Saturday, September 08, 2007

Lehigh 20, Villanova 30

I just finished watching the replay of this game. Initial thoughts:

* Mental miscues played way too big a part of this loss. Right out of the gate the special teams mistake on the initial punt put us on the back foot, and getting beat on pass coverage also was killer early. Twice kids got beat for big points.

* Lehigh's offense and defense didn't appear totally in rhythm, though both showed flashes of brilliance at times.

* Kwesi Kankam looks like a keeper. I'll get the stats later, but for a freshman who only got there a month ago he looked aweswome in the action he got into.

* The same problems Lehigh had early last year are rearing their ugly heads again: inability to finish drives. End of first half could have maybe been a TD, while the offense got flummoxed late and we had to settle for a long FG that went just wide.

* Villanova was losing people left and right, but the starters that did stick in the game had good days. But their lack of depth should have been a major strength for us, but it wasn't.

* It's awful tempting to read a lot into this loss, but it was going to be a tough one to hoe anyway with such a young team. A decisive win against Princeton should do an awful lot about getting any bad taste of of Lehigh fans' mouths. But I will be looking for our secondary to play much, much better.

Water up today!

This be the hottest opening day ever with temperatures in the 90s. So make sure to bring plenty of water for the game (or bring plenty of money!).

It seems like most of the pundits are taking Villanova in this, though David Coulson of the Sports Network picks Lehigh in a close game. Most pickers think this is going to be a close game.

Let's just hope it goes Lehigh's way!

GO LEHIGH

Friday, September 07, 2007

Patriot League Picks, Week Two (and Mash-Up)

Pumped for Lehigh/Villanova yet? Excited about Volunteer day at the stadium? Happy about a projected sunny, 85 degree day that is perfect for tailgating? Looking forward to seeing a local rivalry with a team from the mighty Colonial Athletic Association? Tomorrow, at 1:07PM, it all begins (with, hopefully, 12,000 of your closest friends). It looks like it's going to be an absolutely perfect day of football, and I wish I could be there to experience it in person - but with my anniversary on the day of September 8th, I have to settle for watching the game on the Lehigh Broadcast.

On the bright side, with my new schedule at the College Sporting News, I'll be attending more Lehigh games this year than I have in recent memory. The first game I'm very likely to show for is the 6PM game at Princeton next week, and I have other dates circled on the calendar as well. I'm looking forward to the chance of seeing four Lehigh games this year (including three home games, if everything works out)!

If there was a phrase that seems to sum up how Lehigh fans feel right now, it's show me. This is different than most years when Lehigh fans seem to expect 10-1 and 11-0 seasons and 103-0 shellackings of that school in Easton. And I think it's not because we lost to that school in Easton last year, either: I think fans of the entire league were rattled at the ease which the best of the Ivy League dismantled Lehigh and Lafayette last year. No more do we take out of conference games for granted as guaranteed wins, never mind CAA teams with the full allotment of scholarships.

Lehigh fans, and most Patriot League fans across the league, are looking for all our schools to show us, the fans, that they indeed are as good as we've come to expect in early 2000 - that they can beat the best the Ivy League has to offer, that they can beat teams from the CAA a fair amount of the time, and they can win games in the FCS playoffs. It's no longer taken for granted. Show me.

Fans are cautiously optimistic, but we the fans need to be shown that we can win these games. If Lehigh "shows us" a win this week, it could be a very fun year. And I believe that they can show us a win. The question is, will they?

Here's my picks for the games this week (some of which were taken from my College Sporting News picks, released every Wednesday), followed by the press links for the game and the press mash-up. (Note to the Brown & White, Lehigh's student newspaper: The Mountain Hawks are playing this wonderful new sport called "football". Ever heard of it? If you look at your website, you'd never guess that it even exists at our school.) (Another note: The Philadelphia papers also were no-shows with any sort of Villanova/Lehigh pregame. Shame, shame.)

Patriot League Picks
#3 Massachusetts over Colgate.
I followed last week’s Colgate game and I watched that UMass game with interest last week. I also took a look at the offensive statistics of both games. This has the makings of an ugly mismatch.
Mince-Men 49, “Jordan Scott and a Cloud Of Dust” 3

Lafayette over Georgetown. Some folks are eying this game as a possible Hoya upset after they played Stony Brook tough last week in a 35-28 defeat. Think again – Lafayette is still a stacked team and they will prove it in spades this year up in Easton, starting this week.
“The Biggest Field House in Pennsy” 47, Humbled Hoyas 10

Stony Brook over Bucknell. The problem with this game is that Tim Landis' team isn't going to surprise the Seawolves, who basically faced the same offense last week versus Georgetown. I think they score fewer points than last week against Bucknell's tough "D", but their defense pulls a great improvement from Week One and gets a solid victory.
Fictional Sea Creatures 30, Bison Burgers 21

Fordham over Albany. Although the Danes are gunning for revenge after last year's rain-soaked 9-6 loss up at Albany, I think Fordham's win over Rhode Island has given the Rams a desperately-needed new boost of confidence offensively. Playing a hunch, I think the Rams ride the Texas Terror, super sophomore QB Josh Skelton, to another big out-of-conference win for the Patriot League - and make everybody rethink their Patriot League preseason picks (including me, who picked them sixth).
Resurgent Rams 27, Dunked Danes 13

Game writeups
Morning Call: Coen: Be True To Your Program
Morning Call: Groller: A Good One At Goodman?
Express-Times: Donchez, WRs Finally Ready For Action

Press Mash-up
Groller: "One thing I've learned over the years is that you'll find out more truth with a beer in your hand than a tape recorder and so I asked [former Lehigh NT] Eric [Rakus '05] what he thought about this year's Lehigh team. He could have said anything because, remember, he's not a member of the team anymore.

"But when given the chance Rakus talked very positively about the coming season. He talked about how much better the defense will be with a year of the 3-4 scheme under its belt. He said it was hard last year, harder than anyone knew. Again, that never came out when I had a tape recorder in my hand. But in talking to his buddies, Rakus said everything was going much better.

"So, that, more than anything that was said earlier Wednesday afternoon at the Lehigh's weekly media luncheon at the other Starters on Route 378, has me feeling good about Lehigh's chances for a good season -- a season better than last year's 6-5 which began and ended so poorly."

[Coach Andy] Coen said the 49-27 loss at Lafayette drove the entire program through the winter.

"There was a realization that day that our program needed to get better," he said. "I left that game feeling ticked off. Hopefully, we've fixed a lot of things. We had a much better offseason program. It took a while for some people to buy into everything, but we're on the same page now."

"I read a book over the summer called: 'Why Good Coaches Quit: How To Deal With The Other Stuff,' by a baseball coach at the University of Minnesota. And it made a lot of sense.

"The point of the book was that there are so many things you can control as a head coach and so many things that are out of your control. You can't go nuts with those other things. You have to emphasize what's important to you, what's important to the program, and, ultimately, what's most important to the kids. You have to stay the course."

Coen admitted he was down when the team was 1-3 at the end of last September.

"I was rethinking everything and asking everybody for their opinion," Coen said. "The message I got back was you have to stay the course and do the things you believe in doing as a coach and program. And even though the last game didn't end up the way we wanted it to, things did improve and we did well."

***

Groller: "As for what was said at the luncheon, the thing that came through most of all is how much more relaxed and confident coach Andy Coen is than he was at this time last year.

"The one concern that seems to keep coming up is injuries. RB Matt McGowan and LB Rusty Campion are out and could be out awhile. McGowan, the Hazleton kid, is such a key to the offense. Without him, a heavy burden falls on Josh Pastore and a pair of freshman tailbacks -- Las Vegas' Jaren Walker and Kwesi Kankam from Ohio."

Projected starting running back Matt McGowan won't play in the opener as he recovers from a hamstring tear. That leaves backup, good friend and roommate Josh Pastore as the starter.

On the other side of the ball, injured starting linebacker Rusty Campion will miss the first few weeks of the season and limping strong safety Quadir Carter of Freedom won't start but will see action.

Just imagine if Lehigh didn't have a bye to open the season last weekend.

"I'm actually very happy it worked out this way," Coen said. "At one time, I counted 31 guys on the sideline for practice. Hopefully, we can build enough continuity."

Over the past few weeks, Pete Donchez has spent his practice time working an arm bike, doing agility drills and mentally running through repetitions. There's been no running, cutting or blocking for Lehigh University's senior wide receiver. So [senior WR Pete] Donchez is anxious to find out how his pulled hamstring responds when the Mountain Hawks open their 2007 football season Saturday afternoon with Villanova at Goodman Stadium.

"I'm excited to have these guys back," Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. "My concern, though, is we went all those weeks without those guys playing. It seems Sedale's been throwing to a different group of wideouts every day."

"But I think we'll be all right," Donchez said. "I feel I'm in good shape. But Saturday will be the test."

***

"A lot of other guys are nicked and dinged and that's not the way you want to enter a season, especially one that begins with three tough games within the first four weeks -- Villanova, Princeton and Harvard. Even VMI could be dangerous. Villanova is very good despite their loss at Maryland where they only scored one offensive touchdown and had virtually no running game."

"It was probably as good of a I-A team as we've ever played," Villanova coach Andy Talley said. "They were big, fast and physical. ... We were lucky to be in the game, down 10-7 at halftime."

"They have a great tight end [Matt Sherry] and some really big and physical receivers," cornerback and captain Brannan Thomas said. "We feel so much more comfortable in the 3-4 defense. We're flying around and getting after people. We're clicking. But this will be a great test to see where we really are."


***

Villanova is still stinging from last year's 31-28 loss to Lehigh. McGowan ran 15 yards for the winning score late in the fourth quarter to give Coen his first head coaching victory. It also was Donchez's first collegiate start.

"Last year, they just knocked us off the field and won the game," Talley said. "They have my attention, I'll tell you that."

"They'll come ready to play," said Lehigh fifth-year cornerback Brannan Thomas, one of two defensive captains. "We were at their place and were able to escape with a win. But I'm very excited. It's my last chance. Better make the most of it."

"We will show up," Coen said. "I expect my team to come out, play hard, play physical and compete in all three phases of the game. I want to make sure Lehigh doesn't beat Lehigh."

"We're going to play hard and fight," Donchez promised. "Villanova's a very good team. Playing in your own stadium, you want to start off the season right."

Groller: "This is a huge opener. This is my seventh consecutive year of covering Lehigh football and I can't think of a bigger one because I can't remember the M-Hawks entering a season with such uncertainty.

"Win on Saturday and the Mountain Hawks can start to immediately erase some of the doubts that cropped up at times last year about Sedale Threatt, about the team's overall physical strength, size and toughness, about the coaching staff, schemes and so on.

"Lose it, especially decisively, and the doubts, questions and concerns come back in bunches. It wasn't until late October last year that the team hit its stride and the fans finally got on board. Then the bandwagon emptied in a hurry along with the Lehigh stands in the second half of the debacle at Lafayette.

"Comfort has been the key word throughout the offseason and preseason camp. But lose this one and things will get uncomfortable in a big hurry.

"They may have to win games in the low 20s. And considering Saturday's game is to be played in temps in the high 80s (that's uncomfortable but better than rain) this one could come down to depth and conditioning.

"I like Lehigh in a close, tough game that won't be pretty to watch."

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Preview of Villanova/Lehigh

What you can definitely say about opening day at Murray Goodman this year is that it by all accounts will not be an easy game as they take on Villanova (0-1) of the Colonial Athletic Association who, for the second straight year, is coming off a loss to an FBS school before traveling to nearby Bethlehem.

Last year, they hosted Lehigh a week after losing to FBS Central Florida 35-16. Central Florida last year was a 4-8 squad that didn’t eclipse that point total again in 2006. Villanova, meanwhile, ended with the same 6-5 record Lehigh did by rattling off four wins in their last four games. (This included a big win versus their biggest rival, Delaware.)

This year, Lehigh had a bye week on Labor Day weekend which ended up being a blessing in disguise due to the number of injuries suffered in preseason camp, while Villanova this year lost 31-14 to a Maryland team that could also be a four-win squad in 2007 in a tough ACC. Conventional thinking would dictate that Villanova will be a better team from week one to week two, while Lehigh is still working out the kinks. Against a team which offers as many scholarships as Villanova, however, this will make this game an especially tough challenge.

There are a lot of links between Lehigh, Villanova, coach Talley, and coach Coen. In 2002, 2004 and 2005 as Penn's offensive coordinator, Penn faced Villanova in some truly exciting affairs. The last two games were nailbiting games going down to the final seconds that Penn barely lost (16-13 in 2004, 28-24 in 2005).

In 2004, Lehigh barely lost to Villanova by a 22-16 score in a game with some controversy. Early in the second half of that game, a Villanova player chop-blocked junior DT Royce Morgan and ended his season. Last year, Lehigh had a measure of revenge as coach Coen had his first-ever head coaching victory in what was easily the best overall game that Lehigh played last year, a 31-28 game that was an entire team effort. Lehigh rallied from a 14-0 deficit behind QB Sedale Threatt’s best outing of the season, with 300 total yards on the day and 2 TDs.

Last year, coach Coen wrote “Expect to Win” on the board before the game, and that resulted in the most confident the Mountain Hawks looked all of last year. And as coach Talley said in this week’s press conference, “Last year, they outplayed us completely. Luck had nothing to do with the game last year. They just knocked us off the field.” You can say without a shadow of a doubt that this will be all over the Villanova board this week. The Wildcats will be, to put it mildly, highly motivated to win this week to salvage their pride from 2006 and to not fall into an 0-2 hole just like they did last year.

Besides the Mountain Hawks’ injuries, also of major concern is the fact that this is a very challenging first game for Lehigh. Although no stranger to tough opening games (they have played Wofford and Buffalo (FBS) in the past seven season openers), thinking of last year’s 17-16 upset victory by Albany in last year’s opener at Goodman was something to remember for all the wrong reasons – notably, the tough time Lehigh had on special teams which led to two safeties and gave the Danes a very short field to score. (To be fair, last year’s game was played in a rainstorm.) Albany is a tough team and a patsy no longer, but if the Mountain Hawks have the same problems they did in last year’s opener, they will lose. Big.

Injury Report & Weather Report
This year, Lehigh is no longer releasing their injury report in the game notes, which makes this part of the analysis harder. But what can be said is that junior RB Matt McGowan will not be playing this week, and was considered by coach Coen a “week-to-week thing”. That means junior RB Josh Pastore will be getting the bulk of the carries, and freshman RB Kwesi Kankam will be next on the depth chart and will be getting some carries. It will be extremely interesting to see if/when he comes in, and what he is able to do.

Senior LB Rusty Campion is also out, and junior WR Sekou Yansane and senior WR Pete Donchez just returned this week from injury, The two wideouts should play, and one really, really hopes that their timing this week is OK. At LB, sophomore LB Heath Brickner and senior LB Justin Weaver will be manning the outside spot where Campion would normally be.

It is shaping up to be simply the perfect day for an opening weekend of football. Mostly sunny, with a high of 85, makes it a great day to sit in that grass horseshoe, not to mention enjoy a great tailgate at Goodman.

Drink Of The Week
With coach Talley’s reputation for not giving the Patriot League respect, and his performance at last year’s postgame press conference fresh in my mind, the drink you need to bring to Goodman is wine. Full-bodied red, red wine. A burgundy would be an appropriate choice, but I’ll instead select one of my current favorites: a 2005 Coppola Pinot Noir. A bit pricey at $20 a bottle (though less if you get it by the case), but simply it’s the best Pinot Noir I’ve ever tasted.

A Few Words on Villanova
Coach Talley said in his weekly CAA conference call that this past weekend, “down 10-7 at halftime, we felt like we were hanging on.” Yet this appears to understate things a bit: on their first four drives, they drove into Terrapin territory four times (although they only had seven points for their efforts). Clearly, this is a team that could move the ball against Maryland. But in the same teleconference, he also said that this was a physical beating by Maryland: “We got worn down, and we had a lot of injuries on the defensive side of the ball,” including their starting NT who went out with an ACL tear during the game. Not only that, he seemed to have his starters in the whole way as well – which would seem to point to a team that might be pretty beat up going into Bethlehem.

With two season-ending injuries in the Maryland game to go with the three that happened before the Maryland game, coach Talley seemed a bit frustrated. It feels to this reporter that Villanova just doesn’t have the depth they have had in years past – not only were they physically beat up by Maryland, but they’re lower on scholarship players than usual. This could, hopefully, help Lehigh quite a bit.

Offense
Last year I called this game a “mirror match” on offense, and this year, it’s largely the same story. Some youth on the “O” line with some veteran returners protecting an extremely athletic QB that can kill you with his arms and legs. And this unit didn’t have much of a problem advancing the ball last week against an FBS foe.

Sophomore QB Antawn Young (pictured here versus Maryland) is a very talented, athletic QB that gives defenses the same sort of containment problems that Threatt does. Tall and built like a LB rather than a QB, he can be difficult to bring down. Although he had negative rushing yards, passing against the Terrapins he went a respectable 19-for-28 with 1 TD and 1 INT. If our fresh front seven can contain him, it will be a good day for the Mountain Hawks.

With their 11 net yards of rushing last week, at RB there are clearly still questions to answer, but banged-up senior RB Matt Dicken would appear to be the biggest rushing threat in a three-headed backfield. Dicken and sophomore RB Luca Ragone are pretty beefy runners, while redshirt freshman RB Aaron Ball is the speedster of the group (and is going to be playing due to the injury of the #2 back last weekend). These guys can be bruisers, and if the Wildcats get a lead they could be used to wear down our defensive front – something to watch for, especially late in the game. Dicken also is a pass-catching threat out of the backfield (2 receptions last week), while Ragone & Ball are more of an unknown quantity (my take: cover both, especially Ball).

Senior TE Matthew Sherry is a legitimate pass-catching threat and could easily be a killer underneath, just like he was last year. Their receiving corps is solid and deep, but lacking a true burner: senior WR Anton Ridley, sophomore WR Brandyn Harvey and junior WR Phil Atkinson are all solid underneath pass-catching threats. The LB unit needs to make sure Sherry doesn’t go wild underneath – I will be very interested to see how they cover him. If we don’t cover him effectively, they may be moving the ball extremely well against us.

There are no seniors on this offensive line, who has a great center in 300 lb junior OL Michael Sheridan. It’s an “O” line that is just about the same size as Lehigh’s and also has a significant number of freshmen and sophomores on it.

Defense
Talley prefers a base 3-3-5 defense that may not be seen the rest of the year by Lehigh. The fifth DB actually doubles up as a linebacker in key situations in this interesting defense, though it is very similar to the defense Lehigh faced at Villanova last year, so it’s not totally unfamiliar. It does, however, showcase how fast and athletic they are, even if they’re not the biggest team we’ll face all year. Normally, it's a good idea to test that athleticism to the outside, though I wonder if we'll be able to make hay there this time.

The defensive line is young but with some experience. Their line is only marginally bigger than ours, with the highest-touted member being junior DE David Dallessandro. Last year he totalled 46 tackes and 3 1/2 sacks. They're smallish, so they may be some hay to be made here one again. The loss of their starting NG means that sophomore NG Phil Matusz will be called to duty for his first career start.

Junior LB Michael Holland (34 tackles, 2 sacks in 2006) is the great athlete in the linebacking unit, where next to him freshman LB Terence Thomas and junior LB Darrel Young (44 tackles, 1 sack in 2006) join him. Although young, this is a big, talented group that are not unlike our young unit in terms of athleticism, if not a little more so.

The defensive backfield is loaded with talent and experience. Senior FS Zach Mariacher (63 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries in 2006) is more like a “rover” linebacker in the 3-3-5 defense. Senior CB Derick Durkin and sophomore CB Justin Murrell are the speedsters at corner, and senior SS Eugene Clay and reshirt freshman S Martel Moody round out a tough, speedy, hard-hitting unit. This is the strength of their defense – not unlike the Mountain Hawk team they will be facing.

Special Teams
Junior PK
Joe Marcoux was pretty dismal last year by any measure, going 5 for 11 on FGs and making only two from beyond 30 yards. Sophomore P Josh Ugarte had a rough week last week with a 29.2 punting net. Adding to coach Talley’s special teams headaches last week was that their leading kick returner got hurt and is now out for the year: his replacement is freshman WR Matt Szczur, who did rip off a 32 yard kickoff return last week. Junior PR Salim Koroma didn’t have a particularly standout game last week.

It’s tempting to read further into this, but know that their special teams will be much better this week than last. Maryland was a large team that beat them up, and in special teams this would demonstrate itself especially. Look for a much more even match this week.

Keys To The Game
1. Tackle, Tackle, Tackle. Lehigh’s hard-hitting young defense will get a baptism of fire this week against a dynamic offense which has a lot of targets including a potential pro TE in Sharry, a pass-catching threat in Dicken, and a slew of speedy receivers. Furthermore, the QB Young will not be an easy guy to bring down. Good pass protection, and great tackling, is an absolute must in order to stay in this game.
2. Passing Rhythm. I am hoping that the nicked-up Lehigh receivers will have their timing on in order to get some big plays against this defense. There won’t be a lot of time to work things out: it needs to be right at the starting gun. If we can get off some big passing plays for TDs, we'll be having a good day.
3. Unforced Errors. A team like Villanova will be brutally unforgiving if we give away the ball often like we did in last year’s opener versus Albany. Ball protection, and minimizing giveaways (especially on special teams), will be big. Sure it’s always a big concern – but even more so versus a team like Villanova.
4. Hit 'Em In The Mouth. Like last year, winning this game will mean establishing a physical presence for the whole game. A way to beat a speedy team like Villanova is to wear them down like Maryland did, and if our “O” and “D” lines can do that, we’re going to have a good day.

Fearless Prediction
What’s really striking to me is that with Villanova’s lack of depth (over past years) and unfortunate injuries this year, Villanova and Lehigh are pretty much the same team. We’re giving basically nothing on either “O” and “D” line in the tale of the tape: an inch or two of height, but when it comes to weight we’re definitely toe-to-toe with them. We both have athletic QBs and have other strengths and weaknesses that cancel each other out. We both have question marks that need answering – and the team which answers those questions better will win the game on Saturday.

I may be looking through my homer glasses a little, but I sense this could be a real special year for the Mountain Hawks, and I’m encouraged that we seem to match up toe-to-toe with Villanova, which means this will probably be a tough, physical battle for us. I’m going to look this week at the glass being half-full: we have an experienced QB leading the ship, an offensive and defensive unit who is much more comfortable in their new system, and enough wrinkles so that the Wildcats don’t know what to expect. I’m thinking – maybe just hoping – that this will result in a great opening-day victory for Lehigh on Saturday.

Lehigh 23, Villanova 17

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Two Deep For Villanova... Released

Well, well. Before I could try to predict Lehigh's two-deep on the year, the game notes for the Villanova game came out and beat me to the punch.

Interestingly, the "injury report" has been removed from the game notes, so it's hard to figure out who might be starting due to injury and who isn't. But without any further ado, it's time to print out the starting two-deep and to show how the starting lineup was different than mine (the differences are highlighted)

QB: Sedale Threatt (Sr.), Chris Bokosky (So.)
RB: Josh Pastore (Jr.), Kwesi Kankam (Fr.)
FB: Adam Watson (Jr.), John Piascik (Sr.)
LT: Jimmy Kehs (Sr.), Frank Giacalone (So.)
LG: Chris Tiefenthal (Jr.),Ricky Clerge-Appolon (Fr.)
C: John Reese (Sr.), Ben Harden (So.)
RG: Ben Caffery (Sr.), William Rackley (Fr.)
RT: Kevin Bayani (Jr.), Alex Kuziel (Jr.)
TE: Joe Sutherland (Sr.), Troy Healion (Jr.)
WR1: Sekou Yansane (Jr.), Pete Donchez (Sr.)
WR2: Mike Fitzgerald (Jr.), Nick Johnson (Jr.)

DT: Kyle Adams (Jr.), Paul Bode (Jr.)
NT: B.J. Benning (So.), Joe Dancho (So.)
DT: Brian Jackson (Jr.), Jon Warren (Jr.)
LOLB: Matt Cohen (So.), Tobi Showunmi (So.)
LILB: Tim Diamond (Jr.), Travis Stinson (Sr.)
RILB: Rashaun Gasaway (Sr.), Bradley Thomas (Jr.)
ROLB: Heath Brickner (So.), Justin Weaver (Sr.)
CB: Brannan Thomas (Sr.), Julian Ahye (Sr.)
FS: Ernest Moore (Sr.), Brendan VanAckeren (Jr.)
SS: Daynin Blake (Sr.), Quadir Carter (Jr.)
CB: Aaron Gilliard (Sr.), Laquan Gasaway (Sr.)

KR: Brannan Thomas (Sr.), John Kennedy (Fr.)
PR: Brannan Thomas (Sr.)
P/K: Jason Leo (Jr.), Tom Randazza (Fr.)

You'll just have to trust me that this is who I picked. I'm real happy I managed to pick the starting four on the linebacking unit, which was excruciatingly hard. This leads to my "five observations" on the two-deep for Satruday and my initial thoughts:

  1. Our linebacking unit seems talented and deep - these seem like awfully tough choices for these four positions since there's a lot of good players to choose from. I'm wondering if coach Coen will rotate a bunch of linebackers in the game to keep them fresh, which (if true) is very good news for sophomore LB Tobi Showunmi, senior LB Travis Stinson, senior LB Justin Weaver and junior LB Bradley Thomas. (Not to mention the guys just off that chart as well, like senior LB Rusty Campion and sophomore LB Al Pierce (who I had picked in my two-deep).
  2. There is an incredible amount of freshmen on this two-deep. Count 'em: seven on the list if you count special teams players like RS John Kennedy, P/K Tom Randazza, LS Brad Walter and holder J.B. Clark. I have never seen so many freshmen on a Lehigh opening roster.
  3. Is junior RB Matt McGowan hurt? I was very surprised to see freshman RB Kwesi Kankam on the opening-day depth chart since I thought that either McGowan or senior RB Richard Forman would be available. As it turns out, we may get to see exactly how good this freshman is sooner rather than later.
  4. I was glad to see senior OL Ben Caffery make the final starting "O" line, with coach Coen going with senior OL Jimmy Kehs and junior OL Kevin Bayani as bookend tackles. This looks like it's one of the beefiest Lehigh "O" lines I've seen. Have we ever had a pair of 300 lb bookends before?
  5. Two switches in places in the depth chart that I had reversed were interesting: senior SS Daynin Blake won the starting job over junior SS Quadir Carter, and senior TE Joe Sutherland won out over junior TE Troy Healion. It looks like coach Coen took senior experience and leadership when the race was close.
As I'm extremely pumped for the season, look for my Villanova/Lehigh preview on Thursday this week. I plan to have my previews out on Thursday (well, as long as I have a Wednesday deadline for my FCS picks for College Sporting News), and my picks on the rest of the Patriot League on Friday. And of course, over the weekend I'll be talking about the games as well.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Around The Horn: 9/3/2007

Since Lehigh didn't play this weekend, today is a good time to post some information on the games this weekend concerning the Patriot League and Lehigh's future opponents. Worthy of mention is that the Patriot League went 4-2 in their opening weekend, including wins over tough teams like Albany and Rhode Island, which goes a long way towards getting our league a lot more respect.

  • Although UMass made mincemeat of Holy Cross' defense early in a 40-30 victory over the Crusaders, there are a few things to keep in mind about this game. First, senior all-American CB Casey Gough suffered an injury in the second quarter, which had to be a crushing blow to that defense. Also, Holy Cross really had something very positive to build on after overcoming an early 37-9 deficit to score 21 unanswered points... and had the ball with 6:01 left in the 4th quarter in a position to tie the game at 37. The Minutemen did end up getting the ball again on a 3-and-out and kicked a game-clinching FG, but the Holy Cross offense was able to score against one of the top teams in FCS. Seeing the seriousness of Gough's injury is something to look at, but that offense should continue to get better as the year goes along, and Holy Cross looks to be a team that will be tough to reckon with this year.
  • In a game which I said would be "surprisingly uncompetitive", I was spectacularly wrong. Fordham surprised Rhode Island of the CAA with a 27-23 victory. Sophomore QB John Skelton engineered the game-winning drive down 23-20 (though aided immensely by a Rhode Island pass interference call on 4th-and-10) with big passes to senior RB Jonte Coven, junior WR Richard Rayborn and sophomore WR Jason Caldwell with 15 seconds left. Defensively, sophomore CB Isajeah Allen is proving to be a budding star already in that defense with 11 tackles, a sack and an interception. These young pups have now demonstrated that they are more than capable of pulling off an upset or two in the Patriot League.
  • Bucknell as well showed what they can do when they get their gameplan going in a 28-19 victory over non-scholarship Duquesne. Absolutely my best pick of the Patriot League weekend (picking sophomore QB Marcelo Trigg as the starting QB, and picking a 35-17 victory for the "Bisonators"), by the second half Bucknell really got their gameplan going in earnest by smothering the Dukes defensively (shutting them out) while Trigg and sophomore RB A.J. Kizekai combined for an eye-popping 456 combined all-purpose yards (with Kizekai getting 260 himself). Yet another young team that at this point seems quite capable of pulling off a league upset.
  • Colgate struggled to a 13-11 win that the Post-Standard accurately called "ugly, but satisfying". A lot jumps out from the Post-Standard writeup: the extremely large chip on coach Biddle's shoulder; they only ran three simple running sets called lightning, thunder, and blizzard in between the tackles with junior RB Jordan Scott taking an unbelievable workload (44 rushes for 180 yards); and 6'6 sophomore WR Pat Simonds making a huge clutch catch late in the game on 3rd-and-13 from their own 7 to allow the Raiders to run out the clock. But here's something else that's real interesting: you take away that 33 yard Simonds catch, the two Raider starting QBs only would have gone 5-for-15 with 39 yards passing. Colgate is looking like a smashmouth team, and they are going to need to find some sort of effective QB if they're to get into the title discussion (like freshman QB Charles Babb, perhaps?).
  • I thought Lafayette would manage to get time for 4 QBs in their 49-10 rout of Marist, but they only got three in there (senior QB Mike DiPaola, sophomore QB Rob Curley, and sophomore QB Josh Jones). DiPaola in about a half of work certainly looked good enough (10-16, 124 yards, 2 TDs, but more importantly he seemed to have a prety good rapport with star junior WR Shaun Adair (4 catches for 73 yards) and he seems beyond a shadow of a doubt to be the starter for the forseeable future. Other than that, the second half proved to be an opportunity for the second-stringers to show what they can do. Overall (and this is worthy of mention): Lafayette seems like this year, they seem like they will be a much harder team to beat in September than in years past. They also seem deep: their backups aren't that much of a drop down from their starters. All indicators are they will be around in the Patriot League race until the very end.
  • Even Georgetown had a pretty good opener even though they fell to Stony Brook 35-28. Even with the Seawolves 12 (!) FBS transfers (11 of them on defense), the Hoyas tied Stony Brook in the 3rd quarter at 21 after a fake FG attempt and successful 2-point conversion. Senior QB Matt Bassuener racked up a nice day with 20-of-26 passing with 244 yards to go with 40 rushing yards and a running TD. However, the Hoyas also let up 542 yards to the Seawolves as well, including an eye-popping 349 yards on the ground (with two 100-yard rushers).
  • Not sure what to make of Villanova's 11 yards rushing and 176 yards passing in a 31-17 defeat to FBS member Maryland. First-time starting sophomore QB Antwon Young went 17-for-28 with 1 TD pass and 1 interception, but Villanova's linebackers and secondary were extremely impressive with 3 interceptions, while junior LB Michael Hollanad and senior LB/DB Zach Mariacher combined for 21 tackles, a sack and an interception. The safe bet is to say that Villanova's offense isn't as bad as they demonstrated last weekend, while it will be interesting to see how coach Coen tries to handle those talented Villanova linebackers next week at Goodman.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Appalachian State Upsets #5 Michigan

By now you've heard that Appalachian State upset the #5 team in the nation from probably every single major College Football Announcer on the planet. Well, CSTV picked up the recap I do with Ralph Wallace from the College Sporting News and linked to it right from the main page.

I could talk about it here, but why don't you just read the recap from the link, and the other major FCS upsets this weekend, like non-scholarship Drake upsetting Illinois State or Nicholls State upsetting Rice (who went to a bowl game last year)?

You can also get tons of great coverage on College Sporting News (including exclusive commentary by Myron Hosea), and be sure to check out this exclusive photo gallery there, which includes a simply amazing shot of the final blocked FG and runback by Appalachian State (courtesy of the amazing Mark Campbell).

Next week, we'll return you to your regularly-scheduled Lehigh stuff...
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