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Lions’ Offensive Pregame Preview: Chris James-led passing attack looks to avoid Albright’s ‘Mr. Opportunity’

August 28, 2009

In direct contrast to Honda Motors’ depiction of its most recent advertising persona, the Mr. Opportunity confronting  TCNJ’s offense during tonight’s preseason action against Albright won’t be a lanky cartoon dressed in a tee-shirt and jeans. But he will “come knockin’.”

Though it graduated last year’s Division III All-East Region performer, Matt Christ, Albright’s defensive secondary returns senior ballhawk Joseph Baciotti, whose late-season performance a year ago solidified one of the nation’s top pass defenses.

Though he’s listed on the team’s roster as an outside linebacker, Baciotti’s greatest contribution isn’t against the run, as the senior from Lancaster, PA accounted for five of his team’s 20 interceptions (11th in NCAA). Lions’ quarterback Chris James hasn’t made a habit of turning the ball over — throwing only seven interceptions in his 257 attempts (I calculated his 36.7 passes per interception ratio as No. 1 in NJAC in ’08) — Baciotti’s likely to exploit any and all mistakes for the duration of the contest.

In addition to his team’s overall success against the pass last season, Baciotta himself would have ranked tied for third in his conference (44th in nation) had he not fallen short of one apparently important criterion:  games played.

The NCAA’s compiled statistics for interceptions require that the category’s leaders participate in 75% of their team’s games to be considered. Appearing in only the team’s final six contests, Baciotti’s late-season surge was too little, too late for national recognition. Needless to say, TCNJ passers should make a habit of finding No. 24 before each and every play.

Baciotti aside, the entire Albright defense embodied the figurative application of the term “headache,”limiting opposing quarterbacks to completing only 51% of their passes and an average of an anemic 98.67 quarterback rating (26th NCAA). When faced with his competition’s gaudy stats from a year ago, wide receiver Cam Richardson didn’t seem phased.

“We can’t really worry about how good they are,” the senior captain said via phone interview. “We’ve got a great offense and we’re going to play within ourselves. We’re going to go out there and do a great job. We’re not too worried about their defensive prowess or anything.”

Otherwise renowned as a soft-spoken and natural leader in the locker room, Richardson didn’t seem to be on the same page running back Chase Misura, who—when presented with different statistics—had a slightly contradicting reaction.

“They gave up 150 yards a game?” he said, elated after I’d told him about the team’s abysmal rush defense. “Well then I’m thrilled, you just made my day.”

Likely to deliver a dominating performance on the ground against the nation’s 129th-ranked rush defense in 2008 (out of 238 teams in NCAA Division III), Misura invested faith in his passing attack, led by quarterback Chris James and four other seniors at wide receiver.

“I’m not worried about it. We’ve got the same quarterback and receivers that have been together for a couple of years. They’re going to put together whatever they have to.”

Richardson echoed his running back’s confidence.

“I expect good things from Chris,” he said, citing his quarterback’s proven ability to rise above adversity. “Things are just going to happen that put wrinkles in our plans. But I think that Chris is really adept to being able to adapt to problems that arise on the field pretty quickly. Plus, he’s a mobile quarterback so if he gets rushed he’ll be able to get out of the pocket and make a smart decision with the ball. I think he’s pretty well prepared.”

Richardson believes the linchpin of the team’s success hangs on its ability to stay cool and collected against a defense that’s notorious for creating chaos.

“All we can do is go out there and play disciplined football,” he said. “We’ve got a great offense and we’re going to play within ourselves. We’re just going to go out there and play confident and relaxed.”

Based on what he’s seen recently around the team’s facility, Richardson’s had no reason to expect anything less.

“I’m looking for or us to do pretty good,” he said, offering his ode of confidence. “We had a good practice [Thursday], some good practices all week so I think we’re going in there calm and I think that’s probably the most important thing for us.”

Tonight’s contest will be played at Albright Colelge’s Gene L. Shirk Stadium, located in Reading, PA (kickoff TBD).

For a look at a preview of tonight’s Lions’ defense, click here.

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