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Lafayette's scheduling philosophy to be put to the test
Cupcake or challenge?
Patsy or power?
Lafayette College’s Patriot League football opener Saturday night at Georgetown offers a fascinating and rare case to test a theory: is it better to prepare for your league season with a game against a chump or a champ?
The Leopards took the latter route, opening against No. 11-ranked North Dakota State on the road. Lafayette hung with a bigger and faster team, in a dome, for one half before a combination of big plays and bad breaks did the Leopards in, 42-6.
“As individuals, I didn’t think they were anything special,” said Lafayette senior tight end Kevin Doty. “But as a team they were, they’re a lot better.”
Had Lafayette lost a Patriot League game by such a score, coach Frank Tavani would have been in about as foul a mood as the weather outside at Tuesday’s media luncheon, but instead he welcomed the challenge his players had received.
“Things are never as good as you’d like and never as bad as you think,” he said. “The bottom line was we went in and battled and got better. I’d rather do that than play a weaker opponent. You can get a win there and get a false sense of satisfaction.”
Tavani’s comment could have been directed with a laser-like precision at the Hoyas, who kicked off at home Saturday against Davidson with a 40-16 romp.
Tavani dismissed the Wildcats as “not a very good football team,” and he’d be right. Davidson usually fights with the Ursinuses and Randolph-Macons of the world for recruits, not Colgate and Princeton.
Davidson went 3-8 in 2010 in the Pioneer Football League, considered several notches below the Patriot League in strength. Longtime Leopard fans will remember that the Wildcats were Patriot (actually Colonial, as the league was known then) members in the late 1980s and left because they weren’t competitive. Not much has changed.
Georgetown coach Kevin Kelly was trying to make a joke when he was asked on a conference call Tuesday what he thought of Lafayette after seeing film of the loss to the Bison, but he undoubtedly meant what he said.
“I know I don’t want to play North Dakota State,” he said.
And he doesn’t. Georgetown traditionally plays the weakest nonleague slate of any Patriot team – just one Ivy school (Yale), no FCS scholarship teams and teams such as Davidson and Howard.
Kelly seemed excited that his defense held the Wildcats to minus-7 yards rushing and that his offense ran for 206 yards.
“I wasn’t sure we’d be able to run the ball,” he said.
The suspicion exists that Lafayette learned more productive lessons from its 54 hard-earned yards on the ground against one of the nation’s top defenses than the Hoyas did from their almost four times as many against a weaker sister.
It’s hard to blame Kelly, with a 10-45 career record, from wanting to rack up some wins and boost his team’s confidence. And the Hoyas did come off a win over Davidson in 2010 and beat the Leopards – 28-24 at Fisher Stadium – but that was Lafayette’s opener.
With a game like North Dakota State under their belts, this time may be different for the Leopards.
“They were a heck of a team,” Lafayette senior defensive end Mike Grimaldi said. “But take away the big plays and I think we could have matched up with them.”
The Bison are closer to what both teams will see in their Patriot League schedule than Davidson is – if you want to give Tavani nightmares, suggest Colgate’s All-American running back Nate Eachus running behind North Dakota State’s offensive line – and that will, the Leopards hope, make a difference all season long. Some short-term pain would have to be absorbed, though.
“We couldn’t do anything with our running game,” said Tavani, who nonetheless found generous praise for true freshman Ross Scheuerman, who led Lafayette with 46 yards rushing. “But it’s hard to evaluate against a team like that. (North Dakota State) was a prep game to make us tougher. This week, we match up a lot better. Georgetown’s not North Dakota State.”
And the Hoyas don’t play teams like North Dakota State, either. Playing champs may well help make Lafayette one in the near future – at least that’s the theory that will be put to a direct test Saturday night in our nation’s capital.
By Brad Wilson, The Express-Times