Emotions can sometimes get the best of sports teams. Anyone who has watched the Irish football team play on Senior Day knows what I'm talking about. The team is so amped up with the emotion of the day that fundamentals can sometimes take a backseat to solid play.
The Irish men's lacrosse team suffered as much in their opener against the Georgetown Hoyas. While winning 14-12, Head Coach Kevin Corrigan was honest about the team's play in FIDM's highlight video:
Despite that, it is important to take stock in the fact that the Irish did win the game. While some were expecting a more runaway victory (me being one of them), there were certain elements of the Irish game that are worth digesting when we delve into the numbers. In lieu of doing a full-game recap, I'll make some observations based on analyzing the box score and FIDM's highlight video. Why just those? I'm glad you asked:
The game wasn't live-streamed
I can't begin to explain how frustrating it is to not have this capability. Fighting Irish Digital Media does absolutely fantastic work and I was really looking forward to their broadcast of the game. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. Anyone who has been to Loftus, especially for a lacrosse game, knows that it is a rather..."intimate" venue. You're literally right on top of the action. It's a tough place to film a game, no doubt. ESPN has, though they put their cameramen on scissor lifts to avoid getting beaned by shots and players running off the field. I understand FIDM not wanting to subject their shooters to that risk, being a former lacrosse play-by-play announcer for UND.com myself. Still, I was really looking forward to seeing the Irish in action. The Saturday 1pm matchup at Michigan will be broadcast on Michigan's website, but with audio only. No video for this one either. Hopefully we'll get the next Irish home game outdoors so we can get live video of the game because it is frustrating not being able to see the #2 team in the nation play some lacrosse on television.
The midfield lines are different this season
In my preseason primer, I assumed that Irish coach Kevin Corrigan would roll with the same top-line that we saw last year, of Marlatt-Perkovic-Brosco. He didn't. Instead, Corrigan had his son Will, along with Nick Ossello, leading the top line with Perkovic. The second lines were a little bit more jumbled, as Jack Near, Jim Marlatt, Cole Riccardi and Brosco all saw action at some point. There were some Freshmen that also saw the field, namely ones that I had mentioned in my primer, which I'll get to below. As for the top line, it was not a change I was expecting, but not one I have issue with either. Corrigan played well with Ossello on the second line last season and Ossello can also take faceoffs, as he attempted 14 in the contest against the Hoyas. About that...
P.J. Finley. Your new Irish face-off specialist
You know that phrase, "stats don't lie?" Nick Ossello had a goal on four shots, two of them on cage. But he was 3-14 on faceoffs. Oof. Contrast that with P.J. Finley, who went 10-13 from the center spot. Perhaps Corrigan lets Ossello try it again against the Wolverines, but Finley's statline in his first sustained action in an Irish uniform likely earns him the job.
Despite the sloppy play, the Irish played relatively "clean" lacrosse
Zero faceoff violations. Only a pair of personal foul penalties. 11-14 on clears and only 12 turnovers. That is pretty good for a team playing it's first game. But stats only tell so much. Obviously Corrigan and the Irish coaching staff were expecting things to gel a little bit better than they did, but on the sheets, Notre Dame did ok.
So how did Georgetown make it a game? Ground Balls and Goaltending
The Hoyas out grounded the Irish 36-32, which is a rarity for Notre Dame as they are typically tenacious at ground balls. In addition, goaltending was extremely suspect. Starter Conor Kelly, while earning the win, only made 5 saves with 8 goals against in almost 36 minutes of action. That is not bad, but certainly not good either. Shane Doss played the rest of the stretch, making 3 saves with 4 goals against. Not bad for Doss, but this is a recurring problem that the Irish can't afford. If Notre Dame wants to make a run at the National Championship, they need more solid goalie play. As I didn't see any footage of the game outside the highlight video, I will concede that it might've been defensive scheme that played a role. However, Kelly must simply play better regardless. Speaking of solid play...
Welcome to Notre Dame, Mikey Wynne and Freshmen.
Who said to look out for this guy? What a debut for the Freshman from Sykesville, Maryland, scoring 6 goals on 11 shots (8 SOG) and making himself into a force to be reckoned with. The third attack slot was a question mark going into the season but it looks like Wynne will settle in nicely. The Notre Dame attack unit might be the best in the country if Wynne can maintain this level of play.
Wynne wasn't alone though. Other Freshmen made debuts for the Irish, including John Sexton (2GB), Brendan Collins, and John Travisano, Jr. (1-1 on faceoffs). Solid output from the new Irish laxers.
Quick look at Saturday's opponent: Michigan
Michigan leads the new Big Ten Lacrosse into 2015 and at 2-0 with two blowout wins, might be better than expected. The Wolverines started a week before the Irish, winning 16-9 against Bellarmine and 15-6 against Detroit, both coming at home. In fact, the Wolverines don't play on the road until March 3, when they travel to Jacksonville, Florida to take on the Dolphins. Come to mention it, Michigan only plays four road games in their 13 game regular season. That is some fine scheduling. No sarcasm. Very clever. The Irish also play 4 road games. but they also play two fewer games than Michigan. Gotta give the Wolverines credit where credit is due.
As for their play, Michigan likes to go streaking. No. Not across the quad to the gymnasium, but in the goal-scoring department. In their opener against Bellarmine, Michigan slogged to a 7-5 deficit at the half, only to unleash 7 goals in the 3rd quarter to blow the game wide open. Against Detroit, Michigan scored the first four goals of the game, and seven of the last eight. If the Irish want to win on the road, they'll need to halt Michigan's momentum.
The Wolverine offense leans heavily on attackmen David McCormick (5g, 0a) and Ian King (6g, 5a) but not at the same time. McCormick got most of the looks against Bellarmine while King had a career day against Detroit. Expect more of the same as Michigan likes to go with what is working.
On the midfield side, Mike Schlosser (6g, 3a) is the go-to guy. He plays offense really well and isn't half-bad defensively either. It will be a tough matchup for whomever the Irish coaches choose to mark him and they'll need to do a good job of it. Outside of Schlosser, Kyle Jackson and David Joseph round out the Wolverines midfield. Both are solid.
The Wolverines use one face-off guy, Brad Lott. He is 64% for the season and played well against Bellarmine but mediocre against Detroit. If Finley is Notre Dame's choice here, I like the Irish's chances.
Defensively, Michigan goes with Andrew Hatton (2 GBs and 2 Caused Turnovers), Mack Gembis (7 GBs and 3 Caused Turnovers) and Chris Walker (1 GB and 2 Caused Turnovers). Surprisingly, none of the three have any penalties on the year so far. Jumping to conclusions, Gembis is a ballhawk with an ability to get the ball on the turf. But whom would he guard? Kavanagh? Georgetown tried to shut him down, but that is where Wynne went off. It will be a tough matchup for the Wolverines against the Irish attack and I also like Notre Dame's chances on offense against this lineup.
Gerald Logan mans the net for Michigan and has an impressive 7.89 goals against and 21 saves in his two starts, making him one of the top-10 goalies in NCAA Division 1 at this early stage of the season. He will be a tough netminder for the Irish, but the Irish have shown enough offensive prowess to be able to put points on the board.
My gut tells me that this might look a lot like the game against Georgetown, but lets take a quick gander at history. Notre Dame's lacrosse squad has traditionally played really well on the road. Last year's Irish squad was dynamite in their away contests, only losing one game (11-10 at Syracuse). I expect more of the same. While Michigan sports a 2-0 record, Notre Dame is simply way too talented to let this one slip through the cracks. With the exception of goalie, the Irish are better across the board in terms of overall talent and depth. This is not a knock on Michigan. This might be a tournament bubble team by the end of the season. This is more about Notre Dame being the #2 team in the country. To win, Notre Dame has to quell Michigan's offensive momentum and make sure they are on the right side of the streaky play. They need better goaltending by Kelly/Doss and more discipline and steady play on offense. I fully believe they are capable of just that. While Michigan might keep it close, the Irish's depth and offensive talent will propel them to a win.
Notre Dame 14 Michigan 10