Lions’ Offensive Pregame Preview: TCNJ, Donoghue ready for West Conn–and each other
A passerby roams the halls just outside the TCNJ locker room. He sees a familiar scene—player and reporter, discussing usual pre-game points of emphasis.
He continues without much thought.
But, upon hearing the subject matter of an otherwise pedestrian conversation—the team’s condition in the tentative care of its backup quarterback—his proverbial mental train is rerouted, the itinerary of his impulses provoking the following reaction:
“Oh Jay Donoghue? He’s the man.”
Whether he’ll be the man for the Lions this weekend is uncertain. The status of starting quarterback Chris James is under raps, and his understudy remains largely unproven—on paper, at least. But, should he get the nod, there doesn’t seem to be anyone willing to voice concerns.
Maybe it’s because there aren’t any.
“We have complete confidence in Donoghue,” said wide receiver Colin Weber, who’s worked with the youngster daily since August.
Weber, whose 69.75 receiving yards a game rounds out the conference’s top-three most prolific weekly averages, says he’s window-shopped for months now, browsing aisle after aisle of the kid’s goods.
And he says he’s sold.
“He’s been our backup quarterback for two years—he’s been practicing every day. He’s a smart kid, he knows the system and he works hard. Like I said, we have complete confidence that he can lead us to a win tomorrow.”
Sure to mention that his friend and fellow senior would surely be missed—both presence and production—Weber couldn’t identify a resounding deviance from the team’s weekly business, even with the prospect of Donoghue under center.
“Nothing’s really changing at all. We’re not game-planning any different than we would. We’re game planning for West[ern] Conn[ecticut], not necessarily considering Chris out, we’re just continuing with what we have and with our game plan. He knows the system.”
Now, if it were written as a textbook, the Lions’ spread offense wouldn’t quite qualify as light reading. Chapters would include lessons on the zone-read option, scores of combination routes and pass schemes—all with specified progressions—and those are just the fundamentals. Suggested, accessory readings would include various works on option routes, identifying coverages, and intro to footwork instructional manuscripts.
Mind you, that’s what can be taught. Lest we forget intangibles like pocket presence, decision-making and—most important of all—it.
Fortunately for Donoghue, its architect designed the scheme specifically for easy operation. He also kept malleability in mind.
“Our system is friendly,” TCNJ offensive coordinator Bobby Acosta said after Friday’s walk-through. “It adapts to all the different kids we have and talent we have. Some things we had to push back because Chris does things—he creates. Being young, we don’t want to put Jay in that situation. We just want him to play.”
Which, according to the man of the hour—potentially closer than a full 24 before his most telling—is about what he’s going for.
“I don’t know,” said Donoghue—his revelation of predetermined strategy before tomorrow’s contest. “I guess whatever the coaches tell me to do.”
Elaborating on his otherwise vague break-down, Donoghue said he’s just trying to keep an even keel, banking on his approximated recipe for success calling for a few heaping tablespoons of staying within himself.
“Quarterback is one of those positions you just gotta stay composed and make sure you’re making all the right reads. [You] don’t get too crazy. Save all that stuff on the defense.”
Invoking a reserved sense of assuredness from the program, Donoghue still might not be asked of much—neither by himself or coaches. But those around him have already tailored their expectations of themselves
“We’re trying to make every play for him,” wide receiver Cam Richardson said. “If he puts a ball out there we gotta make sure we go get it for him, so he gets rhythm, gets confidence and we can get it rolling.”
Weber might stand alone as its statistical leader, but the corps as a whole represents the most high-wattage beacon of senior leadership. The backbone of its pentagon shape incorporates five student-athletes—all wideouts, all in their fourth and final year of eligibility (Gardner, Hendrickson, Picatagi, Richardson, Weber).
And according to Richardson, designated in training camp as one of the team’s four official headship representatives, there’s plenty more Donoghue’s group of targets can offer.
“From a mental aspect, we’re just trying to keep him calm. Obviously it’s a new situation for him, whereas with Chris, he’s been playing as longer than any of us receivers have been playing, at least here at the College. So mentally, we definitely feel responsible. Keep him calm, help him make plays, and maybe let him lean on us where we might have leaned on Chris.”
Funny thing is, most of the program is having a difficult enough time composing themselves.
“I’m pretty excited for Jay this week,” Acosta said, anxious to see his project fully function. “That’s our future. You definitely want to give playing time to your future, because when it comes around next year, he has playing experience.”
An undoubted benefit on the side, the second-year coordinator doesn’t consider tomorrow an investment toward years to come. Nor does he necessarily foresee pending rookie mistakes—a guarantee for just about anyone else.
“Jay’s ready to go. He’s gonna do some special things tomorrow. And we’re going to take the good with the bad with it—we’ll live with him.”
For Saturday, but a ninth of their season’s collective existence, Acosta, the offense—maybe even the team—could very well hinge upon the fluid swing of Donoghue’s right arm.
But the man himself? He’s just trying to live.
In the moment, that is.
“Absolutely,” he said, insisting he’ll relish an opportunity.
“It’s a great game. Why not?”