Tuesday, November 25, 2014

NCAA RD 2 / JOHNS HOPKINS PLAYOFF GAME PREVIEW

The Hobart College Statesmen will host the Johns Hopkins University Blue Jays this Saturday at Boswell Field for a chance to advance into the Elite 8 of the 2014 D3FB Championships. The Centennial Conference (CC) Champion Hopkins (11-0) defeated NJAC Champion Rowan (7-4) last Saturday, overcoming some early offensive turnovers (sound familiar?) to win, 24-16. The Blue Jays and Statesmen (11-0) have a lot in common and the similarities of both programs’ recent runs of success is quite remarkable.

Consider this:

  • Both teams are closely grouped together in both national polls 
    • Hobart is ranked 7th and 9th in the AFCA and D3football.com polls
    • Hopkins is rated 6th and 7th, respectively
  • Both SR classes have nearly identical (40-4 & 41-4) career records
  • Both teams have won their respective conference titles the last four seasons
  • Both teams are making their fourth consecutive trip to the playoffs 
  • The Blue Jays had a close game with Wesley in the first round of the playoffs last season, just like Hobart did back in 2011
  • Both teams have been to quarterfinals once before, Hopkins in 2009 and Hobart in 2012
  • Both programs have been on the losing side of games to Saint John Fisher in the playoffs also 
  • Both Head Coaches Mike Cragg and Jim Margraff have led their teams for over 20 seasons
  • Both offenses average over 30 PPG
  • Both defenses allow only about 14 PPG 
  • The JHU OL has only allowed seven QB sacks in 11 games, Hobart has allowed eight
  • The JHU D has sacked opposing QBs 31 times, Hobart has 36 sacks on the season

Both teams have also been criticized for their scheduling (or lack thereof) making this game a sort of “Rodney Dangerfield Bowl” as far as national perceptions and/or respect goes. Hopkins beat Randolph Macon (5-5) 42-3 in Week 1 before going into its nine game conference schedule. D3football.com insinuated both teams have “floated up” the rankings due to playing against weaker competition. The only like opponent the teams have had this season is Dickinson (3-7) which Hobart beat 33-21 in Week 1 and who the Blue Jays beat 42-7 in Week 7. I would not look to that game that much however given the final 14 points the Red Devils had against the Statesmen came with eight minutes remaining and with all the backups in the game. Hopkins defeated one of other playoff participant in Muhlenberg back in Wk 4, 42-26. The Mules (9-2) nearly upset MAC Champion Widener (11-0) until a last second 24 yard FG saved the Pride, 36-35.

From a historical perspective, Hobart and JHU haven’t played a football game against one another in nearly 50 years. The Statesmen went 2-0 against the Blue Jays, beating them 27-14 and 41-6, back in the 1965-66 seasons.

Scouting the Blue Jays: 

#12 SR QB Braden Anderson – Anderson is the engine that drives the Blue Jays offense and is both a strong passer and mobile QB. He has thrown for 2,404 yards and 23 TDs with a very accurate 67.5% completion percentage (193 of 286). He has only been intercepted seven times in 11 games. On the ground Anderson leads Hopkins with nine rushing TDs and has carried 62 times for 405 yards (6.5 YPC average).

#88 SO WR Quinn Donaldson – Donaldson leads a corps of four WRs that spread the field on opposing defenses. He leads the team with eight receiving TDs and 749 receiving yards.

#1 SO WR Bradley Munday - The other top target for Anderson is Munday who leads the team with 74.1 receiving YPG and has a team high 56 receptions. His yardage totals are right behind Donaldson with 741 yards and six TDs.

#3 SO RB Stuart Walters & #20 JR RB Brandon Cherry – nearly identical number of carries for Walters (127 for 671 yards or 67.1 YPG and seven TDs) and Cherry (107 for 513 yards or 51.3 YPG and six TDs) means both are viable options in the run game, especially behind a big OL which includes #73 SR LT Kyle Flynn (6’ 3” 310), #57 JR LG Fernando Concepcion (5’11” 255), #71 SR C Martin Scheuring (6’2” 275), #64 JR RG Colin Egan (6’4” 300) and #75 RT Rowan Cade (6’9” 310). 

#34 JR LB Keith Corliss – leads JHU with 76 total tackles.

#18 JR DB/SS Jack Toner – second on the team with 59 tackles and leads the Blue Jays defense with three interceptions and eight pass break ups. Probably plays like an OLB position similar to Hobart’s JR OLB Marcus Jemison. 

#56 SR DL Michael Rocca – tall and athletic, Rocca is tough to move off the line of scrimmage. He has 42 tackles, including seven TFL and five sacks. His height (6’6”) has enabled Rocca to block four passes and one kick on the season.

#16 SR DL Michael Longo – leads the Blue Jays with 10 sacks and 13.5 TFL to go with 49 total tackles, third best on the team.

#85 FY PK Jamie Sullivan – attended Los Angeles prep powerhouse Oaks Christian (which was across the freeway from my old office) and has hit six of seven FGs, including two vs. Rowan last Saturday. His long is 39 yards, which also occurred in the first round playoff game. Sullivan also handles kickoffs and has averaged 55.9 per KO.

Keys to the Game: 

1. Protect the Football – four turnovers plagued the Statesmen again digging them into a 12-0 halftime deficit, which could have been worse if the defense wasn’t so effective in forcing Ithaca (7-4) to settle for FGs instead of TDs in the red zone. The Statesmen have turned over the ball an incredible 13 times in the last 10 quarters of play. While they’ve made amends for these mistakes with timely plays and gritty comebacks, that only goes so far against Top 10 caliber competition like JHU. Hobart will need to piece together a full 60 minutes to beat a Blue Jays team that is in many ways a mirror image of Hobart both in statistics and overall talent.

2. Keep It Close (Early) and Get Points When You Can – JHU has outscored opponents 164-27 in the first quarter this season. Those big leads ballooned into Hopkins 38.7 PPG and has been protected by a stingy defense that has allowed only 14.5 PPG. Unlike the Statesmen, Hopkins really hasn’t played in a close game since Wk 2 vs. Susquehanna (2-8). Although it was 14-10 against Rowan at the half in Rd 1, JHU scored 10 points in the third quarter to take a 24-10 lead. Rowan’s final score came with under a minute to play, so the game wasn’t really as competitive as it may have appeared. The Blue Jays haven’t allowed more than 17 points in nine of their 11 games, so scoring for Hobart will be at a premium.

3. Pressure Anderson / Protect Conlan – Anderson has only been sacked seven times this season while JHU’s defense has racked up 31 sacks on opposing QBs. Keeping Conlan upright will mean the difference in his being able to make his reads, not telegraph and/or force the ball which is what got the Statesmen in hot water in the first half against Ithaca. Although I’d like to see more running plays (and it merits noting the Rowan's RB had 136 yards rushing against JHU), successfully moving the ball through the air will be important for Hobart. In Hopkins’ last two playoff losses, JHU gave up more passing yards than they completed. In similar fashion, both of Hobart’s two playoff losses since 2012 saw them complete 50% or lower and throw for under 154 yards in those games.

4. Bend Don’t Break – Both teams play similar defensive schemes but I’d give Hobart a slight edge on the DL / LB positions in both closing speed and athleticism. While our secondary is inexperienced and smaller in size, JHU’s WRs are not veterans nor very big / tall either. These WRs can get behind the defense if coverage is soft however (which we saw a few times last Saturday). Both Munday and Donaldson have had 60+ yard receptions and they average 13.2 and 16.6 YPC when open. The Statesmen will need a big play or two on defense or special teams to turn the tide in their favor, especially since the officiating at home doesn’t seem to help them at all. Also either Blue Jay OL/OTs Coleman lines up against will be taller and 50-60 lbs heavier, so blitzing and interior DL play will be crucial. The forecast for this weekend doesn’t look too bad actually (high of 40 and partly cloudy), and it is a good haul for Hopkins to get to Geneva from Baltimore.

Prediction: 

I think a close game is in store with Hobart hanging on (or coming back yet again) to win it 21-17. I initially predicted 27-24 on ITH last Sunday but given both teams are so strong defensively I am backing down a bit, points scored-wise, so to speak.

Ultimately, I think it’ll come down to who controls the line of scrimmage and can take advantage of match ups in the passing game if/when the pass rush doesn’t force Conlan or Anderson into trouble.

While I expect Hobart to be viewed as the underdog, even as the higher seed and host, I’m hopeful they’ll make enough plays to beat the Blue Jays and earn an Elite 8 game with (most likely) top-seed Wesley College (11-0).

Thanks for reading and go ‘Bart!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Statesmen Rack Up LL Awards, Coleman DPOTY, Marpet Co-OPOTY

The Hobart Statesmen earned 20+ All-Conference awards including SR DE Tyre Coleman getting his third straight Defensive Player of the Year recognition from the LL Coaches. In a rare but deserving nod, SR OL Ali Marpet was named Co-Offensive Player of the Year. He will probably the only OL named as a POTY award winner by any conference in D3 (which is a shame because OL deserve these as much as any QB or RB). Marpet shared the POTY award with SR QB Mike Lefflbine of Saint Lawrence (8-2).

Head Coach Mike Cragg and his staff won the Coaching award for their third consecutive undefeated regular season and fourth straight conference title. A link to the All-LL teams can be found here.

Speaking of Marpet, it was announced he accepted an invitation to the East-West Shrine All Star Game on twitter today. St Pete isn't far from me so I am going to have to make some plans to drive down I-4 to see Ali in action. The game is scheduled for Jan. 17, 2015.

In the meantime, Hobart's focus remains on #6/7 Johns Hopkins (11-0). I'll post my NCAA Rd 2 Game Preview tomorrow.

Congratulations to these great Statesmen and go 'Bart!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Hobart Confirmed As Host vs. Hopkins, Conlan on ITH

The NCAA released the host sites for the second round of the D3FB playoffs and to nobody's surprise, the Hobart College Statesmen (11-0) will host Johns Hopkins University (11-0) this Saturday at Boswell Field. Kickoff is at noon and per NCAA guidelines videowill be free and live stats provided by the NCAA.

Tune in tonight at 7:30 pm for our interview with SR QB Patrick Conlan. Also joining us is Hobart '94 and MIT HC Chad Martinovich. Coach Chad has led his squad to a 10-0 mark and its first postseason victory in school history, a 27-20 OT thriller vs. Husson (8-2).

A link to the podcast can be found here.

Thanks for reading and a JHU game preview is coming up soon!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Hobart Comes Back to Win NCAA 1st RD Game, 22-15

It was the worst of times and the best of times.

The Hobart College Statesmen dug themselves into a 12-0 halftime deficit after giving up four turnovers to Empire 8 Champion Ithaca College. The Bombers (7-4) had to settle for FGs vs. TDs however thanks to an excellent game by the Statesmen (11-0) defense.

In spite of what was an otherwise awful first half, Hobart recovered and held Ithaca to 59 yards and three points in the second half as the offense slowly came back to life. Leading the resurrection was SR QB Patrick Conlan who overcame a bad start in throwing three interceptions (two of which were deflections / dropped passes) to finish with 201 passing yards and 62 rushing yards and two rush TDs, including the game winner. Hobart's other rushing TD was scored by JR RB Alex Furtado.

The Statesmen defense held the Bombers SR QB Tom Dempsey to 178 passing yards and one TD. Ithaca only rushed for 34 yards on 26 carries. Overall Hobart out gained Ithaca 355 to 212 yards.

Although it took a while for the OL to get going, Hobart used a key fourth quarter surge to put the Bombers away. The Statesmen rushed for 148 yards on 47 carries, most of which came in the second half as Asst Coach and OC Kevin DeWall '00 seemed determined to try and pass on the Ithaca 3x4 defense.

FY TE Chris Cyr, who led all Hobart receivers with 65 yards, made the catch of the season hauling in a 33 yard Conlan pass to give Hobart the chance to win the game in the final minute. Conlan ran it in on 3rd down for a TD and the FY PK Will McCool PAT gave the Statesmen their first and only lead of the game, 22-15, with 12.4 seconds remaining.

Defensively JR OLB Marcus Jemison returned after missing last week due to a concussion and made a huge impact, tallying eight tackles and 2.5 sacks, including a sack of Dempsey on the final play of the game. SR DE Tyre Coleman tied for 2nd all time on the D3FB career sack list with his 49th.

While this game probably won't go down as one of Hobart's finest, it's a rare win in an otherwise lopsided series vs. Ithaca, and it likely ensures the Statesmen will host Johns Hopkins (11-0) in Rd 2 next Saturday. The Blue Jays, Champions of the Centennial Conference, defeated Rowan (7-4) the New Jersey Athletic Conference Champions, by a score of 24-16.

Kickoff will once again be at noon. The official host locations are announced by the NCAA tomorrow.

More analysis on this tomorrow night at 7:30 pm at www.inthehuddlle.com. Tune in and go 'Bart!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

NCAA RD 1 / ITHACA GAME PREVIEW

The seventh / ninth ranked (more on this can be found here) and Liberty League Champion Hobart College will host Empire 8 Champion Ithaca College Saturday in the first round of the NCAA D3FB Championship playoffs at Boswell Field.

The Statesmen (10-0) haven’t played the Bombers (7-3) since the 2003 season, a 14-7 loss. Prior to that game, Hobart went 2-1 against Ithaca, winning 19-0 and 17-6 in 2000 and 2002, respectively (hopefully the fact it’s 2014, an “even year”, is a good omen). The 2000 win was a major turning point for the Statesmen program as Hobart had not beaten the Bombers since 1983 and were 1-22 against their Cayuga Lake neighbors until that game. That 2000 team would be Hobart’s first ever NCAA playoffs qualifier and wrapped up that season 9-2 overall, which tied the Statesmen’s highest win total in program history (set back in 1896) at the time. In spite of their proximity, this weekend’s match up will be the first time the two programs have squared off in the NCAA playoffs.

Ithaca is nursing their pride a bit after a failed FG attempt turned into a game winning TD in their season finale vs. arch rival SUNY Cortland (5-5). The play was picked up by ESPN and the Bombers’ loss was replayed to a national audience which probably didn’t help. Ithaca is a good, but tough, draw for the Statesmen in that they bring some interesting matchup challenges to the “Boz.”

Scouting the Bombers:

#7 SR QB Tom Dempsey – with a strong arm and smarts to boot, Dempsey is easily the best QB the Hobart defense will have faced all season. He’s passed for 2212 yards, going 205-303 (67.65%) with 21 TDs compared to eight interceptions (146.57 pass efficiency rating). The SR QB runs the spread very well and has multiple receivers who are all strong players.

#4 SR WR Vito Boffoli – leads Ithaca with 533 receiving yards and has scored five TDs. Boffoli had 100+ yard receiving games against Alfred and Buff State, but is primary a possession receiver. His longest catch on the season was for 37 yards in the Buff State game.

#40 SR FB Ben Cary – A stocky (6’ 225 lbs) blocking back, Cary is actually more of a receiving than rushing threat. He’s carried the ball only five times for 22 yards with a TD. By contrast he leads Ithaca with eight receiving TDs and has caught 43 passes for 370 yards. It’ll be important for whichever Hobart LB draws Cary in coverage keeps him in check.

#2 WR/RB Josh Oliver – a small (5’5” 160 lbs) but tough player, Oliver was a HS teammate of Hobart’s SR DE Tyre Coleman. Initially a receiver (12 receptions for 101 yards), Oliver has converted to RB after #33 FR RB Tristan Brown went down with an injury in the game vs. Salisbury. Brown is back, but he only carried four times for 12 yards against Cortland. Since he took over for Brown, Oliver has carried the ball 76 times for 299 yards (3.93 YPC), scoring two rushing TDs in Ithaca’s last three games. Oliver also primarily handles both kickoff and punt return duties for IC. He’s averaged 10.5 YPR on punts and 23.4 YPR on kickoffs, so look for the angle kick by SO PK Sean Kirshe to keep the ball away from Oliver. 

#47 SR LB Marc Recio – similar to Oliver what Recio lacks in size (5’7” 195lbs) he makes up in gritty play. Recio leads the Bombers defense with 71 tackles, including 5.5 TFL.

#92 JR DL Schnayder Termidor – Ithaca’s best pass rusher, Termidor leads the Bombers with six sacks and 7.5 TFL. He’s forced two fumbles too, which Hobart will need to avoid given their recent turnover struggles.

#34 JR PK Max Rottenecker – handles kickoffs for the Bombers and averages 59.6 YPKO. He has gone five of seven on FGs with a long of 50.

#24 SR PK Garrett Nicholson – has gone seven of nine on FGs with a long of 33. Nicholson has kicked 28 PATs on 32 (87.5%) attempts.

Keys to the Game:

1. Protect the Football – The Statesmen have been their own worst enemy of late, turning over the ball nine times in their last two games. Ithaca is too good of a team to provide short fields and/or points too given the strength of their defense which allows 16.7 PPG and only 293 YPG.
2. Dump Dempsey – Hobart’s pass rush and its success in breaking up the spread will be critical. If Dempsey has time in the pocket he will pick apart Hobart’s pass defense which is not the Statesmen’s strong suit. The Bombers OL is very experienced with four SR and one JR starters, but they have allowed 21 sacks for -154 yards this season.
3. Home Sweet Home – The Statesmen are 7-1 in NCAA first round playoff games played at the “Boz” (8-1 if you count the 2003 ECAC bowl game where Hobart beat Norwich 34-18). The last time Hobart lost in the first round at home was back in 2002 against John Carroll. Hopefully the Statesmen have a bit of a chip on their shoulder given last year’s 27-6 loss to Saint John Fisher (also of the E8). An added bonus would be the possibility of hosting the winner of the Johns Hopkins (10-0) and Rowan (7-3) game if they can get by the Bombers. While the second round hosts won't be announced officially until Sunday, the bracket placement of Hobart points to them being the 2 seed, which would host.

Prediction: 

Saturday will be a tough, physical game that will be won or lost in the trenches. Ithaca’s OL is seasoned but their drop back style of offense plays to Hobart’s defensive strengths of sacking the QB and hitting runners behind the line of scrimmage. On Sunday’s ITH I predicted the Statesmen would win the game 25-17, unless Ithaca is able to capitalize on the turnover issues that have plagued Hobart in recent weeks. My co-host Frank Rossi was more optimistic, picking the Statesmen to win 34-20.

I suspect we’ll see a good dose of running plays by Hobart who averages 224.6 YPG against a Bomber defense that allows 111.1 YPG. Something will give here and I’m hoping it’ll be the Statesmen controlling the clock and slowly grinding down Ithaca. Either way it should be a great game by two storied NYS programs lead by excellent coaching staffs. This is what the playoffs are all about.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hobart Draws Ithaca, Cragg on ITH

The Hobart College Statesmen (10-0) got a nice draw (a likely two seed) in the Wesley bracket of the D3FB NCAA Championships and will face off against Empire 8 Champion Ithaca College in Round 1. Kickoff is scheduled for noon on Saturday, November 22 at Boswell Field.

Ithaca (7-3) is hurting after losing their annual rivalry game 23-20 on a last second broken play / failed FG attempt that turned into the winning TD for Cortland State (5-5).

We spoke to Coach Cragg last night on In The HuddLLe. His interview starts at the 63 minute mark and the link to the podcast can be found here.

I'll have more on the Ithaca matchup later this week. Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Hobart Hangs On to Centennial Cup to Go 10-0, Awaits NCAA Fate

The eighth ranked Hobart College Statesmen (10-0, 7-0) capped their third straight undefeated regular season in a sloppy but otherwise hard fought win over their oldest rival, the University of Rochester Yellow Jackets (5-4, 3-4) yesterday on Senior Day at Boswell Field.

Hobart's fumbling issues continued, as four were either caused or were unforced with two being recovered by Rochester in the game, one for a safety early in the third quarter. The safety play sparked the Yellow Jackets, who were down 21-0 at the half, to a 16 point run that wasn't answered by the Statesmen until JR RB Conner Hartigan went 55 yards for a TD with 12:39 to go in the game.

Although Rochester made it a one score game with 1:30 remaining, the onside kick was recovered by SR WR Troy Robinson and Hobart took to the victory formation for a 28-23 win. SR QB Patrick Conlan led the Statesmen with 157 passing yards and one TD pass (to SR WR Elvin Souffrant). Hartigan led all rushers with a game high 114 yards and two scores. Hartigan has rushed for 239 yards on 27 carries the last two weeks, scoring in big spots for Hobart in both the SLU and UofR games. Needless to say I'd be interested in seeing him with a ~20 carry game come the playoffs.

On defense SO OLB Michael Harper made his first career start in relief of JR OLB Marcus Jemison (who I hope was out for precautionary measures if he is in fact nursing an injury). Harper was outstanding and tallied 11 tackles and 2.5 TFL for the Statesmen "D". SR DE Tyre Coleman added two more sacks and TFL to his already impressive resume. He now stands 3rd all time in sacks and needs one more TFL for fifth all time in that category.

In spite of a few issues in the second half, the Statesmen will find out tonight at 6PM what bracket they will land in the NCAA playoffs. D3football.com's Pat Coleman joined my ITH co-host Frank Rossi last night to go through a mock selection process. Check www.inthehuddlle.com for the recording of that show and D3football.com for their mock brackets (they put Hobart in the Mount Union bracket, hosting Delaware Valley in Round 1). My guess is the Statesmen draw NEFC Champion MIT (9-0) coached by former Hobart QB Chad Martinovich '94.

Tune into NCAA.com for tonight's selection show and In The HuddLLe starting at 7:15 PM. Frank and I will discuss the playoff brackets, interview Duey Naatz, the D3FB Selection Committee Chairman around 7:45 PM, then Coach Cragg after 8 PM tonight on www.inthehuddlle.com.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!