Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Reactions to the Brown Game

Two wins in a row and back to .500. It is safe to say this is not the same team that took the field against the Harvard Crimson in the third game of the year. It was hard to gauge what kind of team the 2010 Holy Cross Crusaders would be following the first two games of the year (Howard and UMASS). We rolled passed the Bison and felt pretty good about ourselves, but Howard is one of the worst teams in FCS football this year. The week after we struggled greatly against the Minutemen, but watching their performance against Michigan a week later, they clearly are one of the top five teams in the FCS this year. We fell somewhere in between these two teams, but where? Harvard would be the telling game, many presumed, of where the team stood this year. That Saturday night in Cambridge, however, was the low point of the season thus far. Not only did we get punched in the mouth hard by the Johnnies, there was little fight back. The offense struggled for the second straight week and looked to be in disarray, the defense had little answer for Andrew Hatch, and the energy on the sidelines was befuddled by the Crimson attack. After another setback down in Washington DC, although the defense came to play and the effort was there by the boys for an entire 60 minutes, the Crusaders returned to the friendly confines of Fitton Field. Getting past a weak Fordham Rams team was a nice confidence booster on Homecoming, but beating a strong Brown team the following weekend may be a sign that Holy Cross has turned to corner.

In an article I wrote back in mid-August previewing the Quarterback position, I commented on how every team experiences "growing pains" at the beginning of a new season. Some have worse pains than others; Holy Cross this season experienced pains throughout the first four weeks of the year. The past two weeks have demonstrated that these pains have been cured, and there is no better time for this to have happened. Going into our final out of conference game of the year against a much improved Dartmouth football squad, and then having Colgate, who is the class of the league this year, on the horizon, ridding ourselves of growing pains is crucial.

Now, let's take a closer look at the Brown game. What went right:

  • Defense came to play. Although the defensive unit has struggled at times this season, they are actually the number one rated defense in the Patriot League this season in terms of points allowed per game (22.2).
    • Up until this game, Brown was averaging just over 28 points a game. The Crusaders' "D" cut this point total in half. 
    • What stands out most of all was a Brown drive beginning early in the 4th quarter (13:18). The drive lasted 14 plays and traveled 76 yards, but stalled at the Holy Cross four yard line. The officials prolonged the Bears possession with several skeptical calls (two of which extended the drive), but the defense was up to the task, and did not relinquish any points. 
  • The duo of CJ Martin and Ricky Otis up the middle led the way again with a combined 16 tackles.
  • Alex Johnson came up with a big interception midway through the 4th quarter.
  • Perry Townsend continues to be a major force on special teams, particular on the "Hit Squad" (kickoff team). Townsend flew down the field on one kickoff and beautifully tripped up Mark Kachmer on the return.
  • Offense did what they needed to do. Putting up just 17 points may not win a ton of games, but protecting the ball and making good decisions will. Ryan Taggart turned in his second consecutive solid effort by throwing for 196 yards and two touchdown strikes to Bill Edger.
  • Speaking of Edge, he was the go-to receiver for the second straight week. He hauled in seven catches for 61 yards and the two scores. It is no mystery that the Holy Cross offense began to get going again upon his return to the field.
  • The play of the defense, Ryan Taggart, and Bill Edger all aside, the play of the game, as well as the season, was Luke Chmielinski's incredible catch.
    • Let me set the stage for you: HC is up 13-10 with about four minutes remaining in regulation. It is 3rd and 20, and Brown is looking for a big defensive stop to get the ball back with time to put together one final drive. With three timeouts in the bag, and a potent Brown offense that has been held at bay all day, Holy Cross certainly does not want to simply hand the Bears the ball back. Enter: Luke Chmielinski. Luke ran a "go" route down the middle of the field, and Taggart delivered a pass right on the money for Luke to grab. With a defender draped on his back, it would be a tough ball for Luke to catch, and once the ball came into contact with Luke's hands, Brown defender Stephen Payton laid a monster hit on Luke. I don't think anyone in the stadium expected Luke to hold onto the ball, but he somehow absorbed the hit, and came down with the ball. 
      • There was still work to be done as it was 4th and 2, but the fleet footed Sam Auffant picked up six yards on the ensuing play to get the 1st down and all but put the game away.
  • 10 different receivers caught balls on Saturday. It is great to be able to spread the ball around to so many capable receivers. The breakdown of these 10 receivers were: five Wide Receivers, three Tight Ends, and two Running Backs.
  • Paul Tearson was solid in kickoff duty as he booted three kicks, with great elevation, to around the Brown 10 yard line each time.
  • There was only one "3 and out"...great to see that.
What did not go right against Brown:
  • Having a more effective running game will pay dividends later in the season. As I type this, the Colgate game in two weeks immediately comes to mind. Colgate loves to execute the "three runs, and a pile of dirt" type of offense, meaning that they will constantly run the ball, and methodically pick up first downs. The Raiders' are possessing the ball for just shy of 40 minutes this year; a truly remarkable statistic. Being able to run the ball and use clock will help our offense down the road.
  • Alex Schneider still needs to become a bigger factor in the offense. Having only three receptions for 20 yards is not enough for a Tight End of his ability.
  • Play calling has improved drastically since the Georgetown game, but there were two particular instances where the play calling was poor.
    • On 3rd and 1 from our own 23 midway through the 4th quarter, we elect to throw a screen pass to the wide side of the field. Why not use the big uglies in the trenches, who were getting a solid push all day, and give the ball to Eddie Houghton to get that yard?
    • After Alex Johnson's big interception the very next series for Brown, instead of being smart with the ball and eating up clock late in the 4th, we attempted to throw a lateral to Rob Koster who would in turn throw the ball down field. There was simply too much risk in this play. The lateral was not executed, and Brown nearly came up with the recovery, but fortunately the ball squirted out of bounds before they recovered it.
  • While this is not a negative, how long does the experimentation of rotating between Ryan Taggart and Kevin Watson continue? It seems as if the offense cannot get into a great flow and rhythm with alternating quarterbacks on every series.
  • The preceding bullet point is connected with this one: too many penalties. In the last few seasons, Holy Cross was one of the most least penalized teams in the Patriot League, but this year they are the most penalized having accumulated 43 yellow flags (Bucknell is next with 34). It is hard to attribute these penalties to the changing quarterbacks, but there was a point against Brown where there were three consecutive penalties against the offense (two false starts and one delay of game). Maybe this is a result of not having a steady quarterback?
  • Attendance less than 5,000. I do not want to open a can of worms here, as this weak number can be attributed to many, many things, but on a beautiful fall day at Holy Cross, I would have hoped more than 5,000 fans would have showed up.
Next up: Dartmouth. Holy Cross has won six consecutive games against the Big Green dating back to 2004. In fact, Tom Gilmore's first win as a head coach came against Dartmouth as the Crusaders won 24-0 in Hanover. Dartmouth is much improved, but if the Crusaders play their game and keep steadily improving as they have in the past two weeks, Holy Cross should leave the beautiful state of New Hampshire victorious.

Kevin Doyle '11


  1. Thanks for the complete recap. Unable to make the trek from NJ for the game and your analysis is the next best thing. Hoping you will be scribing another victorious outing next week.

  2. Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points.
    -Knute Rockne

  3. Team is building momentum and hopefully will blow through Hanover on its way to Hamilton for payback. The last two trips to the tundra of upstate NY left HC as the bridesmaid with one-point losses both times. Each of those games were the season finales. The timing of this game should help the Cross.

    First things first...BEAT DARTMOUTH!!

    KD, Continued thanks for great insights into the team and color on the games. Nicely done!!

  4. I missed the game so it was great to get your perspective. Thank you once again young doyle lad.

  5. The crowd up north are reading your stuff. Did you provide some locker room material for added motivation for the Green?


  6. Good luck in Hanover!! Hope you continue your winning streak!!