WASHINGTON - The Georgetown University football team’s defense is ranked among both the FCS national and Patriot League leaders in several statistical categories. The two highlights have been the unit’s red zone and scoring defense, which both lead the conference and rank fifth and 25th in the country, respectively.
Georgetown’s red zone defense, which at one point was leading the country, is allowing its opponent to score just 64.9 percent of the time from inside the 20-yard line. Even more impressive, in 37 red zone opportunities the Hoyas have only surrendered 19 touchdowns, holding their opponent out of the end zone 49 percent of the time. The defense has recorded at least one red zone stop in seven of the nine games this year, including three apiece against both Princeton and Lehigh and a critical goal line stand in the fourth quarter at Fordham.
“Our success in the red zone this year has been due to a combination of things,” Defensive Coordinator Luke Thompson said. “We sat down as a staff in the offseason and recognized that was an area we needed to improve. We put more emphasis on it with the players and they have totally bought in to what we are doing. When the players buy in it makes your job as a coach easy.”
Six of the red zone stops have been by interceptions in the end zone. Overall, the Hoyas are second in the Patriot League and 17th in the country with 20 turnovers gained. Georgetown’s 12 interceptions rank 18th overall while its eight fumble recoveries are good for 29th nationally. Jelani Williamson (Silver Spring, Md./Good Counsel) leads the Blue & Gray and the entire conference with four interceptions, including one in the end zone against Princeton and one, versus Holy Cross, on a deep pass to the goal line.
“We work on taking the ball away in practice all the time, whether it be in circuits, individual, group or team periods,” said Thompson. “The guys play the ball aggressively at every position and they also understand that when you're doing your job great within the defense, the opportunities will come to you.”
The red zone defense and turnovers have led the Hoyas to the top scoring defense in the Patriot League, and 25th-ranked in the country, allowing just 21.9 points per game. They have held the opposition to 17 points or less on five occasions, including in each of their three wins.
Georgetown also leads the league with 735 total tackles, but only has J’V’on Butler (Melbourne, Fla./Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy) and Leo Loughrey (Glenshaw, Pa./Central Catholic) ranked in the top 10 with 73 and 65 total tackles, respectively. In its nine games this season, the Blue & Gray has had six different players lead the team in tackles and six different Hoyas have recorded at least 10 tackles in a game.
“The players are not into individual statistics or accolades,” Thompson said. “They are all about the success of the unit. We are so lucky to have a great staff of teachers with Kevin Doherty, Alex Kolt, Maurice Banks, Kellen Pruitt and Colin Woodward that constantly reinforce that message. Our players are not only good football players but they are even better people and they play hard and are coachable and that's all you can ask for as a coach.”
Thompson and the other defensive coaches are constantly preaching three “musts” to the players that need to be achieved to provide success. First, they must ‘eliminate the explosive plays.’ Most scoring drives contain at least one big play, but the Hoyas must force the opponent’s offense to drive the entire field. Georgetown is atop the Patriot League, allowing just 5.2 yards per play.
Secondly, GU must “get off the field.” Along with the turnovers gained, Georgetown is third in the Patriot League, and 39th in the country, in third down defense, successfully stopping the offense 63 percent of the time.
Finally, the Hoyas must “play smart, situational football.” They must be aware of the situation in the game - whether it is in the red zone, first or third down or the two-minute drill - and play accordingly. Georgetown has benefitted this season from having a strong blend of veterans and youth on its defense and has seen valuable contributions come from both.
“Our leadership is another thing that we've talked about a lot,” said Thompson. “Different types of leadership and the characteristics that define leadership. Our older guys have done a great job of setting the example and our young guys have done a great job of buying into the ‘Wild Dog’ culture.”