As a lacrosse fan, the recent games between Notre Dame and Denver have produced thrilling lacrosse with five of the last six games going to overtime. It has become the premier matchup in lacrosse. This weekend the lacrosse world was again fully focused on the #1 Irish versus the #2 and defending National Champion Denver Pioneers. However, despite more 4th quarter Irish heroics, including an incredible four goals in 43 seconds, the Irish fell again short to the Pioneers, and there are troubling questions about the Irish offense.
Defensively, the Irish were good enough. Jack Sheridan did well substituting for the injured Garrett Epple, Edwin Glazener was solid, and All-American Matt Landis lived up to his relentless reputation. Long Stick midfielder Jim Sexton may regret his two penalties which resulted in Pioneer goals, but he had many great moments in the game including a goal and in tormenting Denver faceoff virtuoso Kevin Baptiste. A few of the Denver goals the defense may like to have back (especially the game winner), but the loss can’t be pinned on them. Denver, in many ways, is like Navy football. Offensively, the Pioneers' precise passing and long possessions have an inevitability to them. If they hold onto the ball long enough, they will score. The Irish D did well to keep them to nine goals in four quarters plus, including holding them to two goals in the final 33 minutes. There is significant criticism necessary in the 43-24 deficit in ground balls. With a possession-oriented offense like Denver, you can’t whiff on ground balls and allow them to keep possessions going. Have said this, the defense was doing well to put the ball on the ground and made Denver work for their goals.
If it were not for a four goals in 43 seconds flurry late in the fourth quarter (an absolutely incredible sequence), there would be more serious questions about the Irish offense. Face off specialist P.J. Finley quickly scored in the first possession of the game, then the offense completely disappeared, going 23 minutes before the next goal, followed by another 20-minute lull. The Irish players should agree this is unacceptable. The Denver defense played well and goalie Alex Ready stood on his head at times, but they are not a top defense that should be capable of stopping the likes of Matt Kavanaugh and Sergio Perkovic. For the first 55 minutes of the game, the Irish could not put anything together and were in serious danger of being on the receiving end of a horribly lopsided score. It was never clear what they were trying to do in set situations, passing was not crisp, and they seemed unable to make in-game adjustments. They had only one goal six-on-six. Thank goodness for their prowess in transition, because the set offense has not been good for two games in a row.
One can’t watch Matt Kavanaugh play and not wonder if he is still badly injured. He had three assists but was not much of a threat. To my surprise, he passed on a few open looks, and most importantly, flat missed on the potential game-winning shot with nine seconds left. Matt Kavanaugh the fully-fit All-American buries that shot without a doubt. I sincerely hope he gets healthy soon. Notre Dame needs their playmaker at full strength. When he’s at full flow, he’s a true pleasure to watch.
Sergio Perkovic was again made to look ordinary. He has the hardest shot in the game. Anyone who has seen him shoot live can attest to the incredible velocity. At the Georgetown game earlier in the year, I witnessed an entire stadium wince every time he would wind up for a shot in the hope that no one on the receiving end was going to the hospital. However, in the last two games he’s scored one goal, and that was in garbage time (watch the last minute of the Maryland game, that ball was absolutely moving, holy smokes!). He was 0-for-7 shooting today and I don’t recall Sergio having any dominating moments. Denver was all over him, but I don’t remember him previously having this much difficulty getting enough space to free his arms for a shot. Playmaking does not come naturally to Perkovic, so he simply has to use his huge frame to get open and shoot. The game commentators, erroneously in my opinion, argued that he needs to pass out of double-teams and become a facilitator. That’s not his game nor should it be. No one who has that devastating a shot should even be called upon to rack up assists. That would be a crime to the game. Hopefully he’ll find the back of the net more consistently and live up to his All-American billing.
Fortunately, the Irish did have the last-minute flourish that has become their trademark, but this may mask some of the flaws that need to be corrected. Notre Dame has the 14th, 3rd, 20th and 10th ranked teams coming up in quick succession.
-Sophomore Mikey Wynne had three goals and is becoming one of the premier crease attackmen in college lacrosse. He simply finds the back of the net. As a plus, he is also fully-committed to the ride and made great plays that started transition goals.
-I feel badly for Shane Doss. Denver’s game tying goal was very unlucky.
-Facing the great Kevin Baptiste, P.J. Finley performed very well in the faceoff department. He and his wingman LSM Jim Sexton tormented Baptiste and kept the faceoff deficit to the manageable level. Finley had two goals and Sexton added one. When your faceoff team scores three goals against the best faceoff squad in the game, you’ve walked away with a victory in that category.
-I hope Defensemen Matt Landis gets serious consideration for the Tewaarton Award this year. As we learned with Manti Te’o a few years ago, it’s hard for a purely defensive player to win a sport’s top award no matter how well deserved. I know not everyone agrees, but Landis is head and shoulders better than anyone on the field, and he operates at 100% the entirety of the game.
-For those who haven’t seen it, the tradition of the defensemen bagpiper to lead the team on the field is fantastic. #30 Ed Glazener is embracing his role.
-There are reports that Notre Dame has sold 1000 season tickets at Arlotta Stadium. Combined huge crowds at neutral-site games, there is no doubt Notre Dame men’s lacrosse is the premier draw in the game. Coach Corrigan and the team have been putting a great product on the field year after year. Let’s hope this year we reach the top of the mountain!