Sunday, October 16, 2016

Week 6 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Lehigh's 35-3 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. Unexpected? No fan, no coach, no player wants to lose, that's a given. But no one wants to lose each and every year to the same opponent. For the last 10 years, that's Harvard over Yale. For the last 14, it's been navy over Army. And for the 16th straight game, it's Lehigh over Georgetown. Can we be surprised? No.

Lehigh plays a game especially unsuited to a team like Georgetown--depth wins out every time.  The Engineers have been solid over the years on the lines, something where recruiting and injuries have taken its toll on Georgetown for two decades.  A solid o-line opens up holes for running backs, gives quarterbacks time to find receivers, and extends the ability to adapt to defensive sets. When a QB is running for his life, that doesn't apply. Line play has been strong for Lehigh for years and when they play a team like Georgetown which can't control the line of scrimmage, they can wear opponents out. When you go from 14-3 at halftime and drop touchdowns on the first three possessions of the second half, that's a function of talent and depth.

How does this change? There's no one secret formula, as Yale and Army can attest.  Harvard and Navy are beating up on a lot of people, not just one or two. If Georgetown can get better (and that's an open question given the constraints imposed by PL recruiting) it has to come in the lines. The defense has earned its reputation in league circles as a strong-willed bunch. The offense needs that same approach.

Georgetown's run versus Lehigh is not the longest in current terms. Pennsylvania's 35-10 win over Columbia was the 20th consecutive win in that series; in fact, Penn has won 28 of the last 32. But you can tell that's going to change. Columbia gets better every week under Al Bagnoli (this was only a 7-0 game at the half) and Penn has seven seniors to replace on offense next season. Watch out for this rematch at Baker Field next season.

And Georgetown's rematch at Lehigh next year?  Probably more of the same.

2. Quarterback #3.  The introduction of Brock Johnson into the lineup at the end of the Lehigh wasn't just to give Clay Norris a breather. There's a chance for some competition  at QB, and Johnson has all the tools to make a go at it. It's likely this was an issue the coaches would have preferred to deal with in spring practice next year after Tim Barnes had graduated, but the future is now and both figure to get some time the remainder of this season.

I'm reminded of a pair of  (now) older Hoyas who competed at QB in the mid-90's: Bill Ring and Bill Ward. Clay Norris is the Bill Ring type--tall, consistent, methodical. Johnson has a little of Ward in him-- someone not afraid to air the ball out to move the dial. Georgetown has some of its best receivers in a decade right now but they aren't getting the ball downfield under either Barnes or Norris. Johnson has the skills to be a really, really good quarterback.

Fordham will make it difficult for either QB this week. I'd stay with Norris against the Rams, then use the final four games to set the course for 2017.

3. Fan-Friendly.  It's no secret that visiting PL writers do not like Cooper (nee multi-Sport) Field. There's a nice spread for the writers at places like Fisher, at Goodman, or even at Jack Coffey. When free lance writer Keith Groller writes this about the place, it's not a compliment:

And yet, Georgetown seem unwilling to improve the fan experience until this still-mysterious Cooper Field redo takes place. There's some chatter that the visitors seating may go away entirely (which won't be well received around the league) but the current experience is lacking.  Has been for years, and it isn't likely to change.

Do our fans vote with their wallets? Check the average attendance figures from around the league:

Holy Cross: 9,501 (2 home games)
Colgate: 8,010 (1)
Lafayette: 7,134 (2)
Lehigh: 6,525 (2)
Fordham: 4,994 (4)
Bucknell: 4,800 (2)
Georgetown: 2,237 (4)

So what would Georgetown do if 9,500 people suddenly showed up to watch a game?  That would be a fun one.

4. From The Wayback Machine:   So when was the last time Georgetown won at Fordham? A long time ago. Here's the story from the Fordham Ram, November 6, 1974:

"Led by halfback John Burke's three touchdown runs and a stubborn defense, the Georgetown Hoyas trounced the Ram grid squad 35-7 last Saturday, disappointing a partisan Homecoming crowd of approximately 4,500 at Jack Coffey Field.

"Burke, who scored on runs of 71, 11 and 24 yards, gained 190 yards for the game on 18 carries, and earned the Madow Trophy, awarded to the. game's most valuable player. Previously, the trophy had been awarded in the Battles of the Bronx

"After the game the question on many minds was: Is Georgetown that good or is Fordham that bad? The answer you receive depends on who you talk to, of course. Nevertheless, the 4-1 Hoyas made believers out of Ram head coach Dean Loucks and his quarterback, Don Hommel.

"Make no mistake about it", said a dejected Loucks, "Georgetown is a very good football team and they deserve all the credit." As for his own team's deficiencies, the coach commented, "Sure, we can play better than that, but Georgetown is a better team than we are."

Read more about it at this link.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Week 4 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Harvard's 31-17 win over Georgetown this past weekend.

1. Yes, They're That Good.  Maybe it's the 31-2 record over the past three seasons. or that its starting QB, a fourth year rookie, was 15 of his first 20 passes, Or that a team had more first downs (25) than points (24) by halftime.  Harvard isn't Alabama, but for its place in the college football firmament it's as good as it gets.

That's a tribute and a testament to Tim Murphy, who has re-written the Crimson record books, but who is not beyond criticism from fans who accuse him of padding the record with soft opponents like...well, Georgetown.

"I battled rush hour traffic to get to Harvard Stadium, to sit in the rain and watch the Crimson only to find out that the best offensive weapon... wasn't playing," said a fan at a popular Ivy League message board, adding, " [He] wasn't dressed because we were playing [a JV team]...You get to see your new young players get their feet wet early but I just can't take another game vs JV Georgie like last night. Harvard used it like a scrimmage and if you can do that against any team then I don't want to be playing [them]."

There is a perception that Georgetown is a second class opponent across the Ivies, academically and athletically. Never mind that Georgetown has split its last eight games with six of the Ancient Eight, but it's a combined 0-9 versus Harvard and Yale and 0-10 is a fair conclusion a year from now when the Harvard series wraps up (the series will not extend past 2017). there are Harvard fans who ask why the crimson can't play a New Hampshire, a Delaware, or how about that team down Commonwealth Avenue it hasn't seen since 1944. Its record versus Boston College? 3-0-1.

"Each one of our forty two Division I varsity sports has a special story to tell, all in a special place in our history," Murphy said. "But the flagship sport at Harvard is Harvard football, and the biggest event on campus is the Harvard-Yale game."

Were that Georgetown could aspire thusly. It doesn't mean it can't be great at basketball, or track, or lacrosse. But football has a place on this campus that remains understated and somewhat underappreciated, and if a coach can get an a self-important campus in Cambridge to take football seriously, certainly it can happen in Washington.

2. Make or Break? There's an argument to be made that this week's game with Princeton is the most important game of the year. Not that Patriot league games aren't important, though given Georgetown's seat at that table, but they aren't make or break. Or not that a win versus Lehigh or Fordham wouldn't be big. But the Princeton game comes at a crucial time of the schedule where the offense has gone silent. Save for two long runs versus Harvard, the Hoyas have generated a total of 110 yards over the last six quarters of play. The running game is non-existent and there is a real likelihood that a sophomore makes his first start at QB if Tim Barnes's shoulder injury proves unworkable. The same Columbia team that came up short against the Hoyas was routed by Princeton, 48-13.

Win this game and the Hoyas move to 4-1. The following two games are admittedly prohibitive--Georgetown is 0-15 against Lehigh since joining the PL, and hasn't won at Fordham since 1974. A fourth win keeps hope to sneak a win over a Lafayette, a Holy Cross, a Bucknell after its October gauntlet. A bad loss Saturday sets the skids that a young team might not recover from.

Princeton is a really good team. But it's not Harvard. Georgetown can win this game but it needs a complete effort.

3. Future Schedules: As discussed above, the Harvard series ends in 2017. What is the status of Georgetown's non-conference schedule over the next few years?

As Ivy teams go, the Hoyas get three in 2017, a mirror of 2016: at Columbia, Harvard, and at Princeton. The list drops to two in 2018 (Columbia, at Dartmouth) and two in 2019 (at Columbia, at Cornell). The football office doesn't talk about who else is on the schedule, though it's likely full through 2021 of 2022. Sadly, it's likely to have its share of Davidsons and Marists.  Much like the aforementioned Harvard fan who would like to see the Crimson schedule up, Georgetown should, at the least, consider it.

My top five picks for a non-conference "play-up game" in any one year:

1. Villanova. A built-in rivalry, an opponent Georgetown alumni would recognize from the start...unlike, say, Butler.

2. Howard: Nothing like a locally promoted DC game, but Howard remains uninterested.

3. Pennsylvania: A series that would be great for both schools. The previous two game tour was one-sided (Quakers, 69-20) but it's worth pursuing.

4. Army: Not there yet, but they're playing other PL schools and the experience for the GU kids would be special.

5. Swing For The Fences: Wagner College, a team that is reasonably competitive with Georgetown in football, has played the following schools in the last four years: Florida Atlantic, Syracuse, Rice, and Brigham Young. This season; Boston College and UMass. To no surprise, they're 0-6 to date, losing 42-10 to the Eagles two weeks ago. Does Georgetown have to go that deep? No, but taking a step up every few years raises interest and expectations. It's doesn't have to be a big-time program, but one that opens some doors for recruits and for fans.

Sunken logs are not stepping stones.

4. Strike Up the Band: The Harvard band sounded great in the corners of Harvard Stadium, with the echoes coming down from the colonnades. On the field, less so. Scramble bands are self-indulgent and not very musical. Having an orator read a rambling essay as the band prepares for some 30 second song is silly.

Don't expect much more from Princeton if their band makes it to Washington. Here's last week's halftime show. (And no, I don't get it.)

Because orange never works in Washington.