Friday, October 19, 2018

Leopard-Bison pregame: 2 steps back

Was I a bit hasty in my decision to give the Lafayette Leopards a midterm grade based on the short half of an 11-game schedule?

It sure looks like it.

After they dazzled me with a 31-point performance in a victory over Central Connecticut State, I rushed to judgment and handed out an overall grade of C.

The grade caused one long-time follower of the program to message me: “You are a more generous grader than I am … no group is better than a C from me. A win against Georgetown gets the team to C+. A loss drops them to D.”

Well, by now we all know what kind of a followup the ‘Pards had on Homecoming against the Hoyas. No touchdowns – again – and this one was worse than some of the earlier losses because it included three interceptions of quarterback Sean O’Malley passes and also a lost fumble.

So, while the defense did more than its share in the second half to try to shake things up, it didn’t happen. Wide receiver Nick Pearson, who had a big day personally, wrapped it up best when he reminded us that football is a team game and no one person’s success means much without a “W” on the record.

The overall team grade after SIX games, which would include the Georgetown debacle, would definitely be no better than a D. The Hoya offense struggled every bit as much as the Leopards, but while GU capitalized on a pair of short fields to get TDs in the first half, LC had a couple of second-half possessions that started in Hoya territory but came away with nothing.

O’Malley’s grade would certainly have been no better than a D had it included the Georgetown disaster. He threw 49 passes and wound up with just 250 yards. He had only one completion that would have fallen into Coach Garrett’s “explosive” category (15 yards or more on a pass). He was also sacked four times and hurried eight times.

It was the kind of game where a change of pace with backup Cole Northrup, who has the capability to be a running threat if given some plays to show his stuff, should have been given a chance when it became obvious that O’Malley was in trouble. I guess the fact that the score remained close because of the play of the defense played into Garrett’s thinking. After all, he did say at Tuesday’s luncheon, “We only needed one play and the score would have been tied.”

After the Delaware game, in the luncheon leading up to the Monmouth game, Coach Garrett said of Northrup, “Cole has proved he can do it and run the offense and has earned the confidence of his teammates, and if both continue to play at a starter level, they’ll continue to get reps.”

Northrup has played in only one game since those remarks. He was 4-for-5 passing against Colgate, and that was after any chance of making it a game had passed. O’Malley has averaged 195 yards per game passing, thanks mainly to his big effort against CCSU.

I wondered if Northrup might be getting any more reps this week given O’Malley’s latest effort. I asked a LC football fan who attended practice on Thursday how the QB work was split up. I thought perhaps freshman Troy Fisher might also be working into the mix by this time.

The practice report was that #10 (O’Malley) got the most, #14 (Northrup) some and #16 (Fisher) had not had a snap. The practice included 11-on-11, 7-on-7 periods, but reportedly, Fisher was a spectator. Reed Aichholz and Mike Lewis worked on the scout team; Shane Davis, another freshman, was a scout-team tight end.

Reportedly, only 68 players were in uniform on Thursday. That number included two who wore blue jerseys (no hitting allowed), six QBs and four specialists. Coach Garrett told us on Tuesday he still had enough players to split squads so that the first-team offense and the first team defense could be working against scout teams in the same time on different sides of the 50-yard line. Barely.

Here’s the way Coach Garrett broke down the Bison on Tuesday.

“Offensively, they have changed some from last year. really very much pro style. They changed the quarterback; this quarterback has more versatility; he’s able to be more of a run threat out of the pocket, throws it well enough. So, a little bit different there. Then they have the freshman runner Jared Cooper, who’s a good player and has had multiple games of 100 yards; he can go all the way. He has speed and really good vision. So, he’s a threat. And they have some solid guys across the board; they are all capable of making the expected play.

“And then defensively, they are a pressure team. They try to disrupt your pass protection schemes and run blocking schemes with movement, blitzes, moving linebackers up, shooting gaps. They just want to try to make the line of scrimmage dirty. Not really clean, where we know where the guys are. So, they’ve been a challenge for a lot of teams; they keep the points down and it’s one of those games where you have to stay after it, stay after it, and then one of those blitzes or one of those movement type defenses, you get a crease and then you pop one. That’s what happened against them. 
Monmouth had a couple of runs late and a couple of other teams had runs late, so you just have to keep grinding and grinding and grinding.”  

And, here are a couple of comments from Bucknell’s Joe Susan on teleconference.

On offensive injuries – “Even before preseason, junior running back Chad Freshnock (525 yards rushing in 2017) was hurt; and starting tight end Marcus Ademilola (32 catches in 2017) was hurt during preseason. Both are out for the year. That changes things.”

On freshman RB Jared Cooper – “He’s in that 5-7, 5-8 range. You can’t see him at times. He has a great knack for finding small openings. He’s a great kid. Whenn you correct him, he thanks you. When he scored on a screen pass, I made sure I thanked him before he thanked me.”

On punter Alex Pechin – “Field position winds up becoming precious. We’re fortunate we have a punter who can kick it out of the stadium. Unfortunately, we’ve been punting way too much (54 times for a 45.3-yard average); long of 71; 23 of 50-plus yards). 

According to website sportsbook review (, Lafayette opened the week as a five-point underdog to the Bison. But showed the Leopards as a 10-point FAVORITE this (Friday) afternoon. (It was 11.5 earlier in the day).

Something is wacky. A team that scores only five touchdowns in six games should not be favored against anyone. Not even a team with a virtually identical record that has played a bunch of the same teams.

Lafayette has allowed opponents to score points on 23 of 25 trips to the red zone. Twenty of those 23 scores have been touchdowns. Bucknell has allowed scores on 20 of 27 opponents’ trips to the red zone, with 17 of them being touchdowns.  Lafayette has 14 giveaways and only four takeaways; Bucknell’s defense has intercepted eight passes and recovered 11 fumbles.

My pick in Saturday’s Morning Call will be Bucknell 13, Lafayette 9. A big day for kicker Jeffrey Kordenbrock, not so much for the rest of the offense. The Leopards’ defense will again play well enough to win – but two Jared Cooper touchdowns are all the Bison need.

Game time is 12:05 p.m. on the Lafayette Sports Network. The crowd at Christy Mathewson Memorial Stadium will undoubtedly be underwhelming. Bucknell fans focus on basketball – even basketball practice – at this time. Will Lafayette fans make the two-hour trip?


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