Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Dissa & Data: Talking Leopards at the lunch table


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DISSA AND DATA -- Chewing on some stuff from Tuesday’s weekly football media luncheon:

THE RUNNING GAME – Asked about the problems with the running game, Coach Frank Tavani said, “I think there are a variety of issues. Some of it falls on us (coaches). You’ve got to have some patience with it and got to keep doing things. Don’t just run a play and then, if it doesn’t work, that you don’t call it again. Obviously, we’ve shown great ability to throw the ball, but also have shown that’s not getting it done. Some of it has been with the backs, some with the line. As soon as you mold the group together, then you have missing parts up front and they’re trying to regroup. I can say some is on us as well as far as emphasis in practice and following through with what you practice and getting those things called in the game and not to get impatient and move away from it. It’s a two-way street I’m evaluating it heavily.

THE DEFENSE & FRESHMEN – The woes of the defensive unit the past two games have been well chronicled, and when Coach Tavani was asked about the problem Tuesday, he said, “Too many young kids out there. That’s the bottom line. That’s not an excuse. Too many freshmen. In the secondary, they’re making some mistakes, but they’re going to be very, very good. I had individual interviews with all our freshmen, completed them just this morning. We’ve used quite a few young people. Anybody who loses arguably the best linebacker (Brandon Bryant) in the conference, that’s a hole in your defense. Say what you want, but I’d like to Nick Saban lose his best defensive linebackers and see what happens to his defense. We are missing his play and his leadership and and how much he cares. He’s on the sideline on crutches and he’s burned up like he had played.” For the record, freshman Demetrius Breedlove very quietly made his first career start last Saturday. He has nine tackles for the year. Other freshmen who have at least one tackle include Eric Mitchell (24), Dante Lonardo (freshman eligibility, 15), Tre Jordan (10)J, Colin Thorne (3), Strasburger (3), Kevin Hutchinson (3), Nick Pearson (3), Dmitry Smith (3), Mike Dunn (1), Yasir Thomas (1).  

PERSONNEL --  When he was asked about running back Tyler West, Coach Tavani said, “He’s been out with a hamstring pull. He was in blue (no contact) yesterday and still didn’t look 100 percent. He pulled his hamstring two weeks ago in special teams practice, and at this time of year, that’s not taking care of yourself. A soft tissue injury means you’re not hydrating properly and taking care of yourself.” (West and) Tommy Strasburger, a freshman who Tavani said “showed potential to help us at safety, where we could use help,” were hurt in the same practice, same injury, and Strasburger is still out. Tavani also said freshman running back Mike Dunn had been moved to defense last week to prepare to play because he had played outside backer and safety in high school, “so it was pretty natural. But giving what we’re looking at because we don’t know C.J. Amill’s status for a couple of days with a hip pointer, Dunn was moved back to offense “and he’s one of the three backs we’re preparing to play in this football game.” Others would be DeSean Brown and Rajhan Meriwether, who had four carries in the last two series of the Army game.


LOGAN GRIESER – The sophomore offensive lineman was asked if the trouble the big guys have been having was a matter of making errors or a matter of scheme.”Right now, it’s that we have to finish blocks. There’s been a lot of times on film where we let up on our blocks too soon and that doesn’t give our backs enough time to read the holes and where everybody’s going (so they can) make their cuts. Also asked about the knee he injured against Holy Cross, Logan said “I’m ready to play.” In fact, he played on Saturday at Army. Grieser missed all of his freshman year becase, in the week of practice between Game 1 and Game 2 of 2015, he and linebacker Brandon Bryant had a collision. He got the worst of it. He didn’t practice again and wasn’t cleared to work out until near the end of the season. He said he used spring practice to get his confidence back and then used eight weeks of informal workouts in June and July to become accustomed to his o-line buddies. Logan said his high school had a “rich history of winning,” making the regional finals in Ohio in his junior and senior years. “Lafayette has had good success in past years and it’s disheartening how these seasons are going, but you have to try  and hopefully get back to winning,” Grieser said. NOTE: Grieser smiled broadly when I asked about his mother’s interest in social media. “That’s my mother; she’s good with that. She always keeps track; any little bit about Lafayette football, she’s on it right away.  If she sees something, it’s, ‘What happened here, is everything ok?’ She’s just checking in on what everything means. She’s a Leopard mom, very proud to be part of this group.” And he’s obviously very proud of her, too.

NICK FRANZESE --  Did you know that Franzese, who’s having the best year of his career at wide receiver, has experience as a kick returner for the Leopards? He was one of nine guys to return kickoffs in 2014, accumulating 61 yards on three returns. One of them was a 37-yarder. The Leopards haven’t had one that long all this season. That 37-yarder was against William & Mary.  “I feel great; I’m happy to finally be contributing in this offense,” Franzese said. “We have a great rotation going with me, Matt (Mrazek), Tim (Vangelas), Rocco (Palumbo), Joey (Chenoweth) and Yasir (Thomas). We have a bunch of playmakers on the outside and we’re happy to spreading the ball out to as many playmakers as possible.” Nick wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school, but “I knew Lafayette because my brother went here.” His brother, who graduated in 2014, was a member of the track and field team. “Coach Fein was a great connection I made and I felt at home when I got out here. Everything is going great.” Asked about the strength of the wide receiver group, he said, “We trust each other. We have a similar skill set, we’re all competitors” but that they are constantly cheering for one another during games. The Leopard quarterbacks have completed passes to 12 different receivers so far in 2016. Franzese has 12 catches, more than he had in his freshman and sophomore years combined. He has one touchdown. About new wide receivers coach Shane Ferguson, Franzese said: “I don’t want to say I wasn’t a blocker (before this season) because no one likes to say that, but with Coach Ferguson coming in this year it’s been a huge change for the wide receivers, the whole offense actually. The first thing he told us was we were going to be a physical wide receiver corps, block people, put ‘em on the ground and pick ‘em up afterwards. He’s been a great energy in the meeting room and on the field. We all want to listen to him and play for him.”

MATT MRAZEK – Coach Tavani was asked about how much the talented junior wide receiver might be needed on Saturday against Bucknell. “It’s very much like Bucknell. They’ve got their young man (senior Will Carter who has 32 catches for 470 yards and three TDs) that they’re going to him and we are going to Matt. But you can’t throw the ball to him every play. He’s going to draw double coverage. We have spread the ball around pretty well. Our backs are pretty talented but haven’t had much room to get things done, and you have to find other ways to get them the football. And if you’re just going to sit back and throw it every play, you better have a screen-and-draw game because you have to slow down the rush somehow. So, nobody has any regard for our run game, and why would they? So, we run play action and nobody pays attention to it. They’d just as soon you try to run the ball. But I assure you, you’re not going to win that way."

NOTABLES FROM THE 2015 GAME -- Lafayette had leads of 14-0, 17-14 and 24-21 in the game and got to the Bucknell 20 before a false start penalty and a failed fourth-down play kept things alive for the Bison ... DeSean Brown had a 100-yard rushing game, t he first of his career ... Mrazek didn't play in the game for Lafayette ... R.J. Niti was a one-man wrecking crew with four TD passes and a TD run ... Lafayette QB Drew Reed was intercepted three times and sacked five times ... the Lafayette defense never got to Niti ... Bucknell ran for 171 yards in the game, but Niti's late TD was the onlny score on the ground.
  
TAVANI-SUSAN RELATIONSHIP – Coach Tavani said “Joe and I go way back in time. He’s had a phenomenal career. It didn’t surprise me. I think Paul will attest, when he was named coach, I said, he will get that thing turn ed around. He’s been a long-time friend and somebody I have a lot of respect for. And I think vice versa. He calls me this morning, the week of the game – no other coaches do that with each other. He wanted to talk to me about some officiating issues. That’s what we do. You respect your opponent, and on game day, you fight him to the death, and at the end, the respect is still there. Tremendous guy, somebody I have high regard for. I’m happy to call him my friend.”

EXCHANGE OF THE DAY – From former Lafayette player and assistant coach and now Lafayette Sports Network analyst Mike Joseph to Coach Tavani: “What’s amazing to me is you’re throwing the ball well without a running game, so if you ever added a running game, the offense would be, in my opinion, so consistent. I don’t know if you feel the same way, Coach. And, Coach Tavani’s answer: “That’s very profound, Mike, you’re showing your Lafayette education is coming out. No, really, you’re right. That’s what it is, and I’m not letting my foot off that pedal.”

JUST THINKIN' -- Lafayette, leading 24-21, went for a fourth-and-10 at the Bucknell 25 with about nine minutes to play in the 2015 game in Easton. A field goal would have lengthen the lead, at least. Four plays later, Niti and Carter hooked up on a 55-yard TD pass to give the Bison the lead.  But last Saturday at Army, when Lafayette had a 4th-and-3 on its opening series of the game, with nothing to lose against an overwhelming favorite, the Leopards elected to punt. Army got the ball on the 12-yard line, ran two plays of 11 yards each, one of six yards and then got a 60-yard touchdown run from quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw. Darned if you do and darned if you don't.   

Email Paul Reinhard at: paulreinhard@yahoo.com

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