Sunday, October 22, 2017

Some Build, Others Defer

Following its loss to Fordham, the Hoyas return home to Cooper Field November 4 for the 78th Homecoming versus Lafayette, its 13th Homecoming game in the unfinished facility.

For those who follow such things, Georgetown first announced a new football facility in 2001, and has provided years of promises that a new facility was just around the corner.

Fourteen months ago, Franklin & Marshall College (enrollment: 2,324) announced a $19 million multi-sport facility for its Division III intercollegiate teams. "A core component of our strategic vision for F&M's future is building a model...athletics program that enriches the overall student experience on campus, not just for the roughly one third of F&M students who participate in varsity athletics, but for all of our students, who will benefit from our increased capacity to offer enhanced programs in wellness, leadership, athletic training and sports medicine," said college president Dan Porterfield (C'83) at its groundbreaking.

Saturday, its new Shadek Stadium opened on schedule, where F&M routed Division III rival Dickinson 56-0 before a sold out crowd.

Prior to F&M, Porterfield served as a vice president at Georgetown and its interim athletic director in 2009-10, writing that "It is crucial that we complete the Multi-Sport Field...I have asked colleagues in Athletics and the University to see if we can develop a cost-effective approach to completing the field. Our goals will stay the same: To improve our teams' game-day experience, to make the venue more fan-friendly, and to construct an aesthetically pleasing facility. As we develop new options for this important project in the coming months, we look forward to sharing its details with our friends and donors."

One of Georgetown's last public comments on its stadium project dates to 2016.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Week 6 Thoughts

Some thoughts Following Lehigh's 54-35 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. D is for Depth: Georgetown's defense was shredded for the fourth consecutive weekend Saturday, in a way that hasn't been seen for many years at the Hilltop.

In fact, the closest parallel to the crushing defeats to Princeton, Harvard, and Lehigh was the middle of the 2007 season, a miserable run where the Hoyas finished 1-10 and lost to Holy Cross, Cornell, and Pennsylvania by a combined  score of 142 to 20. (In the last three games, it's 144-67, so pick your poison.)

The recaps of those games read as eerily familiar to 2017.

"Georgetown turned in a thoroughly non-competitive effort in a 55-0 runaway by Holy Cross at Fitton Field Saturday," read on September 22, 2007. "Sadly, the score could have been even worse."

A week later, it wrote, "In an otherwise unremarkable game, Cornell posted 469 yards of total offense in a 45-7 walkover of the Georgetown Hoyas... The Hoyas' inexperience and conservative offense continue to be its biggest adversaries in making plays on the margin that could provide a fighting chance."

By the third week, this entry: "The heretofore winless University of Pennsylvania team needed only a quarter to walk over the Hoyas, 42-13, before 8,823 at Franklin Field Saturday. Outmatched on the lines for a sixth straight week, Georgetown offered little resistance to a team that was in need of a win and was determined to get it."

The Quakers led 28-0 after the first quarter.

These recaps share one common thread: depth killed the 2007 team. Sure, the revolving door of quarterbacks Matt Bassuener and Robert Lane didn't help, and the recent play calling of Michael Neuberger channeling that of Jim Miceli isn't encouraging. But the depth of 2007 (and succeeding years) doomed those teams to be able to compete.

The Hoyas are down three starters from opening week and are ranked 117th of 123 teams for tackles for loss. Sacks? Nonexistent. Give any talented quarterback time in the pocket and he will find receivers.

For the better part of a generation, Georgetown ahs been able to hang on in the patriot largely on the sheer will of its defense. For it to win Saturday, and anytime in the near future to a team not named Davidson, the defense must step up, play through the pain, and set an example. As strange as it sounds, Saturday offers that hope.

2. Whither Fordham?  No team, not even the one further down this column, is more surprising in PL play as is Fordham. With the best PL All-America candidate since Gordie Lockbaum on the Rams' roster, Chase Edmonds' senior season was going to be Fordham's run to the PL title and a healthy run in the playoffs. It's been anything but.

Injuries have rendered the Fordham offense a shell of itself--the Rams average just 115 yards a game on the ground and its defense has been battered all season long. From a  64-6 opening loss to Army right up through last week's 38-12 loss at Colgate, Fordham has allowed 30 or more points in all but one game this season.

Maybe even more telling: the Rams have not scored more than 12 points in any of its last three games.

Georgetown's game notes (which will still try to tell you Tim Barnes is the starting quarterback) may provide some clues as to how the Hoyas can compete with the Rams in this one--it starts with the receivers.

3. Whither Holy Cross? The biggest news of the week was, without question, the mid-season firing of Tom Gilmore at Holy Cross. At 14 seasons (and until last week, still counting) at Mt. St. James, no one doubted Gilmore's coaching ability nor his recruiting, but four straight losses and a shutout at Yale was a breaking point. It's the kind of thing that we expect in the SEC, but not in the Patriot League. What's going on?

To tie this to the pressure of scholarship football is, for now, a logical fallacy. One decision does not a trend make. Yes, Holy Cross spends a lot of money on football and, yes, Gilmore was under .500 for his tenure in Worcester. But scholarships didn't lead to a change, but momentum, or the lack thereof. It helped bring an early beginning to Frank Tavani's retirement plans at Lafayette, and it turning up the heat on Fordham's Andrew Breiner, 9-9 in two seasons.

Numbers like this (from the Fordham media guide) don't help, either:

"The 2017 Fordham Rams have yet to score on their first offensive possession of a game.  Last year, the Rams scored on their first offensive possession in eight of the eleven games. Conversely, three of Fordham’s seven opponents have scored on their first offensive possession. The Rams are being outscored 93-21 in the first quarter."

Pressure is part of the business for all head coaches, including Georgetown. While Rob Sgarlata sits in a different position than Tom Gilmore did, momentum is important. In his 40th game as a head coach Saturday, Sgarlata has just 11 wins. He has to do better going forward, and he knows that. The collective Georgetown has to do better as well, and I'm not sure they know that.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Week 5 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Princeton's 50-30 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. Credit Where It's Due: A great effort and performance by Princeton's Chad Kanoff in Saturday's game. To complete a run of 21 of 22 passes at any level is a great accomplishment, and a team effort-- the receivers got open, and the play calling was first rate. And don't underestimate line play--Kanoff had time to find his receivers. Over his four years at Princeton, Kanoff averages a little more than one sack per game and that's a number that allows pro-style passers to flourish, especially when the Georgetown front line hasn't been as imposing as in years past.

The Hoyas have given up 35, 41, and now 50 points in its last thee games.

2. Changing Of The Guard? After two turnover-filled games by Clay Norris, the move to Gunther Johnson was appropriate and encouraging, but it's no solution yet. The quarterback position in the Patriot League era has been replete with changes that didn't move the needle--from Nick Cangelosi and Keith Allan right up through Aaron Aiken and Stephen Skon. Johnson will face many of the same challenges Norris did offensively, but it should be his to met that expectation.

While the staff would certainly like to bring Tim Barnes back to start, a fifth year senior isn't the answer for building up talent next year and while coaches are loath to wave the white flag and start playing for 2018, there will be a need at some point, especially if the loses begin to mount and Johnson struggles much like his many predecessors did.

For now, let's see what he can do. Lehigh's defense this year is not up to their high standards of recent years so it will be an interesting test.

3. Is This The Year? Lehigh's 16 straight wins over Georgetown is the second longest streak in the FCS/I-AA subdivision, trailing only Penn's mastery of Columbia, now at 20 consecutive years.

Watch out for the Lions, however, as Georgetown found out three weeks ago. Al Bagnoli has the Light Blue at 4-0 for the first time in 21 years, and won its first game at Princeton in two decades two weeks ago. The two teams meet at Baker Field this weekend, and while Penn is favored, it's not a foregone conclusion.

A similar conclusion may seem the case for Lehigh, but there 's a larger problem, below.

4. Needed: Offense. I posted this over at the Any Given Saturday board late last night and wanted to raise it for readers to this blog.

In 17 PL seasons, Georgetown has had six different offensive coordinators (Tim Breslin, Elliot Uzelac, Jim Miceli, Dave Patenaude, Vinny Marino, Mike Neuberger), each with different approaches and each with varying levels of experience--Breslin was a career assistant at GU, Uzelac was a former head coach at Navy and Western Michigan, Miceli was a former head coach at Bryant, Patenaude and Marino were both Ivy OC's, while Neuberger was an assistant at Dayton where they were fifth in the nation in passing in sixth in scoring (38.8 points per game). None succeeded. And with the exception of Patenaude's two seasons, no Georgetown OC in this era has averaged 20 points per game, and that's including some wins over Davidson in that stretch.

All Games:
Breslin: 16.6
Uzelac: 16.3
Miceli: 12.3
Patenaude: 23.0
Marino: 19.9
Neuberger: 16.0

PL Games Only:
Breslin: 13.6
Uzelac: 14.7
Miceli: 10.9 
Patenaude: 19.8
Marino: 18.5
Neuberger: 15.3

(For readers wondering "Whatever happened to Dave Patenaude?", he left Georgetown in 2011 for Coastal Carolina and was named offensive coordinator at Temple this fall.)

After five games in 2017, Georgetown averages 14.5 points per game. Its opponents average 20.2 halftime. Averaging 14 points a game isn't going to win games in today's college football. Georgetown must solve this systemic issue because it is weighting down the entire program.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Week 4 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Harvard's 41-2 win over Georgetown Saturday.

1. Strength In Numbers: What did we learn from Saturday's game? Putting aside the obvious about a Georgetown offense that was noncompetitive, it is this: making a game an event brings out people. Lots of them.

Putting aside the pleasantries about Cooper Field having good sightlines and a engaging campus atmosphere, after 11 year of temporary seats and withering gravel, it does nothing to engender attendance to college football. That a school of over 6,000 undergraduates, nearly as many grad students, with an alumni population of over 40,000 within an hour of the school, in a metro area of more than five million cannot fill a 2,000 seat erector set is not only an indictment of the schedule, but the surroundings. It is not a destination, and all the promises about something better remain that.

No one will confuse RFK Stadium with the Rose Bowl, but there was a sense of an event, at least before the game. That so many students put aside a few hours on a Saturday to stand in a parking lot in Southeast DC and get ready for a football game instead of worrying about what dressing goes on their sabzi salad at Sweetgreen says there is hope for this program after all, if they can schedule marketable opponents, and if they can win. Both are not imminent.

There is work to do in the community, however. While traveling on the Metro to the game, a couple interrupted and asked if I was going to the game. They were tourists from Toronto who had never seen a football game in person and were intrigued. The Blue line car emptied out after Eastern Market and the couple asked why. Someone added that there are a lot of restaurants there. The couple politely got of at Potomac Avenue for a trip back to Eastern Market, and told me they might stop by the game after lunch. Whether they did, I cannot say, but there were people out there that Georgetown couldn't close the deal on. This time.

All in all, it was a great event and I which more could have joined us. How many joined us? Well...

2. Truth In Numbers: Coming home on the plane Saturday night, I had only a wild guess at the attendance. Seven thousand? Nine thousand? Sold tickets over 10 and a walk up crowd less than that? I didn't know. I was baffled by the number placed in the official box score: 3,256, which is less than  some games at Cooper Field. It was embarrassing to Georgetown and, as far as I could determine, incorrect.

The photos on the front page showed many more people that that. If Harvard brought, say, 1,500 people (a low turnout given the strength of the Harvard alumni network in DC, but an estimate nevertheless), that about the same must be in the home stands, right? The photos don't support this.


And Georgetown:

Clearly the number came from somewhere, but I don't know. It has already led to a post on an Ivy League board that suggests Georgetown lost $500,000 on the game, which sounds false on many, many levels. But the official number did not serve Georgetown well nor that of the DC Events promoters, who were hoping for something to justify opening the gates of the aging structure.

3. The Next Time: Could Georgetown do this again? Yes. Should they? Absolutely.

But who, when, and where?

Upcoming schedules are less than favorable with marquee opponents. Patriot League opponents do not have the critical mass to justify any stadium rental, and, as Saturday's visitor turnout may have confirmed, neither is the Ivy League. Howard came to mind in one pre-game conversation I had, but it was quickly dismissed by someone wiser than me, and for good reason--Howard looks at a football game with Georgetown the way Georgetown looks at a basketball game with American--it's not worth their time. Where Howard fans show up in numbers to their close-knit Homecoming game, they fail to draw any interest in other events, particularly non-HBCU's.

Remember the Howard-Georgetown series, the so-called Mayor's Cup? The Oct. 15, 2011 game at Greene Stadium drew just 1,891. At the 2009 game at Georgetown, Howard didn't even bother to send the band. The attendance was less than what Harvard "officially" drew Saturday, just 2,630.

What team would draw students, alumni, and local residents to come back for a game and conversely, who would want to play Georgetown and bring heir fans to do so?  Well, Syracuse isn't walking through that door, and neither are the 90% of Division I-A schools who know there's more money in a guarantee game at Florida State or Purdue than taking your chances against a little-known I-AA team. So, here are three I'll toss out there:

Door #1: Villanova. Name recognition? Check. Interest in both student bodies? Check. Would their fans turn out? Probably, though not guaranteed. A competitive game? Not even close right now.

Villanova has a love-hate relationship with the PL, in that they love to get an easy win or two versus these teams but hate the association that they would be better off in that cohort than competing at a higher level in the CAA. Since 2005, the Wildcats have played every PL school except one, and that's no accident. For years, Andy Talley wanted no association with the comparatively low-rent program that also happened to play in the Big East.  Would new coach Mark Ferrante think differently?

Villanova has only three non-conference games annually because of the composition of the CAA: one with temple, one other I-A, and a PL team, often Lehigh or Lafayette. Could a bigger game in DC get their attention? Not right now.

Door #2: Delaware: An even more dangerous opponent than the Wildcats, the  Blue Hens have no particular history with Georgetown (the teams haven't met in basketball since 1966) but they do have a fan base that will travel. The Blue Hens sent nearly 10,000 to Frisco, TX for the national championship game with Eastern Washington, and average about 16,000 a game in Newark, DE, down from the days when a sellout of its 22,000 seat stadium was a certainty. Two hours from the District, they would travel.

Delaware's non-conference schedule used to be fearsome. Not so this year, a peculiar collection that includes Delaware State from the MEAC, Virginia tech, and Cornell. The Blue Hens defeated Cornell, a team not much different than GU this year, 41-14. Delaware has upcoming games with Pitt and NC State, do they need a breather?

Door #3: Army. A nationally known team with a built-in fan base, Army isn't afraid to schedule PL opponents (even if they stumble from time to time) and can also whoop up on them too: the Cadets mauled Fordham, 64-6, a year after losing to them. Among I-A teams, the academies are most likely to be PL opponents and, as opposed to Navy (who has no need to play in Washington when Annapolis is 30 miles east), might consider a game in the National Capital Region to play in front of their commanding officers.

Army's future schedules go out to 2030 and not all dates work for their opponents. As an independent, however, they need games. The 2019 season, for example, features the likes of Morgan State, with Bucknell in 2020 and 2021. Absent a team dropping a game, the Hoyas may be late to this discussion.

As for where, that's a discussion. DC United has one game remaining in the building, an Oct. 22 game titled "Last Call". After that, the future of RFK gets tenuous--the stadium stayed afloat with soccer after the Redskins left, and they fact that is was still standing helped bring the Nats from Montreal. After soccer leaves, there are literally no scheduled events there. Even the Military Bowl, one of those generic pre-New Year's bowl games that serve as ESPN programming and little else, moved out in 2013.

Some in DC envision the stadium site as the ultimate lure to bring the Redskins back to town, with a domed stadium that would host Final Fours, political conventions and college football classics far removed from the Patriot League. Others can't get around a name they otherwise embraced for so many years.

(An aside: At the entrance to RFK Stadium is seen a monument to George Preston Marshall,  the founder of the Skins. A unrepentant bigot whose fight song read "Braves on the warpath, Fight for all Dixie"), Marshall was once quoted as saying that We’ll start signing Negroes when the Harlem Globetrotters start signing whites." In 1962, the Kennedy Administration threatened to revoke his lease to then-DC Stadium to force Marshall to integrate the team. A resident of Georgetown, Marshall died in 1969.)

Others see the future of  RFK Stadium as some sort of recreational parkland or even some big-box urban village. Whatever the outcome, the old building's days are numbered. Maybe the Hoyas will return, maybe not.

Down by Nationals Park, however, construction is underway on this place:

If Georgetown wants to revisit this in, say, a couple of years, make a call to Audi Field, which is to include, in no particular order, 31 luxury suites, 500,000 square feet of mixed use residential and commercial space, and parking for 447 bicycles for the sustainability-sensible crowd. An aging RFK might have been too much for the upscale Washingtonians out there, but this will fit right in.

To sum up:

Who? No good candidates right now.

When? Not clear.

Where? Old or new, take your pick.

And finally, why? Because Saturday's game showed that,done right, it's a win-win for Georgetown football, even if the outcome wasn't.