Hindsight Is 20/20: How Syracuse Should Have Beaten Hopkins

hopkins lacrosse ranagan

When I drove away from Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field this past Saturday, I thought that the Blue Jays absolutely dominated Syracuse, and that the 11-7 final score didn’t really convey how lopsided the game actually was. When I watched my recording on Sunday, it looked like a completely different game that could have gone either way.

hopkins lacrosse ranagan
Hopkins won, but they didn’t HAVE to.

I watched it a couple more times to figure out what really happened, and it turns out that in hindsight, Syracuse was only a few changes away from winning this game. Before we go any further, three quick notes:

  1. I’m not saying any of that “Syracuse gave the game away” or “the better team lost” stuff, because that would minimize how solid a team Hopkins really is. They’re giving up 5 goals a game, they’re solid at all positions (and Chris Boland’s on his way back); the Blue Jays are legit. I’m just saying that, with the gift of hindsight (and having watched this game about five times), Syracuse could’ve still beaten them.
  2. The Syracuse coaching staff (and probably half of their roster) has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about playing lacrosse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling anybody how to do their job.
  3. I’m not a Hopkins guy, but in the name of journalistic integrity, I won’t use this piece to lob any immature jabs in their direction.

Now let’s begin: the three changes that win the Hopkins game for Syracuse:

1. Switch up the option defense

When they’re not sucking the fun out of everything (okay, just one immature jab), Johns Hopkins actually runs a pretty exciting offense that reminds me of a football team running the option. John Greeley sets up on the top right and John Ranagan runs behind him. Greeley can then flip it to Ranagan or fake the flip and keep it for a shot or feed. Here’s what happened the first time they ran it:

You’ll only fool the defense for a second (especially after Maryland’s hidden ball trick last year), but that’s all the time you need. Syracuse goalie Matthew Lerman played it like Ranagan had the ball, and by the time he figured it out Greeley was already lining up his shot. Watch what happens the second time they ran it, when Greeley actually flips it:

And the third, when Greeley keeps it for the feed:

In hindsight, the Orange defensive midfield should have switched men like they were defending a pick. By trying to stay with their original assignment, the d-middies had too much ground to cover, and couldn’t stay on the Blue Jays’ gloves. And sure, the d-middie fell over before Greeley’s fake in the first clip, but if #19 Kevin Drew’s first job is to switch men, he doesn’t run past him in the first place. I know getting the right assignments is a huge priority to the defense, but you could do a lot worse than Kevin Drew picking up Greeley for a minute until Syracuse gets a chance to reset their matchups.

2. Secure face-off wins

Face-offs have been killing the Orange in the past few games, but it’s not as cut and dry as losing the draw. Their face-off midfielders actually controlled the draw pretty well on Saturday, it’s just what happened afterwards that was a problem. On five of Hopkins’ thirteen face off wins, a Syracuse player touched the ball first and just couldn’t hold onto it.

Sometimes it was a botched one-handed scoop attempt, sometimes it was kicked away towards a Hopkins player. In hindsight, if they manage to hold on to even three of those five, they finish the game at 50% on face-offs, which has been their goal as of late. Fixing this one is definitely easier said than done, but the other hand, Syracuse fans could look at this as a consolation: the face-off guys are giving Syracuse chances, they just need to capitalize on them.

3. Keep shooting low

Of the first four Syracuse goals, three were off of low shots (the fourth was a quick-stick from Derek Maltz, who was right on the crease). In fact, five of their seven goals in the game went low. During their scoreless third quarter, they got away from what was working and increased the amount of high shots on cage. It didn’t work. In the last three minutes, Pierce Bassett made three straight saves that were above the waist. In total, Bassett made five high saves and allowed two high goals, while stopping four and giving up five down low.

Pierce Bassett’s a very good goalie no matter where you shoot, but in hindsight, Syracuse should have just kept shooting low. If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it, right? It’s all about playing your percentages, and the low shots were just falling at a better rate. By the time the smoke cleared and the fourth quarter began, Syracuse was losing 10-4 and never made it close enough to worry anyone in Columbia blue.

So that’s it, three little things that win the game for Syracuse. Like I said at the beginning, these aren’t excuses or sore loser talk, just observations on how easily a few small things could completely change a game if done differently. With that in mind, the Hopkins win makes this upcoming weekend even more exciting, as the undefeated #2 Blue Jays head down to Charlottesville to take on the undefeated #1 Cavaliers.

Don’t be surprised if the Cavs come out firing low and switching on the option; in hindsight, it’s the right thing to do.


  1. Wish there were more pieces like this.  Easy read, not convoluted, relevant topic.  And, it fosters discussion.

    All that said, I’m going to disagree with you on #1 and #2 (#3 is a home run, good work).

    Re Hopkins’ option: I’m not sure that Hop ran this enough times (only 3) to really game plan to stop it.  Nor am I sure that it wasn’t a lot of luck.  It comes together quickly and the two times that it actually worked can be attributed to an Orangeman taking an unexpected dirt nap.  (The dish on #3 was played perfectly by the top middie defenders, Benn’s defender was just caught sleeping in the middle).

    Re faceoffs: I’m not sure you can fairly throw this into the hat when you’re talking about what ‘Cuse “shoulda done.”  They got beat on faceoffs because they weren’t as good at it, not because they were making some sort of tactical error.

    • I agree with you on the faceoff point. Cuse has been struggling with faceoffs all year, and it seems Hop has finally started to find their groove. Even if Cuse did start off with possession it just shows how much better the Hopkins unit is that they can turn that into a win. 

    • Hey, thanks for reading the piece. I always appreciate the comments and the chance to talk lacrosse, agree or disagree.

      I don’t think any of these things were because of tactical errors, I’m really pointing out how just a few things going one way or the other could change a game in a very big way. It’s like if I said “Just think, if the 49ers hadn’t blitzed on (random play), the Giants wouldn’t have even made it to the Super Bowl.” I’m not saying Syracuse should’ve seen that option coming, or should’ve known what to do at the time, I’m just looking at it with the gift of hindsight. If John Desko had a time machine, I’m sure he’d go back and say “switch on those flips/fakes,” that’s all.

      Speaking of the flips, I think that in clip #2, the fall itself was caused by the d-mid trying to catch up to, then running past a split-dodging Ranagan, then trying to cut back. I think the switch would have stopped that, but I don’t know either way. Maybe the field was slick over there, who knows.

      And while Hopkins was flat-out better in the f/o department, here’s an example of what I was getting at: in one lost f/o, a Syracuse wing tried scooping a ball with one hand, messed it up, and a Hopkins guy ran up and got it. Seeing as that he messed up, I’m just saying if he’d gone in with two hands, he would’ve had a better chance of picking it up clean, and maybe Hopkins wouldn’t have scored on that possession. Don’t get me wrong, Hopkins did a great job and had some very clean wins, I was just pointing out that, looking back, the current Syracuse f/o problem (about 65% in their first two games, about 35% in their last three) might not be a problem with the f/o man himself. 

  2. I am a long time Hopkins fan and find your analysis very sharp and enlightening. Any chance you could help out the Blue Jays? I’d lke to see them go deep into the playoffs – maybe do a repeat of the 2005 year.