Saturday, September 15, 2007

Lehigh 32, Princeton 21, final

I couldn't be happier that Lehigh put in a much better performance this week than they did last week, proving me wrong in a 32-21 victory.

It's a game that shouldn't have been that close - after Princeton had argubaly one of their worst halves in the Roger Hughes era, Lehigh had a 23-0 lead that should easily have been 30-0. Four turnovers in the first half, the Tigers only had nine mnutes of possession time, and Lehigh ran 52 plays. 52! Two missed FG and a missed extra point meant the Tigers were in it at halftime.

In the second half, Princeton battled back and made it a much more interesting game, cutting it to 23-14 late in the 3rd quarter. But much to Lehigh's credit, they stomped on Princeton's throat early in the 4th quarter with a late drive to go up 32-14 and ending their hopes at a comeback.

Once again, Lehigh showed flashes of brilliance on offense, punching in the first two takeaways/gifts for touchdowns. Yet Lehigh had the chance to go for the jugular and simply blow them out of the building, and they couldn't do so. Still, it feels like complaining for the sake of complaining - Lehigh did a great job, especially in the secondary, against a team which is supposed to be in the running for an Ivy League title this year.

"We're obviously happy to get the win, but it wasn't a clean football game by any stretch of the imagination," coach Coen said in the postgame press conference. "We did well on the first two drives of the game, but then our offense kind of sputtered, and I wasn't pleased with the overall execution offensively. In the second half, defensively we gave up some big plays and let Princeton back into the game, but I've very pleased that we found that 'finishing mentality' on the 13-play drive to seal the game."

Statistically, senior QB Sedale Threatt didn't have the greatest day, going 14-for-33 passing with 149 yards and 1 TD. Two freshmen, however, did all the running at running back and both had great days considering they've been Lehigh students for less than a month: freshman RB Kwesi Kankam, with 73 yards and a TD (and converted a huge 3rd-and-15 screen play on the game-clinching drive), and freshman RB Jaren Walker, in his first game, getting 59 tough interior yards rushing getting bashed inside the tackles and 1 TD (which was set up with a big 4th-down conversion bby Walker with an outside sweep at the end of the 1st half.)

Overall, some flashes of brilliance in every phase of the game, some mistakes on offense and defense - but most importantly, a win and some momentum coming back home against VMI. This team is not there yet, but hopefully will continue to get better each week.

But today, we enjoy the win. We enjoy that Lehigh finally went for the jugular, and that we've righted the ship and started some winning ways. We celebrate.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Patriot League Picks, Week 3 (and Mash-up)

As of this point, I believe that I will be going to the Lehigh/Princeton game this weekend at 6PM, where I will be joining Dave Coulson of The Sports Network in the press box. I say "I believe I will" because as of this late date and time, I haven't head back from Princeton as to whether I have a press credential or not. For those of you that don't know, it's highly unusual to have heard nothing about this at this late time about press credentials one way or another.

So if you see a shivering guy (it is supposed to be a low of 46 Saturday night) with a Lehigh Football Nation hat wandering aimlessly through Princeton's campus looking frantically for tickets, do him a favor -offer him a Black & Tan and help him out. (Otherwise I could very well be staying at home and watching Iron Chef reruns.)

This, of course, brings back memories of the day I met my future wife: on September 25, 1999, when Lehigh played at Princeton in the first-ever night game at Princeton stadium. That day, I didn't have tickets either, and I literally bumped into Kim while looking for the stadium - and she and her friend (who got free tickets from the Red Cross, where she was volunteering in Hurricane Floyd cleanup efforts) gave my buddy and I free tickets.

I'm assuming Dave Coulson has had no such problems. Speaking of Coulson, after my dismal prediction of this weekend's game, I thought I'd offer a more upbeat prediction from Dave Coulson this week with his pick of the game:

There are some big questions for both teams heading into this contest.

Can coach Roger Hughes and the Tigers recreate the magic of last year's 9-1 team? And can Hughes find a quarterback to replace the leadership ability of Jeff Terrell?

Lehigh had high hopes heading into 2007, with senior quarterback Sedale Threatt leading what was expected to be a high-powered offense. But the Mountain Hawks struggled to finish off drives last Saturday in a season- opening 30-20 loss to Villanova.

Villanova built a 20-3 lead before Threatt and the Mountain Hawks got going. Threatt finished with 302 yards passing and 360 yards of total offense.

It is a huge game for Lehigh, which needs to build confidence for Patriot League play and also for Princeton, which could use a quick start to 2007.

With Lehigh having a game under its belt and with Threatt's athleticism, the Mountain Hawks should be able to put up enough points to win this one.

Lehigh 31, Princeton 17

As always, I will be hoping for a great game, a very strong Lehigh contingent, and of course for my prediction to be 100% wrong. And look for some quick postgame observations here on the blog right after the game!

Patriot League Picks
Last week, I was 3-2 in Patriot League games, picking Lafayette's win over Georgetown and successfully guessing 2 of the 4 Patriot League out-of-conference losses last week. (Ugh.) This week I pair my picks of the Patriot League games (some of which are also included in my "FCS Way" column this week) with some fresh ingredients, erhm, I mean picks to determine: "Which Conference Reigns Supreme?"

Lafayette over Penn. Yes, that sound you heard was Lafayette fans’ collective jaws dropping at once. Lafayette beating Penn, a team against which they have an 18-61-4 lifetime record? Lafayette beating an Ivy League school, something they haven’t done since they squeaked by Columbia 14-7 in 2005 (and their only Ivy victory in two years)? Against a team they haven’t beaten since 1991? Believe it, Leopard fans. Your time has come: your defense, led by defensive tackle Kyle Sprenkle, will shut down Penn in their season opener and you will rejoice. Believe it.
Lucky Leopards 28, Quiet Quackers 26

Fordham over Columbia. I have a soft spot in my heart for the “Liberty Cup” and this underrepresented FCS Rivalry game, having attended it last year and seeing Norries Wilson’s Columbia team dismantle coach Tom Masella’s Fordham Rams 37-7. Oddly enough, Fordham enters the game almost exactly the same way they entered last year: 1-1 with a surprising victory (this year, over Rhode Island). What I do know is that offensively the Rams will be a much different team offensively than that team last year, and it will prove to be a very tight affair in all likelihood against Columbia’s tough 3-3-5 defense. The question is, can Columbia get the same sort of running game that carried Albany to beat the Rams last week 23-20? I don’t think so: I think Fordham’s strong secondary is the difference in this game, and the fact that Fordham has played two nailbiters already. In Fordham’s third-straight gnasher, at home give me the Rams in a classic.
Revitalized Rams 40, Almost Lions 37, OT

Colgate over Dartmouth. Everything about this game screams "trap game". After a "moral victory" over a tough UMass team, this trip to Hanover, NH screams danger. But this is a very different Colgate team than last year, I can sense it already. QB Alex Relph had a much better day last weekend than during their ugly 13-11 win against Albany, and I think he continues to develop and wins this week - but not after he gets a serious test under fire.
Rough Raiders 18, Gang Green 16

#23 Yale over Georgetown. Poor Georgetown. You can’t help rooting for them, their head coach Kevin Kelly from Navy, and their never-say-die attitude against a slew of better-funded FCS teams. But they won’t beat Yale – a team loaded with superstars like junior runningback Mike McLeod and junior linebacker Bobby Abare. William Jefferson Clinton’s wife may win the presidency next year, but take George W. Bush’s alma mater in this one.
Burning Bushies 45, Galloping Clintons 10

Holy Cross over Harvard. Any chance that Holy Cross' victory will quiet any of the naysayers about the Crusaders? Fat chance, but junior QB Dominic Randolph will have plenty of targets to keep Harvard's all-American CB Drew Berry occupied - and should roll surprisingly easily over a Harvard offense that will struggle to jell without RB Clifton Dawson for the first time.
Cruisin' Crusaders 41, "The Purple Tide Rolleth Over The Crimson" 28

Cornell over Bucknell. This pick depends completely on how you view the Big Red. Do you see them as dark-horse title contenders, rolling behind RB Luke Siwula? Or do you see them as a team that has struggled offensively? I do know that they were unbeatable at home last year, though, and that's enough for me.
Big Red Machine 34, Bruised Bison 13

Overall, I'm predicting the Patriot League representing with a 4-3 record over the Ivies. Add this bonus pick: Brown 24, Duquesne 14, and I'm predicting a 4-4 weekend for the Ivies, with Harvard, Yale, and Princeton going 2-1 against the Patriot League.

Let's hope I'm very, very wrong about Lehigh tomorrow.

Game Writeups
Morning Call: Kehs An Anchor On Lehigh's Line
Express-Times: Hawks Hoping History Repeats
Brown & White: Hawks Look To Tame Tiger's Roar at Princeton
Newark Star-Ledger: Princeton's Goal: An Ivy Title Repeat

Press Mash-Up
"It was just good to get the first game out of the way," the 6-5, 300-pound Kehs said. "We feel we improved and moved the ball better in the second half and we're confident we're going to play better on Saturday night at Princeton."

“We will stay a confident team after last week’s loss,” [senior DB Ernest] Moore said. “We have went over our mistakes from last week and fixed them.”

"You can see some specs of good defense," said Jackson, who registered a team-high 10 tackles, two sacks and combined on another tackle for loss. "You could tell we're going to be real good. We're not complete yet."

"(Defensive line) coach (Donnie) Roberts told me I was just too hesitant, to pin my ears back and play my game," Jackson said. "It felt good. I saw myself (initially) as a run-stopper, I don't get moved off the line that much. Through the years, I found I could do a couple things. (Now) I'm known for my pass rush, my speed off the line.

"First two sacks of my college career. Hopefully, there's more to come."

“The new game plan is installed,” Moore said. “We just have to be focused on that to get everything down to a science.”

*****************

The offensive line is considered a linchpin to Lehigh hopes [on Saturday]. The Mountain Hawks had to replace three starters up front and Kehs, an all-league choice last season, is expected to be an anchor along with All-American candidate John Reese at center.

"We're starting to jell pretty well," Kehs said. "Kevin Bayani switched from guard to tackle. Everyone's where they should be right now. We didn't run the ball that well last week, but that was because we got so far down and had to pass so much more. We need to be more balanced."

Freshman running back Kwesi Kankam was awarded Patriot League Rookie of the Week honors for his play. Kankam rushed for 34 yards and one touchdown, and tallied two receptions for 16 yards. He's the starting RB on Saturday.

“We have all the confidence in Kwesi that he will get the job done,” [senior DB Ernest] Moore said. “He is very quick and has good vision. He should give teams problems trying to tackle him.”

"Kwesi has picked up our offense very well," Coen said. "He just needs to get better with some of the nuances. Hopefully, this week we can get him a crease and get him out in space because he can really run."

*************
Coach Hughes on starting QB Bill Foran: In our offense, he has to make great decisions, whether that's with the run or with the passing game, where he's throwing it. He's got to make sure that he manages the game. One of the things that Jeff did very well is, he didn't get us into bad situations, and many times he turned bad situations into good ones.

"I think it's pretty unfair to compare him to Jeff because Jeff was pretty special. Clearly, he'll have to do it a little different way than Jeff with his talents, but if he can do those things he'll be fine."

Coach Hughes on his revamped secondary: "I think the secondary is going to be a work in progress. I think similar adjustments will be made both during and after the game, as we see how we respond to good talent. It's going to be how they react to everything. Right now, we're not sensing any different change in our schemes or our strategies, but we clearly will do some changes as far as matchups and how we match up with people. Finding those matchups will be key to the first game."

************

Coach Hughes on beating Lehigh on Saturday: "First of all, we've been lucky enough for the last three years that it doesn't appear like it's our first game. We try to practice so that they've had game-like pressure and game-like situations. We can't turn it over. We can't have the stupid penalties that stop drives and we can't have breakdowns in our defensive coverage so that we give up big plays."

“We can’t allow Princeton to jump ahead of us early or come back once we have the lead, like they did last year,” [senior DB Ernest] Moore said.

*************

One year ago, a feisty Lehigh University football team shrugged off a difficult season-opening loss at home, took to the road the following week and pulled out an inspiring victory that set the tone for a Patriot League co-championship season.

"I hope history repeats itself," Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said. "That might have been the most complete game we played all year."

"We should have an advantage because it's not easy to jump right into a game situation," Kehs said. "We've watched a ton of film on them from last year and they're a good team that will give you a lot of different looks on defense. We just have to adjust."

Since this is Princeton's opener, Coen, who has a lot of experience coaching against the Tigers, hopes they haven't changed things up too much.

"Last year, they did some things that were a little different from the past," Coen said. "Last year, they were so productive on offense because of their quarterback [Jeff Terrell] and they have a new quarterback this year. We'll have to adjust to some newness."

"Hopefully in this one, the outcome's a little different," Lehigh defensive tackle Brian Jackson said. "We definitely want a win. That's our No. 1 goal for every game."

"It's so important to get that first win," Jimmy Kehs said. "We really want to turn it around. The guys aren't down. Morale is still pretty high. We know we just have clean up some things and we'll be fine."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Preview of Lehigh/Princeton

Lehigh travels down to Princeton, NJ this week (a 6PM start) to play a Tiger team to which they lost 14-10 last year in Bethlehem, which snapped a seven-game winning streak against Princeton and featured the Tigers' first win in the series since 1993. In a lot of ways, this loss last year was a real canary in not only Lehigh's coal mine, but the Patriot League's coal mine as well.

Going into last year's game, Lehigh had a huge head of steam after beating Villanova 31-28 in dramatic come-from-behind fashion. QB Sedale Threatt, after having a coming-out party against the Wildcats, was effectively shut down by the Tigers: 13-for-21 passing, 0 TDs, and 2 interceptions. (The only touchdown on the day came from a 3 yard TD run by Sedale in the first half). Even midway through the second half, when Threatt threw an interception and Princeton scored on their second-straight drive to take a 14-10 lead, folks were wondering when the Lehigh offense would show that flash and go ahead for good: but it never happened. K Jason Leo missed a chip-shot, Threatt got intercepted for the second time on the day, and a potentially game-winning drive was stopped on 4th-and-10 after Sedale barely couldn't get it to the first-down marker.

This game last year seems to symbolize the larger Patriot League struggles with the Ivy League last year, where the entire league went 4-14 against their Ivy brethren and lost every single game to the "Big Three" in Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Princeton went 9-1 and ultimately shared an Ivy League co-championship with Yale. That first game was a real warning sign of the Patriot League's future struggles with the Ivy League, and Lehigh's struggles in particular over the next month in losing to Harvard and Yale later in the year.

This week, coach Coen told his team that there was a "sense of urgency this year" in playing the Ivies "because we're representing the league and we're hoping for a better showing". So coach Coen is quite aware that beating the Ivy League teams is very important.

This week, Lehigh finds itself in a very interesting position. Although hard to call it a must-win game, with so much youth that needs to come together on this team it still looms as an important one. Win, and Lehigh gets back on a winning track that will be vital in establishing Lehigh as the Patriot League power they are expected to be every year. Win against Princeton, it establishes some measure of revenge for last year's loss and is unquestionably a quality early win. Win, and it lifts up the entire Patriot League and maybe asserts our place as the Ivy League equals, if not their betters, in football.

That's an awfully tall order for a team that overall is very, very young.

Game Notes & Weather Report
What sticks out in the game notes from this week is the fact that freshman RB Kwesi Kankam will be given his first-ever start this week with junior RB Matt McGowan out with a leg injury and junior RB Josh Pastore questionable with a leg injury. Although Pastore is listed as #2 on the depth chart, don't be surprised to see another freshman possibly playing at RB: freshman RB Jaren Walker could see some time out there too.

With senior OL Brendan Caffery also questionable with a foot injury, we see another freshman in a starting role: freshman OL William Rackley in at right guard. (Can you believe the number of injuries we've had this year already in week two?) Looking at the two deep includes two freshman starters in Kankam and Rackley; another backup lineman in freshman OL Ricky Clerge-Appolon; a backup TE in freshman TE Alex Wodjdowski (who was pressed into duty when senior TE Joe Sutherland went out with an injury), and backup freshman NG Phil Winnett. Add to that the RB Walker, who could see some time, and freshman WR Travis Artim who could see time if senior WR Pete Donchez isn't ready to go, and you have a real chance that seven freshmen could play!

Unfortunately, that's not even all. It looks like our lone senior in the linebacking unit, senior LB Rashaun Gasaway, won't be playing and instead junior LB Bradley Thomas will be getting the start as well, and the fourth member of the "super sophomore linebackers" moves onto the depth chart on sophomore LB Al Pierce. There are freshman and sophomores all over this depth chart. Gah!

Saturday in the Princeton area is calling for AM showers, but clearing later for a high of 79. As gametime is at 6PM, though, by the end of the game it could very well be in the low 50s or high 40s - a clear, cool night. It couldn't be more different than the 95 degree sauna at Murray Goodman last weekend.

Drink Of The Week
This week, I think it's best to try to differentiate yourself from the quiche-eating jet set across the Delaware. For that, there's no better way than to bring Yuengling in the can (preferably Yuengling Traditional, but Black & Tan is also acceptable as well). That will make it frighteningly easy to find Lehigh tailgates along the way. See wine spritzers and hear Pat Boone on the boom box? Move along. See Black & Tan's and hear some White Stripes? Stroll on in!

A Word On Princeton
Last year, Princeton was picked to finish sixth at Ivy League media day, which I mentioned on this blog as being "nuts". I was right on the money: Princeton would go on and finish 9-1 and earn an Ivy League co-championship with Yale last year. How on earth could they be so wrong, and I could be, well, better (I picked them to finish 3rd)?

First of all, Princeton is not your traditional team. Head coach Roger Hughes, now in his 7th year, has an offense that doesn't have any one dominating star, but doesn't have any one glaring weakness either. From week to week, it's wickedly hard to look at the Tigers and see exactly what their gameplan will be against you because they will look at your team and go to your weakness. One week they will pass their first seven plays, the other they'll run it. They don't depend on a marquee player.

Similarly on defense, you have to throw away your preconceptions on "small defensive lines" or "no stars on defense". These guys are a team and could be the most fundamentally sound team in all of Division I football. They hit gaps. They tackle extremely well. Last year, their secondary could have been the best in Division I, and although they have a lot to replace (like CB J.J. Artis), the guys they have there will probably be completely schooled in the fundamentals and will tackle extremely well. Playing Princeton is no longer fun.

Offense
The Tigers will be starting a brand-new QB this year, but that's not to say that senior QB Bill Foran has no experience. When last year's starting QB Jeff Terrell came out with an injury last year, I saw Foran engineer a great drive that resulted in an important TD against Harvard last year. This kid can play, and my prediction is that he knows his role and will be very similar to Terrell last year: he knows his role, can loft up many pass attempts if needed, but is more than willing to hand off the ball seven straight times if that's what's necessary. I think he is another Terrell-in-waiting - meaning, a master at the short-passing game and always keeps you guessing.

Moreover, Foran is a speedster, who also runs the 100 yard and 200 yard dash for the Princeton track team. That means you don't want him flushed out of the pocket if you can help it - and you had better not hope to catch him from behind. Our linebacking unit needs to keep him in front of them in order to tackle him - and they also need to guard him getting free on designed runs. Bluntly, Foran scares me.

At RB and FB, we have some familiar names in sophomore RB R.C. Lagomarsino and senior FB Rob Teresco. Last year against Lehigh they didn't have a great day, combining for 73 yards rushing with 1 TD, but both are notable in the fact that they can catch the ball out of the backfield well. You can't key on one rushing or passing - you really have to cover both. Our linebacking unit will be tested in pass coverage.

At receiver, senior WR Brendan Circle is the "star" of the bunch, but Hughes will not hesitate to spread the ball to junior WR Adam Berry, junior WR Will Thanheiser, or sophomore WR Jeb Heavenrich. Don't be surprised to see Princeton to spread it around with these guys, particularly underneath. Berry and Heavenrigh both have excellent speed, so you want to make sure they don't slip past you. And don't forget senior TE Jake Staser, who has impressed the coaching staff and could get his fair share of pass attempts as well.

The common mistake with Princeton is to look at the size or experience of their "O" line and say that they are mismatched. Nothing could be further from the truth. The "O" line doesn't boast anyone beyond 275 lbs (senior OL Brendan Swisher, a converted tight end, is only 255 lbs), but they are all athletic and block extremely well. Although loaded with sophomores, sophomore OL Mark Paski started all 10 games as a freshman, so is very experienced.

Defense
The entire front three of the 3-4 Tiger defense from last year returns, led by junior DE Pete Buchignani with 27 tackles and 5 tackles for loss. The Tigers do a lot of rotation on the line to keep everyone fresh for four quarters, and they're pretty big too, averaging 275 lbs across.

At linebacker, senior LBs Jon Stem and Doori Song headline an exceptional unit. No one member is a better tackler than another, while the seniors combined for 79 tackles and 11 tackles for loss last year. As mentioned, all of them hit gaps well and bring enormous pressure, helping cause all those tackles for loss. This will be an awful tough nut to crack.

The secondary featured the graduation of two awesome performers, and the ray of light for us here is that coach Hughes doesn't seem to know what the combination back there is going to be yet. Senior FS Kevin Kelleher will be a part of it, though, and we know he's good: he led the team with four interceptions last year. Sophomore CB Dan Koplovich saw some time last year, but he and sophomore CB Cart Kelly hopefully will be players we can exploit for some advantage.

Special Teams
Junior P Ryan Coyle is largely unproven after the Tigers saw a great P in Colin McDonough graduated last year, while junior K Connor Louden went 9-for-16 on FG last year, none attempted beyond 40 yards. He's accurate in close, while he went only 4 for 9 beyond 30 yards.

Junior WR Pete Ploszek returns kickoffs, while sophomore WR Jeb Heavenrich tries his hand at punt returns. Ploszek did a decent job with kickoffs last year.

Keys to the Game
1. Fundamentals. In order to win this game, we will have to tackle and execute as well or better than Princeton. No receivers slipping behind the coverage. No sloppy tackling. No blown plays. This team will need to be ready to play to have a chance.
2. Turnovers. Yeah, I know, it's an old saw, but remembering last year's turnovers and how they killed us got me thinking how important it will be against this team, who didn't kill themselves last year. Don't turn over the ball, and we have a chance.
3. Multi-Dimensional. This offense needs a running game to keep other teams off balance, which means Kankam hopefully "can can" grind out a significant running game for us and take the pressure off one of two players on offense.
4. Pressure Foran. Keeping Foran out of any sort of groove will be of utmost importance. If we let roll out and pick us apart using many different receivers, we'll be in trouble. Also, you simply have to keep him in front of you and don't let designed QB outside runs develop.

Fearless Prediction
I have to try to look at this objectively. Tale of the tape? Princeton wins: they have loads of experience everywhere. QB? Edge Sedale. RB? Edge: Tigers. WR? Edge: Tigers. Defensive line? Push. LB? Tigers. DB's? Lehigh. Winning this game would be a tall order, and I think that with the amount of injuries we have on this team, we come up short. Not all would be lost with a loss here: we'd know more about the freshmen and sophomores. But it's not easy even with a full set of juniors and seniors to beat Princeton, and with all the injuries, I think it's jsut too tall an order.

Princeton 28, Lehigh 17

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Players Of The Week, Lehigh/Villanova

You, the fans, have spoken, and here are the players of the week. Two are mine, and the one you, the fans, picked are represented here.

On special teams, I picked a freshman in his first collegiate game: freshman WR John Kennedy. He had four kick returns for 97 yards, with a couple nice rips that set the Mountain Hawks up with great field position. By the end of the game, they were kicking away from him - a pretty good endorsement that he had a terrific day.

Defensively, it is a pretty easy call: junior DL Brian Jackson. He was a monster out there with 10 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for loss, and he brought down Villanova QB Antawn Young down twice. He was the major disrupting force on the line, and was the best defender out on the field in this reporter's opinion.

And you, the fans, voted junior WR Sekou Yansane as player of the week with his 6 receptions for 99 yards - while only returning to camp just under a week before the game. Timing issues? Try a picture-perfect streak across the middle for a great TD to cut the lead to 20-13. He was a major force to be reckoned with underneath, so he gets the inaugural "Player Of The Week" award. Congratulations to the winners!

Look for my Lehigh/Princeton preview, coming tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Around The Horn: 9/11/2007

Before I get to the rundown of the rest of the Patriot League (and some future opponents), I wanted to mention a couple things about Monday's Lehigh media blitz (which you can catch the replay on Lehigh broadcast or iTunes). The debut of the "Andy Coen Report" occurred yesterday at 6:05PM on AM 1230 and AM 1320 in the Lehigh Valley and was a very fun listen. Hosts Tom Fallon and Mark Markus really did a great job with coach Coen setting up a relaxed atmosphere for coach Coen to speak his mind, and I thought it was really enjoyable. (And, no, "Chuck from Bethlehem" was not me, but I will plan to dial in one of these Mondays!)

Secondly, on the Lehigh Sports Magazine this week, featured was the #18 game selected in the "Best 20 Goodman Moments" series, the Lehigh/Cornell game of 1995 where RB Rabih Abdullah ran for a Goodman record 266 yards and 5 TDs in a 34-23 Lehigh win. And if you are really, really, paying attention, you'll see a (younger) me in the crowd in that game, played in the rain and slosh. It's a quick pan, but trust me, I'm there.

Around the Horn:
  • Lafayette's 28-7 victory over Georgetown was simply a story of Lafayette "overwhelming the Hoyas on all fronts". Like in the Lehigh/Villanova game, the Leopards saw a lot of kids come out in the second half with cramps, but that didn't stop Lafayette from rushing the ball 47 (!) times compared to 19 passes. Senior QB Mike DiPaola didn't hurt the Leopards but didn't overly impress either with a 9-17 day with 1 TD. The defense played great, with senior CB Marcel Quarterman returning an interception for a TD and the first-string offense holding the Hoyas to 79 total yards in the first half. As if that wasn't bad enough, the Leopards' defense made some big fourth-down stops in the game as well. ''Our defense is playing really well right now,'' senior DT Kyle Sprenkle said. ''When we get those kinds of fourth-down stops, it just makes us stronger. I know it kept us motivated for the rest of the game.'' With the rest of the league going 0-4 this week, Lafayette, just like Hillary Clinton, cemented their hold as the front-runners in the Patriot League race.
  • In the first quarter, Bucknell hung tough against Stony Brook, holding the Seawolves to two 3-and-outs and grinding out a nice 6-play, 52 yard drive for a 7-0 lead. But Stony Brook RB Conte Cuttino ran the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a TD, which got Stony Brook's offense kick-started to a 48-20 thrashing of the Bison. After the return, Stony Brook bowled over the Bucknell defense with four of their next five possessions resulting in TDs. Bucknell's Tim Landis heaped praise on the Seawolves in the postgame press conference. Overall, Bucknell's depleted defense (sophomore LB Sam Nana-Sinkam missed his second straight game) seemed exposed, as well as their special teams (a fourth-quarter punt was blocked and returned for a TD by the Seawolves late in the game as well.) Bucknell will also have to regroup after a 4-for-12, 74 yard passing performance by sophomore QB Marcelo Trigg.
  • Although Colgate has found inspiration in one of the most subtle anti-sports fans movies in history (exactly why did Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting give up his Red Sox World Series tickets? Was he mentally ill?), they certainly were a wrench in UMass' plans last Saturday. There were a lot of cramps in a day game at Andy Kerr Stadium as Colgate fell to #3 UMass 35-17 in unnaturally hot conditions in upstate NY. Similar to the Lehigh game, a special-teams miscue gave UMass the ball to set up their first score as senior CB Cody Williams fumbled an early punt that the Minutemen converted into the first TD of the game. Colgate hung tough with the Minutemen, though, only down 14-10 at half. But a UMass punt return for a TD put the score at 28-10 and really stopped the chance at an upset. Junior RB Jordan Scott had an impressive day once again with 29 rushes for 103 yards, while junior QB Alex Relph went the distance and had a good day against a great opponent, with 17-31 and 2 TDs, though his one interception killed an important Colgate drive. Senior LB Mike Gallihugh also, notably, had 17 stops and helped hold the UMass offense to 90 first-half yards. Overall, not a shabby day despite the final score: Colgate looks already to be a force to be reckoned with in this Patriot League title race.
  • Fordham learned the hard way that if you live by the sword... you die by the sword. Trailing 23-20 with 2 minutes to play, sophomore QB John Skelton lined up for his second chance for a comeback victory in two weeks... and saw senior RB Jonte Coven fumble away the ball in a 23-20 defeat. Turnovers played a key role: to go with the key Coven fumble was an interception and another fumble, putting Fordham at -3 in the turnover battle on the night. More worryingly for the Rams, their defense gave up 488 yards on defense, including 315 on the ground on 71 rushing attempts. In addition, Albany held onto the ball for an amazing 40 minutes against the Rams, showcasing what will probably be a favorite strategy against Fordham going forward: be effective running the ball, and keep that offense off the field.
  • Of course Princeton hasn't played a game yet this year, but some key information trickled out of their media day last week. As defending Ivy co-champions, they seem to be aware they will be treated differently by opponents this year as he talked about the good progress senior QB Bill Foran has made on and off the field. Most tellingly, he talked about replacing the two all-league members of his secondary who graduated last year: "Those two might have been the best defensive backs in the league last year," he said, "and we have about 6-8 players in the mix that we're moving around to see what fits. We have Dan Kopolovich playing some corner and some safety. Kevin Kelleher is a great leader back there, but we'll need contributions from guys like Cart Kelly, Tom Hurley and couple other guys you might not have heard much about in the past." As of last week, it sounded like there was some uncertainty as to who was going to emerge: which could bode well for Lehigh's passing game.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Press Mash-Up And "The Andy Coen Report"

It's probably not the most ideal of circumstances under which The Andy Coen Report is launching its inaugural broadcast tonight on lehighsports.com and AM 1230 and 1320 in drive-time at 6:05PM in the Lehigh Valley, if only because Lehigh is coming off that 30-20 loss to Villanova last Saturday. But this brand-new coaches show should prove to be an exciting addition to the increasing number of media presentations Lehigh is offering about their sports programs, but this call-in show is really the first of its kind and will undoubtedly be bolstered by the fact it is on during drive-time in the Lehigh Valley over regular radio. I'll be very interested to tune in and learn what coach Coen and other fans around the Lehigh Valley have to say about the Mountain Hawks.

Which leads me to a new feature for the blog: each week, I plan to list six names for "Players of the Week" in the survey on the left, and you can vote on who you think this week's Player of the Week should be. The results of these votes will allow me to choose "Players of the year" at the end of the year, and hopefully will be a fun addition to the blog... So vote for the player you feel was the standout performer this week, and help your favorite player get honors every Wednesday!

The press writeups were somewhat mixed, as you'll see in the mash-up. It's really too early to know how good Villanova is or Lehigh is at this point, and I think everyone's eyes are on the Princeton game which should be a better indication of what we have for this coming year. Still, here's the mash-up.

Morning Call: Lehigh Battles, But Falls Short Against 'Nova
Morning Call: Lehigh Freshmen Are A Silver Lining
Express-Times: Kicking Game Lets Down Lehigh
Brown & White: Weather Hotter Than Hawks

"When it comes down to two fairly evenly matched teams, it's the quarterback that makes the difference and I thought our quarterback was the better quarterback today," said Villanova coach Andy Talley. "[Young] came up with some big plays for us and that was the difference."

He'll get no argument from Lehigh quarterback Sedale Threatt, who struggled to find consistency in the passing game.

“We didn’t execute the way we should have today. Third downs, that was me," Threatt said of the team's failure to convert them. "A couple throws I made kind of difficult for (his receivers) to make."

"Our biggest concern was shutting down [Threatt]," said Villanova strong safety Eugene Clay. "The biggest thing was to make him pay and hit him when we had the chance."

Clay caused a fumble by Lehigh tailback Josh Pastore early in the second period. Villanova immediately capitalized on the turnover with a 60-yard thunderbolt from Young to Brandyn Harvey that gave the Wildcats a 20-3 lead less than two minutes into the second quarter.

The Mountain Hawks had stopped Villanova three-and-out on the 'Cats' first possession, only to give the ball right back when a bouncing punt flicked off the leg of a Lehigh return team member and Villanova recovered at the LU 39.

"You can't let a punt hit your foot like that," said Lehigh coach Andy Coen. "We deferred at the coin toss, got a great kickoff, held them to a three-and-out, and they still got the ball back and scored. You can't start a game that way against Villanova. It got to 20-3 and you don't want to spot any team 17 points, especially not a team like Villanova with its 63 scholarships."

“We defeated ourselves this afternoon,” said junior defensive back Quadir Carter. “We had too many mental errors.”

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Kankam, Threatt and the rest of the skill players were operating behind an offensive line that had a lot of question marks entering the season. Will Rackley, a freshman, played one of the guard spots. Kevin Bayani has moved from guard to tackle.

"For the first time, considering they were going against a great Villanova defense, they did pretty well," Threatt said. "You're going to get sacked and hit. That's part of the position. But they really stepped up. They were confident and they wanted to make plays, but we just didn't make enough."

Coen attributed some of his team's critical mistakes that led to the early 17-point deficit to youth.

"When you play young kids, you're going to have some issues," Coen said. "We had five or six freshmen thrown into the game against some pretty good competition. But they did some good things, too."

Coen noted freshman Jim Kennedy's four kickoff returns for 97 yards.

***************************

The 5-9, 180-pound Kankam made a quick rise up the depth chart because of a preseason hamstring injury to Matt McGowan. And when starter Josh Pastore got dinged against Villanova, Kankam flashed moves and toughness during his eight carries for 34 yards, which included a 12-yard burst.

"Nothing he did today surprised me," Coen said during the postgame press conference. "He was making plays with the ball in his hands. He caught a screen pass and had two catches overall, he ran the ball very well and got us tough yards down near the goal line. He's going to get more opportunities. We're up in the air at that position. [McGowan] is a day-to-day thing and Josh got banged up. We might have two freshmen out there next week."

"It felt pretty good out there," said the All-Stater from Sylanvia, Ohio. "The O-line, the fullback, everybody told me that I can play with them and not to be nervous. It was fun and crazy to get into the end zone with my teammates, but it was kind of bittersweet, too.

"My performance today kind of let my know that I can play at this level. It's fast, faster than high school. But confidence-wise it was a big boost. It was really exciting to get out there."

****************************

When it was over, Coen and Co. were down, but far from out.

"Whenever you lose, you're obviously upset, but you have to learn from it," Coen said. "I was very aggravated at halftime because of our kicking game. I was really going to go crazy, but I stopped and thought about it. We knew there were plays to be made offensively and we made some to start the second half to get right back in the ballgame. We just didn't make enough plays offensively, and gave up too many big ones on defense.

“This is a tough team to play, especially when we give them multiple chances like we did today,” Coen said. “I was impressed with our players’ effort. They didn’t give up, and they kept fighting. Even though it is not the outcome we wanted, I saw quite a few positive things today and we have to build from that."

“We didn’t start the game with the right level of intensity,” junior defensive linemen Brian Jackson said. Jackson recorded five tackles and one sack in the contest. "But we came out in the second half pumping and grinding."

"I'm disappointed we lost, but we got ourselves back in the game," Coen said. "We showed a lot of effort and fight. We need to build on the positives. We'll go over our mistakes and fix them. I think this dog's got a lot of fight in it.

"I like my football team. We're going to be fine."

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Sunday's Word: Uneasy

It's really the only word that seems to apply after yesterday's performance. "Uneasy".

Now, this uneasiness may simply just be a delayed reaction from the fact that the Patriot League doesn't feel like the Patriot League anymore. Maybe it has as much to do with Colgate getting demolished by UMass 35-17, only four years removed from their delicious humiliation of the Minutemen on the road to the 2003 I-AA championship game. Or Bucknell getting stomped on by Stony Brook 48-20, which puts a big dash in their fans' dream of getting back to the big time. Even Fordham, after their surprising (and heartwarming) win over Rhode Island last week, got brought back to reality in a 23-20 defeat to Albany.

But I really don't think those losses made their fans as "uneasy" as Lehigh fans feel after this one. Villanova made the most hay in our secondary. Think about that: the defensive backfield is supposed to be the strength of our team. Four seniors. And they gave up three passing TDs, 257 yards passing, and an average of 17.1 yards per completion - by a sophomore QB in his second career start.

Furthermore, Villanova was losing players in droves during this game. I understand it was 95 degree heat and it was incredibly hot. But I thought the Wildcats, already depleted by injury and beat up last week versus FBS Maryland, were going to fold and somehow the Hawks were going to pull it out with some great offensive drives. That Threatt and Yansane were going to go on one of those amazing drives that result in a game-winning TD. That RB Josh Pastore was going to be the back with flashes of speed and brilliance that I saw briefly last year.

But I was waiting for a drive that never came. Pastore ended the game with negative yards and a huge fumble (on a questionable call, though.) Late in the game, Threatt went on the quick out pattern one too many times, and the Villanova defense came up with a great play to get the interception to kill a big drive. Another drive stalled with two minutes to play, and Leo's long FG attempt sailed wide left. Too many drives stalled just at the edge of paydirt, forcing us to settle for 3's.

Threatt looked "uneasy" (was his bell rung in the game?). The whole offense (especially the running game) looked "uneasy" and low on confidence, perhaps because of the injuries or the heat. The defense looked "uneasy", totally off balance because Villanova's line beat us off the line of scrimmage to run the ball, and then killing us on the pass that was set up by that. And special teams at one key moment was "uneasy" which led to great field position and a quick score.

Some might say that we ought to look "uneasy" since we're playing a 63 scholarship team. I don't buy that for one second. Yesterday that team with all their injuries operated with no more scholarships than Lehigh gives out equivalencies. To me, there is no crutch concerning "giving Patriot League schools scholarships" or anything like that - with uneasiness like that, even 80 scholarships won't win football games.

With the possible exception of special teams, Villanova kicked our butts offensively and defensively. And they went after us in our "strength" in the secondary - and ate us alive.

This was also done in our house, Murray Goodman. It would be bad enough to have it done on the road, but at least you could make the excuse the team was playing on the road in an unfriendly environment. But just like last year we've now started a habit to allow visitors to feel right at home at Murray Goodman - something that's never happened before.

Home is supposed to make you feel comfortable. Not "uneasy".

The strength of your defense is supposed to make you feel comfortable. Not "uneasy".

The offense is supposed to be able to convert big drives in big spots. Not make you feel "uneasy".

It's too early to give up on the season or this team, but it's not too early to feel "uneasy". This team needs to fix the uneasiness at home, fix the uneasiness in these two key elements of the team, and Lehigh has a chance to have a very special year. This next month, I'm going to be looking at how this team fixes this big "uneasy". I'm hoping to be reassured.
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