Monday, September 26, 2016

Week 3 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 17-14 win over Columbia on Saturday:

1.  Hanging On: Fully realizing that I was likely the only fan at Cooper Field that would actually compare the Columbia game to a basketball game, but watching the second half of the  game reminded me of a game in Madison Square Garden a quarter century ago.

On March 8, 1991, the Georgetown Hoyas shot 25 percent for the game in their Big east quarterfinal against Connecticut. In any reasonable scenario, that's a ticket for an early exit; instead, the Hoyas won by 21. How? defense, in the name of one Dikembe Mutombo Mpolondo Mukamba Jean Jacque Wamutombo, or Dikembe Mutombo for short. Mutombo scored 13 points and carried off 27 rebounds in the game, two short of the school record.  Georgetown would be bounced from the two tournament two days later shooting 33 percent, but the defense stood tall when no one else quite did.

Such was the case against Columbia. For a Georgetown team that mustered five first downs and 125 yards over the last 55 minutes of the clock and still won is a remarkable, if troubling, accomplishment. It's not secret that Georgetown has been, and continues to be, one of the Patriot League's most resolute defenses. But let's be clear: 125 yards isn't going to beat many more teams on the 2016 schedule, least of which Harvard.

2. See No Injury, Say No Injury. In the pros, injury reports are relayed to TV and radio audiences in the same series. Thanks to some litigious college administrators,  schools are more likely to tell you their WiFi password than if a player came out of the game with an injury.

Coaches have been carpet-bombed by compliance officers who have been told to say that  that speaking the obvious--that halfback that limped off the field sprained his ankle, for example--is a federal privacy violation.

" I heard the radio group announced something [about a player injury]," said TCU coach Gary Patterson after his team's win at SMU. "Whoever [on the staff] told them, I'll fire. Let me say that to you. Because it's not our job, it's illegal to be talking about injuries. So, bottom line to it is, whoever did it is in a lot of trouble when I find out who it is."

So don't expect Rob Sgarlata talk about the condition of Alex Valles, who limped off the field Saturday. He might be on the depth chart Friday, maybe not. If he's not, Georgetown  is dead in the water offensively. Isaac Ellsworth is too small and Christian Bermudez is to slow to get past a great Harvard defensive line.

And maybe it won't be in this game, but I'd like to see lineman (and former RB) Khristian Tate get a chance in the backfield. At 260, he's built like a tank, and his bio notes that he "rushed for 2,429 yards and 32 touchdowns on 216 carries in 22 games over his final two seasons, averaging 11.2 yards per carry." A 260 pound running back flies in the face of conventional wisdom that speed beats size, but if Georgetown's got a fourth and two, 260 into the line still beats 160.

3. Unsportsmanlike Conduct.  It's au courant this fall for players to channel their inner Colin Kaepernick to express some discontent with all things that they don't disagree with. Everyone is entitled to matters of conscience, but it makes you wonder if some of these kneel-down photos are more about "look at me" than discussing issues which deserve a more serious audience.

So I was disappointed for the Georgetown Voice to stir this up in a Twitter post:

Let's be clear. That photo was taken before the anthem....but they didn't say that, did they?. The Georgetown players were standing. So were the Columbia players, including the two that knelt down on the goal line while the Superfood singers were setting up.  I say that because I was watching it. The audience stood, and so did the players.

Apparently, another Voice photo confirms this,

If the Voice has an angle here, that's their business. Perspective, however, shouldn't be ignored.

4. A Model Program. If Georgetown wants to build a football program rooted in scholars-athletes that compete in the classroom, on the field, and offer its grads the opportunity to play at the next level, it need look no further than Friday's opponent.

Yes, Harvard has lots of advantage and lots of money, but this is not a team that outspends everyone to win. It's built on coaching, recruiting, and teams that are built to win.

"Since the 1990s, [coach Tim] Murphy has had the highest winning percentage of any Harvard football coach," said the Harvard Gazette. "For 22 seasons, he has picked bright and talented football players. The most recent and notable of his veterans include Kyle Juszczyk ’13 (Baltimore Ravens), Cameron Brate ’14 (Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Nick Easton ’14 (Minnesota Vikings), Zachary Hodges ’15-16 (Los Angeles Rams), and, most famously, Ryan Fitzpatrick ’05 (New York Jets)."

"Those kids who have great character seem to exceed at whatever their athletic and academic potential is perceived to be," said Murphy.

Over the past ten years, with the highest scores in the Ivy's Academic Index, the Crimson is 102-20 (.836), in its last three years, 30-2 (.937). Harvard recruits nationally, and brings in students who excel in football without a detriment to their careers after football.

It's no surprise to see a Harvard football grad on Wall Street, and no shock to see them on a Sunday afternoon in the NFL either. Maybe someday Georgetown can say the same.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Off-Week Thoughts: A Homecoming, And a Plan

For one weekend a year, more people come to campus than any other. It isn’t orientation, graduation, Reunion, or even Parent’s Weekend. It’s Homecoming, and since 1925 it’s been built around the shared experience of fun, fellowship and football.

Yes, even at Georgetown.

The event has endured its ups and downs, from the days of spirited alumni parties at the Wardman Hotel, to thousands of beer-friendly grads overwhelming Kehoe Field, to a run of games where the meager status of MAAC opponents left it a decided non-factor to returning guests. Today’s Homecoming event is as much academic as athletic, but it raises a question: in many cases, it’s the only exposure many alumni (and sadly, many students) get to experiencing football on campus. What are the messages Georgetown is sending?

From the start, it’s a mixed one.

Many teams build a pre-season pyramid of goals:

Win the opener.
Win at Homecoming.
Win the rivalry game.
Win the conference title.
Win a bowl (or playoff) game.
Complete for the National Championship

After that second level, Georgetown football grinds to a halt every year.

Over 20 years ago, former coach Bob Benson laid out his vision for the program.  He stated the following  as goals:

  • Establish accountability and discipline.
  • Emphasize the term student-athlete.
  • Reconnect with alumni.
  • Separate from Division III as quickly as possible by upgrading the schedule.
  • Recruit quality student-athletes.
  • Educate the leaders of the Georgetown University community about the game of football.
  • Win.

For the most part, mission accomplished, but the bar was set fairly low. The program has reconnected with its alumni, but basketball shines such a searchlight over athletics that it makes it difficult for any sport to make the argument that it’s worth their continued attention. It’s an unfortunate by-product of the last 10 years of Georgetown athletics that it’s tacitly made the case that basketball is the only sport which matters at Georgetown. Maybe at Fox Sports, but this isn’t Fox Sports.

Benson did upgrade the schedule and had plans to do more, but Kevin Kelly quickly dialed it back. Richmond was out, Old Dominion cancelled after one game. No CAA opponent has appeared on the schedule this decade, none seem likely. Every other Patriot league team has scheduled upcoming games with teams you know—Army, Navy, BC, Syracuse, Temple, UConn—but not Georgetown.

Some of that is competitive reality, some if it is institutional myopia. We can’t do better because we won’t do better.

Ivy League teams are a comfortable “name” opponent to administrators, but I wonder how many 20-somethings even care that it’s Columbia at Homecoming instead of Canisius or even Catholic. Georgetown is one of a handful of schools that does not seem interested to schedule better opponents, and that sends a message to its constituents. Lafayette plays Villanova this weekend, but there are plenty of people that will claim Georgetown could never play such a school because we can’t compete.  Would more people show up to see Villanova or James Madison or even a game with Army at RFK Stadium? Would they care?

Because to play Villanova, to play JMU, or to get the Cadets to make a trip to DC takes something more. Scholarships? Likely, but not exclusively. Budget? Yes, but not as much as some would think. Vision? Absolutely.

“It is really quite simple,” Benson wrote. “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.”

What is the vision for Georgetown football?

Absent Georgetown joining the Ivy League, it needs a plan, a vision statement for the 2020’s, not for the MAAC Football League. It needs to educate the community that selling up is not selling out, and that the marginal investment in competitive football is a material gain for the University and how it brands itself as a well-rounded experience for all its students. Or can alumni expect no more than to be “first in war, first in peace, and last in the Patriot League?”

What are the messages Georgetown is sending about football at Homecoming this week? You won’t see it in the facility and the ongoing lack of communication around field construction. You won’t see it with the crushing lack of pageantry and excitement around the game, where many Homecoming guests will be more content sitting in a humid tent than buying a ticket for the game. But where you need to see it start is in conversation: one on one, one to many. It’s not enough that Georgetown has football or that we’re happy playing Davidson and Marist every season, two of the lowest ranked programs in the nation on a year in, year out basis. People have to ask where Georgetown can reach higher without tripping over its own two feet. In nearly every other sport, students have nearly limitless opportunities to be the best they can be and to strive for national acclaim…football excepted. To paraphrase John Thompson, Georgetown doesn’t need to be the USC of the East, but be the Georgetown of Georgetown. And right now, we’re not that Georgetown.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Week 2 Thoughts

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

1. Remembering. The program does its part to remember the legacy of Joe Eacobacci every day, not just today. Let's also remember those Georgetown alumni and staff lost that day. Here's a link to a 2001 article from The HOYA with the names and stories of those killed that day.

2. Nothing Wrong With 2-0, But...: Another early win is a plus for 2016, and entering a bye week over more so. Georgetown got solid efforts on all three phases of play (offense, defense special teams) and on the road that's essential.

The offense led time of possession across the board, the defense continued its bend but don't break approach in limiting red zone conversion, and the special teams came up big with two blocked punts that foretold the final outcome. But this game shouldn't have been this close, and from those silver linings there's a few clouds to pay attention to:

--Georgetown held Marist to a remarkable 0 for 13 on third downs--superb congratulations, but this was still a three point game.  What if Marist was 1 of 13? Two of 13? The Hoyas still needed two blocked field goals to earn the win, and won't get those kind of breaks the rest of the season.

--For its sake, Georgetown converted on just 5 of 20 third downs against one of the weaker defenses in the subdivision. Enough for the Pioneer League, perhaps, but certainly not enough for the opponents to come. And it was consistently weak throughout: 2 of nine before halftime, 3 of 11 after it.

--Rushing defense has been stout--12th nationally after two weeks. But Marist and Davidson were both among the bottom 20 in rushing in 2015 and while that's not a predictor of how they'll do in 2016, it's a matter of context.

So let's celebrate the win and promptly forget about it. Two weeks to prepare for Columbia, the start of a three game express run through the Ivy League which will tell us more about the 2016 season than Marist ever will.

3. Ancient Eight Preview: Coverage of Ivy football isn't what it sued to be but Jake Novak 's Columbia blog is as good they get it. Novak, whose distaste for the coaching regime of  Pete Mangurian was anything but reserved (and don't get him started on former Hoyas and Columbia OC Vinny Marino), is much more enthused over the arrival of Al Bagnoli to Morningside Heights and the opportunity for an elusive target for the Light Blue: a winning season.

Georgetown has posted one winning season since 2001. By contrast, Columbia has just two winning seasons since 1971 and its seniors are a combined 2-28. But this is a new era at Columbia and Novak knows it.

"Bagnoli delivered early on the hope to make Columbia a more relevant team right away," he writes. "The Lions were competitive in all but one game last season and they enjoyed a gargantuan leap statistically over their numbers in 2014 and 2013. And yet they still didn’t really overreach out of the gate as they were unusually unlucky not to have finished 2015 with at least two more wins. In that sense, perhaps 2016 will be more about matching 2015’s rightful total of four wins rather than making a quantum leap into title contention."

His 2016 Ivy picks:

1. Pennsylvania
2. Harvard
3. Princeton
4. Dartmouth
5. Columbia
6. Brown
7. Yale
8. Cornell

A fifth place finish wouldn't get Bagnoli a parade up Broadway but would be a seismic change for a team without an Ivy title since 1961. They'll see its first two games, St. Francis and Georgetown, as a dress rehearsal for that step upward.

4. Ram-page: Columbia usually opens its season with Fordham, but to the ire of the Bronx contingent, Columbia canceled its series. The Rams then took out its aggression on Elizabeth City State University, a Division II historically black college in rural North Carolina who made its first scheduled visit north of the Mason-Dixon line since 2002. Fordham led 38-0 after the first quarter and sent the Vikings home to a 83-21 loss for new coach Earnest Wilson III, himself a battle scarred veteran of the woeful Savannah State program that was 2-32 under his watch in 2014 and 2015.

What was to be gained by that game? A win, sure. Some extra reps between the Rams' games at Navy and Penn. With seven of its games in the city, and the league's best NFL prospect of this generation in RB Chase Edmonds, the Rams are primed to step on some people.

The win did have an effect on the league record books: it overwrote the previous scoring record set by Lehigh over Georgetown in 2002. The less said about that game, the better.

5. Around the League: Other scores from week 2, with Colgate on bye:

Villanova 26, Lehigh 21
Duquesne 30, Bucknell 19
Delaware 24, Lafayette 6
New Hampshire 39, Holy Cross 28

It's early, but the Patriots have taken their lumps in the non-conference slate: 6-7 overall, but just 3-7 in games not involving Pioneer League teams.

This week's schedule include the following, with Georgetown and Fordham on bye:

Colgate (0-1) at Yale (0-0)
Lehigh (0-2) at Pennsylvania (0-0)
Cornell (0-0) at Bucknell (1-1)
Lafayette (1-1) at Princeton (0-0)
Holy Cross (1-1) at Albany (2-0)

Monday, September 5, 2016

Week 1 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 38-14 win over Davidson:

1. Passing The Test. Three years in the making, senior Matt Barnes was all business in the opener, staying on course and avoiding the mistakes common to quarterbacks of any age making their season debuts. Barnes' four TD's were the most by a Georgetown quarterback in a season opener since 1996 and were generated during a run of four TD's over five series, tossing aside any hopes of a Davidson comeback.

Even more encouraging was Barnes' accuracy as the game went on:

1st Quarter: 1 for 3 (33%)
2nd Quarter: 11 for 16 (68%)
3rd Quarter: 4 for 5 (80%)
4th Quarter: 8 for 9 (88%)

That second half number tells an even better story: 12 for 14 after halftime is a number worthy of any quarterback.

Barnes was aided by an outstanding effort from the Georgetown offensive line, which held Davidson without a sack for the entire game, something it hasn't done since the game at Columbia last season.

For his part, Barnes has some challenges ahead of him--he is not a mobile quarterback and opponents may be more agressive in forcing him out of the pocket than what Davidson proferred,  Nevertheless, it was an opportunity to make his mark and Barnes did juct that.

2. Early Warning? Amidst all the positive statistics from the game, one item to watch: the running game.

Past games against Davidson have allowed Georgetown to run roughshod over its opponent--Nick Campanella made a career on the Wildcats' front line--but such velocity was not in evidence Saturday afternoon. The Hoyas rushed for just 153 yards, 49 of it from one broken-play run, and this against the worst rated defense in the Pioneer in 2015.

It remains to be seen if Alex Valles has the foot speed to be a consistent 80-100 yard rusher. At 160 lbs, Isaac Ellsworth could be chewed up by the time PL play begins, and with only three other RB's on the roster, it's a position Georgetown appears thin entering the season.

Without a consistent running game, opponents will flood the box and dare Barnes to throw past them, a situation that routinely faced Georgetown teams in the late 2000's when the offense could not generate yardage.

Bucknell rushed 44 times on Marist's defense in Saturday's 26-10 win over the Red Foxes, a deceiving final in that the teams were separated by just seven yards in total offense. The numbers from Valles and the other Georgetown runners bears some watching this week.

3. Underrated. Teams don't get a lot of plaudits for kicking, but Georgetown is getting some great efforts from Henry Darmstadter and Harry McCollum heading into 2016. In his last 12 games, Darmstadter is 32-32 on points after touchdowns and 10 of 14 on field goals. McCollum is providing consistent punting support and both seniors figure to peak at the right time this season.

4: Attendance: Blue, Lots of Gray: Saturday's attendance, well supported by Davidson fans and not necessarily Georgetown ones, was 1,863, the lowest number for an opener in ten years.  Georgetown does not seem to know how to market this team and absent a concerted drive to build a suitable Cooper Field, seems in no hurry to.

Of the remaining home games, Georgetown looks to fill its seats for the 77th Homecoming game with Columbia, but don't be surprised to see lots of light blue at the game. As for the others (Princeton, Lehigh, Holy Cross and Bucknell), Hoya fans could be outnumbered in as many as three of these games, which is sad on many levels.

5. APB: Cooper Field. Georgetown presented an updated "concept" of  the ever-elusive Cooper Field renovations to the Old Georgetown Board last week, but with no further comment on its web site, which simply reads;

OG 16-335
HPA 16-593
3700 O Street, NW
Georgetown University
New Structure, Alterations - Cooper Field

The last public drawings were posted almost a decade ago, and are likely to be considerably different, as we discussed earlier. When will these drawings be released; and if not,. why not?

It's day 4,006 since construction was halted, and we wait.