Lions’ Offensive Pregame Preview: TCNJ O.C. conjures up scheme for Brockport
For a personable guy, there’s certainly a whole lot TCNJ offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta doesn’t like to talk about.
Throw a few stats his way, and he’ll shrug his shoulders—in speech or gesture. Try to pick his brain on a game plan, and he’ll respond like a San Francisco weatherman—only that he has one.
Yes he’s approachable, and sure he’s accommodating. But don’t let him or his quick-witted sense of humor fool you.
He’s a conniver, that one.
Acosta’s as tactfully vague as the best of them. But dare to question his offense’s ability to respond to last week’s loss at Kean–its worst outing to date–and while he may not put it in words, Acosta’s aura sends a distinct message.
“They’re ready,” he said subtly, a mischievous grin smeared across his face.
Answering with a quiet reserve, only enough to hide his hand, the second-year rounder indicated Friday that there’s plenty he doesn’t want tipped.
“It depends on the personality of the game,” he said, unclear if his ostensible expression was a tell—or a trick.
Based solely on their literal definition, Acosta expects the former-national leader in scoring—dethroned after an anemic seven-point performance from a week ago—to return tomorrow to face The College at Brockport in a pivotal NJAC showdown.
“[The Kean loss] was like a slap in the face. It kind of wakes us up saying that we need to be a little more detailed with what we do.”
Whether it overslept an intended power nap or was knocked into full-fledged comatose by a blitz-happy Cougars’ D, the Lions’ offense that stormed the field during last week’s 28-7 loss wasn’t the one that had carried the program to its unanticipated 3-0 start.
Led by NFL prospect nose tackle Darryl Jackson, the Cougars rose to the occasion on two fourth-down opportunities in the first half, turning the Lions’ away empty handed following a pair of consecutive red-zone trips. With half of his characteristically diverse playbook deteriorating as the game progressed, the magician’s repertoire forced Chris James into 41 obvious pass attempts—and a healthy Cougar pass rush.
Acosta spent a portion of the week reaching out to other conductors of the spread offense in the hopes of better responding to short yardage situations for his orchestra’s next scheduled recital.
“Every spread team I’ve talked to said they’ve all struggle in the red-zone,” he said, noting his earlier conversation with coaches at the University of Delaware. “We have a couple of different packages this week, so we can be a little more efficient when we get down there.”
Fortunately for the Lions, that hasn’t exactly been a forte of this Brockport defense—if there’s one at all.
While TCNJ has struggled in the red zone, capitalizing on only 76% of its opportunities from within striking distance (scored on 13 of 17 possessions), opposing offenses have scored on every chance against the Golden Eagles (opp. scored on all 19 red-zone possessions; 15 TDs, 4 FGs).
Its opposition has thrived outside those mouth-watering 20 yards as well, against a Brockport defensive unit that ranks ninth in the conference—second worst only to the Lions’ inconsistent squad (opp. avg. 444.0 ypg).
Should the comfort of home-sweet-home help the Lions revisit its early-season form, it will likely be its passing game that causes the most damage.
Sitting at only a slightly more attractive seventh among NJAC pass defenses, the only two victors over Brockport this season have milked at least 100 yards of production out one receiver—if not more.
Pouring on the hurt to a 56-20 romp that included three defensive touchdowns (3 INT returned for TD) Rowan signal-caller Frank Wilczynski hooked up with wide receiver Kay Robinson four times for 103 yards—a performance worthy of NJAC honors as its top rookie performer.
A week earlier, two of Montclair State’s pass-catchers eclipsed the century mark, as receivers Hector Rosas and Matt Newman combined for 230 yards on only 10 receptions—one of them five yards shy of a 100-yard dash.
Maybe that’s what’s got Acosta so giddy—looking over his shoulder at the toys in his chest.
Despite lackluster performances a week ago, receivers Colin Weber (avg. 104 rec. yds/gm) and Mark Gardner (avg. 84.67 rec. yds/gm) round out the conference’s two most prolific targets. Modest only by his own standards, Weber enjoyed moderate success as an honorary co-captain, scoring on one of his seven passes that yielded 67 yards. But, Kean’s blanketing defense smothered Gardner all night long, limiting the game-breaker to only two catches good for 11 yards—and it stung.
“The Kean loss was kind of rough,” Gardner said. “But our line’s gonna do well and our defense is gonna do well. Hopefully we’ll go out there and get a ‘W.’”
His numbers might have taken a hit, but Gardner’s spirit soared following the loss and what he called a “hard week of practice.” Toying with the manner in which the question was phrased, Gardner offered some predictions for what he believes will be a fruitful afternoon.
“Mark Gardner’s gonna try his hardest, Mark Gardner’s gonna go hard every play, Mark Gardner’s gonna catch a few balls,” he said, laughing throughout the entirety of his deceptively humble response.
Teammates have faith in what they described as unequivocal talent.
“Our wide receivers are very skilled, and I’m pretty sure we’re gonna be able to exploit weaknesses,” running back Michael Yetka said Friday, his optimism sparked by other capable performers. “The line’s going to manhandle them and give Chris enough time to throw the ball. We’ll be good to go.”
Yetka and his tailbacks should be too, taking the field against a rush defense that’s forfeited 194 average rushing yards to its opponents. The Golden Eagles’ defense boasts the conference’s leading tackler in linebacker Nathan Bull (avg. 8.75 tckl/gm). But even at its best, it allowed Red Hawk ball-carriers 130 yards rushing in an aerial shootout with Montclair State that diced its secondary for 363 pass yards.
After answering a handful of questions regarding his intentions—if that’s even how his responses qualify—Acosta posed a question of his own.
“How do you win any game?” he said, turning the tables.