Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Lafayette-Holy Cross: a midweek notebook.

Some things to think about as Lafayette and  Holy Cross get set to open the Patriot League season at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in Fisher Stadium.

PETER PUJALS – Will the talented senior quarterback be playing on Saturday for Holy Cross after being hurt against Dartmouth?  Coach Tom Gilmore was non-committal on Tuesday but referred to Pujals’ injury as “lower leg.” Pujals threw for 358 yards and six TDs last year against Lafayette; he threw for just 135, but also ran for 115 in 2014, and he threw for 222 and ran for 55 as a freshman. He has thrown for 1,110 yards and 10 touchdowns this year and been intercepted five times in 175 throws. He was on crutches with his one foot in a boot in the second half on Saturday and said after the game there was no break. He will assuredly not be 100 percent if he is able to play at all on Saturday.

Lafayette Coach Frank Tavani said his team is practicing as though Pujals will play. Then he said, “I hope he does play. Once he plays one play in this game, the fifth of the season, it negates the possibility of seeing him again next year. There’s always an upside. He’s an outstanding player, and he’s doing great things. You want to play people at their strength, but they put a severe spanking on us a year ago when we were as depleted as any team I’ve ever been around and everybody knew it. They knew it. We were down 42-0 and blitzes were still coming. That’s a little bit of interesting  motivation. We’ll be back. This is an entirely different game. We haven’t focused on last year.”

BRENDAN FLAHERTY – The Crusader receiver came to last year’s Lafayette game with 56 catches in six games and six TDs.  He torched the Leopards’ defense with seven catches for 95 yards and four touchdowns – including the last three of the game. This season, he had only 12 catches in the three games for 120 yards and one touchdown.   He didn’t play against Albany and he caught only one pass against New Hampshire – on the first play of the game. Can’t afford to lose sight of him on Saturday.

I asked Coach Tavani if playing against an obviously injured Pujals or a backup with a lot less experience, the Leopards' defensive strategy might including going with more blitzes than normal. He said, As our defensive staff does every week, you want to have your defensive package to defend what you're seeing on film and what they're giving you. You start zeroing in like, oh, he's not going to play so we're going to do this, even the backup we saw last year is a very athletic kid. He apparently has a hamstring issue or something and the third guy they list now, we don't have any idea. So we're not going to see a whole lot of different plays. They may try to run the ball a little bit more or, who knows. They have a very experienced offensive line so that's a real plus ... you don't necessarily have to have this great guy at the helm if your o- and d-line are solid and playing, then you have a running game and a defense that's getting it done. That puts a little less pressure on the guy, so I'm sure there'll be more emphasis on the o-line protecting whomever, if that's the case. We have to be prepared to go as if he's playing and that's the way we'll prepare."

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Two-point play call, bogus penalty and more Leopard stuff

Frank Tavani has made a big deal this year about the E.A.A.T. slogan adopted by his football team. Effort. Attitude. Accountability. Toughness.

Well, on Tuesday, he practiced what he’s been preaching.

The head coach took full accountability for the no-call in Saturday night’s game at Princeton, when his Leopards scored a fourth-touchdown to pull within four points at 35-31.

It’s a pretty good bet that almost everyone in Princeton Stadium was sure the Leopards would go for a two-point conversion to pull within three, hoping to then get a defensive stop and perhaps have another opportunity to drive for either a winning touchdown or a tying field goal.

The call for the two-point attempt never was given. Lafayette wound up losing 35-31.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Lafayette-Princeton: Cleaning the notebook

Lafayette's Rocco Palumbo goes up for one of his five catches against Princeton.
Photo courtesy of Lafayette College.
I’m not sure what Frank Tavani meant when he said Sunday, “We’ll take a closer look at what it is we can do,” but I have to think that the Lafayette running game may be in for even more attention this week after the third straight game in which it lagged well behind in its production.

But when I brought up the well-documented fact that the style of his day – quarterback under center, a traditional blocking fullback and two halfbacks – has become almost yesterday’s news on the college scene, replaced by the shotgun, pistol, run-and-shoot, spreads, he said, “Yeah, the game is completely different; (Jon) Gruden and I talked about this all the time. It’s fastbreak football. High scoring. You’ve got to be pretty good at it and be willing to put your quarterback up for a lot of hits.”

Tavani said he had 25 to 30 carries a game every week in his day,  and much of that was tough, inside, football. “We do some (QB under-center), depending on situations. Defenses are moving around all over the place now; they’re more athletic, and people are more than willing to commit more players to the box (to stop the run). It was a big deal when you put six or seven in the box, now you see eight, nine, sometimes even 10 with a safety in the middle of the field. You have to be pretty big, fast, strong. Nobody has a steamroller; everybody spreads people out to create space in there.”

Fifth-year senior Nick Zataveski  (6-6, 300) was back in the starting lineup on Saturday night, and the offensive line, which included Cam Smith (65, 310), Connor Staudle (6-6, 320), Kevin Zataveski (6-4, 300) and Logan Grieser (6-3, 310) did a pretty good job in the passing game. Giving Drew Reed a chance to thrown downfield to Matt Mrazek, Nick Palumbo, Joey Chenoweth and Dylan Wadsworth. Mrazek had a 41-yard play and a 24-yard touchdown. Palumbo had a 35-yarder and Chenoweth a 31-yarder in separate scoring drives. Palumbo, who Tavani said “stepped it up and is gaining confidence” had a career-high 101 yards on five receptions.  He had only three catches in the first two games, and adding him to the mix could be huge as the season progresses. He had 34 catches last year but reportedly had an unspectacular training camp.  He was spectacular on Saturday.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Leftovers from Lafayette's football media lunch

Some quick shots from Tuesday’s media luncheon:

THE NUMBERS GAME -- We had Princeton Coach Bob Surace on a conference call, and I asked him how many players the Tigers would have in uniform on Saturday for the game against Lafayette. He said "probably everybody who's healthy ... about 100." The Ivies can bring in as many as 32 players a year, which would give them a four-year roster of 128. Lafayette may have about half that many in uniform on Saturday. Coach Frank Tavani has always said that in the days of need-based recruiting at Lafayette, he never won a personnel battle from an Ivy school. Although everyone had to use the same figures to determine "need," he has said, the Ivies somehow always managed to be able to provide more. Take a look at the Princeton roster. Double numbers galore. "But they can only play 11 at a time," Tavani said.

THE "OPENER" QUESTION -- Coach Surace said he'd "rather play two games" than have to open the season against a team that has already played twice. He said Princeton didn't begin preseason camp until Aug. 24, which was two weeks later than Lafayette. He said there were a lot of double-session days and that the Tigers didn't have an outside scrimmage. He talked about the fact that teams often make the biggest improvement between their first and second games and that the improvement between the second and third game "is huge." He didn't talk about the element of surprise he has in his favor, but it's a major concern. “They’re going to line up in a lot of different looks, and they’ll have every blitz imaginable,” Tavani said of Princeton. “I’m sure we’re going to see something, as we do every year, that we haven’t seen. You have to make adjustments at halftime. Their young men already have (Lafayette’s) tendencies and know who they’re going to play. I look at (last year’s) film and don’t know who they’re playing. We know what we think we’re going to see. We just need to execute what we’re doing."   

TEMPO, TEMPO, TEMPO -- Coach Tavani said his defense is preparing for an 80-play game Saturday evening in Princeton Stadium. The Tigers play fast and give the fans their money’s worth. Last year, Princeton ran 45 running plays and 33 pass plays; in 2015, it was 37 runs and 55 passes and in 2012, it was 54 runs and 20 passes.  Lafayette will undoubtedly want to shorten the game, but if its running game is again ineffective, and if the Leopards don’t have a crisp short-pass attack in its place, the Tigers will control the tempo. That would not bode well for Lafayette.

Friday, September 9, 2016

"Dissa and Data:" Delaware at Lafayette football

Some 50 years ago, my father was involved in a bowling league for which he kept track of scores and wrote a short column. He called it “Dissa and Data.” He was very proud of that piece. He made me read it often. 

In honor of him, because he always said he wanted to have the kind of job I had at The Morning Call – even though he died before I got half way through my career, here’s some “Dissa and Data” about the Lafayette-Delaware football game.

It must be nice to have the  luxury of pulling aside a kid who last year rushed for 795 yards and telling him, basically,  sit it out, son, we’re red-shirting you for 2016. No questions asked.

If I were Kareem Williams, I don’t know how thrilled I’d be at the thought of such a thing, but that’s what’s happening.  The former Parkland High School star, who ran for 93 yards to lead the Blue Hens a year ago against Lafayette,  is not on the two-deep. And in the game notes, it is written, “is expected to red-shirt this season …”

Kevin Tresolini, a long-time friend who covers Delaware for the Wilmington News-Journal reminded me that Williams was supposed to red-shirt in 2015, but when Wes Hills was injured in the Blue Hens’ season opener, Williams suddenly became the next man in. So much for the red-shirt at that point.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Lafayette delivered lots of wishes in its CCSU win

Okay, so how did they do at fulfilling my wish list?

I asked the Lafayette football team for several  things in its season opener at Central Connecticut State. Lafayette won the game 24-10, and even though that was not among the items on my list (but I did pick the Leopards 30-21 in my game day box in The Morning Call), I take that as a bonus.

Let’s start with the good.

 I asked for “a four wide-receiver set” and mentioned four guys. We saw lots of four-wides on Friday night, and Joey Chenoweth got a team-high eight catches and Yasir Thomas had four in his Lafayette debut. And, do I really have to mention Matt Mrazek. He probably c0uld have caught twice as many passes against the Blue Devils. – Four stars for the ‘Pards.

I asked for “no presnap penalties.” I really didn’t think this was a reasonable expectation, but Coach Stan Clayton’s guys delivered. Even Logan Grieser managed to hold his position in his first collegiate game. The line may not have had the game every Lafayette fan would like to see, but with Nick Zataveski and Jake Marotti, both tackles, injured, the’ll give the guys a pass. Don’t be surprised if Kevin Zataveski is moved from center to tackle (his position last year) and Mike Donnelly is moved from tackle to center (a more comfortable position) for Saturday night’s game against Delaware. The line gave up three sacks and Lafayette had far too many plays of no gain or negative yards – 16 to be exact. But they never stopped battling against a defensive front that had a good bit of experience. – Four stars for the ‘Pards on the initial request.

I asked for “the ‘old’ Drew Reed.” For the most part, I really liked what I saw – especially on those three touchdown passes. He threw to eight different receivers and five of them had at least one reception of 20 yards or more. Nice to see him go five times to TE Dylan Wadsworth because I think that as other teams scheme to limit Mrazek, Wadsworth will become a more serious weapon. I don’t think any of the sacks was from slow decision-making, but I do admit I left the game wondering if we’re going to see Reed take off and run himself. Lafayette will be happy if Reed has more 31-for-42 games with no interceptions. – Four stars for the ‘Pards.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A scouting report on the CCSU Blue Devils

When Central Connecticut State football coach Pete Rossomando was on a teleconference with Lehigh Valley media earlier in the week, he was asked by Brad Wilson of the Express-Times to give us a couple of players to watch.

His offensive choice was junior running back Cameron Nash, who isn’t even listed as a starter for the Blue Devils. Nash is the leading returning among the backs, having rushed for 676 yards and caught passes for another 218. His home town is listed as Smyrna, Del., but he played high school football at New Smyrna High. He started out and red-shirted at West Virginia but transferred to CCSU. Last season was his first with the Blue Devils. He ran 73 yards for one touchdown and was on the receiving end of an 84-yard TD pass play, so the Leopards will have to be keyed on him. Rossomando called him “a really special type of running back.”

For a defensive pick, Rossomando gave us junior strong safety Najae Brown. Brown also is a big-timer who had 88 tackles, ran back an interception 39 yards for a touchdown and also had a 95-yard kickoff return TD in 2015. Rossomando called Brown “a pretty good player … hie was as good as they came last year.”

Ironically, Rossomando didn’t cite Asia Bolling, the Devils’ 6-3, 210-pound senior defensive end. Bolling is definitely a disrupter. The stats we received in the game notes indicate that he had 64 tackles, ranking fifth on the team, but 22 of them were for losses. He also had a team leading seven quarterback sacks. But on the college website, the stats show he had 14.5 TFLs and 4.5 sacks. That's a pretty significant difference, but ee figures to be a handful for the Leopards’ offensive line. I'll be checking with the sports information people about which numbers are correct.