Thursday, August 25, 2011

Know Your 2011 Opponents: Georgetown

(Photo Credit: John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

I don't make it a habit to read the Casual Hoya blog, whose main focus is their Big East-playing, fisticuffs-in-China-flying, men's basketball team.

But when he had his version of a prediction of the Hoya football season, I couldn't help but laugh out loud.

Here's something else that isn't a laughing matter: the Hoyas are a far cry from the sad sack team that went 0-11 in 2009.  They will win more Patriot League games this year.  And if the cards fall right, they could find themselves in November once again fighting for a Patriot League championship. (more)

First, though, here's the priceless prediction by Casual Hoya:

September 3 - Davidson. The Hoyas start the season off with a resounding 13-7 victory, avenging 2008.
September 10 - Lafayette. The Hoyas upset the Leopards 7-6 in a hard fought, NFC North style battle.
September 17 - @Yale. If your school is part of our fight song, you are losing to us. 24-13 WIN
September 24 - @Marist. Marist? More like EMBARRASSED. 17-7 WIN
October 1 - @Bucknell. Bucknell? More like SUCKnell. 13-3 WIN
October 8 - @Wagner. Wagner? More like GAGner. 21-13 WIN
October 15 - Howard. 20-7 Hoyas in another resplendent rendition of the Derby in the District
October 22 - Colgate. If your school is named after a toothpaste, not happening. Hoyas 27, Toothpastes 10
October 29 - @Holy Cross. Also part of our fight song, also losers this year. 16-7 WIN
November 5 - Fordham. Fordham? More like BOREDOM. 28-6 WIN
November 12 - @Lehigh. With a trip to the BCS Championship on the line, the Hoyas outlast Lehigh 10-7.
January 9 - BCS Championship in New Orleans. The Hoyas outgun Oklahoma 49-48 to win it all.

(Admit it. You liked the idea that Lehigh was hosting Georgetown for a BCS National Championship spot.)

As hilarious as this refreshingly ill-researched piece of homer reporting was, it actually does show something: something is lurking around the District that hasn't been around in quite some time: optimism.

"There is a lot of optimism and the bar has been raised for our program," head coach Kevin Kelly mentioned in his first note on the 2011 football season. "as the hard work put forth by our coaching staff and student-athletes has begun to show on the field. Two years ago, we had a real tough year, last season we won four games and this year we hope to double it or more. Our goal is now to win the Patriot League and bring a title back to the Hilltop for the Georgetown football family."

This is not an unrealistic goal. Last year, the Hoyas were leading Lehigh at half before the Mountain Hawks rallied to win 24-7. Had they won their last to games, and Lehigh lost theirs, they would have been the team to travel to Northern Iowa, not Lehigh.

"We're very optimistic about our defense," Kelly continues. "We have nine starters back, we lose two of our inside linebackers, but we have some young linebackers that will fill the void and Dan Lenihan, a starter on the defensive line in 2009, will return. Senior DE Andrew Schaetzke is the guy we're going to rally around. In my opinion he is the best defensive player in the Patriot League, teams have to scheme for him from week-to-week."

Guess what? He's right. I voted for Schaetzke on my preseason All-America ballot, and he deserves every bit of the praise thrown his way. Of his 15 tackles for loss in 2010 (including 10 sacks), two came against Lehigh last November, and it didn't even come halfway towards explaining the disruptive force he was in that game.

It was also clear at Patriot League Media day, where I interviewed two members of the Hoya defense, senior SS Wayne Hemuli and senior CB Jayah Kasimbah, that optimism abounds in this 3-4, multiple 3-3-5 defense which returns nine starters.

Hemuli and Kasimbah - whose high schools in Texas were actually crosstown rivals, and were recruited on the same recruiting trip - are most certainly great athletes. Kasimbah, with 69 tackles and 5 interceptions, is one of the better corners in the Patriot League, and Hemuli, who notched 66 tackles and is the hard-working leader of the defense, make for duo that was hard to miss on media day.

"Last year was definitely not what we wanted (1 4-7 record)," Kasimbah told me, "but it was nice to go 3-1 and that everybody got excited. But we lost a couple of games in the middle of the season that were a disappointment, given the way we started. I've been working on my speed, diong a lot of agility things to get faster."

"We're just trying to build a tradition here at Georgetown," Hemuli added. "Everyone knows on the East Coast knows Georgetown for basketball, and we're tyring to bring back football tradition to the school, get everybody excited about it, and hopefully we'll win a championship. I've been working on reaction speed, and overall speed, this offseason.

"We have a saying, it's 'one man, one job.' It's focused on you. You play your position, the linebackers do what they need to do, the defensive line does what they need to do, and the secondary does what they need to do, and everything falls in line."

That Georgetown's secondary will be extremely solid in not at all in doubt. That the defensive line, anchored by Schaetzke, is also not in doubt. If there's any question about the solidity of Georgetown's defense, it's at linebacker: will junior LB Robert McCabe (84 tackles, 2 INTs) be able to anchor a linebacking unit that lost three productive seniors (LB Nick Parrish, LB Patrick O'Donnell, and LB Paul Sant'Ambrogio) to graduation?

If the linebacking unit comes together - and there's every indication that it will - the Hoyas defense will remain a top Patriot League unit in 2011.

*****

That the Hoya defense will shine is without question. But the fate of the Georgetown season will, as ever, rest on the production of the offense. And despite the improvement from last year, there are still plenty of question marks on a unit that ranked 97th nationally in total offense.

Coach Kelly all last year rotated his QB tandem - junior QB Isaiah Kempf and senior QB Scott Darby - and the prevailing opinion is that coach Kelly will do so again this year:

Sixth-year coach Kevin Kelly would not specify how he plans to divvy up playing time this fall — the Hoyas open the season at home Saturday against Davidson — but Darby and Kempf likely will receive ample playing time, as determined by the opponent, score and, of course, which quarterback is performing better.

“They’re both there,” said Kelly, whose Hoyas stumbled to a 4-7 record (2-4 in the Patriot League) last season after getting off to a 3-1 start.

“And that’s normal for us.”

“Coming out of the spring, we thought there might be a front runner but they kept going back and forth,” Kelly said. “It’s the same right now. Both will play. We can win with either one of them, so we’ll play it by ear and go from there. . . . As a defensive coach, it gives you two types of quarterbacks to contend with.”

Kelly also said he expects Darby and Kempf to be more efficient in directing the Hoyas’ run-and-shoot offense, installed last season by offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude. The scheme is predicated on the quarterback reading the defense at the line of scrimmage, then adjusting the play call accordingly.

“It’s a quarterback’s dream,” Darby said. “You have control over every aspect, from changing routes, changing the plays, getting yourself protected. That was definitely new for us last year. The overall comfort level and being able to take more responsibility with changing things around, that’s [going to be] the biggest” difference.

Kempf added: “Being our second year in the system, Scott and I know where we are going to go with the ball before the snap. Last year, there was a lot of guessing.”

When folks think of a run-and-shoot offense, they think of big passing numbers and big receiving numbers. And together, Kempf and 2,086 yards - not a bad number.

Many of their leading targets return, too, like junior TE Max Weizenegger (283 yards, 2 TDs), senior WR Patrick Ryan (273 yards, 1 TD) and junior WR Jeff Burke (183 yards, 1 TD).

But the dynamic duo still didn't find the end zone often enough to win more games, (15 TDs), and with aa rushing attack that features 5'8, 180 lb senior RB Chancellor Logan (232 yards rushing, 110 receiving yards, 1 TD), there wasn't a lot of power rushing to take some pressure off the passing game, either.

Still, with eight starters returning, it's fair to speculate that the Hoyas will be just that more comfortable in offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude's offense and thus have the potential to have a bigger season offensively.

*****

The Hoyas should surprise no one. They will win Patriot League games this year - their defense is too good for that. Whether they will translate that into title contention largely rests in the hands of the offense - which could very easily happen.

“No question,” Kelly said on the blog of the student newspaper, “their execution [on offense] is far more advanced than they were at this point last year.”

That should concern the Hoyas Patriot League opponents.

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