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.

As well as the o-line played for Reed, Tavani said the guys “don’t come off the ball; they’re not knocking people off the ball; they’re catching blocks instead of coming off the ball.” The running game definitely has been a point of emphasis for o-line coach Stan Clayton, and perhaps if these five guys can get some continuity, things will improve. Tavani made it clear that he’s not turning away from his first love: running the ball.

Aside from a 19-yard run by Kyle Mayfield and an 18-yarder by Reed, Lafayette's longest gain was four yards. There were 14 plays that were for negative yards or no gain.  Making something worthwhile out of that will take some extra work.

“”We’re playing hard, and that’s our saving grace,” Tavani said. “They’re playing their butts off to the end, but they’ve been coming up short. Frustration mounts, but you can’t let it crack your armor. We have to keep going.”


Freshmen Tre Jordan, the former Notre Dame-Green Pond quarterback turned defensive back, and Eric Mitchell  of Martinsburg, W.Va., made their first starts on Saturday “and actually played pretty well; they just need game experience,” Tavani said. Jordan had six tackles, Mitchell four. “They were very competitive the week before,” Tavani said. Izaiah Avent, who started the first two games, didn’t play Saturday night. … We finally got a look at frosh Demetrius Breedlove, who had one tackle in a backup role. “He keeps tweaking an ankle in practice and that’s not letting him get to 100 percent, but he’s going to be a great player,” Tavani said … Freshman Yasir Thomas has yet to show much on kickoff returns. He returned there for a total of 37 yards on Saturday night and doesn’t yet seem to be in stride. “That’s okay,” said Tavani, who added that “our kickoff return concerns me, as well as our kickoff coverage. They are field-position changing things.” Jacob Bissell put his first three kickoffs Saturday night into the end zone, and the longest return on one of his other kicks was 26 yards. … Tim Vangelas was praised for his punt-return work. He handled every ball that came his way, and Tavani said, “He’s the only guy since preseason who hasn’t dropped a ball; the rest take their turns by the day.” He missed five games last year because of injury. He made his first three catches of 2016 Saturday from his wide receiver slot, and that’s another positive sign. He has 63 career catches. … Running back DeSean Brown didn’t dress on Saturday and Tavani didn’t say anything about his availability for this week’s game. The longest run of the game at Princeton came from Kyle Mayfield. He’s the biggest back at 6-2, 225, and if the coaches look toward a more traditional running scheme, he could get more action. He also scored his first career touchdown on Saturday on a nice four-yard dive in the first quarter. He finished with 15 carries, boosting his season total to 27. He had 31 all of last year. … Punter Ryan Forrester continued to boom the ball, averaging 47 yards per kick on five boots – one a 64-yarder. … The Leopards came through the game without any serious injuries, Tavani said. He added that for the first time this year, he had leftovers from his six dozen Easton Baking Company doughnuts. I’m sure the staff appreciated the chance to finish them off. Tavani says he hasn’t had one yet this year. … Tavani said that the film of the game clearly showed that, on  the play on which linebacker Brandon Bryant was flagged for a personal foul after a third-down stop that would have forced a Princeton punt, a player was pushed into Bryant by another Tiger player.  “But they didn’t see it.” But the coach also said that the Leopards’ overall tackling game “was our poorest of the season. We just didn’t tackle well.”


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