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Five Things To Watch At Lafayette
Do we really want quarterback Ryan O’Neil to be another Brad Maurer, and if so, which one?
When it was first mentioned that the Lafayette coaches might put in some designed runs to take advantage of O’Neil’s legs, longtime followers of the Leopards immediately conjured up flashbacks of Maurer leading the team to three consecutive Patriot League championships.
In 2004, Maurer the sophomore ran for 838 yards and nine TDs, but he also lost 195 yards, for a 643 net. He passed for only 109 yards per game. In 2005, Maurer the junior had 271 net yards rushing and 1,562 passing; and in 2006, he ran for 295 yards and passed for 2,239 yards.
O’Neil has only 54 net rushing yards for his college career, so we really don’t know what he’s capable of. But he did pass for 2,183 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, and he has a talented receiver corps. So, a keep-’em-honest-run now and then might make him even more effective as a passer in 2011.
• Can the Leopards re-establish their tough run-stopping image?
This might be the most pressing issue for Lafayette. In some crucial times last season, the Leopards were unable to get off the field. Game-deciding drives of 80 yards by Georgetown and 75 yards by Penn come to mind. So does a game-tying 14-play Princeton drive in the fourth quarter. And, Fordham drove 80 yards and scored the winning TD in the final minute.
The Leopards are deep at linebacker and experienced in the secondary. They’ll get plenty of energy from the likes of Mike Grimaldi, Tahir Basil and Kyle Simmons. But all that energy has to transfer into tackles for losses. Remember Kyle Sprenkle (13.5) and Keith Bloom (10.5) in 2006 and Marvin Snipes (12.5) in 2004? Maybe this year’s guys should check out their technique on film. The linebackers might do the same with Dion Witherspoon (15) and Mo Bennett (13) in 2005 or Blake Costanzo (9.5) in 2004 or Andy Romans (9) in 2006.
• Who’s going to pick up Mark Layton’s 64 catches from 2010 and 129 over the last two years?
The talent at receiver is deep, with fifth-year senior Mitch Bennett as the most likely go-to guy. He’s 6-4 and has 73 catches the last two years. The expectations for him are high, and opposing coaches will know that.
While Bennett can have a banner year, the Leopards need WRs Kyle Hayes, Mark Ross and Greg Stripe (if he plays through the turf toe injury) to come up large, along with tight ends Kevin Doty and Brandon Hall and fullbacks Pat Creahan and Greg Kessel. Perhaps speedy tailbacks such as Jerome Rudolph, Patrick Mputu and Ross Scheuerman will fill the gaps too.
• Can the offense do a turnover on turnovers?
The Leopards were minus-6 in the turnover department in 2010, and the problem was most noticeable in the passing game, where Lafayette threw 15 interceptions and got only seven in return.
Some were very costly. A potential game-winning drive against Georgetown ended with a pick; the following week, the Leopards had the ball in the final minutes at Penn but threw an interception. Columbia returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown. Picks led directly to one TD and set the stage for another for Colgate.
Protecting the football is key, and Tavani has said running it successfully is a priority. The Leopards have talented tailbacks; an offensive line in which all five inside guys top 300 pounds has been challenged to make the running game go.
• Can the Leopards put the special back in special teams?
At last week’s media day, Tavani used one word to describe his team’s special teams play in 2010. “Terrible,” he said. He got no argument.
The Leopards’ drought on kickoff and punt return touchdowns continues. No punt has been returned for a score since the 2007 opener and no kickoff has resulted in a TD since Oct. 25, 2008. They did get a TD on a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone, and Pat Mputu had a 90-yard kickoff return last year, but the TD was nullified by a penalty.
Kick coverage gave opposing teams lots of advantageous field position.
On top of all that, Davis Rodriguez, who accounted for 64 points last year and 221 points for his four-year career, graduated. So did veteran punter Tom Kondash and kickoff man Chris Cosgrove. Junior Ethan Swerdlow has two PATs to his credit. He’s being pushed by freshman Austin O’Brien.
By Paul Reinhard, The Morning Call