Bagnoli. Its assistants reflect a program of longevity and consistency:

  • Abbott Burrell, 18th season 
  • Frank Sheehan, 16th season 
  • Paul Frisone, 13th season 
  • Michael Kelleher, 12th season 
  • Neil McGrath, 11th season 
  • Joe Leslie, 8th season 
  • Chris Nappi, 5th season 
  • Liam Coen, 2nd season 

Maybe the question isn’t why Brown beat Georgetown badly, but what Georgetown can learn from Brown and its program going forward, a Brown program which spends less on football than any Ivy school but has been in the top half of the league in 14 of the last 16 seasons.

2. Ivy League Network: Thumbs up to the presentation of Saturday’s game on the Ivy League network, the digital subscription that made its football debut Saturday with the Georgetown-Brown game. A few technical issues delayed the start, and the graphics package didn’t arrive until the second half, but the presentation was first rate and has the opportunity to be a fine addition to Ivy games going forward.

 By contrast, the Patriot League’s Network is a free service, even though no Georgetown home games are offered. Fans wishing to see the Princeton game will have to pay for the privilege through 

3. Stat Of The Game: Zero, as in zero sacks for the second consecutive games. No pressure on a quarterback, no pressure for a quarterback. With Princeton’s up-tempo, no huddle approach, the lack of significant pressure on the line is tailor-made to a high scoring game, at least where the Tigers are concerned.

4. Stat Of the Game, Part Two: 1.5, as in Georgetown’s rushing yards per carry versus Brown. The Hoyas rushed for 3.6 yards per carry last season at Princeton, six more than the homestanding Tigers. Anything less than three yards a carry Saturday is a red flag in game like this.

5. Princeton’s Other Streak: The Tiger varsity lost in the late moments to Lehigh, 29-28. Its other varsity football team was not as fortunate.

The Princeton sprint football team had to forfeit its game with Navy last week because of “a limited number of active players available.” This was the 87th consecutive loss for the Tigers dating to the 1999 season, a dizzying number. (A 2005 win over a club team from VMI has been discounted as not being a valid varsity game.) Over that same period, the Hoyas have won 48 times.

Sprint football, formerly known as lightweight football, restricts players to 172 pounds or less in order to compete (a change when it was once 150 pounds or less.). Founded in 1934, membership declined to a point where just five schools sponsored the sport--Princeton, Penn, Cornell, Army, and Navy, before a trio of small colleges that do not sponsor NCAA-level football recently added the sport: Mansfield (PA), Post (CT) and Franklin Pierce. Nothing has helped the Tigers, however.

 “Most recently, the Tigers were forced to forfeit their Sept. 20 game against Navy due to a lack of available active players on the roster, one that at the time of publication included only five freshmen — some who had never played football before,” wrote the Daily Princetonian. “We had some guys this year who we had to teach how to get into a three-point stance. We had to teach them the positions, so you lose a lot of time with that,” said coach Stephen Everett said. “Even teaching them the rules — guys may play ‘Madden,’ or even watch football, but they might not actually know the rules. We need to do a lot of educating in just the basics of football. We call it ‘Football 100.’ ”

So why does Princeton keep playing sprint football? Said Everett: “Because of our small numbers, athletes realize that, ‘Hey, I’m going to have an opportunity to play right away, I’m not going to be sitting on the bench; I’m going to get a chance to play right away. If I’m playing, then I have an opportunity to be on that team that makes history.’”

While the heavyweight Tigers travel to Washington, the lightweights travel to Waterbury, CT, home of Post University (not to be confused with C.W. Post of New York), whom the Tigers fell short 32-28 in overtime last season, as close as Princeton’s come to anyone in recent years. Post is 1-1 in 2013, having defeated Cornell and lost to Army.

 A win over Georgetown would be one thing. A win over Post would be history.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Week 3 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Georgetown’s 43-23 loss to Marist this past Saturday night:

1. Every play counts. It’s not often…ok, never, that the New York Giants and the Georgetown Hoyas are used in a comparison. But if the Hoyas can’t learn from their film following the Marist game, take a look at the Giants. The other G-men were within a point of the Denver Broncos in that game, 10-9. They let up before the half and Peyton Manning went through them like a well-worn scalpel in the second half.

Offense, defense and special teams—the Giants were a step slow and the Broncos took advantage.

Yes, that’s where the comparisons end. Isaiah Kempf is not Eli Manning, and the closest Chucky Looney gets to Met Life Stadium could be his dorm in Poughkeepsie. The truism remains: players can’t let up, whether it’s the first series or the last play of the game. Any play, and series, if given enough time, can turn around a game, and Georgetown’s slow response to Marist’s drive at the end of the first half set in motion a deflating second half and a stinging loss for the Hoyas.

It was 9-9 at that point—of Georgetown can hold Marist into halftime, those two early turnovers and assorted problems are put on the shelf—it’s a new ballgame. Instead, the Red Foxes drive the field in 1:43, and take a 16-9 lead into halftime. GU carries that hangover into the third, surrendering three touchdowns in seven minutes. Marist, a team which had never defeated a Patriot League opponent on the road, never looked back.

Good teams don’t lose like that—not at home, and not to Marist. Two years ago, in sunnier times, Georgetown hung 52 on Marist with a strong mix of running and passing. This week, the running game was lost and the defense was never found.

Yes, the Hoyas were missing Duston Wharton, but there was a lot more missing in this loss than Wharton. Put it aside, and get to work.

2. Number One, But Not The Only One. Congratulations to senior Isaiah Kempf on his 398 yard effort. It’s games like that that made the year-long comeback all the more rewarding. But Georgetown has to be careful not to make Kempf its version of El Cid. The offense works well when he is passing, but it can’t be the only thing.

Last year’s game at Brown provides a peek at what the Hoyas have waiting for it in Providence. Like this past week, Brown scored late to end the half 17-10 and promptly stuffed the Hoyas on its horse thereafter—GU managed 18 yards over its next eight plays. How? In large part because the bears stopped the run in the first half and was able to stop the pass in the second. From the recap: [Stephen] Skon finished the game 17-31 for 147 yards. Of that total, he was 12-20 for 126 yards in the first, just 5-11 for 21 in the second. Skon was sacked five times and was intercepted three times. The rushing game fared little better. With no consistency out of a rotation of Dalen Claytor, Nick Campanella, and Wilburn Logan, Georgetown managed just 12 yards in 33 attempts, its fewest rushing yards in a home game since a Nov. 2001 game against Lafayette in its opening season in the Patriot League.”

Kempf remains a most formidable weapon, but if the running game continues to be diminished in the playbook and Georgetown focuses almost exclusively on the pass, Kempf is in for a rough day and the offense then has few good options against Brown. Somewhere, somehow, Nick Campanella and Joel Kimpela need more than six carries a game to drive this offense. If Brown shuts off the run, they will sit back to pick off Kempf early and often.

3. We Like Ivy: OK, the record isn’t encouraging: 1-11 under Kevin Kelly, a grimacing 3-23-1 all time. But as the story goes, this is the aspirational pool for Georgetown football: the Ivy League.

The school on the Hilltop does not seek to play Temple or Syracuse, as Fordham and Wagner did this past weekend, with decidedly mixed results. It does not seek guarantee games or games in unfamiliar states. If Georgetown could get a deal as this column suggested earlier, an innovative eight game slate with the Ivy every season, the program would prosper in ways unseen today. But absent that, Georgetown is starting to pick up the games that used to belong to the Scholarship Six of the PL.

Next season: Harvard, yes, Hahh-vahd, travels to Washington. (Shhh, don’t tell them about the MSF.) Please, please get someone to make this the Homecoming Game, number 75 in all, so that some well sticked Crimson fans don’t decide to turn the former Harbin Field into the H-Club of Washington's general meeting.

And following Harvard, more from the Ancient Eight: Dartmouth in 2015, Columbia and Princeton in 2016, and presumably more to come. With the rising fortunes of the Patriot League causing a mix of disinterest and dread among fans, these games should carry added significance going forward.

4. Back Channels: A rough go for fans trying to follow Saturday’s game: the GU All-Access firewall kept fans out, WGTB pulled a no-show on the web, and the Marist radio station wasn’t broadcasting. It’s fair to say that no Division I school does less with its media production than Georgetown.

Things figure to improve with the new video plans from Synthesis Multimedia, but why the paywall continues to be up is frustrating. For the number of fans who jut want an audio feed for a few minutes to get a score, is $9.95 really worth it? Pay for the video, get the audio for free. That’s just good business.

5.Meanwhile, at Howard: Last week, I was commenting on the difficulty in getting Howard University to take a city series seriously. The Bison are much more content with HBCU classic games (despite meager attendance) and I-A guarantee games to fill the schedule than develop local interest in Georgetown. This weekend, Howard traveled to Foreman field to meet Old Dominion. Final: Monarchs 76, Mecca 19.

Howard gave up 733 yards in the game, coughed up five turnovers, and gave up the most points in a game since dropping 76 to North Carolina A&T in 2001.

“I really thought we could score 40 points on them,” said Howard coach Rayford Petty.

Read that quote again, and remind yourself, “And that’s why Howard won’t play Georgetown.”

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Week 2 Thoughts

Five thoughts following Saturday's 42-6 win over Davidson:

1. Week of Good Feeling: Every team wants a good win in the home opener, and Georgetown got just what it wanted in Saturday's win: good weather, good turnout, good effort, and a win. But let's put it into perspective, too--Davidson is young, unproven, and as early September goes, not a very good team. In a 12 team Pioneer League that is the weakest I-AA conference in the nation, Davidson was picked ninth--topping only Valparaiso and two new I-AA entrants in Stetson and Mercer. By some unofficial accounts, Georgetown was a four touchdown favorite, so while a big win was not unexpected, fans should look for a closer gameagainst a veteran Marist team and the understanding that after Saturday's game, Georgetown figures to be the underdog in each of its next nine games.

2. Unsung Hero: With six different players scoring touchdowns and a number of fine individual performances, a salute goes to senior punter Matt MacZura, whose 42.2 yard average kept the Wildcats in lean field position all evening. Punting average figures to be an important number for the Hoyas this season as field position will be vital to keeping the defense fresh and giving the offense better opportunities for scoring possibilities. And while MacZura may not average that figure all season, just two Georgetown punters have averaged more than 40 yards a kick over a season since 1968. A team won't win or lose on punting, but a strong average cannot be ignored.

3. Play of The Game: I'll go with Jordan Richardson's block of a Davidson field goal attempt in the first quarter. Granted, it wasn't the difference in the final score, but it set a tone that Georgetown was not going to be overtaken in this game.

4. Future Opponents? This is the final year of four year agreements with both Wagner and Davidson. Will both be back in 2014? Georgetown hasn't announced future schedules but both are the kind of opponents that can be productive tests for the Hoyas. Wagner may have other aspirations, having signed up to play Syracuse and Delaware this season, but stumbled badly in a 42-41 home loss to Division II Merrimack last Friday night. Former opponents like Monmouth and Stony Brook have moved on to more competitive games than Georgetown could bring, but other than Marist, the number of non-Ivy Eastern options for Georgetown continues to narrow.

Which raises this old question--so why not Howard?

It's been noted before that this is a matchup which seems too obvious, but on the other side of the G2 bus line, there's next to no interest to play Georgetown. Howard would rather play a Division II school in Morehouse College than Georgetown, and for good reason--they can draw a crowd. Granted, a crowd of 17,012 in aging RFK Stadium isn't altogether memorable, but the figure was 7,000 more Howard's homecoming game last season and nearly 15,000 more than the Bison drew for its game with Georgetown in 2011 which announced an attendance of just 1,891.

The game comes replete with a nice sponsorship check from AT&T, academic and social seminars, and the marching band experience that is closely tied to the HBCU football tradition. Even though Howard may have won 14 of the last 16 against Morehouse, people will come out to see Morehouse's 110 member "House of Funk" go up against the Howard University "Showtime" marching band. By comparison, they are not coming to see 25 Georgetown students in rugby shirts play "Hey, Baby" for the 400th time.

The Howard-Morehouse game drew a story in the Washington Post. Neither paper sent a reporter to the Georgetown-Davidson game.

5. Should We Be Concerned? Away from the box scores, the campus press has been reporting on student concerns about future housing options, some of which seem to be veering off campus, some focused on the campus. But anyone who has been on the Hilltop recently will concur that housing for approximately 700 more students is at a premium.

So it was an interesting quote when The HOYA reported on a recent meeting of Sasaki Architects, the designers of the generically named "Northeast Triangle" dorm project (and really, isn't every recent Georgetown building generically named?) with this quote:

"Sasaki Associates has identified the Kober-Cogan Building and Harbin Terrace as the next-most feasible sites for student residences. With the conversion of these two areas, the university would then reach its voluntary minimum of housing 90 percent of the student body on campus."
What Is Harbin Terrace? It's the area immediately adjacent to Harbin Hall. But you can't build a building in a crowded area of campus without access for supplies, for trucks, for heavy equipment. It's surrounded by the Jesuit cemetery, the stairs to New North, and well, you know. The ever unfinished Multi-Sport Field.

Yes, the MSF needs to be a construction zone someday, just not a construction zone for another project. If Georgetown opted to build at Harbin, it could potentially cost them the use of the MSF for as many as two seasons, and that raises some serious questions about what football would do. The last time football had to move, it played at the Georgetown baseball field in 1977, and 1978, but that land is gone, too.

In the meantime, Georgetown is actively considering off campus leases in Arlington as a stopgap to reach the mandated housing numbers set by the most recent campus plan. But down the road, either the MSF gets finished or some architects will see it that as a staging ground for buildings of another kind. Please, let's not start going down that road.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Week 1 Thoughts

Some thoughts following the Hoyas’ 28-21 loss to Wagner last week:

1. By the numbers. In 77 games in the Kevin Kelly era, Georgetown has led at the half in just 20 games, but had only lost four times when holding a halftime lead before Saturday's 28-21 loss to the Seahawks. Georgetown's 14 point halftime lead was the largest halftime deficit given up by any Kelly-coached team, and the most since Georgetown gave up a 20 point lead to Davidson on Oct. 16, 1999.

Of course, those weren’t the only numbers.

This was a game where adjustments were made on the Wagner defense that Georgetown didn’t, and the promising offensive series of the first quarter ground to a halt as the game wore on. It was not an accident.

Wagner had no game film on Isaiah Kempf in the Vinny Marino offense and, more to the point, had a significant number of players making debuts as starters, particularly in the secondary.  To its credit, Georgetown attacked this weakness early and the results were evident. Once Wagner was able to get a second wind (in part, by shutting down the Hoyas following Duston Wharton’s early interception), they were able to get through the first half on an upward slope. By the second half, they had a new game plan and Georgetown had more of the same plan.

The results: Kempf’s numbers fell in every succeeding quarter, and so did time of possession, bottoming out with just 3:42 of on-field time for the offense in the fourth quarter. Georgetown managed 15 first downs by halftime, and two in the second half . Kempf was 19 for 26 by halftime and just 3 for 15 thereafter.

There were more than a few online grumblings that Kelly and/or his coordinators were too conservative in the second half. Far from it—they simply overrelied on the passing  attack’s advantage on a young Wagner secondary, but had few options if the passing game stalled, which it did.  This may be a recurring theme in 2013: Georgetown’s receiver corps is thin but productive, while the running backs are deep but not as productive. Georgetown’s three senior backs have a combined three 100+ yard efforts, one per man. By contrast, Wagner’s Dominique Williams has 21 games of 100 yards or more on his own.

For a variety of reasons, from recruiting to style of play, there is no Dominique Williams on the Georgetown roster. However if opponents take a cue from Wagner and shut Kempf down, the rushing game must step forward.

2. Seen This Before?  Lost among many fans are the parallels between this game and a 2010 game between the two schools. Some excerpts:

Total yards by GU in 1st quarter: 88
Total yards by GU in 2nd quarter: 51
Total yards by GU in 3rd quarter: 40
Total yards by GU in 4th quarter: 6

That game ended in overtime, a 22-16 loss. And while the 2010 game turned on turnovers that 2013 did not, Wagner has improved its ability to stay in games and let their talent take over late. It’s a lesson for opponents ahead of them on the schedule.

3. How Things Change: Following that 2010 game, Wagner coach Walt Hameline remarked that “We beat an Ivy League team for the first time and now a Patriot League team. It’s a good thing for our program and a good thing for our institution."  Fast forward three years: Wagner ‘s next two road games are at Syracuse and Delaware, two teams all but unlikely to appear on a Georgetown schedule.

How did Wagner do it? Scholarships, recruiting flexibility, and success in the I-AA playoffs, three things also all but unlikely to appear for Georgetown anytime soon.

4. Number 8: Jordan Richardson needs a bigger jersey. Nike needs to send an 3XL and not just a XL.

5. Ledford Off Roster?: The first roster casualty of 2013: 6-3, 265 lb. freshman Joseph Ledford was not listed on the week one Georgetown roster, the only freshman recruit not included. From his GUHoyas bio: “A three-year letterwinner in football, starting two seasons on the offensive line...A four-year member of the football leadership council...Four-time Gwinnett Daily Post Player of the Week...Selected Gwinnett Touchdown Club All-County, Atlanta Journal All-Area, Georgia Sports Writers Association All-State and the 2012 NHS Offensive Player of the Year during his senior season...Helped lead school to a 15-0 record, a Region 7 Championship and 6-A State Championship in 2012...Helped team to a 33-5 record in three seasons.”

No word from GU if this is due to injury, player’s decision, or coach’s decision.