Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Week 9 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Colgate's 38-0 win over Georgetown Saturday.

1. That's How It's Done: I can't imagine that too many were surprised by the outcome Saturday. Georgetown has never defeated a ranked team in Division I-AA play and the ability to travel in the rain and cold to Hamilton, NY, where it has never won, and pull off a fourth straight upset was a prohibitive task.

But Colgate showed from the start why it is the best team in a not very good Patriot League: on defense. They shut down the Hoyas from the opening series and never let up. For its part, the Georgetown defense played well at the start of each half, but eventually wore down and the Red Raiders took advantage.

Colgate has held opponents to a remarkable 3.2 points per game this season. Georgetown wasn't close to three points all game.

As noted on the front page, the total yards set a school record for the fewest in any game in the modern era. Seven of these were in the Division III years, three in I-AA. Of the three, this was not a game, like Richmond in 2008 and Holy Cross in 2007, where the Hoyas were just awful. This was just a much better opponent and the Hoyas do not have the offense to compete with teams like this. We can discuss why this is the case (each and every year), but for 2018, the better team on the field that day was Colgate without question.

2. That's How It (Can Be) Done: Think about this: Eight of 11 starters on defense return in 2019. And of the three seniors, they have some great players coming up the depth chart.

As of now 13 of the top 16 tacklers return. Ramon Lyons can pass the torch to Cameron Deen  (20 tackles, nine games). Mike Taylor has freshman Ibrahim Kamara (12 tackles, nine games) ready to make the next move. And while sophomore Dawson Hawkins (6 tackles, nine games) hasn't seen as much game time behind Blaise Brown, he had close to 250 tackles in high school. He'll be ready.

What does this mean? Colgate is where they are in 2018 with defensive might and offensive consistency--they don't make mistakes. They were ranked as high as #2 nationally in some statistical categories. Georgetown's defense in 2018 is a good one. 2019 could be really, really good.

3. Where Was Everybody? 

OK, 36 degrees and rain is not a driver for crowds, even at Colgate. And yes, 1,827 is not the actual attendance at this game, we get it. But it raises an issue that is worth discussing far beyond a cold and rainy game--what brings fans to Division I-AA games, and what gets them to come back?

There's no Million Dollar Band in the PL and no one is running around yelling the northeast equivalent of "Rammer Jammer, Yellow Hammer..." with 90,000 of his or her closest friends. But if the league in general, and Georgetown in specific, makes attending  a game a drudgery, they will vote with their feet. And they do.

Cooper Field in 2019 offers an opportunity to change this dynamic. We'll talk more about it next week.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Week 8 Thoughts

Some thoughts after Georgetown's 22-16 win over Lehigh Saturday:

1. T is For Team: Saturday's game was uplifting for any  number of reasons, notwithstanding the final score. The win was a great, almost textbook example of a team rising to the occasion. When one side of the ball suffered, the other stepped up.

And when the team is playing this well, there is no single player of the game. Michael Dereus, for his early TD catch? Duval Paul, for an alert special teams play? Wes Bowers, for saving the play and getting the vital two points? Gunther Johnson, for those two big fourth down conversions and no interceptions? Kristian Tate's two sacks, Jethro Francois' interception, Jackson Saffold late game running?  

Worthy candidates all, but this was a total team effort and one which should give Rob Sgarlata and the staff some genuine satisfaction. Lehigh didn't lose this game as much as Georgetown won it, and that's worth a game ball all its own.

2. From Hurst To First:  Before all is said and done, Brad Hurst may be the leading punter in Georgetown history. This year,. he is third in punts in I-AA and his 41.5 yard average is a half yard short of the modern (post-1964) record for a single season. But the placekicking...ugh.

Hurst set a school record by missing all five field goals in Saturday's game, and while the movie script ending would have had him kick the game winner in regulation, that was blocked, too. Hurst's style may be more of an issue than his accuracy, which currently ranks next to last among all I-AA kickers, with a season average of just 27.6% completed.

Hurst's kicks (and punts, for that matter) tend to be low off the foot. At least twice in Saturday's game the PL network announcers noted that Hurst was close to getting a punt blocked, which would have changed the game right there. The two blocked kids were each low and Lehigh took advantage.

Georgetown has only two kickers on the roster. Senior Oliver Hill is a walk-on with one PAT last year and none this year, freshman Zachariah McBride hasn't seen any time, so Hurst may still be the best option. The kicking game has never had much consistency and recruits have come and gone (University of Texas transfer Jon Coppens would have been a senior this year but he was gone before the 2017 season even started) but there are games where a kicker can make all the difference. Saturday's could have been that, and maybe should have been, but fate intervened.

3. From The Other Side Of the Field: Saturday's loss is a bitter pill to swallow for a proud Lehigh fan base that has seen better. The Engineers played a strong non-conference schedule with the likes of Navy, Penn, and Princeton, and while these were bad losses, there was some hope that the team would step it up in PL play, as befits a two time champions. If a 43-14 loss to winless Fordham was a warning bell, Saturday's loss was a veritable steam whistle blowing across the Lehigh Valley.

Lehigh fans haven't had to worry about Georgetown, so to lose like this is a body blow--it like Georgetown losing to Florida Gulf Coast. Its fans first saw the Hoyas in 2002, where Lehigh rang up 49 points at the half and 69 for the game. The Brown and White had won 17 games by an average of 25 points. Put another way, Lehigh averaged 38.3 points a game versus Georgetown in the PL era and had nine at the end of regulation Saturday.

It was, in words of the veteran Lehigh blog  Lehigh Football Nation, "rock bottom". It writes, in part:

"This wasn't a game lost at the opening coin flip, like the way Lehigh lost vs. Fordham, or just a complete talent mismatch, like it was vs. Princeton.  This was a loss to a team that in every way is Lehigh's equal.  Georgetown just wanted it more...

It seems like this team and coaching staff doesn't fully appreciate that beating Lehigh means something to other teams. Georgetown certainly has other goals every season, but every single year they had been circling Lehigh on the calendar and doing and thinking of everything possible of how to beat Lehigh.  Georgetown had beaten every other Patriot League team at least once since joining the Patriot League in 2001 - except Lehigh.  They wanted this badly.  It was abundantly clear to anyone who was there, or watching the game on the Patriot League network.

"For this Lehigh team, to salvage the season, they need to get together and pick up the pieces of this broken season and say to themselves that this is not the way they want to be remembered.  They have to not want to be remembered as the team that didn't care that they lost to Georgetown, thought it wasn't a big deal they lost 66-7 to Princeton, that they lost to 0-5 Fordham, that they were the team that lost, six, seven, eight, nine, ten in a row.  They need to say that they have hit rock bottom and they want me to write a different story through the rest of the year."

4. Did You See It? I wasn't at the game Saturday but any shot of the crowd on the PL Network showed a lot of happy faces, but very few young ones.

Yes, the configuration at what I call "mini-Cooper" Field is just 1,800 and maybe that keeps students from showing up. More likely, they have already given up and/or lost interest in spending three hours on Saturday watching a football game when there is so much texting and Instragramming to do. Even more likely, they have been minimized in a discussion of the college football experience at Georgetown.

How many will remember this game with any fondness? Who will talk about it at their first alumni Homecoming, or a reunion? I can't imagine any students were sitting in the Leavey Center watching this on a video feed and many more will read about it Friday in The HOYA and say to themselves, "well, that must have been fun." And it will be immediately forgotten.

In 1998, when the Hoyas upset Holy Cross 13-12, the crowd was electric. Former athletic director Joe Lang once told me that that if any of the rowdier students that day tried to uproot the goalposts at Kehoe Field, they'd pull out a hole in the Yates roof.

For what it's worth, no one rushed Cooper Field for the goalposts Saturday. There weren't enough to even consider it.

In an earlier post, I cited the change that where once these games were 99 percent students in the stands, today there are far, far less. And when or if (but they tell me it's when ) the new Cooper stands take shape, we need a serious, institutional discussion about putting students front and center in the football experience. Not on the edge of the ten yard line behind the band center; no, front and center.

We'll talk about this more in two weeks during the bye week.

Monday, October 15, 2018

What's Wrong With The Patriot League?

In the epicenter of the Patriot League, this weekend's games in the Lehigh Valley should have been standouts.

At 12:30, Lehigh hosted its first home game in a month, honoring two championship teams from its recent past. Instead, the Engineers drew a season low 4,115 at Goodman Stadium. A decade ago, that same game drew over 7,000.

Down the road at Fisher Field, it was homecoming at Lafayette, coming off a bye week and a win over Central Connecticut. This game, scheduled for 3:30 pm after the Lehigh game , drew an announced crowd of 4,657,  but may have been half that.

Lehigh and Lafayette are a combined 2-10 this season. Six of seven PL teams are under .500, and only Colgate (6-0) and Georgetown (3-4) have more than one win all season. In this week's Sagarin ratings, the PL ranked 11th of 13 I-AA conferences, ahead of the SWAC and the nonscholarship Pioneer. Over the last two seasons, the PL is 15-51 (.227) out of conference, and outside of undefeated Colgate, its record this season is 4-24 (.142).

It's a question which needs to be asked--what's wrong with the Patriot League?

It wasn't always this way, of course. Five different schools shared conference titles in the 2000's. Either Colgate or Lehigh could get to the second or third round of the NCAA playoffs in a good year, and aside from Georgetown, nearly every team had a good chance at a run at the top three of the league. Since 2012, PL schools (sans Georgetown) have been able to offer full scholarships to some of the best recruits in the subdivision.

So what went wrong? Or, better stated, what is going wrong?

In 2011, the last year before the Patriot League approved scholarships, the PL was a mere 20-16 (.555) out of conference, and there was consensus that a move to scholarships would elevate PL teams along side that of CAA Football and far past their Ivy opponents, never mind the Northeast Conference. In reality, the other conferences stepped up while the Patriot League scholarship model was flawed from the start, and remains so.

Much has been discussed about the Ivy model, but some of our readers may not know the detail. As is its mantra, the Ivy league eschews athletic scholarships because, well, they're the Ivy League, and it wouldn't be sporting to give some admission to a school of such repute strictly for carrying a ball. What has changed is the cost of admission, and the decision of nearly every Ivy school to match the largesse of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton to make attendance exceptionally affordable to any student with a household income below $150K...and that includes football. Families with a household income under $60,000 (and in some cases, as high as $100K) do not have any "parent contribution" if offered admission, and thus an offer at Harvard or Dartmouth is free tuition.

How about a family of $150K? "There is no income cutoff for financial aid awards," reads the Yale web site. "Some families with over $200,000 in annual income receive need-based aid from Yale."

What the Ivy was able to do is combine the leverage of financial aid with the power of admission--would you rather have a scholarship at Holy Cross or free tuition at Harvard? 

In doing so, this has opened the door for high-GPA football prospects from middle income quartiles who write off the Ivy before as too expensive, and for those schools that can sell the career opportunities of these schools, it's a strong combination, and thus the quantity and quality of Ivy recruits has improved while the PL assumed its scholarship model would attract more of its target demographic.

The Northeast Conference was a wildcard. Never considered a peer of the Patriot, a conference that grew up alongside the MAAC Football League went to a 30 scholarship model about a decade ago. What it has done is take the quasi-cost containment scholarship model and add a twist that the Patriot League didn't do.

The PL scholarship mode is an "all or none" approach: the school can award up to 60 scholarships, but it is all merit. A PL school does not offer, for example, 30 scholarships and 30 need-based equivalencies to get to 60. By allowing merit and need based aid as part of its awards, NEC schools are now able to get close to 60 and be competition for bowl-eligible major conference schools, which is why Duquesne got a guarantee game at Hawaii, or why Wagner is playing Syracuse.

NEC schools are spending less to get just as much visibility as PL schools, and do not have the artificial admissions barrier of the Academic Index to attract (or in the PL's case, repel) recruits to its schools. By most accounts, the NEC is a stronger conference than the Patriot League right now.

Again, so what went wrong?

The Patriot League saw scholarships as the cure and not a symptom of the problem: to be competitive you must attract and admit quality recruits.  It's supply and demand.

The PL scholarship model did not expand the base of recruits because it still pays homage to the Ivy League admissions model, which limits the "pool" to approximately 10-12 percent of the high school football seniors out there. And of those 12 percent, if they're not taking an offer at Stanford, Notre Dame, Northwestern, etc., the Ivy is now a much stronger financial offer than a scholarship at Bucknell or Fordham, never mind Georgetown.

On one flank, the Ivy is restricting supply, while the NEC has elevated itself by being a more realistic option for recruits head to head vs. the PL, and gets stronger in comparison with the entire pool and not just the elite. It's no longer  a sure thing that a recruit picks Colgate over Bryant every time, and while the PL wins more than it loses, the NEC is picking off talent here and there on the margin that make a difference.

Let's call Patriot League scholarships what they are--a transfer cost from a financial aid award to an athletic department award, but the same award to the same group of kids with the same talent level that they had before, and those kids are increasingly getting a better offer from the Ivy League.

The League is seeing it at signing day and they are seeing it on the field. Over the last two seasons, the Patriot League is 5-17 (.227) head to head versus Ivy schools. Of those five PL wins, three are against one team: Cornell.

Scholarships come at a price in the Patriot League, literally.

In 2011, the league (minus Georgetown) spent a collective $26 million on football expenses. In 2017, it increased to $36 million, with Lafayette's budget for football increasing 52 percent in six years and Bucknell by 80 percent. The six PL schools now rank among the 20 largest budgets in the subdivision and by any measure, aren't getting its collective money's worth. We can debate where Georgetown fits into this but the issue is bigger than Georgetown. The PL went all-in for scholarship football and they are, for now, the worse for wear.

But if we conclude that scholarships all are that's ailing the Patriot League right now, we're not being honest.

The league as a whole, as a competitive entity, as a collective entity--needs work. It falsely assumed that 60 grants would be all it needed. Now, it's a damaged brand in football circles and a group where not everyone is on the same page. That kind of change won't come from its Council of Presidents, who meet twice a year and frankly have bigger issues at their institutions than to worry about why Lehigh is 1-5 in mid-October. Change must come from the league office, who must be empowered by their presidents to make the Patriot League the best it can be, not be the best it hopes to be.

The strongest athletic conferences are traditionally those who employ an active and visible commissioner. Jim Delany and Greg Sankey aren't powerful because of who they are but what they are able to do. As commissioners of the Big Ten and SEC, they have presented their presidents with opportunities for remarkable growth that, while unlikely for the PL, nonetheless show that change with purpose is not a bad thing. 

"Change" and "Patriot League" don't always go hand in hand. As a reflection its roots, the PL has looked upon change with a certain amount of distrust--the Ivy doesn't change, why should they?  Football has seen much of this. Were it not for Fordham's not so veiled threat of leaving the PL, the league would have never signed of on scholarships. The league under commissioner Carolyn Femovich sold the PL brand ("Today's Scholar-Athletes, Tomorrow's Leaders") over the product--now, Jennifer Heppel must fix the product.

Femovich came to the PL from a long career as an athletic administrator at the University of Pennsylvania. If all you know is the comfortable world of  Ivy athletics, the PL probably seems to be just where it needs to be. Heppel has worked twice at the Big Ten, and for five years at Georgetown as an associate athletic director. She knows a world beyond the Lehigh Valley, and governs a conference where just half of its members actually play football in the league, and none have seriously challenged for a national title in 15 years. There was a time when that didn't matter as long as the school presidents could enjoy a regular trip to Princeton or Dartmouth and enjoy a catered lunch in the president's suite; today, those games are growing less likely with outcomes that show the cracks in the PL model.

Heppel does not need a six-figure consultant's report to understand how to fix Patriot League football, but she does need the support of the conference's presidents to address five issues which were not addressed in the 2012 scholarship decision and will continue to distract and disrupt this league going further.

1. Address the scholarship rules. The NCAA limits athletic department aid to 63 equivalencies among 85 counters, but the PL does not permit need based aid in the formula.  Adopting the NCAA model does not impact the academic model of the PL and allows for schools to be more flexible in how they choose to apportion aid, and addresses the depth issues that are more than apparent on the field in recent years versus peer schools.

2. Revisit Redshirting. The PL's ban on redshirts is redolent of its Ivy League origins and does not address the competitive issues of modern Division I football. 

The web site USA Football offers these four reasons why redshirting ins not anti-academics, but may actually be to the PL's benefit. it writes:
  • 1. Get settled on campus: Remember, these will be some of the best years of your life, so redshirting provides one more year to thoroughly enjoy that college experience. There are a plethora of opportunities on campus, but it is up to each individual to make the best out of the journey.
  • 2. Time to adjust: Redshirting buys more time to get yourself acclimated to the collegiate setting. Summer school provides a taste of what college life will be like, but there's nothing like going through a full semester without traveling and allowing yourself a chance to build a solid and sound academic profile.
  • 3. A fifth year: Redshirting provides an opportunity to graduate earlier, so you can explore master’s programs with that final year of eligibility. By redshirting, this opens up that fifth year of a scholarship to maximize potential in the classroom. I assure you, coaches won't vouch for those who choose just to skate by.
  • 4. A chance to mature: Athletes who redshirt have the chance to learn the playbook and get stronger in the weight room. If you take heed to your strength coach’s plan, your body will be transformed. Couple this with talent, and you'll be ready to compete for a starting job.

The PL has traditionally steered away from redshirts in no small part to protect its two colleges (Lafayette, Holy Cross) which would not be able to offer graduate courses in the fifth year. That is not to say that players could not extend their baccalaureate studies to nine semesters to get the fifth year in, but it's the kind of conversation that the league needs to have as recruits continue to see that redshirts aren't welcome...and they look elsewhere.

Another conversation in this category; the world beyond redshirts. In addition to redshirts, there are now a number of variants on the formula which may or may not play well in all PL circles: a greenshirt (an athlete enrolls a semester early to practice with the team), a grayshirt (an recruit enrolls a semester late in January for eligibility purposes), or even a blueshirt (a players plays as a walk-on his first year, and receives a scholarship thereafter, counting the scholarship for next year). If the student is duly admitted to the school, should the school care when he enrolls?

3. Scheduling and Support. Patriot League scheduling is all over the board and attendance is waning. Outside of Holy Cross, teams are finding it harder to maintain a purely regional schedule and the recent downtown in results are leaving lots of seats empty by October.

The league needs to give serious thought to a conference-wide scheduling philosophy, such as the 1-2-2- model: one FBS/I-A game annually (on the road),  two Ivy or CAA games (home and away)  and two games against smaller opponents (home only) . A school like Lehigh, for example, could schedule at Army, home Princeton, at Villanova, and then two home games with Marist and Bryant. That assures not less than six home games every year even with a I-A guarantee game, and avoids a 0-fer in non-conference play.

The goal is not to reduce Lehigh's scheduling opportunities but raise the game across the  league. Georgetown and Bucknell are traditionally softer in September scheduling, Holy Cross more regional, and Colgate more adventurous. The league needs all oars in the same direction, whatever that direction will be.

With that direction, there needs to be a concerted effort to bring fans back to these games. Winning helps, but winning isn't the only thing. If the experience at these schools is a negative to fans and their families, there are too many other options for the weekend entertainment dollar that will consume their interest. From the pre-game to halftime to post-game, the PL product isn't very appealing.

Why did Lafayette draw so poorly at its own homecoming last week? Was it the opponent, the start time, the tailgating restrictions, the game on local TV, or the general lack of interest in sitting at Fisher Field for an opponent that doesn't mean that much to them? Or maybe all of the above?

I'm reminded by a quote in the Georgetown Voice from former quarterback Bruce Simmons on who is showing up to games.

"The fanbase has changed quite a bit, because that day it was 99.9 percent students and dates, and now it is, I would guess, 65 percent alumni and parents and 35 percent undergrad," he said. "I do think the students would respond if someone made an effort to include them more openly and make it more fun for them."

What is the PL doing in this regard? Good intentions notwithstanding, very little.

4. Talk To Georgetown. It's time the PL had a heart-to-heart talk with Jack DeGioia.

DeGioia isn't interested in scholarship football, and as long as he's president that isn't likely to change. Some of that is a reflection on his college days in the Division III era, some of it due to the imbalance basketball places on the Georgetown athletic budget, and some of its from an a highly academic view of scholarships as somehow antithetical to the academy. Football scholarships were not part of  the "ethos and culture" of Georgetown, DeGioia said in 2012. Never mind that track scholarships or golf scholarships or volleyball scholarships don't seem to be against the "ethos", but football scholarships do.

But despite these last two weeks of good feeling, Georgetown has been materially undercompetitive in football in the last six years and the details need not be revisited here. The PL leadership needs to get the Georgetown leadership on board to working to meet 60 equivalencies even if it means committing to 60 equivalencies of need based aid.

Yes, getting to 60 equivalencies would open Georgetown to I-A FBS guarantee games, which would be a fascinating subject all its own, but not for today. But what it really does is get Georgetown out of the sub-basement where it is not competitive within its own league.

What would it take for Georgetown to offer 60 need based equivalencies? Would it take more recruiting outside the Northeast, an admissions adjustment from the league, or just more financial aid than it is offering right now? Whatever the answer, the PL leadership needs Georgetown to step it up or it should look elsewhere.

5. Expansion. "We are creating a model others will follow," Rev. John Brooks S.J. of Holy Cross once proclaimed about the Patriot League. But even Brooks admitted that "so far, no one has followed."

Putting aside Brook's intentions, every other I-AA conference has expanded and at seven, not only has no one followed the Patriot League, but it runs a particular risk.

With seven schools, the League is one school above the NCAA minimum for a football conference. Should anyone leave for whatever reason, the viability of the PL is in significant danger, especially if a member other than Georgetown or Fordham left. The PL mandates six league teams sponsor any league sport but football was grandfathered in at five. A four team PL plus associate members might lead to its implosion.

Expansion has been a touchy subject in PL circles because, well, those that are considered aren't interested, and those that are interested aren't considered. To be frank, those that are considered (Villanova, Richmond, William & Mary) aren't interested, and those that are interested (Marist, Monmouth, and the former program at Hofstra) aren't considered.

The league needs to expand, plain and simple. First, though, it must discern whether football needs to be a required sport among league members, such as basketball is. There was once a time, as late as the 1980's, when schools did not sponsor men's basketball and still maintained conference memberships -- Tulane, Miami, and San Francisco were all examples of this at one time-- but no more.  You can't be in the Big Ten and not play football. You can't be in the Ivy League and not play football. But you can be in the Patriot League and not play football.

Maybe after the league has that heart-to-heart talk with Georgetown, it sits down with American, Boston U, and Loyola and says, as an example, "Football is important to us and we expect our member schools to all play football, either as the academies do at I-A, or as the rest of the league does in our conference. If you want to remain as a full member of the league, you need to come up with a plan to add football over the next 4-6 years. If you don't, you need to prepare an exit plan."

A new football program needs three things: money, facilities, and tradition. Boston U has all three, Loyola has facilities but neither the money nor a tradition, and American has none of these. But, let's be clear--do these schools want to stay in the PL, and will they commit to do so, or is PL football this more of a scheduling arrangement than a commitment of like minded schools?

Certainly, a 10 team PL with Boston U, Loyola, and American introduces some change and a pair of closer rivals for Georgetown, and spares the PL from adding schools it is not comfortable with. Even one school out of the three adds stability and a common purpose. Or maybe the PL presidents grin and bear it... and calls Marist.

This isn't the Ivy League. Either the PL must grow or it runs the risk of atrophy and a slow death.

Because in the end, what's wrong with the Patriot League is almost entirely self-inflicted, which is both hopeful as well as challenging. Leadership, not platitudes, will set a course for its stability and future.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Week 7 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 13-3 win over Lafayette Saturday.

1. Survive and Advance. The second half of this game felt like the second half of the Columbia game in 2016. But was this a reflection of a more conservative game plan, or taking what Lafayette's defense allowed Georgetown to do?

Of Georgetown's 51 rushing or passing plays, there isn't a marked change after halftime:

1st quarter: 6 run, 6 pass
2nd quarter: 13 run, 4 pass
3rd quarter: 7 run, 8 pass
4th quarter: 11 run, 3 pass

There seems to be a pattern that Georgetown did not sell out the run but that Lafayette's front line defense was more likely to challenge the run plays after halftime. Having the lead helped avoid a rush to the air, but this was among the more balanced efforts of the season.

Georgetown's running game is weak by most statistics and it speaks to a lack of depth at the positions. Yes, it would be fun to get Khristian Tate into the line for a few series but his need is on defense. With a lead, the running game can hold its own but Georgetown does not have the talent to live by the run if they fall behind, which is too often. Georgetown has really struggled over the years with the kind of larger back that can do damage, much like Lehigh's Dominic Bragalone (5-11, 225). Jackson Saffold might be that back, but we've heard that before over the years. (Anyone remember Charlie Houghton?)

A fair number of PL coaches may have figured Georgetown was simply going to go "Air Spence" and abandon the run. having a run game these last two weeks has been vital.

2. Defensive Statistics. Some great numbers for the Georgetown defense in this week's national statistics review.

Georgetown enters this week 17th nationally in overall defense, 18th in rushing defense, 10th in team passing efficiency, 21st in scoring defense (points allowed). Georgetown is 54th of 125 schools on third down conversion defense but 28th in fourth down conversion defense.

How do these rank in the conference?

Overall defense is second (Colgate is #3  nationally), rushing is second (Colgate #8 nationally), passing efficiency second (Colgate is #1 nationally) , scoring defense second (Colgate #1 nationally) ...see a pattern here?

Colgate is lapping the PL field and that's OK, but Georgetown's defense is right where it needs to be to give the offense a chance to hold its own. That's not east, but again, it gives the Hoyas a fighting chance, which is why Georgetown is 2-0 in the PL for the first time since 2010.

3. Where Were The Fans? Saturday's announced crowd of 4,657 at Fisher Field sure didn't look that way on video, and the Georgetown side numbered less than 50. That's a topic for another discussion, but PL attendance is down across the board. Here are attendance numbers through Oct. 14:

Holy Cross: 7,616
Colgate: 5,390
Fordham: 5,223
Lafayette: 4,759
Lehigh: 4,478
Bucknell: 2,974
Georgetown: 1,851

When was the last time Lehigh was fifth in the conference in attendance? A 1-5 record will do that to you.

No PL team is even in the top 50. Georgetown's meager seating options places it 120th of 125 teams in average attendance.

4. PL Hot Seat? We don't often think of a hot seat among Pl coaches as we may among other conferences. There are even entire web sites devoted to the subject, with daily updates on the likes of David Beaty (3-15 since the 2017 season at Kansas ), Chris Ash (1-6 in 2018 at dear old Rutgers), Gus Malzahn (where 4-3 at Auburn isn't cutting it if you're making $7 million a year), and Randy Edsall (1-5 in his second tour at UConn).

"David Beaty almost found the right solution to the Kansas football program’s main problem. In fact, he only missed by one letter. Beaty hired himself again as offensive coordinator. He should have fired himself as head coach," writes the Lawrence Journal-World. "Good thing Beaty doesn’t have the power to appoint himself athletic director, because if he did, he wouldn’t last as coach past his third timeout of the first half of his next game — one of those timeouts burned to decide whether to punt, go for it or kick a field goal; another used to get the right number of players on the field; and the third to let one of the coaches of a special teams unit know he’ll handle it from here."

This kind of talk is rare in PL circles, but usually there is one coach getting the sideways glances from its fans - Frank Tavani a few years ago, Tom Gilmore last year, and this year, it's Lehigh's Andy Coen.

Never mind that Lehigh has won the last two PL titles, the Engineers' five game losing streak is sitting well with the fan base. The Lehigh message boards are talking about resignation in the way that folks were discussing John Thompson III two years ago on HoyaTalk.

Look, Lehigh can't go 8-3 every year, even if the PL office would like it that way (just kidding, folks). Lehigh isn't 1-5 because it played Marist and Campbell and Columbia, it played some very good teams in Navy, Villanova, and Princeton, and didn't have the defense to stay in the game. We know what the outcome for Georgetown would be if the Hoyas were playing Navy, Villanova, and Princeton...but at least it would be some opponents our fans recognized.

As far as Rob Sgarlata and staff prepare for this week, Lehigh are the defending PL champs and must be treated as such. For his part, Coen and his staff have to shake it out of his team that Lehigh has run roughshod over Georgetown for 17 consecutive years and the 18th is not a foregone conclusion. A win Saturday won't restore Coen to the front of the Lehigh fan parade, but a loss will set off alarm bells up and down the Lehigh Valley.

It's time for Georgetown to make the most of it.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Week 6 Thoughts

Some brief thoughts following Georgetown's 23-11 win over Fordham Saturday:

What Changed?  Some coaches are fond of saying that three or four plays can alter the outcome of a competitive game. Now, this presumes a competitive game, because four plays' aren't beating Alabama or any such opponent, but Georgetown did its part by not making the mistakes that all too inevitably lead to its demise . So here are four plays worth mentioning, and worth learning from:

1. With under two minutes in the first quarter, Georgetown gets a 27 yard pass from Gunther Johnson to Jay Tolliver to advance to the Fordham 18. While Georgetown could have pursued a running approach inside the 20, they went right back to the air and found Cameron Crayton in the end zone. It set a tone for the game that Georgetown was in to won.

2 With eight minutes to halftime, Georgetown held an 8-6 lead when a bad snap deep in its own territory put the Hoyas in trouble. Punter Brad Hurst quickly got the ball out of the end zone and took a safety when a punt attempt would have been risky and a simply falling on the ball gives the Rams an opportunity to take the lead before halftime, which almost always spells trouble for Georgetown in the second half. Instead, the Georgetown defense reasserted itself at midfield and the Hoyas were no worse than tied at intermission.

3. With 4:17  in the third quarter, Fordham was in the midst of an 18 play drive that could have zapped the will of the GU defense. A key stop by Wes Bowers at the Fordham forced a third and nine which fell short. As a result, Georgetown held Fordham to a field goal and took the lead for good on the next series.

4. With 2:16 in the fourth quarter, a stop at the goal line may have been enough to rally Fordham if they could get yards early in the two minute drill. Instead, with the defense on its toes and taking advantage of a change in quarterbacks, the efforts in the film room on Luke Medlock paid off. Jethro Francois was right where he need to be and Georgetown shut down the Rams for good.

These were four of any number of plays that contributed to Georgetown's biggest win in five seasons.  And while Fordham isn't North Dakota State or even Central Connecticut State, it was a win for a team and a program that badly needed one.

It needs another one, too.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Week 5 Thoughts

A few different thoughts following Brown's 35-7 win over Georgetown:

It would be easy, understandable, perhaps, to take what was said two weeks ago in the Dartmouth and repurpose it for this week's review.  A tired offense, sloppy line play, too many turnovers, a defense that always seem to arrive two series into the game. These all seem obvious at the halfway point of the 2018 season, which we'll talk about later this week.

A different question, then: is this all OK?

No alarm bells over at GUHoyas.com, which only noted that Georgetown "faltered" at Brown.  To falter, according to the dictionary, is to "start to lose strength or momentum."  I'm not sure what momentum was lost there is a with a team that started down 14-0 in the first quarter, but nonetheless, an official release is not the place for  that concern.

You certainly won't hear alarm from the Washington Post, which has given up any coverage of the team. The HOYA doesn't post a story until the following Friday, well into the past tense. While the Georgetown Voice usually has a story up by Monday, it's straightforward and without little outward criticism.

This team has dropped four straight, six straight to Ivy League schools, 12 of its last 14 and 20 of its last 22. It doesn't mean people aren't trying hard, but numbers are numbers. This isn't a very good program right now.

And sometimes, the best view of the program comes from within.

And that's what makes James Franklin's press conference at Penn State, following a loss at home to #4 Ohio State Saturday night. Following a few minutes of coach speak on a game where PSU lost a two touchdown lead before a record crowd of 110,989, Franklin changed the tone and minced no words on what ails his team.

"The reality is that we’ve gone from an average football team to a good football team to a great football team and we’ve worked really hard to do those things. But we’re not an elite football team yet." he said. "As hard as we have worked to go from average to good, from good to great, the work that it’s going to take to get to an elite program is going to be just as hard as the ground and the distance that we’ve already traveled. It’s going to be just as hard to get there. Scratch and claw and fight. "

"Right now we’re comfortable being great. I’m going to make sure that everybody in my program, including myself, is very uncomfortable. Because you only grow in life when you’re uncomfortable."

The comment got trashed by SEC guru Paul Finebaum, who opined that " James Franklin is a very good football coach. He’s not a great football coach, nor is Penn State a great program, it’s very good and trying to get to that level." Apparently, only Ohio State and the top three or four  SEC schools are worthy of the title.

Franklin continued: "You make that up by the little things. By going to class consistently so the coaches don’t have to baby sit you and we can spend our time developing you as men and as people and as players and not be babysitting everything. And don’t get me wrong, our guys do a great job going to class but there’s two or three guys, it’s all the little things. It’s all the little things that are going to matter and we are going to find a way to get from being a great program – which we are – just so everybody is crystal clear, we are a great program. We lost to an elite program, and we’re that close."

"We’ve gotten comfortable being great. We will no longer be comfortable being great."

So, the question as we head into October: is Georgetown comfortable where they are?

Let's be honest among ourselves--are we as a constituency comfortable being a ineffective program, one that is routinely beaten by opponents not named Marist College, one which gives best effort but still loses nearly every week over the last three seasons?

Those losses aren't coming to Syracuse or Boston College, Army or Navy,, nor are they coming to North Dakota State and James Madison. They are coming amidst a cohort of lower tier I-AA schools that put many of the same constraints on their programs but still show their regular expertise over Georgetown. Saturday's opponent was picked for last in the Ivy league, had dropped nine consecutive games...and still was up by 21 at the half.

""We’re going to learn from this, we’re going to grow from this and we’re going to find a way to take that next step as a program because we’ve been knocking at the door long enough," Franklin continued. "It’s my job as a head coach. I’m ultimately responsible for all of it. And I will find a way, we will find a way, with all the support of everybody in this community and everybody on this campus and the lettermen and everybody else, we are going to get this done. I give you my word. We are going to find a way to take the next step."

Much like Franklin's quote above, Georgetown does the little things right. No one questions the institutional commitment off the field in academics, in leadership training, in the process to grow as men for others, and to do well in life by doing good. That's not the immediate challenge right now.  No one will accuse Georgetown of being the kind of program Penn State is, and that fine, because it isn't. But we do need a commitment across the board to take Franklin's challenge to heart in Washington. Let's revisit this paragraph:

We’re going to learn from this, we’re going to grow from this and we’re going to find a way to take that next step as a program because we’ve been knocking at the door long enough. It’s my job as a head coach. I’m ultimately responsible for all of it. And I will find a way, we will find a way, with all the support of everybody in this community and everybody on this campus and the lettermen and everybody else, we are going to get this done. I give you my word. We are going to find a way to take the next step."