This word may come as a surprise. Originally I thought it was going to be: "Playmakers", since it didn't feel like there were enough of them, especially on defense last weekend against Harvard when the chips were down. But it's not time for backbiting as we hit the first REALLY important game of the season. It's time for a reality check.
September is done. What do we have here for Lehigh football in 2006? We have a team that is "close", but 1-3. We've had a team that's made critical mistakes (and no phase of the game has been immune). We've had "coulda, woulda, shoulda".
We are a team that has played four awfully good football teams. We've found a way to come from behind and win one football game against a tough Villanova squad, but could not find a way to come back and win against three teams that either are in the I-AA Top 25 or close to it. None of these games have been blowouts. In none of these games can you say, "Lehigh was clearly outclassed on both sides of the ball."
I hear folks saying, "Well, yeah, but we're 1-3". It's true, we are. But even though it's an old saw, we're "close" to being 4-0.
In truth, this is not unique to 2006. Does anyone remember last year? Lehigh 28, VMI 26? Lehigh 28, Yale 21? Against VMI, we needed a huge interception as VMI was closing in on FG range to seal the win. Against Yale, we had to rally to tie and then go ahead. And I don't need to mention losses to Holy Cross, Delaware, and that Easton school. Fact is, there were a lot of times last year when we didn't put the hammer down. It cost us in some key ball games, and almost cost us in a couple others.
In ways, this year is more of a continuation of 2005's trend than any new specific difference in 2006. We're still playing too many "close" games. When you do, you're going to get some character-building wins, but you're not going to win them all. Once in a while, you have to put the hammer down.
We've got a team that is pretty "close". "Close" to the coaching staff by all accounts, "close" to being 4-0, "close" to being a team nobody wants to face in the Patriot League. It's not time for a major overhaul. It's time to rally behind the team as we face the most critical games on the schedule. But looking objectively, we've got a very talented team that still seems like it's ready to break out at any moment and do well the rest of the way.
Does anyone actually beleive that we're not going to have an excellent shot at the Patriot League title? Yeah, it's been a rough September. But can we say that Lafayette, Colgate and Holy Cross have really acquitted themselves much better? Let's analyze their out-of conference wins. Marist, Dartmouth, and freakin' Sacred Heart - that's it. Lafayette is 0-3 versus Penn, Princeton, and Yale. Colgate lost to UMass and Monmouth. Holy Cross lost to Northeastern and Harvard.
The difference is that these three teams have proven themselves against Bucknell, Fordham and Georgetown in Patriot League games. And all three have, bringing the hammer down. Colgate 31, G-Town 14. Lafayette 31, Bucknell 0. Holy Cross 26, G-Town 13. Holy Cross 28, Fordham 21.
I still believe that we have an excellent chance to win the Patriot League title. But we've got to stop playing so many "close" games and put the hammer down. If we put the hammer down against Georgetown, then we'll be in the same place as Holy Cross, Lafayette and Colgate. In 2006, that's not a bad place to be.
I can't speak for everyone, but I beleive in coach Coen and I beleieve in these players. Please feel free to jump off the bandwagon if you'd like, but I think as long as they trust coach Coen's system, learn the lessons of September, work hard, and put the hammer down whenever the opportunity is given to them - this team will win games and compete for championships.
I'll be looking for a "hammer" next Saturday.