My rants and insight into Colgate athletics and Patriot League sports

Monday, August 22, 2005

#2 Lafayette

Sorry for the delay on this one (when it rains it pours - believe it or not 13 has been a busy man at work. Plus, it doesn't help when Rambacker starts on one of his infamous rants!). Here's what you have been waiting for (and yes, it means that you can guess who #1 is - but I've never been secret about that):

#2 Lafayette

Recent History

After a slow start in in 2000, the Frank Tavani years have seen Lafayette quietly build themselves into a winning program, culminating with winning in 2004 their first Patriot League Championship since the Erik Marsh years. However, given the fact that the Leopards haven't strung together back to back winning seasons since 1991-92, and as returning champions they won't sneak up on anyone in the league this year, the task at hand in Easton is a tall one.

With that in mind, last year's championship (and of course win over rival Lehigh) looks to have done wonders for the Lafayette program. Confidence and excitement about the program are at stratospheric levels at a school that has yet to jump on the scholarship bandwagon like the rest of the Patriot League (sans football). Lafayette Football is now the bright spot of Leopard athletics, and given the fact that Tavani won last year with a relatively young team, "Pard" faithful have every right to be hungry for the season to start.

Off Season Developments

There were two big developments on the Lafayette coaching staff, and amazingly, they both involved the same person: Associate Head Coach and Offensive Line Coach Bob Heffner. At first it looked like Heffner was on his way to Illinois and the allure of Big Ten football, then to the Leopards delight they got him back. For a guy that's been the offensive coordinator at Maryland, sought after by Illinois and coached in the Canadian Football League, Lafayette looks to have a real winner sticking around in Easton.

Tavani appears to have continued to find ways to lure talent to Easton, particularly from right across the state line. Two of the biggest standouts from the class hail from the Garden State: Jerrell Robinson, a 6-3 270 pound Defensive Lineman from Paterson Catholic and Shaun Adair, a 5-10 170 pound Mr. Everything that will likely start out as a wide receiver but played quarterback and running back too at Morristown High School. Both Robinson and Adair are two freshman that could see playing time this fall.

Seven other classmates call New Jersey home including Andy Romans, who could turn into a fine Patriot League linebacker. Other than that, trying to give a scouting report on Lafayette when resident Patriot League expert "Andy" is watching could get tricky. I will leave it up to him to give the readers the rest of the Leopard scoop.

2005 Schedule

The Pards have a curious schedule that includes seven home games and, interesting enough, they nearly all occur in a row. The Leopards start off making a trip to Poughkeepsie and the Red Foxes of Marist before welcoming A-10 foe Richmond to Easton for the start of a three game home stand. The Richmond game should be an early test of the Lafayette team as the Spiders will be out to avenge last seasons controversial loss. The first Ivy game on the slate is Princeton, who were one of two Ivy teams to mar the Leopard schedule last year, followed by Fordham to close out the first home stand.

The Pards head back on the road for a visit to the newest Patriot League stadium in the conference and Georgetown, before returning to Easton for another home stretch of four games. Columbia is the first to town before a Harvard homecoming (the second Ivy loss last year, and interestingly enough, the second trip the Crimson make to Easton in as many years) ends the Ivy schedule. The tests don't stop as Bucknell is up next followed by Colgate to finish off the home stand. Lafayette then closes out the season with a trip to Worcester and Holy Cross before wrapping up the schedule with a short drive to Bethlehem and the 141st playing of a little game that you may have heard of: Lehigh vs. Lafayette.

Certainly a favorable schedule for Lafayette if not for the final game of the year taking place at Goodman: an A-10 opponent at home along with Fordham, Bucknell and Colgate too. Throw in two losses last year that have to go to Easton as well and the Leopards could have one of the best schedules in the league.

Season Outlook

If defense wins championships, then Lafayette fans should love that old adage. Ten out of eleven defense starters are back with the Pards sole lose being linebacker Wes Erbe. Even with that loss though, the heart and sole of the Leopard defense will be led by the strong linebacker core of Maurice Bennett and Blake Costanzo along with defensive lineman Marvin Snipes. The line also brings back standouts Andrew Brown and Daniel Liseno. Finally, defensive backfield will be anchored by Torian Johnson and seniors Larry Johnson and Tye Murphy at the corners. That group coming back intact should give opposing teams fits and compete with Bucknell for the top defense in the league.

The offense has some holes to fill but thankfully returns some key cogs in the machine: Brad Maurer at quarterback and Archie Fisher at wide receiver, who returns after a season ending injury two games into the season. Lafayette fans are high on Maurer, and by all rights they should be. He came in as a sophomore splitting time and by the last seven games he won the quarterback job outright. Over the span that he was the sole starter, Maurer completed 68.8 percent of his passes for 886 yards and four touchdowns, as well as six rushing touchdowns. In what could be a taste of what is to come, Maurer by all means brought his 'A' game in the NCAA playoffs throwing for 211 yards against Delaware. Frankly, he reminds this fan of Ryan Vena from Colgate - and unless you're from Lafayette or have an unhealthy obsession with the former signal caller and current AFL player, that's not good news.

Jonathan Hurt has the daunting task of replacing 2004 Offensive Player of the Year Joe McCourt; however based on some limited playing time last year, Hurt has the potential to step right in and be a factor. Fans can look to his 2004 Richmond performance of 82 yards rushing and two touchdowns to get a flavor of his capability. The biggest obstacle for the Leopards this fall will be replacing three members of an outstanding offensive line in 2004. It won't be impossible to find quality players to compliment Drew Buettner and Robert Stroble, as Lafayette enjoys significant depth on the line and any number of players may step up and find themselves in a starting position. The key to this group will most likely be how they gel as a unit. With Heffner still at the helm, I don't think the drop off will be noticeable, if it exists at all.

Predicted Finish
Second. With that much coming back from a championship year, Lafayette makes a compelling case for first. But, and it's a big but, there are three key reasons why I don't know if they can:
  1. Lafayette hasn't beat Lehigh at Goodman since 1989 - only once in the history of that stadium.
  2. That year was also the last time the Leopards beat Lehigh in back to back seasons.
  3. Lafayette has also never beat Colgate under head coach Dick Biddle.
Those three monkeys on the Leopards back are so big we should be calling them gorillas. Given how close the Patriot League race could be this year, those kinds of streaks could dash the Lafayette championship run.

With that in mind though, the schedule for the most part looks favorable and the talent looks up to the task of repeating. The offense should be very capable and could even improve upon last year with Maurer having another season under his belt. Yes, Lafayette fans should be very hungry for the season to start. And if that old adage about defense is true, the Leopards might just be hoisting that trophy once again - but this time in Bethlehem. For Lafayette fans, it probably wouldn't get much better than that.

2 Comments:

  • I think you've done a fine job identifying the Pard issues: Heffner, schedule, (2nd trip to GT in as many years,too) recruits, etc. Personally, the various streaks don't mean much because I realize the school wasn't even trying from the mid-to-late-nineties and Tavani started in a deep hole. This is a new era for us with a much more comparable talent level with the best programs. Colgate will always be a tough game because you do the extra things (like transfers, $3 mil) to maintain an edge. We've beaten the evil empire two out of three, and the talent gap has lessened IMO to a point where home field is the major deciding factor.

    By the way, I'm no expert and hope i don't sound like I think I'm one, but I do enjoy the recruiting game. Sometimes on these sites one's comments meant only as contributions can be misconstrued as criticism.

    By Anonymous Andy, at 10:41 AM  

  • Thanks andy. The "expert" tag was solely out of respect. I think you do an outstanding job contributing to the various places on the internet. You always seem to have a good handle on recruits. I might just farm out that section to you next year! ;)

    Streaks are just that: streaks. You can let them get in your head or realize it's a brand new year every year. I think one of the three streaks I mentioned will end this year; the test to win the PL outright will be breaking them all IMO.

    Best of luck in 2005 to the Leopards!

    By Blogger colgate13, at 1:21 PM  

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