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Breaking down football: Maintaining hope despite second straight loss

Defense perseveres without Giovacchini ’15, offense struggles without big-play threat

A loss is a loss, but some are more hopeful than others. So when the football team fell narrowly 22-14 to defending Ivy champion Harvard (2-0, Ivy 1-0) Saturday after an embarrassing loss to Georgetown (2-3) last week, the silver lining was bright. Here’s a breakdown of the Bears’ effort in week two:


What’s strong?

Allowing over 400 yards of offense in a losing effort would usually be a blemish on a defense’s image, but closer analysis shows how effective the Bruno defense was. Employing a bend-not-break style, the Bears allowed just two plays of more than 30 yards and none over 45. Big plays did Brown in last year against Harvard, and limiting them this year meant the Crimson gained only seven points late in the third quarter.

The defensive performance was all the more impressive considering the unit operated without its captain for much of the game. Dan Giovacchini ’15, the tackling machine at the heart of Bruno Defense, went down with a head injury in the first half. Despite this, the team remained strong when it counted, allowing Harvard first downs on just two of their final nine third-down attempts.

That 65 of the Crimson’s yards and seven of their points would not have come but for a controversial third-down penalty in the fourth quarter is another mitigating factor.

In the end, the 22 points Bruno allowed were too many, but it’s worth noting: It’s six points fewer than they allowed to Harvard in just the second quarter of last year’s contest. Even in a loss, we saw gritty defense from the Bears who will soon be on the winning end of games.


What’s wrong?

Bruno fans on hand Saturday who also tuned in last year would notice a distinct drop off in explosiveness of the 2014 edition of the Bears. Much of this disparity is due to the graduation of John Spooney ’14 — the speedy tailback who threatened to break a big play every time he touched the ball. This year, the Bears haven’t shown that big play capability, and it has led to a lack of scoring overall.

The Bears cashed in with touchdowns on a 75-yard drive and a 95-yard drive, but none of their other nine drives of the game showed much promise. Quarterback Marcus Fuller ’15 did a good job of finding receivers Stian Romberg ’15 and Alex Jette ’17 for big-gainers over the middle, but neither penetrated the Crimson’s final line of defense.

No over-the-top receiver or speedster out of the backfield means the Bears will have to be methodical with their drives, working their way down the field with a series of short gains — an ability Bruno has not shown much in its first two games.


What’s new?

Head Coach Phil Estes P’18 calls it “execution.” Others call it “discipline.” Whatever you call it, Bruno did not have it against Georgetown but found it against Harvard. Week one was marked by sloppy play by the Bears. Four painful turnovers and five first-half penalties kept Bruno out of the end zone.

But through Saturday’s first three quarters? Zero penalties and zero turnovers.

Cracking down on the sloppy play was no doubt one of Estes’ focuses in practice throughout the week, and it showed. Bruno looked like a polished team, and while its offense and defense weren’t perfect, they were free of major mistakes. In fact, it was Harvard that committed the first eight penalties of the game, including two third-down infractions that helped the Bears down the field for their second touchdown.

Young teams are usually particularly susceptible to execution or discipline problems, so if Bruno’s new starters have already worked through these issues after two weeks, it bodes well for the next eight.


Turning point?

No moment sucked the energy out of Brown Stadium quite like the 15-yard personal foul committed by Bears defensive back Gabe Gonzalez ’16. With Harvard clinging to a 16-14 lead and four minutes remaining, Bruno forced the Crimson into a 3rd-and-12 and looked primed to get the ball back for a potential game-winning drive. Harvard tried a crossing pattern for receiver Andrew Fischer, and for a second, Bruno celebrated after stuffing him short of the line. But a flag came in from the back judge, and Gonzalez was tabbed for a helmet-to-helmet hit. It resulted not only in a first down but also in Gonzalez’s automatic ejection from the game. Instead of punting, Harvard used the extra life to score a touchdown that all but doomed Bruno.

A crackdown on blows to the head have led to a spike in penalties like the one Gonzalez committed, and they rarely come without controversy. Regardless of whether Gonzalez really led with his head or hit Fischer’s, the call squelched a possible comeback before it one even started.


Unsung hero?

Grant Senne ’16 was the unsung hero of the game — Bruno’s bend-not-break defense would not have worked had the defense not had room to bend. Saturday, such flexibility was provided by punter Senne. Rarely does the work of punters get column inches in game recaps or analyses, but Senne pinned the Crimson inside their own 30 six times, including three within their 15. The casual fan might not notice, but Harvard had a 92-yard drive that ended with just three points and drives of 68 and 40 yards that came up empty.


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