Georgetown football (Patriot League) opens its 2018 campaign Saturday afternoon in Poughkeepsie, New York against the Marist Red Foxes (Pioneer League). It’s the fifth consecutive year the two teams have met, and the 21st all-time meeting.
Though the Hoyas had won all three of their most recent matchups against the Red Foxes entering last year’s game, it was Marist who left DC with a 14-12 victory last year, one of four they would earn during the 2017 season. Both teams scored two touchdowns, but now-senior kicker/punter Brad Hurst’s extra point was blocked following Georgetown’s first score, and they were unable to convert a two-point attempt in the fourth quarter. It was a game that proved costly for the Hoyas who, instead of potentially starting 2-0 in Head Coach Rob Sgarlata’s fourth year at the helm, sat at 1-1 entering their Ivy League and conference play. The team would go on to drop its final nine games of the year.
The Hoyas have reasons for optimism as kickoff draws near, however, beginning with the fact that their offensive attack should see a healthy improvement in 2018. After Georgetown averaged only 12.5 points and 59.8 rushing yards per game last season, offensive coordinator Rob Spence will be taking the reins, arriving on the Hilltop with stints as OC at Clemson and Syracuse under his belt. Junior quarterback Gunther Johnson returns after seeing extended playing time last season after transferring from the University of Arizona. The Hoyas will also have a healthy offensive line as part of a unit that returns eight players with game experience after the group was ravaged by injuries in 2017. Georgetown must have a plan of attack for handling Marist’s fifth-year linebacker Willie Barrett, who, in preseason, was named to the Buck Buchanan Award watch list given to the best defensive player in the FCS.
Expect to see a lot of junior wide receiver Michael Dereus, a 2017 second-team All-Patriot League selection who reeled in 46 balls for 596 yards and five touchdowns last year despite the Hoyas’ offensive struggles. Dereus will likely see help coverage coming from first-team All-Pioneer League preseason selection Wesley Beans, a fifth-year safety for the Red Foxes who picked off six passes last season. Dereus’ big-play abilities will be complemented by senior wideout Brandon Williams’ range on the perimeter, while sophomore wide receiver Max Edwards will likely emerge as the Hoyas’ go-to possession receiver out of the slot.
Defensively, the Hoyas were on the field for huge chunks of games at times last season, though they seem to have more players they feel comfortable with in the regular rotation. Opposing offensive lines will have to key on junior defensive end Khristian Tate, a first-team All-Patriot League selection a season ago after. Tate will likely wreak his havoc if he’s not being consistently double-teamed, though, in that case, Coach Armando Gyles can count on the contributions of senior defensive linemen Mike Taylor III and Brendan Sawicki, as well as sophomores Duval Paul and Kingsley Umemba, all of whom have plenty of game experience under their belts. They will try to harass redshirt sophomore quarterback Jacob Hallenbeck, the Red Foxes’ first-year starter under center.
Seniors Ramon Lyons, a cornerback, and Blaise Brown, a safety, headline the Hoyas’ defensive backfield after being every-down players in 2017. Lyons will spend time covering Juston Christian, Marist’s uber-productive senior wide receiver, another preseason All-Pioneer League selection and the Red Foxes’ most dangerous offensive threat. Who will start opposite Lyons and Brown for the Hoyas remains a mystery, though it is reasonable to expect it will be two of senior Jethro Francois and juniors Jalen Goldwire and Leon Agee. What’s intriguing will be the role Ahmad Wilson plays: an All-Patriot League special teamer in 2017, the sideline-to-sideline player will likely see snaps at both linebacker and strong safety.
Fans can expect a competitive matchup on Saturday. Though the Red Foxes were picked seventh out of ten teams in the Pioneer League Preseason Coaches’ Poll, it’s hard to chalk up an automatic ‘W’ for a team coming off a one-win season that ended with ten consecutive losses. Vegas lines are backing neither team as favorite – a pick’em matchup. We’ll be looking to see how Coach Spence’s new offense performs, how new starters in the defensive backfield will look in their first tastes of extended game time, and, of course, it will be interesting to see the attitude and desire the Hoyas display with a clean slate after a season that got away from them in 2017.
Kickoff is scheduled for 1 P.M. on Saturday. Follow @GUVoiceSports for game day updates and continuing coverage of Georgetown fall sports.