2018 Record: 3-8
Head Coach: John Garrett, 3rd year (6-16, 5-7)
Last Patriot League Title: 2013
Last Playoff Appearance: 2013
8/31 @ William & Mary
9/7 @ Monmouth
9/14 Sacred Heart
9/21 @ Albany
10/11 @ Princeton
10/19 @ Georgetown
11/9 @ Holy Cross
The 2010’s go down in history as the decade in Lafayette football’s long history. As the decade nears its conclusion the Leopard’s record stands at a cringe worthy 30-70. They have failed to notch a single winning season through the first nine years of the 2010s. The lone highlights for the Leopards to this point are a surprising run to the 2013 Patriot League that included two upset wins over nationally ranked Fordham and Lehigh along with the 2014 win over the Mountain Hawks at Yankee Stadium. This current “debacled decade” comes after the program enjoyed considerable success from 2004 through the 2009 season.
If Lafayette wants to close out this decade on a high note and build momentum for the 2020s the offense must improve significantly in John Garrett’s third year. There’s plenty of experience at key positions so the potential is there for an increase in productivity. The defense returns 2 Preseason All-PL selections but must overcome depth issues along the defensive line and at linebacker if it wants to be more formidable than last year’s edition (29 ppg allowed). All three phases of the team will be tested by a challenging 12 game slate.
Lafayette’s offense has been among the very worst in all of FCS the last two seasons (12 ppg in ’17, 13 ppg in ’18). Head Coach John Garrett has full control of the “O” so much of the unit’s struggles fall on his shoulders. Garrett and Kort Shankweiler (QB Coach) must get improved play from the quarterback position if the offense is going become more productive. The rushing attack took a step forward in 2018 (87 ypg) after totaling an anemic 430 (39 ypg) yards in 2017.
Junior Sean O’Malley has started every game for Lafayette since he matriculated to the Eastern Pennsylvania school from his hometown of Beverly Hills California. O’Malley struggled for the majority of the 2018 campaign (158 ypg 4 TDs 12 INTs) but seems firmly entrenched as the starter heading into the season opener against William & Mary. Fellow junior Cole Northrup provides an experienced back up. Sophomore Troy Fisher and freshman Keegan Shoemaker could find themselves battling it out for reps if O’Malley continues to struggle.
If the quarterback play improves Lafayette has the weapons at wide receiver to have a solid passing attack. The top three pass catchers (Pearson, Revere and Spigner) from 2018 return. Senior and Preseason All-PL selection Nick Pearson (41 rec 592 yards) gives the Leopards a true #1 out wide. Fellow senior Julian Spigner (20 rec 188 yards) and junior Quinn Revere (38 rec 336 yards 2 TDs) from a trio capable of big things. Freshman Jordan Hull has the talent to work his way into a meaningful role as the season progresses. Jake Taggert appears to have the inside track start at TE. The junior missed the majority of last season with an injury. Senior Demetrius Breadlove made the switch from defensive line to TE during the offseason.
The offensive line has contributed to the Leopards troubles over the last few years. First year OL coach Christian Pace has a relatively experienced group with good size to work with. Senior Jake Marotti (Preseason All-PL) and junior Gavin Barclay are expected to be the starting tackles. Juniors Taron Hampton and John Burke will likely be at center and guard respectively. There are several sophomores (Josh Roberts, Ben Wild, Joe Grundhoffer, Casey McCollum) that will be in the mix for the other starting guard spot and/or rotational playing time. Freshman Nathan Slater is worth keeping an eye on as the season moves along.
The ground attack went from inept in 2017 (39 ypg) to simply bad in 2018 (87 ypg). The lack of production is not due to subpar talent. It comes down to the OL, the ability to pass and Garrett’s play calling. Junior Selwyn Simpson (352 yards 2 TDs)is locked into the starting role. Simpson is a skilled, powerful runner who could have a breakout season if those three things improve. Senior Mike Dunn and junior J.J Younger will also see significant time. Younger is the pass catching threat out of the backfield.
Lafayette has some quality individual talent on defense but overall depth could become a serious problem if there’s any amount of attrition. The “D” allowed a less than ideal 29 ppg in 2018. To be fair, the unit was often put in bad spots last season thanks to the offense’s struggles.
Heading into the season the strength of the defense is the secondary. Preseason All-PL selection Yasir Thomas (48 TT) will be the leader of the defense from the safety position. A pair of seniors, Eric Mitchell (2 TFL) and Tre Jordan (26 TT), provide plenty of experience at cornerback. Senior Colin Thorne, sophomore Romeo Wykle and freshman DeRon Gilbert will likely battle it out for playing time at the other safety position. There’s several sophomore and freshman that will compete for playing at time at CB.
Lafayette must replace their top two tacklers from last year at linebacker. Juniors Major Jordan (66 TT) and Ryan Dickens appear to be locks for two of the three starting positions in defensive coordinator Manny Rojas’s 4-3 scheme. Keith Earle’s move from DE to LB gives the Leopards a big, physical presence in the second level of the “D”. Sophomores Ty Hranicka and Christian Holler should see significant reps.
The defensive line is led by Preseason All-PL DE Malik Hamm (15 TFL). The sophomore had a spectacular freshman year and seems destined for national honors before too long. With Breadlove’s and Earle’s position change there’s no clear cut favorites at the other three starting spots. Senior Ryan Barnett, junior Harrison Greenhill, sophomore Ian Grayson saw significant time last year. Lafayette has only seven DL listed on their roster so depth is an obvious concern. Another issue is the lack of size along the front; only one player (Grayson) listed over 265 pounds. Given the limited depth and size up front there’s a good chance the Leopards will once again struggle to stop of the run (154 ypg allowed in ’18).
Junior Jeffrey Kordenbrock is a talented kicker who can handle all three responsibilities if need be. Kordenbrock was especially impressive kicking field goals last year (7/11 overall, 5/9 from 40-49). J.J. Younger has plenty of experience returning kicks.
It’s certainly not a reach to suggest that this is an extremely important season for John Garrett and the Lafayette football program. Garrett came to Easton with the expectation that he would get the offense rolling again after it hit a wall in Frank Tavani’s final few seasons. Amazingly, the “O” has actually gotten worse in Garrett’s first two years at the helm. It likely won’t improve until the head coach and quarterback are able to get on the same page. Garrett must be willing to make a switch at QB if the incumbent Sean O’Malley continues to be ineffective.
When the dust settles odds are Lafayette will close out the 2010s without a winning season. The offense seems destined to struggle to score until the OL and quarterback raise their level of play. The defense has some nice pieces but overall suffers from a lack of size in the trenches and depth at each level. Add in a schedule that is extremely challenging and the recipe is there for another ugly season on College Hill.
Prediction: 2-10 (1-5)