With the exception of probably a few seniors, the Georgetown College football team is preparing for an itinerary few if any Tigers have experienced at this level: Staying overnight in a neighboring state to play a game.
COVID concerns and a more regional schedule for the spring and fall seasons played consecutively in 2021 took trips such an No. 8 GC’s visit to Cumberland (Tennessee) University for a 2:30 pm Eastern Saturday kickoff out of the equation.
“As far as Monday through Thursday, not a lot changes. There’s a little bit more on us as a coaches from a logistics standpoint, but for the players there’s not a lot different until Friday,” GC coach Chris Oliver said. “If you’re a senior and you’ve been around for a few years, you’re probably used to it. If you’re a freshman or sophomore or making the travel squad for the first time, it’s unique, because in high school you weren’t going overnight and staying in hotels and doing those types of things.”
On a roll with three double-digit victories to open the season, including back-to-back wins at home, Georgetown also will face what Oliver described as one of the most unusual away environments in the Mid-South Conference.
“It’s sort of a big stadium, and oftentimes the crowd isn’t close to capacity. There’s a train track right there. It’s the only natural grass field you still play on in the conference,” Oliver said. “It’s just sort of a place that has an odd home field advantage to it from the standpoint of uniqueness of the setting. You feel like you’re playing not only against Cumberland but against that setting in a way.”
Ball-hawking tendencies travel well, and the Tigers have ascended seven spots in the coaches’ poll since the preseason largely on the strength of a defense that has 11 takeaways. Four turnovers fueled last week’s 23-13 gut check victory over Faulkner.
Five different GC defenders have an interception with four logging fumble recoveries. All-American linebacker and reigning Mid-South defensive player of the week DJ White’s ever-presence in the backfield with seven tackles for loss has played a pivotal role in those momentum swings.
“I think we’re doing a great job of putting pressure on the quarterback, so you’re putting teams in those situations where they’re either choosing to throw it a lot or needing to throw it a lot because of the down and distance ,” Oliver said. “When you have guys like DJ and others who are putting pressure on the quarterback, that allows you to put your hand on the ball and be opportunistic. Right now I think we’re doing a great job of keeping those quarterbacks uncomfortable and making them throw the ball into some tight windows.”
Kyren Simpson and Payton Standifer each have picked off two passes to lead the Tigers. GC also has 13 pass breakups to its credit.
Despite two interceptions of its own and some trouble consistently churning out yards on the ground, GC was plus-two in the turnover department against Faulkner, the third time in as many contests it has done so.
Georgetown quarterbacks Drew Hartz and Gehrig Slunaker have combined for 12 touchdowns through the air, fourth-best in the nation. GC hopes to awaken a running game that fell victim to Faulkner’s strategy of loading up to stop it last week.
Darius Neal, Quincy Perrin and Isaiah Cobb combined for 363 yards rushing in the Tigers’ by-committee attack. Neal had the bulk of the gains last week.
“Not to sound cliché, but we’ve got to do a better job running the football. Certainly Faulkner was committed to having every o-lineman covered up on nearly every play of the game, and it’s tough to run against them, but either way I thought we left some opportunities out there,” Oliver said. “We did not play with physicality up front with our line and tight ends, and even with the some of the runs we had we were tip-toeing at times. We’ve got to run better, and that starts with playing with our physicality.”
Cumberland (2-1) won its first two games and received votes in the NAIA poll before being set back by a car accident that took the life of a former player and also involved multiple current Phoenix. After canceling its game that week, CU struggled to stop Pikeville’s passing attack in a 47-37 loss last week.
“I think Cumberland is going through some growing pains on the back end just in terms of depth and experience. They struggled to cover down the field, and the lack of pass rush didn’t help that,” Oliver said.
“When you watch their first two games compared to this game against Pikeville, they looked different with the attention to detail and some of the effort. I think you can see that probably impacted some of their preparation and the way they played. We’re expecting them to take a long, hard look at themselves and probably expecting them to bring a lot of pressure against us.”