If you want my brief thoughts on last night’s Loyola – Duke game, check out my Twitter profile. Hitting the nail on the head with 140 characters or less! If you want a more complex explanation of how Loyola trounced Duke, 14-7, read on below:
Loyola got great separation in the midfield all game long. Could this have been a by-product of Duke extending and playing poor approach angles? Yes, but it also has to do with Loyola’s playing style, what they hope to accomplish, and their skill set. Loyola has a number of middies who can dodge, shoot, pass, and most importantly, run. These guys want you to press out, they will get half a step and then dodge HARD. From that they can get direct goals, assists, and unsettled play.
Photo Credit: Craig Chase
Duke didn’t do a good job of limiting midfield options, got burned a lot (especially when they were extended) and consistently looked a step behind with their slides. This will happen when you press out AND slide hard. It is hard to do both against a short but athletic midfield. While Duke did not approach this facet of the game well, all credit goes to Loyola. Great dodging, smart play, and plenty of ball movement. Add in that midfield speed and you have a recipe for continued danger.
Loyola Zone Wasn’t Busted
Loyola ran man and zone last night, and both were effective. As soon as Duke started to look comfortable on O, Loyola switched it up, and often found a way to generate a turnover or easy save. Duke tried to get Loyola to rotate, and they did, but the ensuing crease feed or skip pass was often knocked down. Why didn’t the rotation work? Because Loyola wasn’t running a 3-3 zone (which is too basic), they were running a backer zone (basically a 2-2-2 box with 2 backers). More college teams are running this now, and it’s the future!
The key to beating this zone is NOT moving the ball around the outside. The key is creating a three man area where two defensive players must play one offensive player (during the “pass” phase of the zone), then moving the ball up field (to draw up a third defender) and then quickly banging the ball back down low (or a high crease) to the third offensive man in the three man zone. All three of your backside players must be threats to score. This means no back up at X. Without six threats on offense, you are almost always a man down against a good zone.
When you watch Loyola on offense, you can see they are clearly practiced against the backer zone style. They draw sliding players well, move the ball to adjacent players, and then find space. All their guys are threats to score on most plays. This keeps defenses spread. Not only does a complex zone help your D, it helps your O!
Face Off Game Planning
Brendan Fowler won a lot of face offs last night. He also won a lot forward. But he didn’t drop a ton of points, nor did these forward wins result in transition play. How is that possible? Loyola did a FANTASTIC job of game planning, and almost always had a pole sneaking back down the line towards the defensive end. If Fowler won forward, the LSM stayed home with his mid, and helped guide Folwer to the outside. If there was a scrum, the LSM approach like a free safety in football, remaining aware of the deep threat.
Statistically, Loyola lost that battle, but if you were watching the game, you had to be impressed with how they handled Duke’s advantage there. This approach also allowed Loyola’s face off guys to really go after the win, and not play as much defense, and they won a couple cleanly as a result.
Good Day of Shooting
Sometimes you just have a day, and two guys for Loyola were on fire. Matt Sawyer had SIX goals, and Nikko Pontrello added FIVE goals of his own. Justin Ward only had one goal, but he added four assists. Brian Schultz also scored, and had two helpers. Neither Schultz or Ward had a great day shooting (2 goals on 9 total shots), but Sawyer and Pontrello were scoring with almost every rip. At the end of the day the two combined for 11 goals, and they did so on only 14 shots (7 apiece). Sidearm, underhand, overhand… it didn’t matter. Add in a guy like Jeff Chase ripping a shot from about 17 yards high to high and you’re seeing a great day of shooting, forget this “good” stuff!
The only problem with a great day of shooting is that you can have a bad day of shooting as well, and they can definitely be a cause for concern. Dry or wet weather, seasonal changes, stick breakage… all of these things can hurt an awesome shooting team, and sometimes you can just have an off day, or a keeper can be on. The point here is not to say Loyola isn’t a very good team, because they are… but at the same time, if they don’t shoot as well and play Duke again, there could be a very different result.
Is 2014 Loyola’s Year? Again?
Loyola deserved this big win in many ways. They played hard from start to finish, and their passion was on fully display in front of a packed Ridley Athletic Complex. They shot well, came in with a great game plan, and executed to perfection. It’s still early in March, but Loyola is clearly a team on a mission this year. I expect them to drop another game or two and possibly have some off days, but if they are gelling at the end of the year like this, the Hounds are as dangerous as anyone in the country.