As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will continue its homestand when Holy Cross comes to the Carrier Dome on Sept. 28.
AN UP-AND-DOWN SEASON
Bob Chesney has a reputation for building programs.
At Div. III Sale Regina, his record improved in each of his three seasons with the Seahawks, going 6-4, 8-3 and 9-2 in 2012, winning the New England Football Conference.
He then took the head coaching position at Div. II Assumption, going 6-5 in his first season before winning seven in his second and 11 in his third year. He stayed five years at Assumption, amassing a 44-16 record and three trips to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Chesney was hired as the 28th head coach of Holy Cross for the 2018 season, following the dismissal of 14th-year head coach Tom Gilmore after he started 2-5 in 2017.
There was a predictable learning curve for the Crusaders, as they stumbled to a 1-6 start, their lone win over Yale.
But Holy Cross reeled off four wins to close the season against Lehigh, Lafayette, Fordham and Georgetown, and finished tied for second in the Patriot League with a 4-2 conference record.
Given his head coaching track record, the Crusaders figure to improve on their record in 2019, buoyed by a new 64,000-square foot indoor practice facility.
» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup against Western Michigan
WHO TO WATCH FOR
Holy Cross lost a lot in the offseason, and they’re returning only 11 starters. The units that were particularly hard hit by graduation were the wide receivers (five players) and defensive line (three).
Like Syracuse, Holy Cross graduated its quarterback, with Geoff Wade leaving after a season where he was named second-team All Patriot League after completing 154 of 255 passes for 1,844 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Also gone was his favorite receiving target, wide receiver Martin Dorsey and his 52 receptions, 663 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. He was also a second team All-Patriot League selection.
On the defensive side of the ball, among the losses included first-team All Patriot League performers Teddy Capsis (defensive lineman) and Ryan Brady (linebacker).
Fortunately, tailback Domenic Cozier returns for his senior season. In 2018, he was a second-team All Patriot League pick after leading the team with 643 rushing yards and eight scores on 130 carries. He has two returning all-league linemen blocking for him: senior Brett Boddy and junior Brian Foley.
While Wade is gone, he was actually the backup to Emmett Clifford in the early part of the season. Clifford was benched midway through HC’s win against Yale and never regained his starting spot. He’ll be the early favorite to start again, but he threw just one touchdown and three interceptions in the first three games of 2018.
On defense, the secondary should be a place of strength. The top two returning tacklers are senior defensive backs Joe Lang (second on the team last year with 77 tackles) and Alex Johnson (third – 62).
Still, without Brady and Capsis, it’s hard to imagine HC will be able to build on their last four games of the season, where they allowed just 14.5 points, 13.5 first downs, 73.5 rushing yards and 237.2 total yards per game.
Holy Cross set itself up for a tough non-conference slate to open the season, with three of four games on the road against Navy, Yale and Syracuse, with one game at home against New Hampshire.
But the Crusaders should be in the running to win the Patriot League, and if Chesney’s history is any indication, HC is in for an improvement in his second season.
Still, Syracuse should feast on its FCS opponent at home to the tune of a 52-10 victory.
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