McAnaney: Can Landis Make A Tewaaraton Case Sunday?
On Nov. 7, when LSU met Alabama, Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry were both strong Heisman trophy contenders. After Henry ran for 210 yards and three touchdowns, while Fournette was limited to 31 yards, Henry was on his way to winning the Heisman and Fournette wasn't even invited to New York.
Lacrosse could be in store for a similar Tewaaraton swing game this weekend. But unlike Fournette and Henry, Notre Dame defenseman Matt Landis and Denver attackman Connor Cannizzaro will go head-to-head.
Landis, though, does not have history on his side. No defensive player has ever won the Tewaaraton.
"Brodie Merrill came the closest back in 2005," selection committee chair Jack Emmer said, "but in the end, the fact that Johns Hopkins won the national championship probably helped push Kyle Harrison over the top. People tend to gravitate towards No. 1 or No. 2 teams in the country."
"It's very similar to the Heisman," Maryland coach and committee member John Tillman said. "At the end of the day, stats and highlights are influential, and that leads to offensive guys. But if Notre Dame keeps winning and stays on top of the polls, and it's more because of the defense than the offense, than Matt will have more than a chance."
The fact that Landis is even this strong a candidate is because he is coming off a dominating junior season in which he won the USILA's William C. Schmeisser Award, an honor given to the top defensive player in Division I.
"You have to go into the game with a solid plan B, because there is a pretty good chance he is going to take your best player out of the game," Marquette coach Joe Amplo said. "That is such a momentum swing. Your team usually feeds off that guy, but instead Notre Dame feeds off winning that matchup."
Landis' performance against two-time Tewaaraton winner Lyle Thompson in last year's NCAA quarterfinals was a defining moment for the defenseman. (Marc Piscotty)
Any doubts about Landis being the best defenseman in the country last year were put to rest when he "held" Lyle Thompson to one goal and four assists in Notre Dame's NCAA quarterfinal win over Albany. It was an outing that helped lead to Landis being drafted by the Florida Launch with the third overall pick in the MLL draft in January.
"When you watch him play Lyle last year, he did the best job guarding him all year, and that includes this past season in MLL," said Launch head coach Stan Ross, who got to watch opponents game plan for Thompson with his team all summer. "He's not going to get beat, so he takes away their strength and makes it one of yours."
Landis does more, though, than just turn it into a five-on-five game. "He has a presence," Georgetown coach Kevin Warne said. "You just feel him, you sense him all over the field no matter where he is."
"Not only he is dangerous in his one-on-one matchup, but when he slides to help a short stick now he really has an advantage," Tillman added. "He really knows how to dig into a guy's hands, and that is so disruptive."
Notre Dame has long been established as one of the best defensive teams in the country under Kevin Corrigan and assistant coach Gerry Byrne. Landis certainly isn't the first All-American defenseman to go right down Eddy Street, but there is no denying that his skill set fits the Irish system like a glove.
"He plays exactly how Notre Dame wants a defenseman to play," Amplo said. "He has terrific fundamentals and great posture. And oh, by the way, he is the best athlete on the field."
It's Landis' athletic ability that still impresses his own coach.
"He can be great on the ball and off the ball and his communication is solid, but his athletic habits are unreal," Corrigan said. "I don't think I've ever seen a guy stay in an athletic position as long as Matt does."
So can the "eliminator" singlehandedly eliminate a serious Tewaaraton competitor if Landis shuts down Cannizzaro Sunday night?
"Well, it certainly would be easier to determine if one player is dominating another, and if having Landis on him can negate Cannizarro's greatness, then yes, that would certainly influence some people," Emmer said.
Sunday night will be the sixth time Cannizzaro and Landis have been on the same field in their collegiate careers. Cannizzaro scored four times against Notre Dame in Denver's regular season win over the Irish, but was held to one goal in the Pioneers' overtime victory in the NCAA semifinals.
Those in the know feel this game is rarely determined by an individual matchup.
"What makes Matt so great, just like our guy Christian Burgdorf, is it's not about them. It's about the team," Denver coach Bill Tierney said. "I am a team guy, and when you watch Matt, you realize he's totally about the team and being unselfish. He is not totally consumed by his one-on-one matchup. That's what makes him special."
Eamon McAnaney is the play-by-play voice of ESPN lacrosse and has contributed to LaxMagazine.com since 2014. He was a defenseman at Notre Dame and was captain of the Fighting Irish's 1991 team. Check out more from Eamon here.
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