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

October 11, 2009

Whew.

The team’s 48-34 win Saturday over The College at Brockport shifted the gears of the Lions’ 2009 campaign, eight days removed from a transmission malfunction on the road at Kean. In conjuncture with reigning champion Cortland State’s (3-2 ovr., 3-2 in NJAC) crippling road loss at Montclair State University (4-1 overall; 4-0 in NJAC), the Lions’ currently sit in a tie for third in the conference (4-1 overall; 3-1 in NJAC) with perennial powerhouse Rowan University (4-1 overall; 3-1 NJAC).

A weekend loss could have been devastating for a program looking to recreate the glory of its ’07 NJAC Championship. However, the win can–and should–only foster temporary satisfaction, especially with regard to the details that didn’t make the box score.

Without further ado…

THE GOOD

  • Get that swagga back

In addition to jarring the football free from Brockport wideouts on six (I counted) separate occasions, the way guys like safeties Matt Kreider (10 total tck, 6 solo) and Shawn Brown (10.5 total tck, 5 solo) flew to the point of attack was just fun to watch. The Lions defensive secondary is starting to come into its own–maybe a little too comfortable with its abilities.

On Ryan Flannery’s third-quarter interception at his own 33-yard line–one reprehensibly negated by a bad, bad pass interference penalty that wasn’t–he slipped on some of Ed Reed’s kicks, reversing his field twice before lateraling to a wide open Scotty Mathurin with room to make a play.

He didn’t, tackled after a minimal four yard return (that wouldn’t have counted anyway). But you’ve gotta love the effort and the intensity and–dare I say it–the fun these guys are having out there.

Now, there’s only ONE circumstance under which it’s okay to ad lib a play-call–especially on defense, and especially when you’re on an assigned blitz. But for hauling in a game-sealing interception at his own 37-yard line, returning it 34 yards to his opponents’ 29 (while he, too was looking for someone to share his bounty with) froshie LB Greg Burns–you, my friend, earned a pass.

But, we’ll see how gracious your coordinator is.

One of the reasons TCNJ walked away unscathed from the Golden Eagles’  visit was team defense–an indelible sign that it’s finally starting to come around. Allow me to reiterate.

Finally.

Solo tackles are generally mentioned separately in parenthetical notations because bringing an opposing ball-carrier down by yourself has more profound implications on drives. Fewer yards, better flow in reaction to the plays early development–stuff like that.

But if you check out the Lions’ defensive stats for Saturday’s win, you’ll see a ton of assisted tackles. That doesn’t mean that the players, alone, are incapable. In this case, it means that two, three–sometimes four–guys are shedding blocks in active pursuit of the football.

Great effort, sure. But it also means that they’re starting to buy into D.C. Hamilton’s game plan–which is solid, evidenced by the halftime wonders he pulled against Buffalo State.

  • What a nice dude

In general, football coaches don’t like dealing with the media.

We wear out our welcome far too quickly by loitering around the facility each and every day, prodding and probing for whatever’s news–for the week that was and ones to come. Injury information is golden, valuable to our knowledge and locked down like it belongs in a bank deposit box.

We have souls, but we ask the questions we have to–not always the ones we want to. Safe to say, it’s all too easy for one of these overworked, underpaid (and likely understaffed) state employees to get irritated–if not outwardly infuriated–with the local media.

And that refers to the ones obliged to do so. You know, home coaches talking to professional reporters? Yeah, those guys–not me.

Lions’ head coach Eric Hamiltion (and the entirety of his staff) has been more than accommodating to my every need and has made his crew available for interviews sometimes before, sometimes after–on rare occasions even during team activities. There’s no question I’m grateful, but he’s at least used to it.

I can’t imagine sitting on a bus ride for six hours–late leaving both ways–in addition to the stress induced by a week’s worth of preparation for my program’s pivotal conference football game. With those responsibilities weighing on my mood, I also can’t imagine stepping off the bus to see a college student–dressed in flip-flops and shorts–grinning and holding a gray voice-recorder, hoping to grab my description of what we both understand was a miserable trip.

I’d be a little taken back by a request to speak with one of my players, stretching out for a 45-minute window before our last opportunity to polish out any scuffs before kickoff the following day–skeptical by its postscript, a follow-up question to ask permission to snap photos.

And no, saying, “for the blog?” pointing to the camera with a raised eyebrow wouldn’t make it any less intrusive.

After putting up with all that, Brockport head coach Rocco Salomone was kind enough to comment on each of my few questions following his team’s loss.

Coach–if you’re reading–thanks.

  • Bobby Acosta

What a game.

No, I’m not talking about its excitement–too close down the stretch for my taste this early in the year. I’m talking about the one Lions’ offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta called Saturday from up in the booth.

A lot of people might have thrown up their arms at his early strategy, incessantly feeding the rock to his three tailbacks in Justin Donoloski, Chase Misura and Michael Yetka. Gesture converted to speech, judged by the hemming and hawing within earshot of the pressbox at the conclusion of the game’s opening possession–a fourth-down pick in the end zone by safety Cevon Carver that put an end to a stagnant 12-play 38-yard drive.

On their six carries, Lions’ ball carriers only gained nine yards on the drive. Sticking with the run on its next appearance, Acosta’s offense went three-and-out after earning a first-down on a Brockport pass interference penalty.

The next drive, it settled for a field-goal. Points, but four fewer than seven.

But what happened? Brockport stacked the box and started blitzing as frequently and recklessly as Graci’s aerial display. As early as the “anti-climactic” field-goal drive, Lions’ receivers started getting open. Like, all alone open.

Kudos to wide receiver Mark Gardner, who ringed out some hard-earned YAC (yards after catch) on his lone reception, good for 37 yards. But his wasn’t the only lengthy gain that gashed the Golden Eagles’ secondary, set up by masterful offensive game-planning.

Without divulging any of his offense’s nuances, he invites this kind of pressure by lulling defenses to sleep by pounding the football. His receivers are well-coached to respond when opponents bring the heat–Exhibit A: Colin Weber’s 40-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

You hear him talk all the time about “the personality of the game,” and responding to whatever, really, the defense throws at him–Exhibit B: Justin Donoloski’s 41-yard touchdown reception of a designed screen.

One of his genius’ beneficiaries was grateful after.

“We definitely caught them off-guard a couple plays,” Donoloski said outside the locker room. “[Acosta] did a great job all day. When I caught that screen pass they were calling ‘double fire’ so we knew they were blitzing. It was the perfect call.”

Well said.

  • Chase Misura’s second-quarter

When safety Shawn Brown fell on Aaron Zurn’s first fumble on the TCNJ two-yard line, Brockport swapped one scoring opportunity for another. While it squandered a shot at six points (hoping for seven, but Flannery worked his damnedest to prevent an easy PAT), a miscue on the Lions’ ensuing possession could have yielded a safety. Not to mention an untimely swing in the all-important “Mo.”

Safe to say, there was a lot riding on the drive–and Chase Misura’s shoulders.

Any discomfort mutually shared by James and Acosta dissolved following its first play, a 12-yard dagger up the middle to Misura. Breathing became easier for both men–James getting more room and Acosta letting out a sigh of relief.

He rushed the rock four times. But he carried the scoring drive–capped on a one-yard burst from Lions’ brandy-new short-yardage toy, freshman running back Kevin Brown–advancing the football and the sticks with a healthy 12.75 yards per carry (51 yds on drive).

Fueling a journey that produced the tail end of the Lions’ 17-point rally, Chase Misura singlehandedly gripped up the tee-shirt of the game’s flow–lifting it off the ground like a grade-school bully, shaking down a bookworm for lunch money.

He finished with 134 yards on his 18 attempts, slowly creeping up the conference hierarchy to ninth (49 rush, 301 yds, 6.1 avg., 5 TDs).

Touche.

THE BAD

  • Relapse after a successful rehab

The team committed nine penalties worth the only kind of 79 yards you don’t want–in the wrong direction.

Let’s go through the list.

***

#1–False start on the teams’ first third-down attempt of the game, an otherwise manageable nine-yard distance for an offense with weapons. Luckily, Misura hauled in a 17-yard completion out of the backfield.

Luckily.

#2–False start on a fresh set of downs, backing five yards away from the promised land, forcing the Lions to set up shop with facing 1st and 15 from the Brockport 33.

Three plays later, the Lions settled for a field goal, facing fourth-and-two.

#3–False start on a first-and-goal from the Brockport five-yard line–bringing up another 1st and 15.

Really? After last week’s dreadful red-zone offense (1/4 during gm. vs. Kean)?

Wonder if Kevin Brown’s going to be getting a few thank-you texts from his teammates after he bailed them out on fourth-and-goal from the one, plowing through a wall on the goal-line.

#4–Encroachment on a PAT attempt, Ryan Flannery hurdling the protection team.

Alright, I admit. That was pretty funny (impressive, too). And considering he blocked one later, we might have to let that slide.

#5–Unsportsmanlike conduct out of bounds following an 11-yard tuck-and-run by Chris James on a pivotal third-and-eight during the Lions’ two-minute drill, sending the zebras on a brisk 15 paces from the Brockport 35, back to midfield (so many hyphens…).

It was a dead-ball foul, shielding the fresh set of downs. But it put the team in a hole, facing a 1st and 25. That and the three drops put a pretty quick end to any legitimate attempt at finding the end zone–or anywhere near Zucconi’s range (about 50 yds). TCNJ turned the ball over on downs four plays later.

James looked pissed on the sidelines. I would be too.

#6–12 men on the field on the Lions’ defense, during our chance to watch Brockport’s two-minute offense on the ensuing drive.

I get it, you’re excited.

But if you’re in a rotation–either on the defensive line or in its secondary–stand next to your position coach in his peripheral vision. If you have to, bang out a few quick push-ups, maybe even a couple high-knees while you take deep, relaxing breaths to alleviate any anxious energy.

Don’t run on the field. That = bad.

Gatti bailed them out with his pick in the end-zone, but with only a three-point lead (17-14) at the time, giving up a freebie on a second-and-three just inside your territory is just unacceptable.

[Keyshawn Johnson and Tom Jackson in chorus]: Come on, man.

#7–Holding call that negated an eight-yard rush by Justin Donoloski on first-and-goal from the Brockport nine-yard line.

Simple math: The difference between [second-and-goal from the one-yard line] and [first-and-goal from the 13] equals Marc Zucconi’s second appearance following a dumb red-zone penalty.

#8–Pass interference on cornerback Derek Gorecznski.

Except for it wasn’t. Sorry, Flan.

#9–False start on a Lions’ third-and-four-turned-third-and-nine-turned-incomplete-pass-turned-punt.

All that, in the fourth-quarter. Four fingers in the air? Anyone?

***

I think that speaks for itself. So does this: “When you get into games against good teams that’s gonna beat you,” Lions’ headman Eric Hamilton said after the game.

If that’s not clear enough, he followed up with this, in response to a question regarding his plans to correct the mental errors during the upcoming week in practice.

“They might run a little.”

Yikes.

THE UGLY

  • Indecisive referees

Defensive coordinator Matt Hamtilton wasn’t happy with the officiating–or lack thereof–on the Golden Eagles’ offensive substitutions between many of its 98 plays from scrimmage.

“That was a little bit of an issue,” he said, referring to players running on and off the field without checking into the huddle, a blatant violation of Rule 3, Section 5, Article 2e of the NCAA rule book that states,

While in the process of substitution or simulated substitution, Team A is
prohibited from rushing quickly to the line of scrimmage with the obvious
attempt of creating a defensive disadvantage.

I know, because I looked.

I also looked for the law of the land regarding one of the referees’ calls later in the game, following a Lions’ touchdown. While sitting comfortably up in the press box in Lions’ Stadium, former-ESPN Radio intern Mike Leatherwood and I silently stared at each other when we saw an appalling gesture–two offsetting, dead-ball holding fouls.

You look in the rule book for that one.

In addition to spotting the ball at the Lions’ 45 on the opening kickoff of the second half, I honestly don’t know what in the hell these guys were looking at. I get the whole fake-it-till-you-make-it thing, trying not to make yourselves look like you have not the slightest idea what’s going on around you.

But you can’t just start “making” stuff up. Well, I guess you can. But that’s gotta be bad karma–or something.

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