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Lions’ post-game analysis: The good, the bad, and the ugly

September 19, 2009

All smiles on the Lions' bench, far on its way to a record-setting 58-28 rout of FDU-Florham

All smiles on the Lions' bench, far on its way to a record-setting 58-28 rout of FDU-Florham

The Lions’ rolled once again last night, plowing through its annual non-conference match-up against Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham, settling a score rooted in last year’s tearjerking 41-42 loss against the Devils in ’08.

The numbers don’t always speak for themselves, nor do they adequately frame the story of a complex night of football. For those that were there and couldn’t put their finger on the driving force behind a number of the team’s successes, or those who couldn’t make it and would like to find out what went down, I’ll do my best to fill in your blanks.


  • Lions’ O-line

It normally doesn’t demand special recognition, but when a football squad posts consecutive 300+ rushing yard performances, it worth noting the hogs up front are certainly pulling their weight–and then some, considering the size it consistently forfeits against its opponents (starters average height-6’2.4; weight-265 lbs). And quarterback Chris James ensured that their importance was documented during his post-game interview.

“The offensive line played great,” he said, struggling in lieu of creaky vocal cords in the locker room after the game. “I had all the time in the world back there. I’m feeling comfortable and you can’t say enough about them. We go as they go–they play well, we do great things. They don’t, and we can’t come through.”

The O-line protecting a Zucconi PAT, fresh after it earned its offense 6 points

The O-line protecting a Zucconi PAT, fresh after it earned its offense 6 points

The group was dominant on zone-blocking schemes, schematically designed to create multiple running lanes for guys with exceptional vision–kind of like the peepers on all three of the Lions’ tailbacks. Inside zone and stretch were equally effective, which forces a defense to remain balanced. It can’t load the middle, nor can it commit to hard outside rushes on run blitzes. The only headache bigger than gameplanning for that kind of a diverse attack is the cumbersome task of rearranging it at the half–especially when the score’s already 48-7.

Perhaps more impressive than the performances themselves are the circumstances under which they were delivered. Only two of the front-five penciled in on opening day entered 2009 with ample starting experience, LT Drew Mason and C Joe Mecca, and this regular season is christening Mecca at center, considering the 6’2, 285-pounder started all 10 games for the Lions at tackle a year ago.

In addition to his dominance of two touted defensive ends, allowing only one sack in the Lions’ first two contests, Mason’s perseverance in combating a nagging ankle injury is the kind of stuff stories (or blogs) are made of. To hell with objectivity, it’s great to see the kid thrive in spite of adversity.

  • Lion humility
OLs Joe Mecca (#75), Joe Serraro (#71) and Evan Arfuso (#74), talking it out before the Lions set up shop within its own 5-YL

OLs Joe Mecca (#75), Joe Serraro (#71) and Evan Arfuso (#74), talking it out before the Lions set up shop within its own 5-YL

Although its certainly impacted by the great lengths to which head coach Eric Hamilton preaches “commitment and character” to his players, don’t for a second take for granted the undertones of the team’s post-game interviews. Yeah, they’re saying all the right things, but they don’t know any different.

See, aside from the school’s student publication and a few quick questions from beat reporters following games, these young men have absolutely no experience with the media. They’ve never had the luxury of learning from a teammate tactlessly running his mouth in the heat of the moment, so you’d think that two blowout victories over traditionally formidable opponents would likely berth some Kiffin-quotables–but they didn’t.

To all the Lion mommies, you should be proud.

  • Lions’ free safeties

In addition to the interception snagged by FS Phil Gatti, the growth and hasty maturity of fellow centerfielder and junior Matt Kreider can’t be ignored.

FS Shawn Brown (#22) and CB Justin Beres (#10) securing an open-field tackle against Devils' WR Ryan Cushman

FS Shawn Brown (#22) and CB Justin Beres (#10) securing an open-field tackle against Devils' WR Ryan Cushman

While team co-captain Ryan “Pac-man” Flannery nurses an ankle injury, the importance of establishing a trust in that specific role is crucial to a defense’s long-term success. Play-calling becomes less weighted and more fluid, as a defensive coordinator needn’t worry about bringing the heat–and leaving DBs alone on an island. For those guys that play the second loneliest position in the sport (kickers take the cake), it’s comforting to know you’ve got help over the top. Less thinking equals better playing, also congruent to the kind of results we’re seeing from this Lions’ D–tiny numbers scattered throughout the opponent’s stat-sheet.

Defensive coordinator Matt Hamilton couldn’t be happier with the hidden gems he’s discovered and developed since August.

“Matt Kreider’s been a guy we’ve all slowly but surely watched step into the forefront back there, and that’s what you need,” he said of his novice field-marshal’s play, surpassing the expectations you’d normally associate with someone so inexperienced. “He’s gotta be the guy and make the checks. [The free safety] needs to see everything in front, and Kreider’s doing that.”

Gatti’s breakout performance–his contribution more translating toward the scoreboard than the statistician’s notebook–bodes confidence in his second-year coach, something for which he’s been waiting quite some time.

“Athletically, he’s got the ability. He’s just gotta have that killer instinct,” he said, recognizing the undeniable football dexterity of the other ball-hawk in his defensive secondary. “We put him in a prominent role last year in key games (Rowan, Western Connecticut) because we saw in him that ability that he can do it.”

He’s made some strides, though Hamilton said he’s eager to see the finished product–whenever that may be.

“We need to see the fire, like the tackle he made on that kickoff,” he said referencing a heavy lick Gatti delivered during special teams’ duties Friday. “He needs to start taking charge and be the man back there. Once he starts to do that, oh he’s gonna be good.”


  • Second-half complacency

The feel of the defense’s outing last night’s win rocked the visage of last week’s smackdown of Buffalo State–it was just completely bass-ackwards.

Unlike a week ago, when the team allowed 231 first-half yards that translated into 24 points before it buckled down allowing only 147 and a touchdown in the second half, the Devils’ impact of the second-half of offensive production skewed the stat-sheet and sorely irritated the Lions’ defensive coordinator Matt Hamilton.

“We came out and did what we had to do in the first half,” he said. “But the problem was when we went into the half 48-7, which it shouldn’t have been, it should have been 48-0, we got complacent. To put it mildly.”

Hamilton stressed that his displeasure with the team’s satisfaction from only 30 minutes of gridiron combat, versus the 60 that fit his criteria.

“Allowing 21 points in the second half, that’s unacceptable. For a couple of those drives in a row, we were just standing there. If you come out for the first three drives and shut them down [with such a large lead], it’s over–they’ll want to get the hell out of there. We let them hang around and guys gotta step up and say, ‘Hey, this game’s been out of control for a little while. We need to step up and have some intensity.'”


  • The damned sports media
See? A candid pic of Gardner's lengthy TD. And no zebras KIA. Damn, I'm good.

See? A candid pic of Gardner's lengthy TD. And no zebras KIA. Damn, I'm good.

Last night, during a Mark Gardner touchdown reception, a photographer scaling the sidelines–hoping to capture that Pulitzer-worthy Afghan girl in a D3 football contest–collided with one of the game’s officials, prompting the post-truck-stick confusion after the play ended.

I’m all about doing your job, and doing it well. Already I’ve been benignly tossed around by players on the sidelines in order to “get the good stuff” and I’ve been barked at by some pretty curt referees in my first night on the job. But there’s a line.

The sports media gets a bad rep because of these kinds of disregard for professionalism, and it makes us all look bad.

If you’re not mature enough to respect the integrity of the game–which you’re paid to document, not disrupt–stay the hell home. I can assure you that you won’t be missed.

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