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Lafayette staring into an abyss of disaster after heartbreaking loss at Georgetown
Lafayette College’s football team needs to find an answer. Now.
Saturday’s horrifying 14-13 loss to Georgetown leaves the Leopards
staring at another lost season after 2010’s 2-9 debacle.
By virtually anybody’s standards, the Hoyas represented the best chance for a Leopard win amid an insanely crazy early schedule.
Georgetown is improving – its talent level, especially on defense, increases each season – but the Hoyas aren’t North Dakota State (last week’s Lafayette foe) or Penn (next week’s).
With 27 seniors on the team facing a Patriot League opener against a team that had stung Lafayette badly in 2010’s first game, there was every reason to think the Leopards would come out roaring Saturday night.
Instead, they came out boring in a dreadful, flat and uninspiring first half that had longtime Lafayette observers asking, ‘Are we this bad’?
It was that bad. Somehow, Georgetown only led 7-3 at the break but that said more about the Hoyas’ limitations than anything Lafayette had to do with it.
The second half was moderately better, but it cost Lafayette senior quarterback Ryan O’Neil for at least a week – likely more – with a concussion. His backup, junior Andrew Shoop, has a strong arm and some moxie but lacks the experience and familiarity with the offense that O’Neil brings to the table.
“We have confidence in Andrew and we felt comfortable with putting him
out there, and he did well for his first time,” said Lafayette coach
Frank Tavani, who, if he hadn’t already been ill with a heavy cold would surely have been sick anyway after Saturday’s defeat.
Shoop’s first start will come against the odds-on Ivy League favorite in
their own lair, where Lafayette has won just 11 times in 63 tries.
“They have fireworks planned and everything,” Tavani said. “We’ve got to
work harder. It doesn’t get any easier.”
Bluntly, it’s getting worse, and quickly, for Lafayette. In their last 15 games the Leopards are 2-13. Right now, until Bucknell visits Fisher Stadium on Oct. 29 (and perhaps not even then), Lafayette is not likely to be favored in any of the next five games – at Penn, at Stony Brook, Harvard, Yale or Fordham.
The Leopards, in short, teeter on a precipice of disaster.
But as Shoop pointed out Saturday, what’s past is past, and the Leopards need to move on. So what can be done?
It’s too late to do anything about a major element in Lafayette’s struggles – the lunatic schedule. Assessing blame for whoever on College Hill set up this death march of a slate – four straight away games to start the season, two against scholarship teams – is also useless, so let’s just stipulate such a schedule can never be allowed to happen again.
So what else?
Tavani, who to his great credit did not duck tough questions after
Saturday’s loss, said, “Obviously I have to do a better job getting
these young men prepared.”
Yes, he does.
Why was Lafayette so limp, so lame, so soporific in the first half? How can a senior-laden team not be ready to play in its league opener, especially coming off a 42-6 season-opening loss?
Lafayette managed a mere 87 yards of offense in the entire first half, all of 26 on the ground. An experienced offensive line lost control of the line of scrimmage – when it wasn’t false-starting and sending the offense backward.
The defense was generally better, coming up with some big sacks, but still allowed 179 yards of total offense in the first half and what Tavani correctly called a “killer” touchdown right before the half for the second straight week.
The fact that the Leopards roused themselves in the second half can’t make up for the hideous first half. And getting a team ready to play is the coaching staff’s responsibility.
Tavani likes to run the ball, but it’s becoming clear this bunch of Leopards isn’t yet capable, either on the line or in the backfield, of a dominant running game. Lafayette’s tailbacks lack experience and explosiveness (Vaughn Hebron looked terrific for seven carries Saturday – until he rolled his ankle).
O’Neil’s concussion shows the perils of counting on the quarterback as a ground gainer. And the line only intermittently gets it done.
The Leopards have the talent to run a full-style spread offense with four wideouts – or at least they did until O’Neil went down; Shoop’s skill set seems to lie in a different direction.
There’s no doubt Tavani would like to cushion Shoop’s debut as a starter at Franklin Field with a power running game but it would seem highly unlikely. Right now, Lafayette’s best chance to win games comes through a heavily aerial attack to dangerous receivers like Mitchell Bennett and Mark Ross.
Lafayette’s tight ends, especially Kevin Doty, were underused as receivers against Georgetown; they need to be in the mix more.
Finally, Lafayette’s seniors have to step up – now. There’s been a lot of talk about improvement and focus and being more experienced and being all-in and all that from the seniors, but they haven’t backed it up. If they need an example, linebackers Leroy Butler and Tyler McFarlane’s superb efforts, as well as that of walk-on defensive lineman Kyvory Henderson, shone like beacons in the darkness Saturday night.
Lafayette’s players have to dig deep and find an answer right now or else watch another season disappear into an abyss of defeat and disappointment.
By Brad Wilson, The Express-Times