Friday, September 22, 2006

Friday Water Cooler: The Bye Week

It's a special "Bye Week" version of the Water Cooler this week. It remains to be seen if anyone even reads this today since there's no Lehigh game, but there will be a lot of Patriot League and I-AA action this week, so it should be another exciting Saturday as we patiently await Lehigh/Harvard in eight days.

Where's Chuck Going This Weekend?
Ralph Wallace from I-AA.org is flying out east, and he's going to be attending the Hampton/Morgan State game with me at 4:00PM, and then we will be hightailing it out of there so we can catch (at least) the second half of the Lafayette/Princeton game. With Matt Dougherty of the Sports Network also heading over to Princeton, it's quite possible that the game in Princeton, NJ will be the "best covered coverage of a matchup of unranked I-AA teams in history", as Matt said this past week on I-AA Waves.

Ralph and I will be taking pictures at this game, and I will also be keeping a "I-AA Diary" on the entire event (as I always do for I-AA.org). Aside from lamenting the fact that I won't be up in Albany (seriously, THERE'S a sentence I never thought I'd utter) to see the Central Connecticut State/Albany matchup, I will also have the challenge in trying to find some common thread between these two games we're attending.

Speaking of Shameless Self-Promotion...
I'm glad you asked. This past week saw I-AA.org publish my latest diary on the Fordham/Columbia game. In a way, it builds from my I-AA Diary column the week before talking about 9/11 and its effect on Georgetown and Fordham's football programs. Even if you're just a Patriot League fan you may want to check these out, as it shows the effect that the attacks had on schools in our league.

I also had an extended conversation on I-AA Waves this past week. You can check the 9/19 show in the I-AA Waves Archives and download it to your mp3 player of choice.

T-Shirts
This is perfect for a bye week: The question for the class this weekend is: If you were to buy a fan T-shirt with a slogan on the back, what would that slogan be?

"Fly Higher"
"Do It On The Mountain"
"I Like My Leopard Well Done"

Feel free to comment on this thread - add your own!

Water Cooler Picks: Patriot League, Week 4
My picks last week were 3-4 - pretty pathetic, especially when I also pictured Colgate to whomp on Dartmouth by more than 6 TDs. And that was one of my "wins." Hopefully this week, I can do a little better. At 10-8 on the year, I really need to get "Championship Level", and fast.

Columbia over Georgetown. I saw this Lion team last week, and I saw a pretty darned good football team. We won't know who's the starting Hoya QB, but I think we're going to see another strong effort from Columbia - especially defensively - and that should be enough. Columbia 21, Georgetown 9.

Monmouth over Colgate. I really really hope I'm wrong about this one. But Monmouth's defense completely shut down their three opponents this year in a huge way, and Colgate will have to be on their toes against the Hawks. Furthermore, the Raiders haven't shown me that they're a championship team yet. I'm not sure NEC wins should still be considered "shockers", but this one may be considered another. Monmouth 28, Colgate 24.

#7 Richmond over Bucknell. If Bucknell can score any points against the Spiders, I'll be impressed. Richmond 54, Bucknell 0.

Princeton over Lafayette. How many times can I say that Princeton is good? They will give Lafayette a battle over 4 quarters once again, and can you say: 4-35-3 lifetime against the Tigers? It will be another close game - and another Leopard loss. (And here's another prediction: I'll be saying again next week that I told you so.) Princeton 24, Lafayette 20.

Holy Cross over Marist. After getting beat up by Northeastern and Harvard, the Crusaders should right the ship against Marist of the MAAC. HC 31, Marist 14.

Water Cooler Picks: I-AA Top 25, Week 4
So far this year (not counting Patriot League games, which I can't pick at at all), I'm 45-15 with the rest of the Top 25. I can live with that. I still think about those games I should have won, like picking Central Connecticut State over Georgia Southern and then reversing it since "Erk" Russell passed away, and last week's game where Furman's chance to upset I-A North Carolina was overturned in a very controversial replay call. Oh well. Hopefully I keep things up this week.

#1 New Hampshire over Dartmouth. You've got to believe that New Hampshire will stumble sometime - but not here. See Dartmouth get their best crowd of the year - with more than half the stands packed with UNH fans. UNH 44, Dartmouth 15.

#2 Appalachian State over Gardner-Webb. It's just so hard to see the "heavyweights" lose these types of games. App St. 35, G-W 10.

I-A San Jose State over #3 Cal Poly. This is an extremely interesting matchup. The I-A Spartans can't stop anyone, but have a potent offense, while the 'Stangs have one of the best defenses in I-AA but have had trouble scoring. To me, it's a bad matchup. The Spartans take this round. SJSU 24, Cal Poly 7.

#4 Montana over Sacramento State. Someday, the Hornets will pull a huge Big Sky upset, but not here. Montana 34, Sac St. 9.

#5 Illinois State over Murray State. The OVC's Murray State is in disarray, and having the red-hot Redbirds come to town is no way to get better. ISU 54, Murray 6.

#20 Western Carolina over #6 Furman. Watch out for these Catamounts. They're pretty good, and with Furman stung by an all-out effort against I-A North Carolina this week, they are ripe for an upset. WCU 31, Furman 28.

#8 Youngstown State over #15 UC-Davis. Another great matchup between two beat-up schools that have had a great September. Y-Town is fresh off a pasting by I-A Penn State, and UC-Davis is fresh off their shellacking of Montana State 45-0... on the road! This time, I think their fourth game which requires a flight will take its toll on the Aggies, though, as a fresher Y-Town takes this game in a close game. YSU 34, UC-D 32.

#9 UMass over Stony Brook. Stony Brook continues their "Theater of Pain" tour. UMass 56, SB 7.

I-A Ball State over #10 North Dakota State. This is neither here nor there, but don't you think there are way too many Great West teams in the Top 10? I do; and it seems like the most overrated of the bunch will probably fall here. Ball St. 48, NDSU 19.

#11 McNeese State over I-A Toledo. McNeese is the toughest team to figure in the whole Top 25, with a loss to I-A USF and huge win over D-II West Virginia Tech. Are they really the best in the Southland? With Toledo's suspect defense, I think they will break out in a close game that they just pull out. McNeese 41, Toledo 30.

#12 Southern Illinois over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. A big road game after a huge win at I-A Indiana is a recipie for a "letdown", but hey, this is Arkansas-Pine Bluff. SIU 41, Ark-PB 10.

#14 Hampton over Morgan State. I'll be at this game and it will be a lot of fun to attend my first real "Classic". Hampton has not one, but two, great rushers in Alonzo Coleman and Kevin Beverly, and both should run all over the Bears. Hampton 48, Morgan State 7.

Weber State over #16 Portland State. Upset special. A classic letdown situation: a brutal early schedule, playing an underrated team on the road, with #4 Montana the following week. Weber wins. Weber St. 27, PSU 24.

#17 James Madison over Northeastern. James Madison is searching for their identity, but Northeastern has found theirs: They can't beat the better teams. With a week off, give me the Dukes. JMU 24, N'Eastern 21.

#18 Eastern Illinois over Samford. The Bulldogs' 17-10 near-loss to Austin Peay tells me a lot more than the Panther's near-win over Illinois State 44-30. EIU 38, Samford 21.

#19 Delaware over Rhode Island. If *every* Delaware fan is picking Delaware to lose this game, you've got to beleive there's something fishy going on. On paper, Delaware wins handily; it really is a must-win game; therefore, Delaware wins... big. Delaware 44, Rhody 9.

Chattanooga over #21 Georgia Southern. Ultimately, everyone will figure out that this Georgia Southern team isn't that good. Chatty 36, GSU 20.

Hofstra over #22 Towson. Towson, ranked for the first time ever, will find out how hard it is to stay ranked after losing to a team that has had two weeks to prepare for them. Hofstra 29, Towson 14.

Brown over #23 Harvard. Harvard's on their third-string QB, and Brown is looking for revenge for their only league loss last year. Clifton Dawson won't be able to keep the Crimson in the Top 25 alone. Brown 38, Harvard 16.

#24 Nicholls State over South Dakota State. The less said, the better. NSU 49, SDSU 3.

Albany over #25 Central Connecticut State. The NEC game of the year, and it will be a good game between CCSU's spread option and Albany's big running game and powerful defense. From this reporter's viewpoint, it will be a tough battle - the winner may, just may, have a shot at the I-AA playoffs, and both teams know it. I wish this game was on TV - it will be great theater. My feeling? I think Albany wins this in the closing seconds in a clean, well-fought game with a FG. Albany 16, CCSU 13.

That's it for this week! See you Monday!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Princeton/Lafayette Press Roundup; Bye Weeks

I want to give credit where credit is due: I think it is superfan ngineer who said that he wished that this loss didn't come during a bye week. The loss hurts all the more with an extra week to think about it. Not only the team; it hurts the fans as well. (Just looking over my inbox makes THAT point pretty plain.)

But before you're ready to give up on this season, I want to say a couple more things.

Lehigh is a young team, with a brand-new coaching staff and a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Too often we've looked at teams like Princeton and thought that we're going to dispatch them simply because we're playing at home; we're nationally-ranked; or simply because we're Lehigh and they're Princeton. Those days are over. Lehigh can win and lose every week to anybody.

We're a young team that is pretty raw, especially on offense. Not only on the field, but in the coaching staff as well. This is a group that is trying to find its way with the players they have. They've largely jettisoned the old offense and installed something new, with some success and some struggles. In the preseason I said that the large unwritten story involved the overhaul of "Air Small" -- the offense we've run since the mid-1990s -- and here we are three weeks later and it still is.

I believe in these players, and this coaching staff. They absolutely have a point about playing more physical and punching the ball in from the 3 yard line, something Lehigh didn't always do consistently before. But it's Week 3 of the most radical overhaul of the Lehigh offense I've ever seen, and there's still kinks to be worked out. I don't like them, but I think the kids will work them out.

I beleive everyone is working hard to win football games, and I believe we're moving in a positive direction. Like everyone else, I like coach Coen. Most importantly, I beleive that our team in week 5 will be better than the team we saw in week 1. Let's not judge the team as to where they are in September, but where they are in November.

Who thought Lafayette last year would be competing for titles when they lost to Princeton and Colgate? Who though Colgate had a shot after losing to Central Connecticut State, Dartmouth and Lehigh? That's the reality of the Patriot League in 2006, folks. The Patriot League is still a good league, but the Ivy and NEC are getting better. We're all still in the Patriot race - and ultimately, that's all that's going to matter in November when Lehigh/Lafayette rolls around.

So two weeks from now, let's see how the team gets better versus Harvard. It will be another stiff test for us, and like every week Lehigh will have to get better in order to win. We cannot just show up and win. We'll have to work for it.

I'll be back for the "Bye Week Water Cooler" on Friday. Be safe and Go Lehigh!

Press Roundup
Allentown Morning Call:
Groller: Lehigh's Coen Making Great First Impression
Threatt's Remarks Aside, This Loss Was a Team Effort
Groller: Tentative Hawks Feel Out At Home

Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh Gets Caught on Rebound

Brown & White:
Hawks Offense Sputters; Coen Suffers Second Loss

Trenton Times:
Strickland Named Defensive Player Of The Week

Press Mash-up

Roger Hughes, Princeton’s head coach, was happy to escape Lehigh with a victory. "This was one team we have not beaten yet as a staff,” Hughes said. “My team many not even appreciate how hard it is to come in to Goodman and win.”

Strickland's first interception and 32-yard return set up the Tigers' go-ahead touchdown. The senior's second pick near the goal line thwarted a potential go-ahead drive for Lehigh in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game. "He's our bus driver," defensive backs coach Eric Jackson said of Strickland. "He put himself in position to make the big plays. His hard work knowing both the Lehigh passing game and the running game paid off. Some of his tackles were just as important as his interceptions."
...
“We can be a good football team,” Coen said. “But we’re not going to be if we play as inconsistently as we played today. This is not acceptable right now at any level. We can not be up and down.”

"I learned a lot about myself after the Albany loss," he said. "I looked at myself in the mirror and said that I had to put it behind me and be the leader of this team. You can't dwell on the negative. You move forward. I was able to do it, and, more importantly, the kids were able to do it."

“As a player, it would kill me coming off the [Princeton] game,” Coen said. “Just the effort coming out for the second half caught me by surprise.”

"We've talked about finishing," Coen said. "We had an opportunity in the first half and missed some more opportunities in the second half. I'm really not happy with the penalties. We can't have these things. We have to execute. It's hard to become consistent with the mistakes we're making."

"We tried our best to stop them, but it just didn't happen that time," said Moore, a junior and a bright spot all season at free safety. "It was rough. At the start of the second half, they changed their tempo by throwing the ball more. In the first half, they were trying to get their option game going."

"Honestly, I expect to win wherever we go," said free safety Ernest Moore, who had two interceptions and five tackles against Princeton. "I don't play this game to lose. I never in my life decided this game is more important than that one because we're going to be playing here."

"I didn't play," said Threatt, who threw for 207 yards and ran for 52 more but couldn't generate the critical big plays that beat Villanova. "I love my team. Nobody's going to say it's anybody's fault. The truth is, I didn't play. I had Lee for a touchdown, didn't make the throw. I had Brannan Thomas on a post, didn't make the throw."

Coen reiterated that football is a team game and that everybody is responsible for a loss. "Sedale's a competitor, a leader, and his own biggest critic, and I respect him very much for that," Coen added. "But it's more than 11 guys who take a share in this. You can't have a game where the offense plays great and the defense doesn't or vice versa. We need to find a way to become a more consistent football team."

“It is something that we talk to these guys about,” Coen said. “Accountability starts and stops with me.”

"I talked myself into going for it at that point," Coen said. "We were dominating up front and I had faith in the kids. The last time we had that situation, we had a 40-yard run [against Villanova]. Looking back on it, it would have made it 13-0 and we would have only needed a field goal to win the game in the fourth quarter.

"But we had other opportunities and I won't last long in this business if I second-guess myself on decisions like that. I had faith in the kids and I'd probably do it again."

"I will be very disappointed if it's not a very motivated football team that comes back to practice on Tuesday," Coen said.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sunday's Word: Fitness

I put a lot of thought into this Sunday's word. "Hubris"? Was it hubris that had us losing this game? "Ivy"? Was it the Ivy just simply putting the smack down on us? "Granite"? Was it our guys, whenever we needed a big running play, they looked like they simply ran into a block of granite?

After watching the replay, to me the word that sticks out is "fitness".

Why? I can't say if the players went out there expecting to beat an Ivy team before the game was even played, so "hubris" gets thrown out. Similarly, the "Ivies" put a real good hurting on the whole Patriot League this week (heck, even Colgate was down 7-6 at half to.... Dartmouth.) It *could* be league-wide hubris. But that's not why we lost.

"Granite" comes closer. On 2nd-and-goal from the 3, we hand off to senior RB Marques Thompson and he gets stuffed by Princeton LB Doori Song. 3rd-and-6, and then we see another incompletion. 4th down... and the FG hits the post. When we got into the red zone, Thompson and the running game hits a block of granite and comes up with nothing.

But "Granite" is related to "Fitness". And "Fitness" is the word this week.

If football games were 30 minutes, we'd be unstoppable. But it's clear that as the game goes on the effectiveness of the offense is going down. In the fourth quarter, we're not ripping the huge gains and getting the TDs. Instead, we're getting stuffed at 2nd-and-goal at the 3.

Why? "Fitness" could be as good a reason as any. When the game is on the line, and we need a big 4th-and-1 or a big push at 2nd-and-goal, we're not getting those yards. It's not just the line, or the QB, or a receiver. It's the whole offense as a unit.

You can see it. Off-target throws, for a variety of reasons. Mental errors resulting in penalties and killed drives. Drives deep in the red zone with no points to show for it. (I give Donchez a pass for the pass interference call, which probably prevented an interception.)

Sedale had another game where he looked sharp in the first half, only to struggle in the second. The types of errors that occurred seemed to me to be the type that occur because Sedale is trying to do too much out there, especially by forcing passes. Princeton has an experienced, wily secondary. I'm hoping that this game was an eye-opener for Sedale.

Not that the defense gets a total pass either. In the second half, Princeton stepped on our throats and we looked lost out there at times. A terrible mental error gave Princeton the ball at midfield and it took all of four plays to score.

Lehigh lost to a very very good football team on Saturday. Anyone who tells you Princeton is a bad team is not looking hard enough at the films. Princeton is a solid, talented team that tackles well, can play effecient offense and can block. Our last three losses at home - to Lafayette, Princeton and Albany - were to good teams. (Yes, Albany DID beat Delaware at the Tub on Saturday night, 17-13 - that wasn't a typo.) One of the things that bugged me about the film was that Lehigh was getting beat on both lines. Princeton's lines may be small, but they got the better of us on Saturday.

But if the offense finds their "Fitness", and strings together a full 60 minutes of effectiveness, we still have a chance to win championships and play in the I-AA playoffs. Again, last I checked, if Lehigh wins all their league games they don't have to worry about at-large bids to the playoffs. We still can do it. Hopefully, two weeks from now against Harvard, we'll see more "fitness" against another brutally tough Ivy team.

I still beleive we've got a good team here, and I think our best Saturdays are yet to come. If our team develops some "Fitness" and can execute well for 60 minutes.
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