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The CAA Today: Turnovers
Terence Thomas, Sr. CSN CAA Today columnist
To illustrate how much of a football junkie I am, let me share with you the events I participated in last Saturday. My alarm clock erupted at 7 a.m. I held a special teams practice for my junior pee wee (ages 9 - 11) Pop Warner team from 8:30 to 10 a.m. in West Windsor, N.J., which is in the western part of central Jersey adjacent to Princeton. At noon, I took in the Duquense vs Monmouth game in West Long Branch, N.J., which is about 45 minutes east of where I reside. That evening at 7 p.m., I attended the Villanova vs. U.Penn game in Philadelphia, which is about an hour southwest of where I reside.
After the post-game interviews and spending a few moment with my son, I returned home by midnight. Of course, I could not go directly to bed, as I had to log on and see the rest of the FCS scores. After a quick glance, then focusing on the FCS Top 25, and then the CAA only, I saw turnovers played a huge role in the outcome of many games. I think it was around 1 a.m. when I finally went to bed. If you’re truly interested, my junior Pee Wee team lost to a talented team from Trenton on Sunday 18 - 0, but we punted well and passed the ball a little better.
As I mentioned, I had my choice to go down and watch the Delaware State vs Delaware game (a 1 1/2-hour ride south), watch the URI vs. UMass game on TV, or take the shorter ride and watch a pretty good NEC matchup with conference contenders Monmouth and Duquense. While I do love the creature comforts of my couch and my television, not much beats the experience of watching a college football game live. Also, the proximity made it a hard one to pass up.
In the first quarter of the Duquense vs Monmouth game, the Hawks, led by the running of RS Sr., David Sinisi, dominated the time of possession and the quarter. The Hawks, however, would come up short on a 39-yard field goal. Sinisi rushed nine times for 57 yards in the quarter, and for the most part, Sinisi would run to the right behind RS Sr. C, Andrew Musick, Sr., RG, Shawn Wright and RS Sr. RT, Kevin Sterling. During the post-game interview, I asked coach Kevin Callahan if running right at its foe was part of the game plan to attack Duquense with, and if so, why did the Hawks go away from what was working so well in the first quarter. He replied that the right side of the line has a lot of senior experience and leadership, and the Hawks tried to take advantage of this whenever possible. Duquense made adjustments after halftime taking away this part of the Hawks offense. For Duquenseís part, the Dukes could not get out of their own way in the first quarter going 0 for 3 on third-down conversions and mustering only 19 total yards of offense. Monmouth held the ball for more than 10 minutes of the first quarter yet it was scoreless after one.
Now, in the second quarter things got interesting. On the legs of Sr. RB, Cleodis Williams (11 carries for 58 yards), and the arm of Sr. QB, Kevin Rombach (6-for-9, 49 yds, 1 TD), the Dukes moved the ball at will against the Hawks. On the Dukes’ initial drive of the second quarter, the Dukes sustained a 15-play, 69-yard drive consuming four minutes ending in a Eric Duale FG from 24 yards to give the Dukes a momentary 3 - 0 lead.
Monmouth features a two QB system, with Sr. Andrew Mandeville (5′9, 200) starting but giving way to So., Kyle Frazier (6′3, 230). During the game, I asked a Monmouth photographer his opinion as to why the Hawks split the QB duties. The response I received was that Mandeville is the senior, and he knows the offense, whereas Frazier can see over the line a little better and has the stronger arm. During the post-game interview, I asked Coach Callahan was he committed to the two QB system, and wonít it get predictable that when Mandeville is in the game, the Hawks run the ball with Sinisi and when Frazierís in the game, the Hawks pass more. Callahan replied that heís not committed to the two QB system, however, the Hawks will utilize whichever QB is providing the most production. He did concede that if, in fact, they are running when Mandeville is in and passing when Frazierís in, then the Hawks will become predictable.
After the Duquense FG, Monmouth put together a 10-play 63-yard drive with a combination of the passing of Frazier and the running of Sinisi. Sinisi would power through for a 1-yard score to give the Hawks a 7 - 3 lead with just under five minutes remaining in the half. On the ensuing Duquense possession, the Dukes would drive 57 yards in 11 plays on the legs of Williams and the arm of Romback. With third and two from the 11, Romback would find Jr. FB, Marek Lapinski in the left corner of the end zone for the score, bringing the score to 10 - 7 Duquense at halftime.
Up to this point, there wasn’t a turnover. Monmouth had fumbled twice in the first half, but recovered both times. Monmouth would get the ball to begin the third quarter With Mandeville back in at QB, but the Hawks would go three and out and punt. PR/WR, Jr., Dave Williams waited underneath the punt for what seemed like an eternity. As I stood on the home side of the field in the back corner of the end zone, on the left of Williams, it would appear that Williams took his eye of the ball briefly to see where the defense was coming from. Williams dropped the punt and Monmouth recovered at the Duquense 17. Fraz ier would return at QB for the Hawks and throw two passes, one complete for seven yds. Jr. K, Eric McCutchen, would split the uprights from 30 yards to tie the score at 10 - 10.
On the next Duquense possession, QB Rombach was moving the Dukes downfield with his arm before WR Williams would fumble after a 31-yard catch and run. The fumble was caused by Jr. Safety Kendall Haley, who would come up big again later in the quarter and recovered by Jr. CB, Mike Avent. Monmouth could manage only eight yards on this possession and had to punt the ball back to Duquense. The defensive adjustments made by Duquense after halftime took away the Hawks’ rushing attack. With Duquense feeling pretty good about its air attack, the Dukes came back on the next possession riding Rombachís arm. The QB got a first down with his first throw, but on third and 19 from the Duquense 42, Rombach overthrew his intended receiver into the arms of Haley who returned the interception 65 yards zigzagging his way for a TD. After the extra point, the Hawks now led 17 - 10.
The fourth quarter was pretty much a defensive slugfest as neither team could mount a drive until about four minutes to go in the game. Duquense would get the ball on its 33 with 4:16 left, and it drove behind the legs of RB, Williams with an occasional pass from Rombach to the Monmouth 23. On first and 10 from the 23, Rombach would drop back and look left, then come back to the right corner. But he failed to see Sr. CB, Kenny Amsel. Amsel would step in front of the receiver at the 11 and return the interception five yards to the 16. With 1:49 left, Monmouth failed to get a first down and was forced to punt. The Dukes gained possession on their 43 with 1:01 remaining and no timeouts. Rombach moved the Dukes to the Hawks’ 14. However, after an incomplete pass, on second and 10 from the 14 with under 30 seconds and no timeouts, head coach Jerry Schmidt called for a run play up the middle that lost a yard. During the post-game interview, I asked Coach Schmidt about that call with no timeouts remaining. He replied it was his call; he was trying to pop something up the seam in the middle. The Dukes were in four-down territory, and he felt he had enough time to use all four downs if necessary. On third down, Rombach threw a 3-yard pass to Williams on the left, and Williams was fortunate to get out of bounds with under 12 seconds left. On fourth down, Rombach would throw to So. WR, Isaac Spragg in the right corner of the end zone with Safety, Haley defending. Spragg jumped high, Haley behind Spragg, jumped higher. The pass would sail high out of the reach of both, thus ending the drive for the Dukes. Monmouth would take a knee for the remaining six seconds to win 17 - 10.
In the post-game interview, Coach Schmidt of Duquense would say that his team played well, but they turned the ball over, in fact, giving Monmouth the victory. On the two interceptions, Schmidt said those were two bad “reads” by the QB, and the ball should have never been thrown in those directions. Those types of mistakes can be corrected. When asked what will he do differently next week, he responded “hopefully, we’ll execute better.”
In speaking with Coach Callahan of Monmouth, I asked about his pass defense in the second half. He responded by saying they were trying different things against the Dukes’ four and five wide receiver sets, going from the “dime” to the “nickel” packages, ultimately settling on the “nickel” as it allowed the Hawks to keep two linebackers on the field. Callahan was happy with his defensive performance, making the big plays and his team being +4 in the turnover ratio. Up next for Monmouth is CAA newcomer, Old Dominion.
Later that evening, I drove to Franklin Field in Philadelphia to watch the Villanova-Penn contest. On the opening kickoff, Jr. WR/KR, Matt Szczur returned the kick up the middle, then bounced right 87 yards for a touchdown. For the remainder of the first quarter, neither team would get untracked, and they would trade punts on each of their two respective drives. With just under 13 minutes to go in the half, Penn would get on the board when Jr. K, Andrew Samson connected from 22 yards out to make the sco re 7 - 3 Nova. The Penn drive took 14 plays, 66 yards, and six minutes off the clock.
Nova’s offense appeared to be out of sync all night. On itís ensuing drive, Jr. QB, Chris Whitney would throw his first interception of the season at the VU 37-yard line. The Nova defense, which played superb all night, stymied the Quaker offense forcing another punt. Nova’s next possession would be an 11-play drive, only to have RS Fr., Nick Yako miss a 40-yard kick. Nova’s defense forced yet another Penn punt, and the halftime score would remain 7 - 3.
The beginning of the third quarter can either be described as a “defensive battle” or “offensive ineptitude.” Penn would get the ball first and be forced to punt after three plays and three yards gained. On Nova’s possession, Whitney would fumble the ball back to Penn on first down. Not to be undone, the Penn Jr. QB, Keiffer Garton would throw his first interception of the year to SR., Safety Ross Ventrone. Both teams would lose yardage and trade punts on their next possessions.
With 7:21 left in the third quarter, RS Sr. QB, Antwon Young entered for Nova. Young would lead the Cats on a 10-play, 78-yard drive that would end with a TD pass to Sr., Brandyn Harvey from five yards out to the right corner of the end zone. A crucial play during the drive was a third-and-11 when Young dropped back to pass, and he eventually scrambled 24 yards to keep the drive going. Nova would now lead 14 - 3.
If you would refer to the “CSN 2009 Yearbook,” you’ll find on page 19 my preseason preview of all of the CAA teams. One point I made is that in having two starting QBs, Nova had an unfair advantage. After opposing teams are successful in getting the starter out of the game, they have to face an equally, if not more, dangerous backup. In the post-game interview, Penn coach Al Bagnoli would say “… that ís two years in a row the backup quarterback has come in and beat us … ”
Penn would try and counter by bringing in its Fr. QB, Billy Ragone, who would be successful in getting a first down. But on his first pass, he would throw an interception to Jr. WS, Fred Maldonado. While Penn would try a 36-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would be blocked, neither team would score for the remainder of the game.
Coach Andy Talley would say in the post-game interview that “Defense and special teams won the game for us today.” Jr.WLB, Terry Thomas led the Cats on defense with 10 tackles and two sacks along with fellow SLB, Sr., Osayi Osunde who had nine tackles, and Sr. DE, Tim Kukucka, who had seven tackles and two sacks. The Cats would have only 187 yards on offense while giving up 239 yards to Penn. The Cats would lose the time of possession battle 24 minutes to 35 for Penn, and convert only 3-of-10 third downs.
Both teams had two turnovers, and while neither would lead to points for the other team, they both would kill drives. Next up for Nova are the Huskies of Northeastern.
In the Youngstown State vs Northeastern game, the Penguins won 38 - 21. Coach Rocky Hager would say in the Monday morning teleconference that this team had an opportunity late in the second quarter to extend its lead by 10 or 14 points, only to have a fumble kill that drive. It allowed YSU to go the distance in its two-minute drill to tie the score at 14 at halftime. YSU would surprise NU to begin the third quarter by attempting an onside kick and successfully gaining possession. QB Alex Dulski was back to lead the Huskies’ offense, but he would be guilty of throwing two second-half interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD. One of the good things that occurred for the Huskies was a 70-yard punt return for a TD by Sr., Tony Lott. I don’t know if the Huskies could have won this game, but turnovers certainly didnít help their cause.
Congratulations to Towson on itís initial victory of the 2009 season, 21 - 17 over Coastal Carolina.. I gave the Tigers zero chance of upsetting Coastal Carolina, and I’m happy to say that TU proved me wrong. The Chanticleers would outgain the Tigers in total yardage 398 to 315, but TU would win the time of possession battle 35 minutes to 25, and TU also would fare better on third-down conversions going 7 of 15, while CCU was only 5 of 12. TU was fortunate in that it would throw three interceptions, but none would translate into points. In all, it was a good victory and something Coach Ambrose and the Tiger community can build on. Next up for Towson is cross-town rival, Morgan State.
Congrats go out to the Blue Hens of Delaware for their decisive victory over in-state rival Delaware State in the initial game of the “Route 1 Rivalry” 27 - 17. Believe it or not, both teams would have exactly the same amount of total net yards (343). UD would come out on the plus side of turnovers, only throwing one pick, but that one resulted in a 71-yard return for a score. The Hornets would win time of possession, and convert 8-of-19 third downs. But of their three red zone opportunities, they would cash in only once, whereas the Blue Hens made good four out of five times in the red zone. The Blue Hens haven’t quite figured out where they are as a team, but this Saturday should definitely solidify as to what type of team the Blue Hens will be in ‘09 as they travel to Zable Stadium to take on No. 5 William & Mary.
If you had to describe William & Mary’s defense right now, you’d probably use words like “simply dominant.” The Tribe raced out to a 27 - 0 lead before yielding 15 points late in the fourth quarter of a contest that already was decided. The final score was 27 -15, but the game wasn’t that close. The Tribe defense limited the Spartans to just 29 yards rushing. The Tribe came out on the negative side of the turnover ratio, only forcing one interception while fumbling the ball back to NSU twice. However, the Tribe did take advantage of their takeway and getting a TD on that drive to make the score 14 - 0. The two fumbles came in the fourth quarter, one leading to a TD, and the other was a bad snap on the Tribe’s first attempt at punting on the day, resulting in a safety. Saturday’s game against the Blue Hens will be well worth the price of admission.
Probably the biggest disappointment of the week was the Maine loss to Albany 20 - 16. Maine led 16 - 3 into the fourth quarter when Albany rallied to win the game. Albany had five turnovers to Maine’s one. Maine had 171 yards rushing to Albany’s 96. Maine even won time of possession 35 minutes to 25. Maine did everything but win the game. This was a contest that Maine needed if it had playoff hopes again. As next up for Maine is Syracuse. My hat’s off to Albany. Congrats on the victory. You’ve made the NEC proud.
CAA league play is truly where the teams separate themselves from one another. UMass defeated Rhode Island 30 - 10, and while the score gives the appearance of a game dominated by UMass, well, it was and it wasn’t. Rhode Island could not stop UMass. On itís initial possession, UMass would drive 67 yards in 12 plays, using 5:48 of clock to score its first TD. URI would come right back with a nine-play, 70-yard drive, using 4:02 of clock, only to have Jr. QB, Chris Paul-Etienne on third and goal from the 3 throw an interception. On UMass next possesion, it would drive 80 yards in 13 plays using more than six minutes of clock for its second score and a 14 - 0 lead in the second quarter. On UMass’ third possession, QB Kyle Havens would get picked off at the URI 18. On UMass’ fourth possession, the Minutemen would drive 71 yards in 10 plays for a Tony Nelson rushing TD, and a 21 - 0 lead. You can see the theme for the day as URI just could not stop the Minutemen. However, on the ensuing URI drive, the Rams would march 58 yards in 12 plays, but miss wide left on a 39-yard field goal. In the third quarter, URI would get on the board as Jr., Safety, Jarrod Williams would recover a UMass fumble and race 68 yards for the Rams’ only TD. The Minutemen defense has yet to allow a second-half TD on the season. We’ll see if they can keep that streak alive against Stony Brook Saturday.
James Madison would run out to a 31 - 10 halftime lead en route to a 44 - 16 triumph at home against VMI. Coach Matthews continues to rotate the QBs every other series as he still cannot lock on to a starter. Hopefully, the pieces will fall into place as JMU will travel to Liberty Saturday for a game that might have post-season implications come November.
Richmond would force four first-half Hofstra fumbles, all which would lead to Richmond scores and a 24 - 0 lead. It would be 31 - 0 by halftime, and the final score would be UR 47 - HU 0. The UR defense dominated this game from the onset, limiting the HU rushing yardage to just 13 yards all game. Playing the defending champions and No. 1 team in the nation can make you a little tight, and the Pride was undoubtedly in over their heads when visiting the Spiders’ web. UR is home to VMI Saturday, while HU travels to FBS Western Michigan.
Before I preview the upcoming games, it’s about time I take a tally of how I’ve done so far. In Week one, I was 8 - 3, missing on two of the FBS triumphs by Richmond and William & Mary, and picking against one of our own (URI), shame on me. In Week two, I went 7 - 1, again missing on the FBS victory achieved by UNH. Last week, I was 6 - 2, again picking against one of our own (TU), but also being let down by one of our own (Maine). Thus far for the year, I’m 21 - 6, giving me percentage correct of 81 percent.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
Hofstra (2 - 1, 0 - 1) travels to Western Michigan (1 - 2) @ 7
First meeting. HU will try to rebound from last week and protect the ball a little better. However, the Pride will find the Broncos just a tad too big for them.
Upset Meter [0—-], Broncos 45 Pride 7.
Maine (2 - 1, 1 - 0) @ Syracuse (1 - 2) @ 7
First meeting. If this was last year’s Maine team, and the ‘08 Cuse team, I could get behind Maine. But Maine’s looked shaky in all three of its games, and the confidence just isn’t there yet.
Upset Meter [-3—] Orange 27 Black Bears 13.
Rhode Island (1 - 1, 0 - 1) @ Connecticut (2 - 1) @ 12
Series: U.Conn leads 49 - 34 - 8
URI will compete for a half, but the Huskies will pull away as the Rams’ fatigue sets in.
Upset Meter [0—-], Huskies 45 Rams 0.
Towson (1 - 1, 0 - 0) @ Morgan State (1 - 1) @ 4
Series: TU leads 16 - 5
Dare I pick against TU again??? Nay, I say, at least not this week. Break up the Tigers as they’re on a mini win streak.
Upset meter [—–8-],Tigers 14 Bears 13.
#15 Massachusetts (2 - 1, 1 - 0) vs Stony Brook (1 - 2) @ 6
Series: UMass leads 1 - 0
The Minutemen will waste little time in dispatching the Sea Wolves.
Upset meter [0—-], Minutemen 24 Sea Wolves 13.
#7/#6 James Madison (1 - 1, 0 - 0) @ #25//#24 Liberty (2 - 1) @ 7
TV: Flames Sports Television Network, WHSV-MyValley
Series: JMU leads 9 - 5
Liberty needs this victory a little more than JMU as it will go toward strength of schedule. However, JMU with the rough CAA gauntlet needs this victory just as much. Rotating the QBs every other series will come back to haunt the Dukes. Maybe not this game, but if it continues, it will show in the play of the offense.
Upset Meter [—-7–], Dukes 24 Flames 20.
#6/#7 New Hampshire (2 - 0, 0 - 0) vs Dartmouth (0 - 1) @ 12
Series: Tied 17 - 17 - 2
Even though the series is tied, it’s become pretty one-sided. No reason for things to change this weekend.
Upset meter [0—-], Wildcats 28 Big Green 6
Delaware (2 - 1, 0 - 1) @ #5 William & Mary (3 - 0, 0 - 0) @ 7
Series: UD leads 20 - 13
The journey through the CAA South began for Delaware two weeks ago when the Blue Hens faced off against Richmond. Their journey continues in Williamsburg. The quest for the playoffs begins for the Tribe as they host the Blue Hens. Both defenses will be up for the task to show the world who’s better. Both offenses will be challenged severely to strike paydirt. Turnovers will play a role in the outcome. The Tribe defense has been good in forcing them to date. The UD offense has shown the tendency to turn the ball over. Upset Meter [-3—], Tribe 28 Blue Hens 17
Northeastern (0 - 3, 0 - 1) @ #2 Villanova (3 - 0, 0 - 0) @ 3:30
TV: The Comcast Network/Comcast Sportsnet - New England
Series: Villanova leads 10 - 5
Northeastern’s looking to get better and play consistently. Nova’s looking to do the same. Nova’s offense has yet to get untracked. Could this game be their coming out game? The opportunistic Nova defense will look to harass the Husky offense all day. Nova’s #2 for a reason.
Upset Meter [0—-], Wildcats 28 Huskies 7.
#1 Richmond (3 - 0, 2 - 0) vs Virginia Military Institute (1 - 1) @ 3:30
Series: Tied 40 - 40 - 5
VMI takes on its second CAA opponent and instate rival. Look for UR to try and establish the running game a little more this week. Upset Meter [0—-], Spiders 35 Cadets 7.
Please keep the e-mails coming to CAATODAY@YAHOO.COM, and I’ll do my best to get back to you with a response.
This is THE CAA TODAY signing off.