Sunday, October 22, 2017

Bison OT TD: 'Freak play' or not, it was that kind of night

At some point of the second half of Saturday’s Lafayette-Bucknell football game, I turned to Jim Finnen, for 50 years the voice of Lafayette College sports before retiring and a long-time friend of mine from the Schaefer 500 at Pocono days, and said, “This game’s gonna end on some kind of a long play. Maybe a goofy one.”

I wasn’t talking about a 95-yard interception return for an overtime touchdown.

I was thinking more along the lines of a long punt return or a hail Mary pass. After all, for most of the evening, punters were the stars.

Offense? It was hard to come by – 394 total yards for both teams combined.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Leopards-Crimson: The Livestats view wasn't very pretty

My wife thought I was crazy. At times, I agreed with her.

I didn’t travel to Cambridge, Mass., today for the Lafayette-Harvard football game.

I didn’t see the Ivy League Network feed because for some reason, the username and password didn’t connect and I was eventually locked out.

When I saw on Twitter that Lafayette president Alison Byerly was listening to the game on internet radio, I tried to get it. I failed and failed and finally gave up.

So, I didn’t hear the game, either.

I READ the game. That’s correct, through the Livestats feature on the Lafayette and Harvard websites, I was able to sit in the quiet of my family room, in front of my computer, and READ a play-by-play account and keep up with running statistics at the same time.

Nuts, right? Well, maybe not.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Leopard report: Don't give up on the offense

Lafayette's C.J. Amill (2) looks for the end zone. Photo courtesy of Lafayette College.

Given the ongoing struggles of the Lafayette offense’s running game, it shouldn’t be a surprise that sooner or later, Coach John Garrett was going to have to address the situation for the media.

Actually, he talks about it a lot in bits and pieces, but at Tuesday’s luncheon, it got more than usual attention when someone asked the first-year head coach whether the complications of the new offense might require more time and patience to install than the defense. The questioner said he saw offensive progress, but not to the degree of the defense.

“Well, there are a lot of ways to answer that question,” Garrett began. I knew then and there that the answer was goingnto be a complicated one. Here it is.
“We are looking at each game and figuring out the best ways to advance the ball, and we have had a lot of players who we were expecting to play on offense NOT play. So, we had younger players playing earlier than you would expect and these kids have done a remarkable job competing against veteran teams.”

When talking about expected players who are not playing, Garrett was undoubtedly referring to a group that includes at least four offensive linemen – Tanner Kern, Nick Zataveski, Cam Smith and freshman John Burk O-line coach Gordon Sammis has had his hands full getting the pieces to fit together successfully.

“It’s funny, I had to ask (sports information director) Phil (LaBella) before the press conference last week when I looked at Fordham’s depth chart and I said, ‘What is GR next to their name?’ He said, ‘That means he’s a fifth-year graduate player’ and I said ‘Oh, okay, we don’t have any of those guys who played a lot of football.’

“Offense has more volume than defense. Offense has more plays, that type of thing. Younger players are having to learn not only how to play, but how to execute in the game, so I’m just concerned about us improving each week – and we’re improving each week in every aspect of it. We don’t look at it like this side’s ahead or that side’s ahead. I’m sounding like a reporter right now, but, after the first couple games, you’d say, Oh gosh (the score) might have been reversed (if some key players were in the lineup). So, we really don’t concern ourselves with that. We just concern ourselves with the next play and trying to execute it to the best of our ability.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Scouting report: Harvard looking to bounce back

Lafayette will be a part of the 700th Harvard football game in iconic Harvard Stadium on Saturday.
The Harvard two-deep chart for this week has fifth-year senior Joe Viviano listed as the starting quarterback, but in his teleconference on Tuesday with Lafayette media, Crimson Coach Tim Murphy declared true freshman Jake Smith as the top guy.

“We have two very good quarterbacks (including) potentially a special one who is a freshman,” Murphy said. “It’s been a great competition that has made them both better and it beats the heck out of trying to find a quarterback. I’m not a great believer in a two-quarterback system, but it’s a bit of a luxury from our standpoint. Obviously, not so great for both kids.”

Asked if Smith is now the top gun, the 24th-year head coach said, “He’s the No. 1 guy, but he’s just a kid that is so natural, not unlike the (Sean) O’Malley kid from California who’s playing for Lafayette. He has great pocket skill, improbability, he throws guys open. He’s much more advanced than we thought when we recruited him.”

Smith didn’t play in the season opener against Rhode Island, but after Viviano was sacked five times in that narrow victory, it may have opened the door. Against Brown, Smith became the first freshman to start at quarterback since Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2001 and was 5-for-7 for 72 yards but was sacked three times. Viviano, who started nine games last year for Harvard, was 11-for-13 in the game.

Smith threw two interceptions while completing 16 of 30 against Georgetown; Viviano was 5-for-10 in the game and one of the completions was for a touchdown. And last week in the Crimson’s loss to Cornell, Smith was 8-for-14, completed his first TD pass but also was sacked five times and intercepted once.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

14-10 win: A mid-term exam with mixed grades

Cleaning the notebook from Win No. 2 in the John Garrett era.

The Lafayette football team hit the halfway point of Coach Garrett’s first season on Saturday, and it pretty much failed the "midterm" in one of the coach’s most fundamental classes: “Hard to Beat 101.”

But at the same time, it came up with an A+ in “Fourth Quarter 110.”

“Hard to Beat,” Coach Garrett told us on Tuesday, is the mantra with which he challenged his team from the very beginning. It consists of a lot of factors that can end in victory or defeat. The mid-term exam came at the beginning of the second quarter of Lafayette’s Patriot League game against Fordham.

I thought it was going to be the start of a slide that would render all that good stuff from the Holy Cross game as an aberration.

Friday, October 6, 2017

The name of the game for Leopards' Garrett: Details

Details matter. If there’s a phrase that I believe defines the first season of the John Garrett regime at Lafayette, that’s it. He uses it freely.

Tbe Leopards’ head football coach often seems pretty secretive and somewhat evasive, and I took some of that as being wary of the media. But on Tuesday, in the aftermath of his first victory as a collegiate head coach, he really opened up at the weekly media luncheon.

For example, while most of the talk centered around Jeffrey Kordenbrock, who booted the game-winning field goal at Holy Cross, or the defense, which callowed just seven points and 319 total yards, or even the screen pass play that accounted for Lafayette’s only touchdown, Garrett really broke out when asked about the play of freshman quarterback Sean O’Malley, who threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and yet directed the Leopards to the win.

“Sean is a fantastic competitor, extremely smart,” Garrett said. “There were a couple plays where he wished he had thrown to other guy and it would have been good play. These are great opportunities to learn from. He battles all game, he’s under duress, he makes good decisions – other than a couple. For him, it was a great example of how the games are meant to be played. It’s not always perfect. You have to block out that last play. He grinded it out. We talked (here) about Rocco (Palumbo’s touchdown against Holy Cross), about the run (after the catch), about the type of play it was, about the three linemen (who blocked it). No one talked about the throw (O’Malley) made around a blitzing corner and put the ball on his front shoulder, a key to getting the plav started. It’s a tribute to him to execute the way he practiced it. I have no concerns over Sean O’Malley. He’s the leader of our team.”

Coach Garrett said his main mesasage in his first meeting with the Leopards was that he wanted them to be “hard to beat.” Here’s how he describes that phrase.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Fordham scouting report: The Rams are having problems

This Fordham football team is in trouble. And it all starts with a capital C -- as in Chase Edmonds.

Coach Andrew Breiner told us on Tuesday during a media teleconference call that he has a policy not to talk about injuries, but someone who watched the Rams’ game with Yale last week said Edmonds, who missed the previous two games with an injury,  was reinjured in the second half and didn’t return.

If the senior running back is out again this weekend when the Rams come to Fisher Stadium, it’s an immense advantage for the Leopards, who have been unable to shut him down in three previous tries. Edmonds has only 198 yards rushing for the 2017 season and only one touchdown. He probably has not been 100 percent healthy in any game.

A 170-pound freshman has been playing in his place, and while Zach Davis has made no big mistakes, he’s no Edmonds.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

No more disrespect for 'Pards after this one

Andy Labudev (90) takes on Crusader running back Diquan Walker. Photo courtesy of Lafayette College.
I didn’t think about it until I was re-reading my Lafayette-Holy Cross story this morning, but it’s very likely that not a single kid on that team has any clue what I was getting at in the league – unless he’s a sports history nut and has watched the YouTube clip.

That USA ice hockey victory over the USSR in the 1980 Olympic Games is one of the true classics, and Al Michaels’ TV call – “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!!” – really did say it all in Worcester. The Lafayette kids were not even born, but their parents may recall it.

Based on other 2017 performances by both teams, this one didn’t figure to be competitive. Sure, Gary Laubach questioned HC Coach Tom Gilmore about a possible “hangover effect” from the tram’s previous two games. And, sure, we wondered it Leopards’ defensive coordinator Luke Thompson would find preparation for the Crusaders a lot more comfortable than for Villanova, Princeton, Sacred Heart or Monmouth.

But there were too many hurdles to clear for the winless Leopards to slay the Crusaders – in a Patriot League game, against an opponent that should have been hungry to get back on track after a heartbreaking loss the previous week, on historic Fitton Field, with its beautiful, like-new natural-grass surface, no less. “This was a hard game to play,” Coach John Garrett told me after it was over.