Saturday, October 09, 2004

Lehigh 42, Holy Cross 14

In between the celebration of my son's birthday and entertaining our Lehigh guests, I watched Lehigh manhandle their first league opponent of the year in 42-14 drubbing. (This game will definitely be in my 1-AA picks recap this weekend, as I predicted Lehigh would win 49-17.)

The Mountain Hawks were firing on all cylinders, offensively and defensively. 5 TDs for Borda? 8-for-8 to start the game? Are you kidding me? Adam Bergen had a monster day, with 7 receptions for more than 100 yards and 2 TDs. Who gets Patriot Legaue offensive player of the week, Borda or Bergen? That's the only question for Monday. And let's not forget Marques Thompson's scamper off a screen pass for the TD, and the pretty TD scamper by WR Gerran Walker to end the first half. These guys are getting game balls, guaranteed. The only blight on their record was the interception Borda threw (which I didn't see) returned for a Holy Cross TD.

Defensively, with 4 sacks, 2 interceptions, 161 total yards, and only one TD on a drive in the 2nd quarter - you have to love it.

A great way to start the league schedule. Lehigh Football Nation couldn't be happier. A few strings of penalties, and one turnover, are things to work on to fix. But you have to love the complete effort that Lehigh gave on both ends of the ball.

Is Lehigh really back? We'll have to see if we can keep it up against Yale next week.

Coming up tomorow: Game balls; Predictions; Lehigh/Yale Preview

Press roundup; Other Games

Press Roundup
For a game that was supposed to be one that the press was supposed to fall over themselves to cover, oddly enough there was only one beat story on the game:

League opener, former coach get Mountain Hawks stoked

The Brown & White, after all their promises of great coverage of the games, didn't even get a preview out of the game - all I can find on their site is Albany post-game analysis. And the Morning Call didn't have squat online. Surprising.

(Oh, well. You always went here for Lehigh news, right?)

Choice quotes:
"New defensive coordinator Shannon Morrison can sense it... His Lehigh University players can feel it... And an old friend who happens to be the opposing head coach this Saturday is certainly aware of it.

"The Patriot League season is about to begin for Lehigh. Which only means it's time for the Mountain Hawks to turn it up a notch.

"I can see the emotion difference," Morrison said, gushing that an earlier practice session this week was one of Lehigh's best of the season. "I felt there was an emotion difference in the Villanova game and this game, compared to Albany and Stony Brook. The kids seem more focused."

"It is a little unusual, I guess, to be competing against former coaches and former colleagues who you know so well," Gilmore said. "Going against your former players, that's kind of a strange situation from that point."
"To what degree Eric will be able to play, it's hard to say," Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said. "We still are much more banged-up than I'd like to see."

That last quote is the biggest concern I got from the whole article. I'll be watching on Saturday to see how Rath is.

Live updates from the Lehigh/Holy Cross game?
I am celebrating my son's 1st birthday by having some Lehigh friends over to celebrate and watch the Lehigh/Holy Cross game. I may try to sneak out and audblog posts during the game.. but I'm not sure. So, stay tuned to the blog for possible updates, but I'm not promising anything.

Predictions of other games:
In the Patriot League:
Brown at Fordham. Fordham will probably play better than their less than great performance at Holy Cross, and Brown will not play as well as in their great win against Rhode Island. It won't be enought for Fordham to win, though. Brown 31, Fordham 28.

Penn at Bucknell. Bucknell nearly knocked off Penn last year at Franklin field, and has played everybody tough. Penn looked shaky against Villanova but rebounded in a big way versus Dartmouth. I think this is a tight, exciting game, that Bucknell wins by a field goal. Bucknell 23, Penn 20.

Lafayette at Columbia. Lafayette has at least shown me something. Columbia has started 0-3 and haven't shown a very good offense. The Leopards take it to a lower-echelon member of the Ivy League. Lafayette 35, Columbia 17.

Princeton at Colgate. Think Colgate will be up for Princeton? If they lose this game, they will be out of the national rankings and have no chance at a playoff bid unless the win the Patriot League. Princeton doesn't have that much at stake, which is why Colgate will roll - they have no real choice. Colgate 31, Princeton 20.

VMI at Georgetown. Just the thing for the Hoyas, who are struggling offensively - a team that is struggling more offensively than they are. G'town 17, VMI 7.

In the Top 25:
Villanova at Northeastern. A must-win for both teams for any playoff aspirations. The loser is definitely out. Give me Northeatern at home, by a field goal. N'Eastern 27, Villanova 24.

UMass at James Madison. JMU is on the rise, whereas UMass has lost two straight and must win in order to have any prayer at playoff hopes. UMass loses their third straight as JMU starts to look ahead to a big matchup in Orono, Maine next weekend. JMU 35, UMass 10.

Maine at Richmond. The Black Bears, playing with a lot of confidence, face Richmond, who still haven't quite gotten over the Lafayette loss two weeks ago. I don't see this as a trap game - Maine rolls over the Spiders. Maine 31, Richmond 6.

Idaho St. at Montana. Idaho St. usually plays Montana tough... in Idaho. Montana will put an end to Idaho St.'s big sky hope for this year, resoundingly. Montana 45, Idaho St. 21.

Furman at Appalachian St. Returning to one of scene of one of the most strange final plays in college football history, Furman seeks to exorcise the ghosts of the ill-fated 2-point conversion returned by App. St. to win the game. They will. Furman has too much talent and is too focused on revenge to lose this game. They win, and it isn't close. Furman 30, App. St. 10.

Georgia Southern at Western Carolina. WCU's woes continue against one of the top teams in the nation. It won't be close. GSU 44, WCU 17.

W. Kentucky at N. Iowa. Technically a "must-win" for N. Iowa, who laid it all out on the field in a loss to Southern Illinois last week. No way the get it up for another very good Gateway team, even in a must-win. WKU 29, NIU 20.

N. Arizona at E. Washington. One of the more intriguing matchups. One of these Big Sky teams will be a dark horse for the title, and both will be eager to make their case. EWU showed me a lot last week, so I'm taking their "D" to shut down NAU's passing attack. EWU 28, NAU 21.

S. Illinois at Youngstown St. SIU should roll over the Penguins of YSU. Bad. SIU 44, YSU 7.

William & Mary at Liberty. The Tribe should have no problem beating the Flames, though Liberty should make things interesting in the first half with their physical play. W&M 38, Liberty 10.

1-A Florida International at Stephen F. Austin. SFA is simply better than FIU. They were when they were 1-AA, and they will again now that they've gone to 1-A. Bad. SFA 45, FIU 0.

Cal Poly at Southern Utah. This should be a great game, with undefeated Cal Poly playing an SUU team who has survived a brutal road schedule to finally play their first home game of the year. I think SUU wins in a defensive struggle. SUU 21, Cal Poly 7.

Go Lehigh!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Preview of "Benedict Arnold Bowl"

Preview of the"Benedict Arnold Bowl"
When you have an eleven game regular-season, and you have played 4 games, it is fashionable to say that the season is a quarter of the way through, though technically it is 4/11ths though. But after 4 games, Lehigh seems to have tantalizing potential to win the Patriot League and qualify for the 1-AA playoffs after a 2 year absence.

With Colgate at 2-2 after losses to UMass and Yale, Lehigh is the highest-ranked Patriot League team at #17 nationally. And with a bunch of borderline teams still clinging to high rankings like Wofford, New Hampshire, Villanova, and Northern Arizona, and other borderline teams that could go down at any minute like Jacksonville St. and Cal Poly, it's not inconceivable to think that should Lehigh keep winning through October, they could be in the top 10 by November.

You can feel the expectations growing in Bethlehem. Is the team up to the challenge?

But first...
DE Tom Alfsen's monster defensive performance has not gone unnoticed here at Lehigh Football Nation. Every game this year he hs gotten a brand-new LFN Game Ball for dominating defensive performances. It looks like 1-AA nation has also been paying attention, too. Today Alfsen has been added to the Buck Buchanan Award list, which is awarded to the best 1-AA defensive player of the year:
Buchanan Awards List Revised

Congratultions, "Alf". (Yes Mr. Tom Alfsen, that's your nickname.)

Lehigh/Holy Cross: Injury Report
OL Tom Toth (OUT)
OL John Reese (OUT)
DT Royce Morgan (OUT)
OLB Randy Rovesti (OUT)
WR Lee Thomas (Questionable)
OLB Anthony Graziani (Questionable)
LB Claude Kershner (Questionable)
LB Jason Murray (Questionable)
LB Travis Stinson (Questionable)

With backup C John Reese out, we fortunately have OL Shaun Strickland back to backup multiple line positions, so depth shouldn't be a concern. But depth at linebacker looks like a real concern, with 5 LBs banged up. We may see a lot of sophomore LB Micah Greene rotating in. Other possibilities include sophomore LB/DB Chris LaMont, or little-used senior LB Mike Horvath.

Scouting Holy Cross
Holy Cross comes into this year, like last year, with few expectations for football. Since the good old days when Holy Cross was a consistent national powerhouse, to the good not-so-old days when players like Gordie Lockbaum and Gil Fennerty wore the purple-and-white, since joining the Patriot League Holy Cross has chosen primarily to focus on maintaning a world-beating quality basketball team. As a result, their football team has been in steady decline since the early 1990s.

Last year, the Crusaders' coach died shortly after being dismissed by the university of chemical sensitivity syndrome. In the offseason, Lehigh defensive coordinator Tom Gilmore took on the job of building the Crusader football program essentially from scratch.

Adding insult to the injury of Gilmore hightailing to Holy Cross in the middle of recruiting season, Gilmore also convinced defensive backs coach Issac Collins to follow him in his rebuilding effort - after Collins had already been promoted to defensive coordinator.

Hence "Benedict Tom" now is coaching against his former team. Think Coach Lembo is going to take this stuff sitting down? I have a feeling Lembo is serious about going in there and making a statement if possible.

Last week, Fordham played Holy Cross at Fitton field in Worcester, Mass for the "Ram/Crusader" trophy, won in the final minute by the visiting Rams, 42-35.

In analyzing the Fordham/Holy Cross game last week, I was struck by the number of sustained drives by the Crusaders against the Rams, who in the preseason appeared to have one of the best defenses in the Patriot League. The first drive was a 1-play, 50 yard pass play to WR Sean Gruber, but the other drives were not aided by Fordham turnovers or loads of defensive penalties. To showcase the fact that their drives were multi-dimensional, their game-tying drive in the 4th quarter featured 9 runs (2 on scrambles by QB John O'Neill), 3 passes, and 1 sack.

They had over 370 yards of offense against a team featuring 3 candidates for the preseason Patriot League Defensive Player of the year. Much of their offense involved runs from junior QB John O'Neill (to the tune of 86 yards) to go with his 193 net passing yards.

They won the time-of-possession battle. And they didn't turn over the ball. In a nutshell, they didn't seem like the same team that had lost to Harvard 35-0 two weeks earlier.

The aforementioned John O'Neill is the Crusaders' QB. He is mobile and has been improving every week passing the ball. Last week he was responsible for 280 of Holy Cross' 370 total yards, passing and rushing. He is not to be taken lightly and a key to the game will be containing him.

Holy Cross has been running the ball more than they have been passing in general, though last week they were more balanced. They run a pro set with 2 wideouts - nothing Lehigh hasn't seen before.

At RB, senior Steve Silva has been getting the majority of carries this year, with former Patriot League Rookie of the year, junior Gideon Akande also coming in at times for a change of pace. They both are also solid options catching the ball out of the backfield. FBs Brian Gavin and Josh Ruffin last week didn't play, but are listed on the depth chart this week. They are primarily blocking options out of the backfield.

The wideouts feature junior wideout Sean Gruber. He is the meat and potatoes of the receiving corps with 336 yards receiving this year and 3 TDs (including the touchdown on Holy Cross' first play from scrimmage last week). Not incredibly far beind is junior Bryan Anderson and junior Bob Turkovich, but they are definitely not in the same class as Gruber.

The "O" line is young, with 0 seniors. LT Lee Chase is their biggest lineman at 309 pounds, on a line that on average is about the same size as Lehigh's. Their line has struggled, however, to get much established offensively, especially against Harvard three weeks ago.

The front of their 4-man defensive line is undersized compared to Lehigh's, but loaded with experience. Seniors David Mitchell, Nick Nelthorpe, and Adam Luker are featured. DT Nelthorpe is probably the best on the line.

At linebacker, senior OLB David Fitzpatrick is the Crusaders' best player on defense. Sophomore ILB Sain Karim is starter and a up-and-comer. Having said that, the front seven have been giving up 183 yards a game rushing, which leads one to believe their front seven have been overmatched in many, if not all, of their games.

In the defensive backfield, there is a real dearth of experience and speed. Two freshmen start - SS Ken Flanders and FS Obioma Green. Junior Tyler Nugent and sophomore Casey Gough start at the corners. These backs have let up an average of 228 yards passing a game against some teams like Duquesne and Fordham that are not known for having prolific 1-AA passing offenses.

Special teams
CB Casey Gough seems to be the heir apparent of all-league KR Ari Confessor who graduated last year, averaging nearly 75 yards a game in kickoff returns. The punting game has been a concern, however, as sophomore P Ryan McManaway has only a 31.5 yard average.

Keys to victory
1.Spying O'Neill. O'Neill, 80% of the offense last week against Fordham, needs to be contained in the pocket and between the tackles. Keeping him in the pocket, with good pressure, should keep him contained both running and passing the ball.

2.Keep dominating the trenches. The past 2 weeks has seen Lehigh winning the trench battle and dominating the game. Against the Crusaders, with a smaller "D" line than Albany or Liberty, the "O" line needs to contain their rush and open holes. The "D" Line needs to keep penetrating and overpowering Holy Cross' inexperienced line.

3.School the youngsters. The inexperienced freshmen safeties should be tested early and often. Running up the middle, and passes in the center of the field to Adam "Public Enemy" Bergen, should be a daunting test for them.

4.Coverage of Gruber. "NBG" should cover Gruber like a blanket. Tad Kornegay didn't last week, and Gruber got a couple TDs. Taking Gruber seriously will be important in containing thir offense.

Fearless prediction
Lembo has been downplaying the revenge factor this week. Much undoubtedly will be made of Holy Cross' tight game last week against Fordham instead. But I honestly think that Holy Cross' performance was more a function of Fordham's weakness rather than Holy Cross' strength. But I think all of this will work against Holy Cross rather than help. A serious revenge-minded Lehigh will put a hurting on the Crusaders.

Lehigh 49, Holy Cross 17

Coming up: Weekend predictions; My Favorite 1-AA Columnist; Friday Press Roundup

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

University of Central Florida in the Patriot League?

UCF and rumors
When your favorite blogger is not out fighting crime, creating good jobs at good wages in swing states, or listening to his Greenday CDs, he's out there defending Lehigh (and the Patriot League) from the worst sort of rogues - rogue reporters.

Yukiama, on the message boards, posted the following link to an article from columnist Mike Bianchi about the Golden Knights of UCF and the moribund state of their football program after losing to Buffalo of the MAC (a team that Lehigh beat in 2002, I hasten to add):

Orlando Sentinel (registration required):
Sad But True: UCF May Be Nation's Worst

What jumps out is the following crack:

"[Coach] O'Leary might as well be building this program from scratch. That's how dark these days are for the [University of Central Florida] Knights. For the past few years, UCF fans have compared the progress of their program to the progress at USF. Forget about that. UCF might not be as good as [1-A] Florida International or [1-A] Florida Atlantic.

"UCF is moving up to Conference USA next year. Is it too late to move down to the Patriot League?"

Being a Lehigh fan, I found it impossible to not respond to this unnecessary crack against our league, especially from a fan of a team who probably isn't as good as Lehigh, Colgate or Bucknell. I find it hard to beleive that UCF, a team in the pathetic 1-A MAC conference, filled with teams that struggle to meet even the basic requirements of 1-A membership, would think that going to the Patriot League would be a step "down".

So here's what I wrote him:

"While flattered that you think UCF might be Patriot League material, I'm not sure if academically or athletically UCF is in the same class as the upper echelon of Patriot League teams this year. Although in the Sagarin Rankings UCF (#143) is currently ranked above Lehigh (#154), Colgate (#161) and Bucknell (#163), check back at the end of the year, as it's likely one or more of these teams will be ranked ahead of UCF should they continue to struggle against other MAC teams.

"Furthermore, Lehigh and Colgate beat Buffalo in 2002 and 2003, something that UCF was unable to do this year. So I'm not sure UCF is good enough to contend for the Patriot League football championship and 1-AA playoffs.

"If UCF and their fans are so sure of being so much better than the Patriot League, why don't you push for UCF to schedule Lehigh, Colgate or Bucknell in the next few years? I'm sure all three schools would eagerly oblige."

No response yet from Mike.

Tomorrow: Lehigh/Holy Cross Preview, or: The "Benedict Arnold" Bowl

Monday, October 04, 2004

Press Roundup; Game Balls; Weekend Recap

Press Roundup
The press box was positive about the victory against the Great Danes of Albany - those that showed up. (Where was the Express-Times?)

Lehigh Defeats Albany in Convincing Fashion
Morning Call:
Youth Is Served in Lehigh's Win over Albany
Times-Union (upstate NY):
Lehigh steamrolls Albany

"Thompson, who went in at tailback after Eric Rath suffered a strained knee on Lehigh's first series, ran for 89 yards and one touchdown and scored twice more on receptions as the Hawks impressed in their last tuneup before Patriot League play begins next week at Holy Cross.

''I'm not surprised by Marques' play,'' Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said. ''We felt coming into the year that we had two good backs. But heading into the first game, Marques pulled his hamstring and was not ready to play a whole lot. Fortunately, he got healthy and, with Eric getting banged up against Liberty, we figured that they would go about 50-50 today.''

''I prepared myself and the O-line opened up a lot of holes,'' Thompson said. ''It was new to me to get so many touches. I have been waiting for a day like this.''

''I don't make excuses about injuries,'' Lembo said. ''I believe in the depth of our team and in the kids we put out there, regardless of who's hurt. But I'd lying to you if I said our injury list at this point of the season isn't a lot longer than I'd like it to be.''

Tom Alfsen Gets Awards
First of all, DE Tom Alfsen got recognition as the Patriot League defensive player of the week for his 8 tackles and his fumble recovery which he rumbled back for a TD. Congratulations, Tom (we'll have to get a snaly nickname for you soon since you're routinely getting Game Balls from here!)

That's the perfect segway to this weeks' Game Balls! They proudly go to:
Sophomore RB Marques Thompson (149 total yards, 3 TDs)
Junior QB Mark Borda (13-20, 248 yards, 3 TDs in 3 quarters)
Junior WR Gerran Walker (145 total yards, 1 TD)
The entire 'O' Line: (for 37 points and only 1 penalty)
Sophomore RT Jason Russell
Senior RG Jason "Rocky" Morrell
Senior C Justin Terry
Junior LG Adam Selmasska
Senior LT Rob Sandie
Senior LB Anthony Graziani (12 tackles)
Junior FS Kaloma Cardwell (10 tackles, 1 forced fumble)
Senior DE Tom Alfsen (8 tackles, fumble recovery for TD)

Congratulations to all for a great game!

One look back on Lehigh/Albany from the Nest
Albany was a tough team that never gave up for 60 minutes. They were very physical and it showed in the injury list after the game - by the 4th quarter our starting QB Borda and our starting RB Rath were knocked out. Something I'll be awaiting nervously this week is the injury report for the Holy Cross game.

Personally I have liked what I've heard the past 2 games from Lehigh on offense. The "O" Line has grown in leaps and bounds against 2 physical teams. Borda sounds good, and has made more good decisions than bad lately. Eric Rath and Marques Thompson seem to becoming a formidable 1-2 punch from the backfield. And finally WR Gerran Walker seems healthy and ready to claim the #1 wideout position for good.

I'd like to see just a bit more focus from the "D", especially early in the game. Although Albany surprised a bit offensively (they uncharacteristically passed the ball a lot, and even lined up in a Wishbone for heaven's sake), I feel the "D" could have played better more consistently at times so far. However, the "D" has only given up more than 20 points to 1 team this year (#12 ranked Villanova).

It seems like some fans, though, that a 44-14 win over Albany with nearly 400 total yards, 1 penalty and 0 turnovers, is somehow inconclusive evidence that Lehigh's offense is alive and well. I really don't understand it. All you have to do is look at the numbers against Albany and against Liberty to see the improvement over Stony Brook and Villanova. Liberty and Albany, granted, are not Colgate and Delaware, but they're not St. Francis and LaSalle either.

Others inexplicably are still fighting the Borda vs. Keating QB battle from camp. To which I say: It's over. Borda is the starter. Get used to it. In the last 2 games, he's gone 33 for 47 with 1 interception and 4 TDs. And though Borda forces the ball in traffic more than I'd like sometimes, 3 TDs last week don't lie. He is playing well.

Lehigh in the polls
Lehigh jumped in the polls!

Sports Network #17
ESPN/USA Today #17
Any Given Saturday #18
Dopke.Com #22

With Colgate getting upset on the road against Yale 31-28, Lehigh has all of a sudden become the top Patriot dog in the 1-AA rankings. It's taken a long time, but it feels good to be back. I'm hoping that we can keep this uneasy crown on our head through the rest of this year.

Weekend Recap
Time for my favorite piece of the week: where I guessed right on the games of the weekend, and where I guessed wrong.

Really right:
Harvard/Lafayette. Predicted score: Harvard 41, Lafayette 23. Real score: Harvard 38, Lafayette 23. Two weeks in a row I've predicted the Lafayette score almost to the point!

James Madison/Hofstra. Predicted score: JMU 27, Hofstra 13. Real score: JMU 31, Hofstra 21. (Not really *that* close, but I'll take it.)

Should have been right:
Southern Illinois/Northern Iowa. I got the fact that it would be a crazy-close game. I got the fact that UNI would play as if their lives depended on it. What I didn't get right was that SIU would intercept the ball at the 2 yard line, and that UNI's playoff ambitions would likely be sunk in the first week in October.

Colgate/Yale: I didn't expect Yale to run and pass the ball seemingly at will against Colgate. But if Yale's kicker didn't get a 37 yard field goal - his career best - with time expiring, I don't think Yale would have lasted an OT.

Was I ever wrong!
New Hampshire/Villanova: Not only did I not get the fact that UNH would light up the Wildcat defense for 51 points; not only did I not get the fact that Villanova's offense would score 40 points (I don't think anyone would have laid money before the game on either happening); I also thought that Villanova would win. (Boy does Villanova miss LB Brian Hulea, out for the season against Penn.)

Eastern Washington/Portland St. If I had read the injury report saying that PSU's star running back Ryan Fuqua would not play, I wouldn't have taken PSU over EWU and won. But I didn't, and I did, so I didn't.

Finally, a preview of the Lehigh/Holy Cross game
From the Morning Call:
Lehigh Preps for Holy Cross

"Lehigh football coach Pete Lembo insists that the significance of the Mountain Hawks' game Saturday at Holy Cross is simply ''that it's our first league game; it's a championship game, a must-win game.''

"But it's also a game that was highlighted on Lehigh's schedule since it was first released, and not because it's the Patriot League opener.The game at Fitton Field in Worcester will be the first meeting between the Mountain Hawks and former defensive coordinator Tom Gilmore, who is now the head coach of the Crusaders.

A well-done piece by Keith Groller, highlighting what can only be called the "Benedict Arnold Bowl". For those who don't know, former Lehigh defensive coordinator Tom Gilmore left Lehigh and took his defensive staff with him in a hurry away from Bethlehem on not the best terms.

Could it mean that Lembo wants to exact some payback? Or does it mean that Gilmore would love nothing better to deal the Mountain Hawks a serious blow to their Patriot League title hopes and 1-AA playoff dreams?

Coming soon: Lehigh/Holy Cross Preview; University of Central Florida in the Patriot League?; My favorite 1-AA Columnists
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