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Matty’s Monday Morning Mailbag: Are the Lions’ “3-0” good, and are they destined for a long Friday night @ Kean?

September 28, 2009

Every Monday, I’ll take a minute to respond to you — Lions’ Nation — answering questions and offering my predictions and insight surrounding the team’s 2009 campaign. Here’s this week’s installment of Matty’s Monday Morning Mailbag.

After its third-consecutive NJAC conquest, a decisive 67-34 scoreboard assault during Saturday’s game versus Morrisville State, the Lions now sit pretty atop the conference–all alone. But their reign will only last as long as the team can ward off the beef of its dicey schedule.

First up, Kean University.

  • Matty, the Lions won Saturday, but Morrisville State wasn’t really that good. And at the end of the third quarter, the Mustangs only trailed by 13. Shouldn’t the team have played better?

Well first, I’m not entirely sure how you’re substantiating this assessment, that Morrisville State isn’t a talented football team. Don’t know if you were watching, but those were some big dudes–big dudes that could move.

Though the defense allowed 519 yards of total offense Saturday, DBs Phil Gatti (left) and Justin Beres (right) battled resiliently against a weightroom-savvy Morrisvile State football team

Though the defense allowed 519 yards of total offense Saturday, DBs Phil Gatti (left) and Justin Beres (right) battled resiliently against a weightroom-savvy Morrisvile State football team

Earlier in the week, coaches and players raved about the team that they had seen on film, citing the Mustangs as one of the most physically gifted opponents penciled in on the schedule. Admittedly, the squad ranked among the conference’s worst in both record and statistical output entering the week. But so did the Tennessee Titans, still winless after Sunday’s loss thanks to the Jets’ nouveau G, Mark Sanchez.

Just like last team’s toughest regular season opponent boasts much more talent than the 0-3 record suggests, the ‘stangs aren’t half-bad either, and they didn’t play like it Saturday. And the team won by 33 points. How much better would you have liked to see them play?

There’s no doubt that the team struggled–briefly. We even saw the first glimpses of the Lions’ offense succumbing to humanity–a shock to most of us. Even so, the team only punted twice–a rare Zucconi sighting (aside from his conference-leading PAT attempts) in the second half.

At the end of the first two quarters, the Lions successfully converted every third-down attempt it came across (5 of 5)–all from varying distances. The only other minor deterrents to otherwise unencumbered offensive success manifested in two sacks–both during a Lions’ two-minute drill attempt–and a rare  Chase Misura fumble (2008  fumble statistics unavailable, but trust me–it just doesn’t happen all that often).

James might get rattled a bit more as the season continues, but his eyes are privy to identifying blitzes early. When teams come–and they will–he’s more than capable of exploiting aggression.

And don’t worry about Misura. Before I said a word to him after the game he looked at me and said, “I know, I fumbled.” Safe to say he’s not about to allowing that to become an ugly habit.

  •  
    Throwing a late pick while rallying a brief 4th-QTR comeback last year vs. Kean, Chris James won't be easily flustered if the game's on the line Friday

    Throwing a late pick while rallying a brief 4th-QTR comeback last year vs. Kean, Chris James won't be easily flustered if the game's on the line Friday

    I heard the Lions are going to be playing a really good team against Kean. How did the game go last year?

In a word, or six–not like it should this year.

When the Lions’ hosted the Cougars last October, Kean took the match 35-24.

Check that–Cougars’ running back Jared Chunn did, single-handedly.

Rushing for 201 yards on only 27 carries, Chunn’s contribution established an early choke hold of the rivalry’s most recent installment, averaging 7.4 ypc on his way to breaking the plane twice. In a game almost devoid of reputable performances–on either side–last year’s stud for the Cougs (finished ’08 with 1,405 yds rushing; 20th in NCAA) represented the sole bright spots in his team’s marginal win.

Cougars QB Tom D’Ambrisi was pedestrian–at best–successfully locating Kean wideouts on just nine of the night’s 20 pass attempts for only 139 yards. He did find former Lion strong safety Paul Mychalczuk, though, who forced a potentially pivotal interception in the game’s second quarter. The team’s leading tackler a year ago selflessly shared his bounty with free safety Ryan Flannery–a glad recipient of the heads-up lateral–who manufactured a 53-yard return and six points for the Lions as time expired in the second quarter (led 10-7 at half after Zucconi PAT).

Playing like the boys on the AND-1 Mixtape Tour…? I like it.

But the team fell apart after James connected with former wideout Jeff DeZutter for a 35-yard touchdown, watching helplessly as the Cougars tied the contest with 10 unanswered points (17-17), followed by another 18 in response to one last Lions’ touchdown.

  • The team didn’t run the ball that well last year, and it didn’t keep up with the pace it had set earlier in the year. How should the Lion running backs fare against Kean next Friday?

About exactly opposite of the above description.

A lot of things went down last year that, well, were indicative of last year’s Lions–which couldn’t look any more dissimilar from this year’s unit.

After keeping a perservering Mustangs' offense at bay, the Lions' defense enters Friday night's Battle of the Big Cats with confidence

After keeping a perservering Mustangs' offense at bay, the Lions' defense enters Friday night's Battle of the Big Cats with confidence

In spite of all of the team’s struggles (no recorded sacks; 4/14 on 3rd-DN; James–18/41 passing) the team still had the opportunity to win the game late in the fourth quarter. A Chris James interception stifled the charge, but the comeback try didn’t muster a whole lot of momentum, the turnover coming on a desperate fourth-and-ten attempt following three consecutive incomplete passes.

A football is a funny looking wad of leather–sometimes it bounces your way. Sometimes it doesn’t. This was one of those times.

The 2008 Lions’ offense, top-to-bottom, isn’t close to the caliber of this year’s squad.

Cashing in by trading last year’s clunker (128.3 rush ypg in ’08; 5th in NJAC) for a fully-loaded 2009 model packed with long-lost 1970s American muscle (325.5 rush ypg in ’09; 5th in NCAA), this team’s revamped ground game is legit.

Using the term loosely, even in its worst outing of the year against Morrisville State (35 rush, 163 yards, 4 TDs) the Lions rushing arsenal proved it could lock up wins in the fourth-quarter. Entering the game after gaining only 15 yards on 4 carries, versatile fusion-back Justin Donoloski assumed yet another identity–its undeniable closer–rushing for 51 yards on five carries on his way to another six points.

Sedgwick, who?

Accounting for every inch of the brief kill-the-clock-turned-pour-it-on scoring drive, the biggest knock applicable to that kind of a performance is that Donoloski scored too quickly (lasted only 2:47). And if I’m coordinator Bobby Acosta, I can live with that.

RB Mike Yetka (center) wouldn't let a lackluster statistical outing on the ground hamper his backfield's production, scoring a with defiance on a 44-yard slip screen

RB Mike Yetka (center) wouldn't let a lackluster statistical outing on the ground hamper his backfield's production, scoring a with defiance on a 44-yard slip screen

Even after 60 minutes of above average ground-and-pound football, the Lions’ running backs wouldn’t be denied entirely. On only three receptions, Donoloski and speedster Mike Yetka combined for 81 yards on slip and swing screens–one of which was Yetka’s 44-yard sandlot mockery of Mustangs’ tacklers.

I wonder how many times the Morrisville State coaching staff is going to whip out a tackling circuit this week in practice. Maybe only five–give the team a break on the day of its walk-through.

There’s no shortage of playmakers on this offense. Never has a positional group flopped thus far in the season. But should one .50-caliber barrett misfires, there should be plenty of firepower elsewhere to compensate.

***

That’s it for this week’s edition of 4M.

To see your questions answered, fill out the form below:

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