Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Week 5 - USMMA Game Preview

The #15/21st ranked Hobart College Statesmen will host the United States Merchant Marine Academy Saturday at Boswell Field. Hobart (4-0, 1-0) and the USMMA (2-1, 1-0) are coming off Liberty League (LL) wins over Union (1-3, 0-1) and Rochester (1-2, 0-1), respectively.

The Statesmen have gone 12-0 since the Mariners and Hobart renewed their series back in 2004. USMMA went 4-0 vs. the Statesmen from 1962-65. Last season Hobart defeated the Mariners by a score of  30-15, even though the Statesmen were outgained 215 to 244 total yards. Hobart jumped out to 14-0 lead but USMMA would score with 39 seconds left in the second quarter to cut the Statesmen's advantage to 14-7. Hobart increased their lead to 23-7 thanks to a (then) JR DB Todd Collier 41 yard punt return for a TD and a JR PK Sean Kirshe 31 yard FG. Although the Mariners rallied to pull within eight points, the Statesmen would win the game after a Conner Hartigan '16 two yard run for a TD capped a nine play, 75 yard drive with 4:02 left in the contest.

Keys to the Game:

1. All Hands on Deck - The USMMA bring the top rated rushing offense in the nation, which has averaged an outstanding 375.7 YPG, to the "Boz" this Saturday. I have already chronicled some of Hobart's struggles against strong rushing teams, and the triple option requires a lot of patience and discipline to defend. #7 JR QB Robert Moore earned a LL OPOTW award after a stalwart 104 rushing yards and three TD performance last Saturday against Rochester. Moore leads the LL with 149 rushing YPG and is tied for second place in the LL with a handful of other rushers with four TDs. He was a perfect five for five passing for 176 yards and two passing TDs against the Yellow Jackets including an 81 yard strike to #24 SR RB Spencer Blauw and a 53 yard pass to #27 FY WR Luke Jamison. The Mariners have only passed the ball 15 times in three games, but have completed nine of those for a LL leading 232.7 passing efficiency rating. This will force Hobart to respect the long ball, while needing to focus on their gaps and multiple pitchmen that the Mariners triple option offense will utilize. Moore can be rattled however and if played well, the Statesmen could create turnovers like the fumble / scoop and score by Coast Guard (1-3) in the Secretaries Cup game in Week 2 and the game ending interception against SUNY-Maritime (2-1) the Mariners dropped by a score of 20-16. Other players of note include #33 SO FB Wiley Martin, last season's LL ROTY, who's off to another strong start this season, rushing for 260 yards and a LL best six TDs. #14 JR FB Luke Tiefenthaler is a strong blocker at 6'0" 215 lbs. as is #85 SR TE Robert Baker (6'3" 230 lbs.). Baker isn't much of a receiving threat, but when used (twice) he's averaged 17.7 YPC. The experienced USMMA OL is led by #71 SR Parker Johnson (6'2" 272 lbs.) and #70 Ian Stoner (6'1" 266 lbs.).

2. Let's Go Team Air Show - JR WR Brandon Shed ranks second in the nation in receiving TDs (eight) and third in receiving yards (546). Not surprisingly then, JR QB Shane Sweeney is ranked seventh in the nation as a passer and is easily the top passing QB in the LL with an impressive 1,255 yards and 13 TDs compared to only three INTs. The USMMA defense allows just under 200 receiving YPG (197.7) but their opposition's pass completion percentage is on the high side at 63.3%. You can bet OC Jon Drach will look to test this tough Mariners defense, the top ranked rush D in the LL (allowing only 66 YPG and only one rushing TD), through the air. SR WRs Jack Pfohl and Sean Cunningham are off to solid starts catching a combined 31 passes for 341 yards and three TDs. Also off to a good start is the combo of JR TE Zach Withers and SO TE Matt Woods have 175 receiving yards and one score. The USMMA defense is led by #49 SR LB Josh Woodburn (22 total tackles) and #20 SR DB Patrick Keyes (17). Both are All-Conference caliber talents and will need to accounted for by Statesmen blockers.

3. TOP - One of the reasons for success of the triple option is the amount of clock it can burn and how it can wear down a defense. Statesmen fans saw that first hand against Springfield last season and Union used a similar strategy last weekend, keeping the Hobart defense on the field for almost 37 minutes of the contest. While the Statesmen's quick strike offense is fun to watch, the lower amount of running plays can put more pressure on the defense who have to grind it out longer because of it. The Mariners are second in the LL averaging 34:28 of possession. I'd like to see more like a 32-28 ratio Saturday.

Prediction:

On Sunday night I picked Hobart to win by a score of 35-21. After a closer look at the Mariners I think this game will be similar to last year's contest, competitive and lower scoring. I still think the Statesmen will win it, but I'll say it's by a 28-17 margin.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!



A Case for The Defense

After listening to a replay of last Sunday's In The HuddLLe podcast, I wondered if I wasn't being a bit of a "downer" or too harsh a critic of the Statesmen defense? That said I wanted to take a closer look.

After four contests the Hobart defense is allowing 20.3 PPG, which is right in the middle of the LL (ranked fourth), pack. Not bad, but not great either. As a Top 25 team (the Statesmen are ranked tied for 15th in the AFCA Coach's Poll and 21st in the D3football.com Top 25), Hobart (4-0, 1-0) should be more formidable in my opinion than the stats show.

To be fair, there are a lot of new or first time starters across the front seven that probably just need time to gather the experience to be a more cohesive unit. Players like SO DE A.J. McFarlane, JR DE Brandon Ball, JR LB Almamy Conde, JR CB Daryl Scales, SO OLB Kai Brandford and FY LB Jedh Downey have done well as relative newcomers to their starting roles. SO DT Sean Moore has also looked good and could earn a starting job soon.

So am I being too critical?

With that in mind, I looked at the NCAA stat book (note there is some noise due to single game NESCAC teams and associated data so you can adjust the below around 2-5 spots). All of the below are out of the 244 teams in D3FB.

Hobart is currently (nationally) ranked:

46th in total defense (YPG)
66th scoring defense (PPG)
121st rushing defense (YPG)
36th in defensive pass efficiency

To put the above into context, #24/25 SLU (4-0, 1-0) is ranked:

3rd total defense
4th scoring defense
20th rushing defense
3rd in defensive pass efficiency

While it's true that SLU has more veteran squad, they also have played slightly easier slate than Hobart so far based on W/L record (Hobart's opponents are 5-10 while SLU's are 3-11).

My main concern are the rushing defense stats, especially given the USMMA (2-1, 1-0) is heading to Geneva averaging 375.7 YPG, which is currently number one in the nation. Those stats were bolstered however by a Rochester (1-2, 0-1) squad that may not win another game this season.

Taking a closer look at the rushing numbers the Statesmen have allowed:

195 yards and four TDs to Brockport (2-2) who has averaged 180.3 YPG (ranked 74th) since with an overall 12 total rush TDs
166 yards and one TD to Endicott (1-3) who has averaged 125.5 YPG (155th) and four TDs
99 yards and to Ithaca (1-2) who has averaged 35.3 YPG (242nd - that's not a typo) and zero rushing TDs on the season
175 yards and two TDs to Union (1-3) who has averaged 169.8 YPG (92nd) and seven TDs overall

One could argue that two of the above rushing TDs really aren't the defense's fault as the punt unit gave Brockport the ball at the one yard line in Week 1 and the offense gave Union the ball at the nine last weekend. Also, if you take the Endicott pick six from Week 2 off the board, Hobart's defensive allowed average drops to ~15 PPG, which is a considerable improvement.

Given the above, while the above rushing stats remain a concern, it appears as though the Statesmen defense is playing much better than I thought, especially considering the number of new starters.

There you have it, I stand corrected. I'll have a USMMA game preview up by Thursday at the latest.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Brandon Shed Appears on ITH Week 4 Recap and Week 5 Preview

JR WR Brandon Shed had a very happy birthday Saturday, scoring three receiving TDs, including the game winner against rival Union College.

Shed currently ranks second in all D3 in TD receptions (8) and is third overall in receiving yards (546) and ninth in receiving YPG (136.5).

My ITH co-host Frank Rossi and I spoke to him last night on our D3FB podcast. You can hear the interview after our highlight reel and post game analysis here.

I have some more analysis on the upcoming game against the USMMA (2-1, 1-0) later this week. The Mariners had a big 55-7 win over Rochester (1-2, 0-1) Saturday for Homecoming in Kings Point.

Thanks for tuning into the podcast (and reading the blog). Go 'Bart!

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sloppy Statesmen Overcome Penalties to Outlast Union, 27-23

Maybe it was the Saturday Night Lights / Ithaca revenge game hangover, but the #18/22 ranked Hobart College Statesmen needed a late comeback and some luck to defeat rival Union College, 27-23, Saturday at Boswell Field.

The Statesmen (4-0, 1-0) were flagged 11 times for -116 yards with four or five unsportsmanlike penalties that included a (very questionable) targeting call against SR OLB Michael Harper. The Hobart DL and basically front seven was once again suspect as Union (1-3, 0-1) gashed the young Statesmen defense to the tune of 170 rushing yards and two scores. SO RB Connor Kinzelmann had both of those Dutchmen TDs, the third went to SR QB Blake Geller who had a workman like eight for 18, 124 yard passing day.

Turnovers also hurt Hobart who gave Union the ball at their own nine yard late in the first quarter. Another turnover and a couple of sacks allowed by the Hobart OL put the Statesmen in a 10-7 halftime hole.

Things looked worse for Hobart after Geller led Union on a five play, 68 yard drive that gave the Dutchmen a 17-7 lead with 11:47 remaining in the 3rd quarter. That drive included a long pass where a wide open Dutchmen receiver benefited from blown coverage by the Hobart secondary.

SR FB Sean Bright (#36!) would pull the Statesmen within four points with a one yard TD. Kicking woes would start then, with SR PK Sean Kirshe missing the first of two PATs. Hobart would take the lead on JR WR Brandon Shed's second TD of the game with 2:01 remaining in the third quarter. Shed, who was celebrating his 22nd birthday, had a 50 yard catch to open the scoring back in the first.

Union would regain the lead after a 15 play, 77 yard drive ended in Kinzelmann's second rushing TD, a one yarder with 6:33 to go in the game. The Dutchmen elected to go for two but Geller was intercepted by JR DB Tommy D'Antonio, who returned it 95 yards to clip the Union lead to 23-21!

Shed would score what would be the winning TD on a 23 yard pass from JR QB Shane Sweeney with 2:16 left. The Hobart defense would hold, dodging a bullet on a would be TD that was called out of bounds (replays in the press box confirmed this according to the game announcers).

After one of the sloppiest first halves I have seen in several years, you have to give the Statesmen credit for finding a way to comeback and win this game. The officiating was bad on both sides of the ball, but even though Hobart didn't show what they were really capable of, they still found a way to win.

This was the second year in a row that Shed had a 100+ yard and multiple TD game against the Dutchmen. Sweeney finished with a solid 22 for 35, 246 passing yards and three TD game. D'Antonio and FY LB Jedh Downey led the Statesmen defense with 11 tackles each. With SR OLB Marcus Jemison out, D'Antonio has really stepped up and is the MVP on this team, at least in my opinion.

Hobart will learn a lot from this game tape and will need to improve on all the mistakes they made in this game after a tough nosed United States Merchant Marine (2-1, 1-0) team destroyed Rochester by a 55-7 margin today.

We will discuss this game and others, Sunday night on ITH. More on that soon.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Week 4 - (The 100th) Union Game Preview

The #18/22 ranked Hobart College Statesmen will open it's 2016 LL conference slate against long-time rival, the Union College Dutchmen, this Saturday at Boswell Field. It's the 100th meeting of these two rivals in a series that dates back to 1896! Kickoff is slated for noon (and according to WEOS' Ted Baker, there will be no pregame broadcast so coverage starts promptly at noon instead of the usual 20 minutes prior).

The Dutchmen are coming off a loss to Western New England (3-0) in a game that saw turnovers turn the tide on Union. The Dutchmen led 9-6 at the half, but fell 32-16, after the Golden Bears went on a 19 point run in the third quarter.

Hobart (3-0) continues to chip away at the Dutchmen's all-time series lead of 50-47-2 as the Statesmen have won six games in a row dating back to the 2010 season. Last season Hobart easily defeated Union by a score of 52-14, the highest offensive output for the Statesmen all season.

Then SO QB Shane Sweeney had an impressive 15-20, 305 passing and four TD day. WR Brandon Shed caught five of those passes for 179 yards and three scores. The Statesmen rushed for 276 yards and three TDs also, led by Connor Hartigan '16 with 95.

This year's Dutchman (1-2) squad is much improved defensively, at least against the run, and has a stout rushing attack on offense. The QB situation and passing game is what makes this Union squad somewhat one-dimensional.

Keys to the Game:

1. Sweeney to Shed - It worked for nearly 200 yards last season, so I suspect the Statesmen offense will look to test a Union passing defense that's allowed 221.7 YPG and five TDs in 2016. Union's defensive strength is in it's LB corps with players like SR SS Brian Alebiosu and SO LB Hunter Ordukhanyan who are tied for second in the LL with 32 tackles each. The Dutchmen are tough to run on, allowing only 103.3 YPG (good for fourth in the LL) and only three rushing scores on the year. Not that it matters in this contest, but the Statesmen are dead last in the LL with 103 YPG rushing. Union averages only 85 YPG passing, so you can say both teams lack of offensive balance. The imbalance may not hurt the Statesmen Saturday, but it could spell trouble for Hobart down the line against more complete / playoff ready opponents.

2. Stop the Run - On the flip side, Union has two of the LL's leading rushers in SO RB Connor Kinzelmann (42 carries for 251 yards and two TDs) and SR RB Jermaine Carn (54 carries for 216 yards and three scores). Union has only attempted 49 passes on the season so far (compared to Hobart's LL leading 122), so expect the Dutchmen to come out and test a Statesmen rush defense that's struggled somewhat, placing itself sixth in the LL with an 138.9 YPG allowed average. I'd like to see more inside gap penetration and tackles by the DL as it seems that opposing QBs and RBs haven't dealt with much inside pressure from the Statesmen defense. To its credit, the DL has forced plays to the outside so the DEs, LBs and DBs can make plays but the lack of pass rush is also something that'll need to develop in order for Hobart to have a chance to beat stronger teams down the stretch. The Statesmen are tied for first in the LL with 13 sacks (4.3 PG), but most, if not all of these came after the QB had time to scramble outside the pocket. The dangerous aspect of this outside contain strategy is that if tackles are missed (like some that where in the Brockport and Endicott games), opposing teams can get big gains of yardage outside.

3. Penalties - Hobart has more than two times the number of penalties (15) than Union (six). While I expect a tough, physical game, the long-time rivalry between these two schools can lead to "chippy" play. The Statesmen need to act like their namesake and avoid getting overly emotional or dragged into anything after the whistle. I've seen enough between these two programs to know there's some bad blood there.

Prediction

New HC Jeff Behrman has Union back on track, but Hobart doesn't need to worry too much about beating the Dutchmen this season. I like the Statesmen to cruise in this one by a score of 35-10.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!


Monday, September 19, 2016

Statesmen Beat Bombers, 23-3

The 25th ranked Hobart College Statesmen hosted Ithaca College last Saturday night under the lights of Boswell Field. A large crowd turned out at the "Boz" and after allowing a FG on the Bombers initial drive, the Hobart (3-0) defense shut out Ithaca (1-1) for the remainder of the game.

The Statesmen outgained the Bombers by a 324 to 177 yard margin. JR QB Shane Sweeney found classmate JR WR Brandon Shed twice for TDs early in the game and finished with a solid 225 passing yard performance.

SR PK Sean Kirshe had some struggles in the wind and rain which picked up in the second half, but did add a 29 yard FG in the second quarter to help give Hobart a 16-3 halftime lead. JR RB Joe Letizia closed out the scoring with an eight yard TD run early in the fourth quarter. The young Statesmen defense was led by FY LB Jedh Downey with eight tackles.

A more detailed recap of the game can be found here. I'll post some pictures (like the one below) taken from the game by my friends Jen and Sean McGlynn '00 soon.



The win helped Hobart move up three spots in the D3football.com Top 25 poll to #22. A link to the poll can be found here.

We discussed this game and the seven others that LL teams participated in on last night's In The Huddle.com podcast. Highlights from the Ithaca game can be heard in the opening minutes of the show.

I'll have more thoughts on this game later in the week and preview the Union (1-2) game by Thursday.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Week 3 - Ithaca / Homecoming Game Preview

Hobart College Statesmen will host Ithaca College under the lights of Boswell Field Saturday night. It's the Statesmen's home opener and also Homecoming / Family weekend. I was hoping to attend the game in person, but sometimes life gets in the way of fun college football weekends. This match-up is not an easy Homecoming game draw for Hobart either, considering the Statesmen lost to the Bombers, 24-6, last season at Ithaca. It should also be noted that the Liberty League is 2-3 so far against the Empire 8. RPI, Union and Springfield have lost to E8 teams, but Saint Lawrence (2-0) defeated Morrisville State (0-1) by a score of 28-0 in Week 1.

On Monday the Statesmen cracked the D3Football.com Top 25 once again after another 40+ point offensive performance. A link to the poll can be found here. While I'm happy for the Statesmen, I feel like this recognition is a bit premature. I'm guessing it certainly has been noticed in Canton where the Saints have scored 80 unanswered points over the last two games.

More on that later, in the meantime, back to the game at hand!

While Ithaca (1-0) has a commanding 25-4 lead in the overall series against Hobart, since the 2000 season the Statesmen-Bombers games have become a true rivalry and the teams are tied at 3-3. Hobart last defeated Ithaca in the 2014 NCAA playoffs, a game that was second on my "Best Games of the Last 20 Years" ranking I posted over the summer. You can read that post here.

There's not a lot of tape of the 2016 Ithaca team as they beat Union College in Week 1 but were idle last weekend. Some may say this extra week of preparation will help the Bombers, but we'll have to see how things pan out on Saturday. The highlights from the Bombers 14-9 win over Union College (1-1) can be seen here. The Bombers return seven starters on both sides of the ball (offense and defense), so they have a good amount of experience. Whether or not they'll resemble the team that started 4-1 last season or the team that went 0-5 down the stretch, remains to be seen.

What's noticeable about the statistics from the Week 1 / Union game is how the Ithaca offense really struggled against a Dutchmen defense that ranked last in pretty much every category in 2015. Really the only TD the Bombers scored offensively came after Ithaca started a drive from their 47 yard line after pinning Union deep. A 40 yard pass from #12 SR QB Wolf Shafer to #7 JR WR J.R. Zazzara gave Ithaca a first down at the Dutchmen one yard line but it took the Bombers three downs (including a five yard penalty) to get into the end zone. The Ithaca defense also really had to dig in to save the day against Union who had their chances to win the game on more than one occasion late in the second half. Give the new Dutchmen coaching staff credit though, this year's Union team seems much better than last year, at least on defense.

#55 JR LB Kenny Bradley led the Bombers "D" against Union with 13 tackles. Classmate #40 JR LB Dan Loizos wasn't far behind adding 11 stops of his own. #48 SO LB Pat Minogue earned a D3Football.com Player of the Week award for his nine tackle, including three TFL and one sack game vs. Union. He also forced the fumble that was returned for the game-winning TD to open the fourth quarter, not to mention he ended the game with an interception (and he kicked nine punts for an average of 33.33 yards, so yeah, he's a pretty good athlete).

Keys to the Game:

1. Sheep in Wolves' Clothing?: Shafer (son of former Syracuse HC Scott Shafer) will look to improve upon last season's 13 for 24, 163 yard passing and one TD performance against Hobart. Shafer also struggled against Union, going 10 for 23 for 124 yards, a TD and two INTs. He was only sacked once by the Dutchmen, but really it's about pressure and that's something I wonder whether or not the current inexperienced Hobart DL and LB corps can generate on a regular basis? The 4-4 scheme is set to have the ILBs and OLBs make the majority of the tackles but so far that hasn't been the case for the Statesmen and blitzes don't seem to be part of DC Kory David's strategy, at least for now. While JR LB Almamy Conde does lead the team with 17 (as he should), the next few tacklers are edge and secondary guys which means the Statesmen are allowing too many post-LOS rushing yards. Credit SO DL AJ MacFarlane on his award winning Week 2 performance. Hobart needs some interior lineman to step up so that not so many plays end up going outside to the edge (or past it). I will also give props to FY LB Jedh Downey - to come in and be able to start as a FY at Hobart (whose track record of great LBs is amazing) is impressive. Period. His 12 tackles so far show he's up to the task and could end up being in the running for LL ROTY.

2. Stop the Run: Continuing on that theme, the Hobart preview written by the SID would lead you to believe that the Statesmen offense is one of the best in the country, and to be fair, the yardage and point totals are impressive. What I'm focused on however is the Hobart rush defense, which led the LL in 2015 with only 116.3 YPG allowed has started this season allowing over 180 YPG. Yes, it's still early and opening up against Dan Andrews obviously skews the data, but it's something worth keeping an eye on (for now). The Statesmen did allow over 100+ yards rushing to the Endicott RB too. In the Union game, the Bombers offense proved to one dimensional against a (much) tough(er) Dutchmen run defense, so if the Statesmen can do better, it will help Hobart tremendously. Besides if the Dutchmen can hold Ithaca to 55 rushing yards.....I know, I know - just saying.

3. If It Ain't Broke: While I'd love to see SR RB Brad Burns and SO RB Ty Barfield get 10+ carries each, you have to expect JR QB Shane Sweeney to stretch the field on Saturday night. I could see a match up advantage to Hobart in using these RBs as receivers or leverage JR TE Zach Withers and SO TE Matt Woods in short to intermediate routes after guys like JR WR Brandon Shed or SR WR Jack Pfohl take the secondary deep. The strength of the Ithaca defense are their LBs, so look for these kind of match up and for some occasional big plays like SR WR Sean Cunningham and the rest of the corps had in Week 2.


SO RB Tynard Barfield Breaks A Tackle

Prediction:

I was a little wary in last Sunday's In The HuddLLe podcast, predicting a close 24-21 game where Hobart prevailed. After getting a closer look, I do think the Statesmen should win by more, but that'll depend on a better, faster start than the Statesmen had last weekend.

(Not so proud) Alumni Soapbox Rant:

I'm very disappointed that HWS and its Communications department (which does the athletics coverage, not the HWS Athletics dept themselves) has made such a bad deal with Sidearm Sports (who's based in Syracuse). I would love to watch the game live online, but the (lack of production) quality and intermittent coverage of what SS provides isn't worth the subscription fee they charge. Why is it that other (including rival LL) schools who also use SS for live stats, web hosting, etc still manage to provide free video feeds of superior quality than what HWS makes you pay almost $100 / year?

While HWS has graded as an "A" institution is so many categories, the poor athletic and social media coverage provided to far away friends, fans and family gets a solid "F". No live tweets from games (a student could easily do this job, especially for a school that has added a "Media" major) or other platforms such as Periscope is just.... perplexing.

At least Ithaca will live stream the game (our homecoming) - for free.

Sorry to vent but I imagine more than a few of you were shaking your heads in agreement while reading the rant above. Feel free to comment below (or not).

In the meantime, be on the lookout for this guy:


If you see (and hear) this guy (a lot) on Saturday night, it's a very, very good thing.

Thanks as always for reading and go 'Bart!