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10-Man Ride: Pios’ pass down pick downs, Big Cat Loving Notre Dame & Pat Spencer dominating matchups

Let’s gets lower and stagger what went down last weekend.

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Each week, College Crosse’s Joe Keegan will try to cover the whole field of D1 lacrosse in ten topics. It’s the 10-man ride!

1. The Pioneers claim to be playing faster; while it’s too early to tell for sure if that’s true, the way they look to change fields off pass down pick downs suggests it is.

We’ve heard it for a couple weeks now: Denver, a traditionally slow-paced team, is looking to play faster. Rivals read between the lines and say that’s offensive coordinator Matt Brown’s lack of confidence in his young player’s ability to operate his settled sets. They don’t appear to have any problems there, nor do they have problems playing uptempo.

Keeping the ball moving vertically is a conservative fast break strategy. If you’re going to change fields, coaches would prefer you do so through X. The Pioneers are hammering pass down pick downs whenever they get on the fast break, and their attackmen are throwing adventurous horizontal skip passes. There’s little intent to circle the ball and substitute; the Pios are gunning for goals. If freshman Ethan Walker and sophomore Austin French keep making reads like this, then they’re going to score a lot of ‘em.

2. Loyola worked to get Pat Spencer favorable matchups, and he put on his best LeBron James impression, slinging passes across the field to open shooters.

With Spencer matched up against one of the best cover defenders in the country in Nick Fields, the Greyhounds were creative with the ways they initiated. Color commentator Ryan Boyle made a great observation on the broadcast: Spencer was starting on the crease, forcing Fields into the first slide responsibility. As Hopkins slid, Spencer popped. After he popped, Loyola spun the ball around the perimeter until it was in Spencer’s stick.

The other way that Loyola dictated matchups was by picking for (and sometimes pick with) Spencer. In overtime Spencer was able to shake free of Fields with a pick up top. The ensuing dodge looks like when an offensive lineman catches a defensive back downfield on a screen pass. Spencer gets lower than his man and drives him into the sliding defender, all while keeping his eyes on the developing play. Following that aggressive dodge with such a polished skip pass is incredible. I thought for sure that Brian Sherlock would end it with this step-down shot. Actually, each time I replay this GIF part of me believes that Sherlock will stick a corner.

3. Shack Stanwick: Goal scorer.

There’s a difference between “pass-first” and “pass-only.” Shack Stanwick is the former. Dare him to shoot, and he’ll score. The junior attackman pumped in four goals on Saturday, using change-of-direction moves to get to the cup seemingly at will.

Here he sets up his defender to run into the pick so beautifully. The pick is almost unnecessary. Stanwick leaves his man in the dust two steps out of his break.

Nobody wants to slide from Pat Fraser or John Crawley or Joel Tinney or Wilkins Dismuke to Shack Stanwick. It’s an automatic assist for #32. The pieces of this Hopkins offense complement each other perfectly, and offensive coordinator Bobby Benson moves them around in ways that pull defenses apart.

4. Lacrosse Reference

Many teams track stats internally or employ a service like Krossover or Hudl, but there’s very little being done publicly when it comes to lacrosse analytics. That’s changing a bit each year, and the newest site on the scene is Lacrosse Reference. Check out this table estimating the goal value of each type of play. How often do you score goals within a minute of a timeout? Of an opponent’s failed clear? Is there a significant difference between 0:30 penalties and 1:00 penalties? What’s the impact of a “timer on” call?

All that (and more) is now being explored by Lacrosse Reference.

5. The Utah Utes play exactly how you’d expect them to play -- like their coaches.

There’s been a growing excitement surrounding this program ever since former North Carolina assistant coach Brian Holman was named head coach over the summer. Joining him as assistants are three pros: his son Marcus Holman, Will Manny and Adam Ghitelman. All three bring maximum energy to the field, and their players did the same on Thursday night.

From rides to celebrations to assisted GBs, this team looks and feels like you’d expect. The Utes knocked off Chapman, the reigning MCLA champs, as a team. It was a clinic on fundamentals: low-and-away shots on the run, over-hand hammers on step-downs, “man-ball” communication on both ends of the field.

The hope is that this program can make the leap to D1 within the next couple years. To do that, this coaching staff has been talking about building a culture from the ground up. Safe to say that Utah is practicing what they preach.

6. Even when the goal totals aren’t as gaudy as usual, UNC offensive coordinator Dave Metzbower’s offense is a thing of beauty.

After graduating their most dynamic playmaker behind the cage in Steve Pontrello, the Tar Heels have subsisted on a steady diet of Andy Matthews-Chris Cloutier pick-and-rolls. The action itself isn’t overly exciting, but the developments above goal-line extended are.

Watch Michael Tagliaferri (#21) direct traffic from the crease here. Matthews (8 assists through three games) threads this skip pass to freshman Justin Anderson who has all the time-and-room you could ask for thanks to Tagliaferri’s seal. Superstar players can beat their man and tilt the math in your favor by drawing a slide. Nuances like this seal can change the numbers without a slide.

Anderson and Tagliaferri are playing a two-on-two once Anderson catches it. However, Tagliaferri’s man is not planning on closing out to Anderson. Once he recognizes what just unfolded, it’s too late. He can’t sprint out to the shooter in time, and Anderson buries.

Later in the game we see Cloutier and Luke Goldstock both pop in this mumbo-ish look. Rather than pull the trigger, Cloutier makes one more pass to an open man on the crease. Notice how the defense plays this -- so focused on getting to Cloutier and Goldstock’s hands, determined not to make the same mistake they made earlier -- and it’s easy to see why the inside was so open.

The play design of Dave Metzbower has help defenders bouncing back-and-forth like ping pong balls. It’s been a huge reason the Heels have been able to replace the scoring production of Marcus Holman, Joey Sankey, Jimmy Bitter and more over the last couple seasons. People are speculating that Metzbower may be up for a head coaching job this summer. His alma mater (Delaware) will have a vacancy after Bob Shillinglaw’s retirement. If the job goes to Metzbower, it will have been much deserved.

7. As exciting as Saturday’s schedule was, I wish the start times had been staggered two hours apart rather than one.

Several factors go into play here. What other teams on campus need the field? When is the road team leaving town? Scheduling an entire spring’s worth of games is not an easy task for an athletic department.

But Saturday’s slate was so choppy. Rather than roll through the games like the NFL’s 1:00 PM-4:00 PM- primetime intervals, we had start times an hour apart. Yale-Villanova faced off at noon. Loyola-Hopkins began at 1:00 pm during halftime of Yale-Villanova. Then Duke-Denver and Georgetown-Notre Dame started at 2:00 pm during halftime of Loyola-Hopkins. Want to guess when Albany-Syracuse started? Yup, you’re right. At 3:00 pm.

If you’re watching two games, you’re watching none. As someone who tries to keep up with the Twitter feed during commercials, I found myself scrambling instead to catch score updates and re-calibrate from one game’s pace to the next game’s. Don’t get me wrong -- I loved every second of it. But fans don’t have a great feel for the flow of a game when they tune in halfway through.

8. Ryan Lukacovic’s role running out of the box is reminiscent of the way Lars Tiffany deployed Bailey Tills at Brown.

Running Lukacovic (3G, 2A) as a four-man out of the box is an obnoxious luxury for Lars Tiffany. Teams that run tend to get run on. Tiffany knows that he needs to do whatever he can to minimize his opponents’ runs. One chess move that he made regularly with Tills last season is to run your X attackman out of the box.

Teams need to defend them with their long-stick midfielders; but lots of teams rely on their long-stick midfielders to generate transition. It’s a trap. Fast breaks are few and far between with your long-stick midfielder below goal-line extended. They’re even harder to come by when your shorties are down there, too.

With the talent on Tiffany’s roster, it’s going to take defenses a long time to find the right matchups. As of now, we can confirm that short-sticking Lukacovic is, in fact, not the right matchup. He can blow by shorties for an unassisted goal or he can run them off a pick and scan the defense.

9. Was Big Cat betting on Notre Dame lacrosse?

Nah, not really -- but that’d be awesome. There’s a huge break between NFL Sundays and March Madness where gamblers are searching for sports to blow (or win) money on. The ability to stack possessions with face-off wins and go on runs makes lacrosse one of the most exciting sports on Earth. But you know that. You’re reading this blog. Hopefully someday soon there are public lines on NCAA lacrosse games. That would drag casual fans into the sport in a heartbeat. Until then, we have Lax Vegas Lines keeping the diehards entertained.

10. Brown posted a box score straight out of a video game in head coach Mike Daly’s first game at the helm. Seriously, look at it.

What’s the toughest number to believe: LSM Larken Kemp dishing out three assists? Brown as a team taking 67 shots? Dylan Molloy’s new linemates Luke McCaleb (4G, 3A) and Jack Kniffin (6G, 1A) quelling any concerns about the turnover on attack? The team scored 25 points. Twenty-five! Same amount of points the Patriots trailed the Falcons by once upon a time in SBLI. Crazy stuff.

Masshole of the Week: John Sexton (Lincoln-Sudbury HS, Mass.)

The Lincoln-Sudbury product has been a staple of Notre Dame’s defense since arriving in South Bend. With four groundballs and three caused turnovers in the Irish’s opener against Georgetown, Sexton picked up right where he left off.