Ques­tions need some an­swers

A few things in par­tic­u­lar stand be­tween Leop­ards and im­prove­ment in 2019

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Paul Rein­hard

LAFAYETTE SCHED­ULE

For his first year, Lafayette Col­lege foot­ball coach John Gar­rett wanted his Leop­ards to “Be Rel­e­vant”; for Year 2, it was “Be Sig­nif­i­cant.”

Now, it’s “Break Through.” Whether a 6-16 record — 5-9 in the Patriot League and 1-7 out­side the league — qual­i­fies as a suc­cess­ful pro­gres­sion de­pends on who is asked.

But to be sure, achiev­ing goal No. 3 will be no eas­ier task. The abil­ity to get pos­i­tive an­swers to the fol­low­ing five ques­tions will have a lot to say about that.

LAFAYETTE PROB­A­BLE STARTERS

1. Can the Leop­ards “Ram” the ball more of­ten?

In mon­soon-like con­di­tions last sea­son, Lafayette ran the foot­ball for 280 yards on 58 plays and only at­tempted nine passes in a 21-13 vic­tory over Ford­ham.

Sel­wyn Simp­son had runs of 51 and 38 yards that day. The to­tal yards wound up be­ing 29% of the team’s rush­ing yards for the 11-game sea­son.

2. Can Ma­lik Hamm it up again to jump-start the de­fense?

The 250-pound de­fen­sive end re­ally lit things up last year, in­clud­ing with a three-sack ef­fort in the vic­tory over Ford­ham. His 8 sacks and 15 tack­les for a loss were out­stand­ing, and from all re­ports he’s tak­ing up where he left off.

Shawn Reilly (2000) was the last Lafayette player to record more sacks in a sin­gle sea­son. He had nine. The team record is 11 by three dif­fer­ent play­ers.

Keith Earle had three sacks and Harrison Green­hill two a year ago, and they com­bined for 13 tack­les for a loss. So Hamm is not the only dis­rupter on the de­fense.

3. Can Lafayette win the third­down bat­tles?

The sta­tis­tics don’t tell us how many of them were long-yardage sit­u­a­tions, but Lafayette’s most con­sis­tent prob­lem in 2018 was get­ting the de­fense off the field on third downs.

Op­pos­ing teams con­verted for first downs — or some­times touch­downs — on 46.8% of their third plays against the Leop­ards last year, mean­ing they got ei­ther points or new sets of downs 73 times. Even­tu­ally, those fail­ures are go­ing to take their toll. On the other side, Lafayette con­verted just 32% of their third downs.

Those num­bers must be im­proved.

4. Can the Leop­ards get some big re­sults from the lit­tle guys?

Run­ning back J.J. Younger, at 5foot-8, 165 pounds, and wide re­ceiver Nick Pearson, at 5-9, 170, are two of the small­est guys on the team. But last year, they ac­counted for 20 of the 45 20-plus-yard gains for the Leop­ards. Each had 10 of them.

Younger, who is ex­pected to han­dle kick­off re­turns again, had a 95-yard touch­down re­turn against Mon­mouth and three other re­turns of more than 40 yards. For Pearson, nine of his 10 long plays were on passes, in­clud­ing 46-and 43-yarders. But the Leop­ards didn’t have a sin­gle touch­down pass of over 20 yards — in fact, only four TD passes of any dis­tance. Both Younger and Pearson have 4.3 speed in the 40.

5. What can the de­fense or spe­cial teams do to con­trib­ute points?

It’s been a while since Lafayette got a touch­down from the de­fense.

The last pass in­ter­cep­tion re­turned for a TD was in 2016 by Phil Parham, a 35-yarder against Ford­ham. The last fum­ble-re­cov­ery touch­down was by James Cos­cia, a 40-yarder against Le­high in 2015. The last blocked punt that pro­duced by TD was by Kyni Scott in 2010; it was re­cov­ered in the end zone. The last time a Leop­ard scored points on a safety was Rob Hinchen against Col­gate in 2016.

Ac­cord­ing to Lafayette records, a blocked field goal has never been re­turned for a score and the Leop­ards haven’t blocked a punt since 2014.

For­mer sports colum­nist Paul Rein­hard is a free­lance writer.

APRIL GAMIZ/THE MORN­ING CALL

Lafayette’s Nick Pearson had 10 plays last sea­son that gained at least 20 yards, in­clud­ing re­cep­tions cov­er­ing 46 and 43 yards. How­ever, all four of the Leop­ards’ touch­down passes in 2018 came on plays to­tal­ing fewer than 20 yards.

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