TCNJ Football Analysis: Where We Are
Lions football is entering conference play with an intriguing 1-2 record. Their lone win came from beating Moravian College 31-13 in the home opener on Sept. 3. Strong defense and good quarterback play has led the Lions to take a step forward to start the season. Junior Stephan Begen had a great game throwing for 230 yards and a touchdown to Kevin Pennell in the victory. This was the first time the College won an opening game since 2011.
After a great first week victory, they faced a strong challenge in game two where they faced #15 ranked juggernaut SUNY Cortland, where they lost 63-7. This game was a story of big plays being let up by the defense and good drives ending in turnovers on offense. Once the game got out of hand in the first half, the College could do nothing to battle back.
The College then walked into week three in a defensive battle against a 2-0 Endicott College on the road. A low-scoring affair through two quarters, the College and Endicott were drawn 7-7 going into the half. A big throw from Endicott Quarterback Clayton Marengi would change the complexion of the game going up 14-7 mid-way through the third quarter. The very next drive for the College ended quickly with a fumble that Endicott scooped up and scored. After a few drives that went nowhere, the game was sealed with a late fourth quarter pick-six by Endicott’s Zachariah Twardosky ending the game 28-7. The College has been outscored 104-38 through three games and is losing the turnover battle 3-12.
What Needs to Change
The Lions now head into week five of the season after a well-needed bye week. After two losses that got away from them, the Lions need to button up the offense and work on having more turnovers on defense.
An area that the College can work on is the run game, which has been very hit-and-miss so far this season. Sophomores Jayson Schmidt and Ryan McKinney have both shared the load so far through three games, but I think these guys could be a really solid 1-2 punch in future games and we just need to see it more. If the Lions can figure out how to improve the running game just a little more, it will make the offense run that much smoother.
However, the run game is not the only thing that needs a reboot on the offense. The passing game the past two games has had a combined stat line of 246 yards, zero touchdowns, and five interceptions. I don’t believe this is all on the shoulders of quarterbacks Stephan Begen and Trevor Bopp, who got some reps in the last game against Endicott. The bye week came at a perfect time to hit the reset button and figure out how to make things easier and smoother on the offense. Just reading through the play-by-play over the past three games, we see a great drive is happening and then an interception, a sack, or a fumble that ruins all momentum that the offense has. These are mistakes for the Lions that if they clean up, they could win some key games.
The defense on the other hand is having a productive start to the year. This team played hard nose defense for two of the three games so far this season. Against Endicott, 14 of the points let up were offensive or special team turnovers, so this defense might be the real deal. They will have to create some more turnovers and get the ball back to the offense. With only three so far this year, the Lions need turnovers to start falling their way and fast. If the Lions' defense can play “bend don’t break” defense and make some big plays, they could shock some teams this season and nab some key conference wins.
What’s Coming Next
All eyes are now on NJAC conference play and that starts this week for the College when they go on the road to face the 2-2 Rowan Profs. Every season this game is absolutely electric and exciting, this year I predict no different. These are two teams that are fighting for the same couple of spots at the end of the season in the NJAC. With a win here the Lions can start to look up the table and cement themselves in the midtable of the conference.
What makes this game intriguing is the College’s hardnose defense against a high-flying Rowan offense. Rowan has a star wide receiver in senior John Maldonado. Maldonado has over 350 yards and six touchdowns through four games. Quarterback Mike Husni has also had a great season so far along with the two headed running back duo of James Fara and Jajuan Hays.
Defensively however this team lets up some points and they’ve lost some games because of it. This is an opportunity to get the offense flowing for the Lions. Two defensive powerhouses these past two weeks have prepared the College for this game and I predict it's going to be a firework show, and a game you won’t want to miss.
Lions 21- Profs 20
I think this game ends close and I’m giving the edge to the Lions because their schedule has been harder, and I think that translates into success for this game. If the College can give up field goals rather than touchdowns, they have an opportunity to get back in the win column. I’m super excited to watch, as this game can go either way.