"Georgetown - with a combined 5-38 record since head coach Kevin Kelly took over the program in 2006 is now sitting atop the Patriot League with a 3-1 record and a 2-0 record in Patriot League play, thanks to their defensive-minded 17-7 victory over Holy Cross this weekend," I wrote in the last weekend in September.
What a difference a month makes.
The Hoyas' extremely promising 3-1 start in September turned into a winless October - and a 3-6 record. The whispers that "this Hoya team is different" were silenced, as Georgetown returned to what they had done an awful lot in the last nine years - lose football games.
But for the Hoyas, a good part of their frustration this season could be overturned if they manage to beat Lehigh. It won't just be for pride, or even just the Hoyas' tiny senior football class - they could also stay alive in the race for their first-ever playoff appearance, too. (more)
“There’s no excuse, we just got our ass beat that day, plain and simple,” Hoya head coach Kevin Kelly told the Georgetown Voice in a piece titled, "Sun Sets Early on Football".
He was talking about a 34-3 manhandling at the hands of Colgate that was over early and seemed, in retrospect, to put this Georgetown team into a tailspin they have yet to emerge from.
The stats from that game, indeed are ugly. Six first downs. 2 for 10 on third-down conversions. 113 total yards.
But being outclassed by Colgate doesn't explain the heart-wrenching losses that followed.
Against Wagner, the Hoyas held a ten point lead with eight minutes to go in the game, and had just downed a punt at the Seahawk 12 yard line. But a drive leading to a touchdown from Wagner QB Nick Doscher and a late interception led to a game-typing FG and overtime - and an interception there, too, in overtime would give the Seahawks a victory that almost surely should have been Georgetown's.
Hoya October had a bunch of winnable games - that seemed to turn on turnovers, or just simply an inability to close out close games. The late interception return for touchdown that ultimately was the difference in the 24-21 loss to Bucknell. The 10-0 lead that led to 33 unanswered points against Sacred Heart. The late comeback that was stopped in their bid for a win vs. Fordham, 24-19.
Now, Georgetown finds themselves trying to learn how to win - and if they re-learn how to win in this game this weekend, at this time, it would provide a boatload of benefits for the Hoya program going forward. Forget the playoff stuff and a possible co-championship for a minute - though they are definitely in the running for that - how about just getting to the four-win threshold for the first time since 2005, and three wins in Patriot League play for the first time in their history? A win this weekend would give Georgetown players and fans serious hope for next year, if nothing else - and a shot at the title if things go right next weekend. That's a really good deal in Hoyaland, where Patriot League title hopes have usually been dashed by early September.
But Lehigh could also be seen as the diametric opposite of Georgetown right now, immensely enjoying a five game winning streak at the same time the Hoyas have been excruciated by their five game slide.
In years past, the Georgetown game has never been circled on Lehigh's schedule as a crucial game. Start with the fact that Lehigh has won all nine games against the Hoyas in the modern era, never giving up more than 24 points and never scoring fewer than 27 points in any single game.
But to the players' and coaches' immense credit this week, they seem to grasp the importance of this game. It's not just about removing the "co-" from the Patriot League Champions label that they have already earned. It's about the excitement of making the playoffs. It's about finishing out the frustrating path to this championship that started, for some of them, four years ago and three losing seasons ago.
A loss here opens up all sorts of doors for other schools to win a share of the Patriot League - they want to shut the door once and for all. Period. Now. This weekend.
"It was a great win for us today but we haven't accomplished our goal yet," senior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn said this week to the Brown & White. "To beat a team for the first time in four years, as well as the defending champion, is a great feeling but our goal is to be outright champions and make a run in playoffs. Therefore, all attention turns to Georgetown tomorrow after film because they are the next opponent in the way of our goal.
"It would mean a lot for this team to win the Patriot League title outright because of all of the hard work and dedication we have put into this team," Zurn said. "It would be an amazing accomplishment for all of the seniors on this team who have battled through all of the adversity and close loses throughout the past four years and never gave up but rather continued to work harder to become champions."
Keith Groller of the Morning Call also found a bunch of players at Lehigh's media day eager to win this weekend. "We're going to stay focused and won't overlook them," senior OL Will "Got Your Back" Rackley said. "They have some great athletes on their team, but we're going to go down there and take care of business. We know what's at stake. We've come too far."
Senior NG Billy Dokouslis agreed as well, saying, "This has been a long time for all of the players, but especially the seniors. We know what's on the line. It's about a league title and a berth in the playoffs, something that hasn't happened here for a long time. Georgetown will be gunning for us and they'd love to spoil our chances. They will be a challenge, but we just need to play the way we're capable of playing."
Quotes like this don't come from a team that is overlooking it's opposition. It comes from a team that is hungry.
They are hungry to leave Lehigh football as winners. Sole winners. A playoff team.
The game notes only have one small change to them: freshman FB Sean Farrell is now second on the depth chart, as he's nursing an injury. Starting this week, and the fullback most likely to get the bulk of playing time, is junior FB Bryce Arruda, now completely back from injury. Senior OL Keith Schauder is still not back on the depth chart, but senior OL R.J. McNamara has filled in exceptionally for him and will start for the fourth straight game on the "O" line.
Another picture-perfect weekend is in the offing, with a high of 66 in the District and abundant sunshine. It should be a fantastic weekend to hop on a bus to see a Lehigh victory in DC.
A Word on Georgetown
While schools like Fordham and Lafayette were grabbing players from Hofstra as the Pride shockingly pulled the plug on their football program last year, Georgetown was going after bigger fish: David Patenaude, Hofstra's offensive coordinator and one-time assistant coach at Holy Cross.
There's no denying that Patenaude's presence has given a boost to a moribund unit that was ranked 117th out of 120 FCS programs last year. (If you add in programs that were transitioning to FCS last year, the numbers were even worse.) Patenaude has clearly infused an energy into their offense that has been lacking for several seasons.
"The great thing that I told these guys when we first got here is that there is going to be at least three of you guys on the field, maybe four, and we're going to throw it 40 times a game," Patenaude told Georgetown Athletics. "Those guys did the math and realized there are a lot of opportunities for everyone. They have all stepped up, they all have a great understanding of what they're doing and will be in a position to make plays."
“We started from ground zero when we first got here,” Patenaude told the student newspaper, The Hoya. “We instituted a new system in the spring — brand new terminology, philosophy. The guys have done a really good job of what we’re trying to do, buying into the system, and now we’re starting to see the fruit of their labor.”
"The early word from practices suggests that Patenaude's experience with CAA offensive sets (a conference which, after all, has produced four national champions in the last seven years) will open up the Georgetown play book and make it a little harder for the Lafayettes and Lehighs of the world to drop eight in the box and kick sand in the Hoyas' offensive sets," DFW Hoya wrote this year on the Hoya Saxa blog.
LFN's Drink of the Week
Poking around the different places to eat and drink around the District, the posh choice of beverage seems to be an odd choice: Peroni Beer. "Brewed in Italy to the original recipe since 1963, Peroni Nastro Azzurro exemplifies the traditions of Italian craftsmanship, passion and flair." Seeing as Lehigh will need craftsmanship, flair, and passion to win this Saturday, despite the fact that this beer is neither Pennsylvanian or German, it seems apropos for this weekend.
As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you behave yourself, don't get behind the wheel while impaired (or worse), and are over 21. Please do that. (And, fine folks at Peroni? My February calendar is wide-open for an all-expenses paid visit to Italy. Call me.)
Breaking Down the Hoyas
(Note: Georgetown did not release their game notes yet for this week, so this information is based on my own research. It may or may not be totally accurate.)
Patenaude has indeed brought a quick-set, no-huddle, fast-break type offense to the Hoyas, which is a change to the spread option they ran years ago and an offense that seemed to grasp for strategy week to week in other years. It's similar to a multitude of teams Lehigh has faced this year, however - notably, Princeton - so it's nothing that the Mountain Hawks won't be familiar with. It's an spread-the-wealth pass-happy approach that has made what was once a laughingstock of an offense to one that moves the ball much better.
The Hoyas split time at QB with junior QB Scott Darby and sophomore QB Isaiah Kempf. Darby was the sole starter in their 3-1 start, while Kempf came in during the Colgate blowout and has shared time with Darby leading the offense of late. Both are tall signalcallers, with Darby having good escapability and running skill - against Holy Cross, he had 100 yards rushing, for example.
The QB situation seems to have evolved into a position where both players are about 50/50 in terms of time under center, with one QB (Kempf) more accurate through the air, and another (Darby) more of a threat to take off with the ball. Both will spread the ball around on offense, rarely going to the same well very often.
The best athlete on the field for Georgetown is their great slotback - senior WR Keerome Lawrence - who is a 6'1, 210 lb problem for defensive coordinators. He's a threat to run at any time (96 yards, 1 TD), and leads the Hoyas in receptions (394 yards, 1 TD). He touches the ball about 11-12 times a game, and needs to be accounted for at all times.
Junior WR John O'Leary (206 yards, 5 TDs) and backup slot sophomore WR Max Waizenneger (234 yards, 2 TDs) have developed into solid receiving threats, and they can't be keyed on since their offense spreads things around so well. Junior WR Jeremiah Kayal (100 yards), sophomore WR Kenneth Forlough (72 yards), Freshman WR Patrick Ryan (231 yards, 1 TD) and sophomore WR Jeff Burke (179 yards, 1 TD) have also gotten plenty of action catching passes in the backfield as well. While they catch a lot of balls, only Lawrence seems to have true breakaway speed in this unit so far.
The Hoyas rush a lot with the quarterback, but have a running game by committee otherwise. Senior RB Phillip Oladeji (312 yards, 3 TDs) is their leading rusher, and has been getting more touches off of screens lately, and junior RB Chancellor Logan (200 yards rushing, 1 TD) has also been mixed into the running game and also been a target in the passing game as well. Last week, Logan did not suit up, and freshman RB Dalen Claytor got eleven touches of the ball in his place. The backs' main positive is their versatility - they all can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Senior OL Dan Semler is the "old man" on their "O" line - which has gotten bigger than in recent years, but still averages ten pounds less that Lehigh's hogs in the trench. They've already given up 24 sacks on the season so far - well over two a game. Against better defenses - and they will probably do this Saturday - they will probably keep a tight end back to block too, in this case junior TE Matthew McIntyre.
The Hoyas' calling card has been an above-average defense, and the 3-4 unit they have on the field this year features some exceptional players. One such player is on their defensive line, and is making a very big play for first team all-Patriot League this year and might even be the Defensive Player of the Year.
Junior DE Andrew Schaetzke, despite being an obvious focal point on Georgetown's defense, has still fought through the double-teams for 47 tackles, 10 1/2 tackles for loss including 5 1/2 sacks, and even returned an interception for a touchdown, recovered a fumble and blocked a kick. He's a speedy player who gets off the line fast, and will be a challenge for Lehigh's offensive line to neutralize. Senior NG George Cullen is a 290 lb behemoth that plugs the interior well - he's can neutralize interior runs.
The Hoyas also have two strong linebackers that amass a lot of tackles: senior LB Nick Parrish (75 tackles) and sophomore LB Robert McCabe (72 tackles, 1 INT). This is a pretty good front seven overall - though, like Holy Cross, they have a tendency to sit back and not get burned by big plays rather than play extra aggressive.
Junior CB Jayah Kaisambah has been a ballhawk (47 tackles, 5 INTs) and has really helped the Hoyas establish themselves as a solid defensive unit. Sophomore CB Jeremy Moore (8 passes defended) also form a solid corner on the other side, while the enforcer, senior SS Wayne Hemuli (61 tackles) and junior FS David Quintero (51 tackles, 5 passes defended) form a solid, quick secondary.
Sophomore CB Jeremy Moore doubles as a kickoff returner - one of the Patriot League's and nation's best, actually, with an average of 29.17 per return, and one brought back vs. Yale for a TD earlier in the year. Freshman WR Zack Wilke is also an above-average return man, averaging 7 yards per punt return as well. Their return units can be trouble, so they should be a point of emphasis.
Junior PK Brett Weiss has been solid this season, converting 20 of 22 extra points and 7 of 9 FG attempts (but both misses came in big losses against Wagner and Fordham). Freshman P Matt MacZura has averaged about 35 yards per punt, which is below average in the Patriot League this year.
LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Don't Play Not To Lose. The temptation is to play a conservative game here, to just say "hey, they're Georgetown, and we're Lehigh," but you have to go with what got you here - namely, an aggressive, blitzing defense that has hammered opposing offenses. Lehigh will win this game if they play Lehigh football, and that should be the gameplan.
2. Spread the Love. Junior QB Chris Lum has done a great job spreading the wealth around to different players, and he should continue. I'd still go aggressive with the passing game, and keep mixing it to the different players, including senior RB Jay Campbell.
3. Who's Return Game Is Boss? The Hoya return units are really good, but Lehigh's can be even better. If Lehigh can grab some big momentum from a punt or kickoff returned for touchdown senior PR/CB Jarard "Main Man" Cribbs or senior KR/CB John "Prez" Kennedy, that would be huge.
It has never been closer than this moment for these seniors. One more game to get the outright championship. To get to the postseason, just like in the days "when we were a powerhouse", Rackley said in the official pregame interview.
I've been extremely impressed by the level of focus of this team, from the postgame interviews at Holy Cross to media day this week. I'm not sitting there in the practices, but I definitely get the impression that this coaching staff and these kids really, really get it. There was no celebration on Saturday, even when it was near-certain that they were going to be co-champions of the Patriot League no matter what happens. There hasn't been a word about championships at all this week. It's been all Georgetown, all the time.
If the level of focus on Georgetown is what I think it is, it's going to be an awfully happy trip this Saturday back from the District of Columbia.
Lehigh 35, Georgetown 10