Monday, May 27, 2013

College Lacrosse's Seminal "Blind Side" Moment Occurred Today -- Face-Off Men Rule

It wasn't that Syracuse was up 5-0 that we'll remember.

It wasn't that the Orange became the first team up by more than three goals in the first quarter of the championship game that went on to lose the game.

It wasn't that Duke stormed back and beat Syracuse soundly.

No, it was the way Duke stormed back.

The most valuable player of the game wasn't someone who led the Blue Devils in goals scored or assists.  It was the face-off man.

Brendan Fowler led the nation in face-offs won, setting an all-time record.  For that work, he was named a first-team all-American.  Today, he dominated the "X", winning 20 of 28 face-offs, giving Duke possession time after time after time.  He was the game changer, and he was the reason that Duke could come back and beat #1 Syracuse.  Fowler is a walk-on special teams player on the football team, with a pair of shoulders that resembles more a football player than a lacrosse player.  Atop that, he wrestled in high school.

Watching today's game will cause every Division 1 lacrosse coach to think out of the box about who faces off for him.  Get someone with the balance of a sumo wrestler, the strength of a nose tackle, the agility of a black-belt in karate and the determination of an undersized football player on an underdog team.   All Division I coaches will be looking for this kid, perhaps wanting to pluck him off the wrestling team or football team or both.

One of the premises of The Blind Side was that in order to win, football teams needed an athletic left tackle to protect a right-handed quarterback's blind side so that their star didn't get hurt and have to miss most of the season, thereby diminishing a team's chances for a good record and the laurels that go with it.  So, they found players like Walter Jones of the Seahawks, Jonathan Ogden of the Ravens, Orlando Pace of the Rams, and they transformed the position, making it one of the most highly paid in the NFL. Part of the motivation game from the Giants' Lawrence Taylor's gruesome hit on Redskins' quarterback Joe Theismann, shattering his leg.

Today, a #1 team went down in large part because its underdog opponent had a much better face-off man.  There wasn't a huge difference, say, at midfield and at attack, but when it came time to face-offs, Duke ruled.  Possession is a huge part of lacrosse, and you cannot score if you cannot win face-offs.  Brendan Fowler won so many face-offs that it's no surprise that Duke won as decisively as it did.

So, you can have good offensive players, but it won't do you much good if you cannot get them the ball.  Conversely, you'll need a more than ample supply of good defenders if you cannot win face-offs. That fact became so pronounced today that you'll see some of the best athletes facing off consistently for the top programs.

Even if, as Fowler does, they'll come off the field once they win possession and get the ball upfield to their attackers.  There is some irony in that -- that you can be the title game's MVP without scoring a goal or making saves and by coming off after your one play is over -- but that's the way the game is played right now.

Face-off men rock.

Face-off men rule.

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