Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lehigh 7, Yale 23, final

Coach Coen said earlier this week the following quote: "The next two weeks will define who we are as a football team."

So we lost 23-7 to one of the best football teams in the nation. So how did this game define Lehigh?

In my opinion, we're a team that is defined by:
  • That one drive a game on offense when we can move the ball on anybody (Scoring drive: 8 plays, 58 yards - Sedale 1 yard TD run, 3-3 passing, good mix of run and pass).
  • A defense that will not give up in their punishment. They smacked McLeod all day and did their level best to try to give Yale a pounding. Although McLeod got a lot of yards, it wasn't really due to major mistakes in tackling or anything. He had two touchdowns today: one on a long run, he got the blocks and showed his acceleration, and the other on a shorter run where we put eight in the box and McLeod showed his vision to pop to the outside and accelerate for the TD.
  • A team that cannot convert 3rd downs. 4-for-12 today.
  • A team that cannot get into the red zone, and is not all that efficient (50% today) when they get there.
  • A team that has a good chance to win a field position-type game (41.6 yard punt average).
  • A team that cannot get the running game going: 80 yards rushing. As a result, we are losing the battle of time of possession on a consistent basis.
  • A team that can get decent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and get a decent number of tackles for loss. That we got five of them against a team that runs as much as Yale did is a credit to the defense.
  • A team who can move the ball within the 20s at times, but then - twice in this game - has turned over the ball in key spots with two crushing interceptions. The deflating feeling that happened when the interception was thrown at the goal line when Lehigh was in a position to go ahead or at least tie - a huge killer.
  • A team who drops passes, one of which was a sure touchdown.
  • A team who cannot dominate the line of scrimmage on offense. I couldn't count how many times our quarterback was flushed out of the pocket.
So that's what type of team we are. For what it's worth, in my estimation this team played better than they did against Fordham. But this team desperately needs to find some sort of answers on offense. We need a playmaker.

Fortunately, Lehigh has a chance to not be defined by this game offensively. They have a chance to be defined in next week's game versus Holy Cross.

Every game from now on may as well be a playoff game.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Patriot League Picks, Week 7 (and Mash-Up)

I'm trying to get into the other games this week, get into the picks of the other games, but it's not easy. To me, undoubtedly the biggest game this week is Lehigh/Yale. Lafayette/Harvard is not incredibly far off, but Lehigh/Yale seems like a very, very big game not only for the Mountain Hawks, but the Patriot League.

And I think part of this is from Yale's actions leading up to the game. I just don't recall ever seeing such a confident opponent before. I mean, the New Haven Register is running probably the most syrupy homer story about junior RB Mike McLeod, calling him "The Complete Package" (ironically stealing the nickname I gave senior QB Sedale Threatt after he led the offense to a 31-28 win over Villanova). At the end of last week's 50-10 drubbing of Dartmouth, McLeod gave a touchdown to a teammate in a move which just appears to illustrate the confidence of this offense.

Now is the confidence actually hubris? We'll see tomorrow.

Patriot Predictions
As always, some of these picks were originally posted at the College Sporting News. It's the final weekend of Ivy/Patriot games for the year, and as of now the score is Patriot League 8, Ivy League 6. With 4 Ivy/Patriot games on the slate, all we need to win is two games to prove "which league reigns supreme", and it's looking like there is a very good chance for the League to regain the upper hand that we lost last year. Of course, a Lehigh win over Yale would really put the exclamation point on it.

Lafayette over Harvard
The Leopard trenches, the best in the Patriot League, will be up against the hard-headed Crimson offense which is still trying to get its running game going on all cylinders, though runningback Cheng Ho did have a decent day last week with 67 yards rushing and 1 TD. But the Lafayette defense, led by defensive tackle Kyle Sprenkle, shut out Columbia last week 29-0 and is looking for more in Cambridge. Lafayette, eager to avenge last year’s lackluster 24-7 loss last year to Harvard, does so emphatically.
Lunchpail Leopards 24, Crimson Crimson 10

Holy Cross over Dartmouth
It’s not exactly a bold pick to take the 3-2 Crusaders over the 1-3 Big Green, but it will be worth seeing how Crusader quarterback Dominic Randolph looks in this game before getting into their league schedule. Randolph already has 1,571 yards passing and 15 touchdowns, and he could easily get into the range of 20 in coach Tim Gilmore’s pass-happy offensive system. Holy Cross rolls before playing Lehigh next week.
“Drink The Grape Kool-Aid” 49, “Avoid Big Green Kool-Aid” 13

Colgate over Cornell

Colgate coach Dick Biddle has to be mad. Last year, he lost to upstate New York rival Cornell for the first time in his 10-year Raider coaching career, 38-14. This year, although he’d never say so, he wants revenge – and with Raider runningback Jordan Scott, he’s got the back to punish the Big Red’s main weakness. With 938 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns, Scott should carry the Raiders on his back to another win in this rivalry game I like to call the “White-Out”.
“Scott and a Cloud of Dust” 28, “Juicy Fruit… I Mean, Big Red” 20

Fordham over Georgetown
Some of the Fordham fans I've encountered on Any Given Saturday are actually afraid of this game Saturday. Excuse me? They haven't scored more than 14 points a game in the last five games. Believe me, there's nothing I'd like better than to see the Hoyas help out Lehigh and pull off the upset. And I think every Lehigh fan is rooting for them in the league in a big way (except against us, of course). But the team I saw last week will not lose this game. Guaranteed.
Rambunctious Rams 44, Humbled Hoyas 3

Press Links
Morning Call: Pressure's Off As Lehigh Heads To Yale
Express-Times: Offensive Woes Make Coach See Red

Press Mash-Up
The quest for consistency and improvement starts with quarterback Sedale Threatt, who has thrown five interceptions in five games -- the same total of picks he had all of last season.

"Sedale knows he has to play better," Coen said. "He practiced well [Tuesday]. On Saturday, he was as close to 100 percent physically as he has been all season. Whether he'll be close to 100 percent the rest of the season remains to be seen. It's the ribs, it a bruise here or there. He gets hit a lot. He still hasn't learned to go down. He'd rather lower his shoulder and take on a 230-pound guy.

"But he's very focused, very quiet right now. He's focused on what he has to do to get better. On that last interception on Saturday, it was a pass protection breakdown. He was about ready to get sacked and threw the ball too quick. We need to do more in pass protections and get more of our fullbacks involved in blocking rather than our young tailbacks [freshman Kwesi Kankam and Jaren Walker]."

"Of course it's frustrating to us," Watson said. "It's not that the defense is doing anything different. We need to make plays. They're there."

"The biggest thing," Coen said, "without a doubt has been our lack of consistency, ability, commitment, whatever you want to call it, to running the football down there. Not having Josh and Matt, it's a big issue.

"I love the young kids," Coen continued, "they are going to be very good players. It's one thing when you're up on Princeton by 25 points to keep giving them the ball. It's another thing when you're in that type of (tight) game to hang your hat on them."

"We know we're capable of being more consistent," Watson said. "We need to make plays all the time.

"Especially in the red zone."

"It's a consistency thing," coach Andy Coen said. "We probably had more big plays in the game than Fordham, but it's a play breaking down here or breaking down there. We have to run the football better and more consistently and that takes pressure off the other aspects. We haven't been able to run it well, especially in the red zone.

"I can give answers, but I don't want anyone to think they're excuses. We've had breakdowns in part because of having to use different backs every week. We have guys missing practice [due to injuries] during the week and then they're out there playing on Saturday. All of that adds to the inconsistencies, but the bottom line remains that we need to play better."

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

Lehigh will be in the unusual role of underdog when it travels to New Haven, Conn., this weekend, for a meeting with No. 16-ranked Yale at the historic Yale Bowl.

"We know right now there's no room for error," Lehigh fullback Adam Watson said. "We know we need to play our best football for the rest of the season."

Starting this week.

The 4-0 Bulldogs have scored 50 points twice this season. They boast the nation's third-leading rusher in Mike McCleod. They own the country's seventh-best scoring defense while accumulating a plus-eight turnover ratio.

"We've gotten off to a great start," said Yale coach Jack Siedlecki, a former assistant at Lafayette.

"Any time you get to approach a game with very little pressure on you, it's great," said senior defensive tackle Kyle Adams. "I don't know if I want to use the underdog tag, but as a defense we're relishing the challenge of facing a great offense that is averaging 40 points per game.

"Anytime you can get a win, it's a great thing. When you add the fact that this is a nationally-ranked, undefeated, highly-potent offense that everybody's picking, it's one of those things you really play for. It's a 'speak softly and carry a big stick' attitude out there."

A loss at Yale wouldn't be the end of the world, but a win could be a season ignitor.

"Our morale is still pretty good," Coen said. "It's very important for us to go out and play well against Yale. We'll be a confident team going into the game and if we play well, it will be a plus going into the Holy Cross game.

"We're going to go into the game thinking we have to play well, and we have a good chance to win the football game."

It would make for one monumental upset. [LFN: I'm not sure I share Paul Solokowski's feeling that this would be a MOMUMENTAL upset if Lehigh won, but there you have it.]

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

The key to the Yale attack is junior tailback Mike McLeod, who has rushed for 719 yards and 13 touchdowns during the team's 4-0 start.

Stephen Schmalhofer just laughs when asked how he would stop teammate Mike McLeod, the record-setting running back for the undefeated Yale football team. "For three years we’ve tried," Schmalhofer said. So has everyone else. Few have succeeded.

McLeod, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior tailback from New Britain, has played 23 games for Yale. He owns Yale records for touchdowns in a game (five), consecutive games (12), season (20) and career (37). He set the single-game record for rushing yards (256) Saturday and is on pace to break both the single-season and career records for rushing this year.

"He can see the unblocked guy coming at him, he looks at him, then he looks away," said Schmalhofer, a senior defensive lineman for a Yale team allowing just more than 14 points per game. "He doesn’t have to look at that guy to make him miss. It’s unbelievable. It’s pure instinct. He’s already looking at the second tackle he’s going to break.

"To be able to see a guy, and be an arm’s length away from him, and not be able to get him down is the most frustrating thing for a defender," Schmalhofer said. "And it happens time after time again. Sometimes it’s underwhelming, because it’s 4 yards, but that’s 4 yards no other back in the league is going to be able to get. And to be able to do it 40 times a game and not be tired? It’s freaky."

"He’s a very special player, and there isn’t a guy on the team who doesn’t know that or appreciate that," said Yale head coach Jack Sidlecki. "He has so much more patience, and when you have more patience, you have better vision. He has that ability to hit every crack. He knows when he needs to take it, when to accelerate, and when to slow down. It’s pretty impressive to watch him play after play after play. He’s got that elusiveness. He’s very difficult to tackle. I think tacklers just have a hard time getting that solid hit on him."

"He seems to always make the right decision, when to bounce it, when to cut it back," Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore said. "He utilizes his blockers very well. He understands the scheme. There are a lot of talented running backs out there who don’t understand the scheme well enough. It’s very apparent that he’s very well-coached, and he’s a very good player because he reads the scheme."

Coach Coen: "I think the biggest challenge will be how we can contain Mike McLeod. To average over 300 yards rushing per game and not be an option team is almost unheard of. He's not the biggest guy you'll see but he has great vision and can break tackles."

"Something's gotta give," [Lehigh DT Kyle] Adams said. "We're not giving up a lot of yards rushing and this young man is running for a lot of yards. We feel we have to contain him and make other people make plays."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Preview of Lehigh/Yale

It's been quite a while since Yale has had a team like the team we're facing Saturday.

Sure, we did play this team last year in a 26-20 defeat at the Yale Bowl comprised of many of the same cast of characters. But that team wasn't favored to win the Ivy League running away like this 2007 version. And that team didn't have the same confidence that they could dominate the line of scrimmage that this team has.

This year's version of the Eli are more frightening if you look at the statistics. They average 303 rushing yards per game - which is astounding for a team that doesn't run the option. They're getting +2 turnovers on average per game. They're outscoring teams in the first quarter 46-0 this season. They've built on their Ivy co-championship team from last year - and just gotten more and more confident.

The last time Lehigh faced a nationally-ranked Ivy League opponent on the road was at Harvard in 2005, and that Lehigh team cruised to a 49-26 victory over a Crimson team whose phenomenon at tailback, then-junior Clifton Dawson, was hurting with a nagging injury. We're obviously hoping that history will repeat itself here - but by no means will it be easy.

A win here for Lehigh would unquestionably be a huge shot in the arm for this team at the right time. Beating a team like this, who is playing right now at the top of their game, could be a defining moment for this Lehigh team filled with underclassmen. And it would undoubtedly give this team a huge measure of confidence going into the rest of their league schedule.

It's not a must-win game, but boy, if you could get the win, it could be one of those things that carry you through the rest of the year.

Game Notes & Weather Report
The most curious thing of all about the game notes this week is not a single name is different from the two-deep from last week's loss at Fordham - even after coach Coen promised changes after last week's performance. I was kind of surprised to see freshman long snapper Brad Walter and junior holder Ben Ivester still listed in their respective positions on the depth chart. The only change is listing junior RB Josh Pastore as the starter at running back over freshman RB Kwesi Kankam. We shall see if Josh is ready to go: reportedly he's questionable.

No word if senior WR Pete Donchez is fully back from injury, nor is there word if junior WR Nick Johnson is 100% after getting banged up last week. If we have both of these guys back, that would be a huge boost to the offense. Both are listed on the depth chart, as they were last week. [UPDATE: Nick Johnson has a separated shoulder and is out this week, which opens up a spot for freshman WR Travis Artim on the travel team.]

The weather report for New Haven, CT on Saturday is scheduled to be yet another great day to watch a football game: 62 degrees and sunny at the historic Yale Bowl.

Drink of the Week
Yale cocktails just simply don't seem appropriate on a day like today - besides, where can you get Creme d'Yvette anyway? Instead I'd opt for the "old reliable": nice, cold bottled beer. Probably Michelob, or perhaps a Harpoon specialty brew, might be the answer here - just the right blend of class and quality.

My question is: does George W. Bush still drink Yale cocktails?

A Word On Yale
One of the neat traditions of this game, just started last year, is something called the "Yank Townsend Trophy" given to the winner of the Lehigh/Yale game. Named after the only Yankee (i.e., student from Connecticut) who was in the Lehigh class of 1895. After graduating, he would relocate to New Haven to be close to the rest of his family, where he would design many buildings and residences in the area. Yank's descendants sponsored the trophy to be presented to the winner of this game. It's a constant reminder to the history and football traditions of both schools.

Offense
Yale "does what they do". Head coach Jack Sidlecki doesn't run anything really fancy on offense: they will simply beat you up physically every play and run a lot of different running plays every which way: through the middle, with the fullback leading, through misdirection, with sweeps, and end runs, and others. Cheat too much and take away the run, and the quarterback will pick you up with the passing game. This year, the Eli offense is averaging 40 points a game and has been running this strategy near flawlessly.

The reason for this is junior RB Mike McLeod, who represents almost half of Yale's offense and is responsible for 13 of Yale's 21 touchdowns. At 5'11 and 200 lbs, he is the type of back Clifton Dawson was in terms of speed and versatility, but he's much harder to bring down. He knows this offensive system well and has terrific acceleration to the outside. He does catch the occasional ball out of the backfield, but for the most part he just runs you over physically. Coach Sidlecki already has called him "one of the best football players I've ever coached". Contain him, and you contain Yale - but nobody has yet.

McLeod's not alone in the backfield. Senior FB Joe Fuccillo doesn't get carries, but is a powerful blocker out of the backfield who does a great job at busting holes in a defensive front seven. When McLeod does need to take a breather, sophomore RB Ricardo Galvez has been the guy to spell him. At 5'7 171 lbs, he's a speedy scatback whose strength would be running to the outside. Neither back has any receptions out of the backfield yet. Sophomore FB John Sheffield, surprisingly, is the leading receiver with 14 receptions for 164 yards and a TD, and a 6'2, 235, you've got to think he's a pretty good blocker too.

It may seem like senior QB Matt Polhemus' only job is not to fumble the snap as he puts the ball in McLeod's hands. But although his passing numbers are not gaudy (35 for 67, 467 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception), they don't need to be - and he makes up for it with his feet. He adds 160 yards rushing and 1 TD to the offensive punch. Still, he hasn't been asked to win a game all by himself, nor has he needed to come from behind to win a game.

Likewise, the receivers also haven't been asked to win games by themselves either, and neither one strikes fear in one's heart. Junior WR Jarrett Drake and senior WR Chris Denny-Brown only have 10 combined receptions for 164 yards and no TDs. Senior TE Langston Johnson, on the other hand, is a very good blocker and also has been known to slip into coverage to catch passes: he has 6 on the year for 98 yards and a TD. It's worth covering him when they're in the red zone.

As good as McLeod is, it all starts with the hogs on the "O" line, and Yale's is frighteningly good. They're not the biggest you'll see, but they could very well be the strongest. Junior C Ty Davis and senior OL Stephen Morse (pictured) are two of these guys that will wear defenses down until they break. Their technique is outstanding, and they are physical and will beat you up repeatedly. They've only given up 2 sacks and 15 tackles for loss all year. These are the guys our "D" line will need to outplay to win this game.

Defense
Yale plays an unusual 5-2-4 defense that asks its linebackers to do an awful lot in pass coverage underneath. Of course, the linemen will shift back and help out there as well, but I've always felt that there should be a lot of room in the middle in a 5-2-4 for a good, pinpoint passer to make hay inside the 20's.

Senior DL Brandt Hollander has historically been the leader on this "D" line, but he has seemed slow to recover from a nagging injury to be really effective. In his absence, senior DT Jared Hamilton has really stepped up his game with 13 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 3 1/2 tackles for loss, including 2 1/2 sacks. Junior DE Brady Hart is also a solid player with 25 tackles and four pass knockdowns.

The player in this front seven that has really impressed me ever since last year's Lehigh/Yale game, though, is junior LB Bobby Abare. He had a key interception last year in that game which demonstrates his exceptional range in rushing the passer and dropping in pass coverage. This year though four games he has 33 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 5 tackles for loss including 1 sack. He's the heart and soul of this defense, and is just as exceptional a player as McLeod is on offense in my opinion.

Junior LB Jay Pilkerton is also a monster in pass protection, with 3 interceptions already to go with his 23 tackles. Although there are only two linebackers, both are very good in this system.

A possible method of attack is at the corner position, where junior CB Casey Gerald and sophomore CB Paul Rice don't have any interceptions. Gerald is the more solid of the two but smaller, while Rice is taller but greener. Junior FS Steve Santoro, though, is yet another very good Yale defender: he has 16 tackles and 2 interceptions.

Special Teams
Senior K Alan Kimball isn't only a Draddy trophy semifinalist (given to the most outstanding college football scholar/athlete of the year), he's also an extremely accurate kicker with a decent leg. He's a perfect 21/21 on extra points and 6/7 on FGs, all from within 38 yards. Sophomore P Tom Mante is yet another good Yale athlete in the punt game with a 44.0 punting average, including 6 punts within the 20 yard line.

Kick returns and punt returns haven't OK but not spectacular. Sophomore PR/KR Reid Lathan is their best returner, averaging 28 return yards per kickoff and 8 yards per punt return. Junior FS Steve Santoro also joins in the return duties on kickoffs as well with a 14.4 average.

Keys To The Game
1.Early scoring. Breaking that first-quarter shutout that Yale has would go a very long way towards beating them. Getting up early, even by 3 points, could make it a day where Yale has to play catch-up. If we have them playing catch-up, we have a chance.
2.Flying and Tackling. McLeod is going to get some yards, but closing gaps and throwing the body into tackling will be imperative. You can't bring McLeod down with an arm tackle - you'll need to really wrap him up to do it right. Flying in the gaps and sound tackling will be a huge key.
3.Red Zone Conversions. 2-for-6 in the red zone ain't going to hack it. When Lehigh gets in the red zone, we need to get points, even field goals. In a game where every point could be precious, you can't giv away opportunities.
4.Turnovers. If you turn over the ball on Yale and give them a short field, you're asking for trouble. Holding onto the ball and making them drive the length of the field to get points will be crucial.

Fearless Prediction
The temptation here is to look at Lehigh, and say: “Any Given Saturday, sure Lehigh could do it, they have quarterback Sedale Threatt and a tough defense”. But this Yale team is a very special team. They are averaging 41 points a game, and are playing with so much confidence on offense that their quarterback Matt Polhemus and runningback Mike McLeod were giving touchdowns away to their teammates last week.

Even though my heart says Lehigh can compete and win, my head is going to win here. Lehigh is a talented team, and I think they will play better this week than they did last week. But I'm still not sure they have everything they need to be able to win a big game like this one. I hope I'm wrong, but my head says Yale will be on the winning end.

Lehigh 24, Yale 28

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sedale Front Page of NYT Sports Section

Senior QB Sedale Threatt is the subject of today's front page on the New York Times sports section in an article called, "Not Much More Than Name Links Threatt, Jr. To Father". It goes over a lot of the ground that has already been covered by Bill Doherty in his fantastic piece in the Lehigh Alumni magazine, but it gives enough new tidbits to be a good read. (Although I always thought Sedale was a finance major, not a marketing major.)

I'd encourage you to grab a copy of the paper today to read it (or log into the New York Times to read it, which you can do if you're a subscriber), but I will highlight the following:

Lehigh Coach Andy Coen said that Threatt still struggled with his consistency, but that his athletic ability had prompted interest from scouts.

“One scout told me that coming from the [FCS] level, what you have to do is dominate at your position,” said Threatt, who is majoring in marketing. “I can see the field pretty well, but I know they’re going to want me to do more.”

Coen said: “I give the kid a lot of credit for handling things the way he has. We have our weekly conversations, and I always leave with a smile on my face.”


Look for the Yale preview tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Around The Horn, 10/9/2007

I've said enough words about Lehigh's performance in the Fordham game, and I won't be re-hashing it any more here on the blog. This will include no honors for "Players of the Week".

The only thing I will say is what coach Coen said on the "Andy Coen Report" this Monday: "The next two weeks will define who we are as a football team."

If you want to read the writeups about the game, the links are below:

Morning Call: Win Over Lehigh proves Rams For Real
Morning Call: Lehigh Looking For Answers
Express-Times: Hawks Suffer Rare Loss To Rams

  • I was in the press conference at the Fordham game, and Ram head coach Tom Masella did have high praise for his sophomore QB John Skelton, the big Texan who made very few errors last weekend. "John is a terrific football player. He's turning into a pretty darn good quarterback. As a sophomore, you think you can rattle him, but he's hard to rattle. Whether we're down by 20 or the game's on the line, he just has that composure out there, and each week he's getting better and better as he understands our offense. He's also starting to become the leader of our offense at a very young age. He's the guy." If the rest of the league hopes that Skelton's going to get easily forced into rookie mistakes, they're in for a surprise as Fordham will definitely be be seen as a dangerous team the rest of the way - especially, with a game versus 0-6 Georgetown this week, they could be 3-0 in Patriot League play before visiting Easton in two weeks.
  • As for "that school in Easton", they impressed the Columbia faithful in a 29-0 victory over the Lions in Easton. Jake, my buddy over at the Columbia Blog "Roar Lions Roar" (and is also Columbia's color radio broadcaster), called Lafayette the "Easton Assassins" as they "wore down the Columbia lines more and more over time" after finally "giving in" on defense. (Sound familiar?) Impressive for Lafayette was not only their impressive lines and the shutout on defense (to a Columbia team that lit up Princeton for 31 points the preceding week), but also had impressive depth, as junior RB Anthony D'Urso went out early with an ankle sprain but sophomore RB DeAndre Morrow stepped right in and delivered 94 yards rushing and his first career TD. Oh yeah, the Leopard defense is now #1 in the nation in scoring defense (only allowing 8.8 points per game) and #3 in rushing defense (yielding 63.2 yards per game). Overall, plenty for Mountain Hawk fans to be frightened about - but the Leopards will face their sternest test on the road this year at 2-2 Harvard.
  • Lafayette head coach Frank Tavani heard some terrible news out of South Carolina, though, before the game: his son's football-playing career, senior FS Dan Tavani out of Wofford, is over with a MCL tear in the Terriers' 28-7 win over The Citadel. It's not only terrible news for the Tavani family, but also for Wofford who had seen the senior play a huge role in starting the year 4-1 and got many accolades across the country after beating Appalachian State 42-31. In that game, Tavani could have been the best player on the field that game, which really is saying something. The should-be All-American will be sorely missed on the football field.
  • Holy Cross' offense got back on track in a big way as they outlasted Brown in a shootout, 48-37. Junior QB Dominic Randolph was back in form after losing to Yale the week before, this time going 29 for 37 with 404 yards passing and being responsible for six TDs. Head coach Tom Gilmore said: “I thought we did a great job offensively most of the game. All of our skill players played very, very well.” But interestingly, Holy Cross' offense scored in bunches, but the Crusader "D" also gave up scoring in bunches, too. After Holy Cross went up 31-10 at halftime, Brown went on a furious 24-3 run in the second half to knot the game at 34. Coach Gilmore said: "We’re making a lot of mistakes on the defensive side of the ball — not getting in the right spots on coverages, not making tackles. We have to play more disciplined.” With the Crusaders coming to town two weeks from today, this is worthy of noting before Holy Cross' game against 1-3 Dartmouth this weekend.
  • You could call the battle between Colgate and Bucknell - which Colgate narrowly pulled out by a 28-24 score - as a battle between Colgate's junior RB Jordan Scott and Bucknell's sophomore RB A.J. Kizekai, as these two players were responsible for six of the seven touchdowns in the game. Kizekai got a TD run, a TD pass, and a kickoff return for a TD, while Scott "did it the old fashioned way" with three rushing TDs, including the game-winner with under a minute left. Scott piled up an amazing 270 yards rushing on 41 carries - can he keep up this workload through the rest of the year? "They had a good mix run-pass," Bucknell coach Tim Landis said about Colgate's final drive. "They had that slant pass to senior WR Erik Burke. They kind of hurt us with that all day." Bucknell has a week off this week, while Colgate will be looking to avenge coach Dick Biddle's first-ever loss to local rival Cornell last year in what I call the "White-Out". The matchup between the 2-2 Big Red and the 3-2 Raiders ought to be a good one.
  • It just gets worse and worse for Georgetown, and their visit to Franklin Field was anything but fun in a 42-13 drubbing by Penn. The Hoyas started the day with sophomore QB Robert Lane to try to get some offense going, but it was disastrous 1st quarter that saw Georgetown with 12 offensive yards, 0 first downs, and down 28-0 on the scoreboard. After going into halftime down 35-0, senior QB Matt Bassuener returned to engineer a couple scoring drives to give the Hoyas some more respectable numbers. Penn's defensive front is a great one, but to see an option team only gain 97 yards on 41 carries - or 2.37 yards per carry - is pretty incredible. The Hoyas hope to turn it around against Fordham this week (which would make a lot of Lehigh fans very, very happy if they do).
  • You want to hear a confident team? Just listen to senior FB Joe Fuccillo talk about his first TD run in Yale's 50-10 smackdown of Dartmouth: "Actually, it was pretty funny, It was a call from junior RB Mike McLeod. Mike and senior QB Matt Polhemus talked it over and said, `Joe, do you want to get this one?'" When touchdowns come so easy they're giving them away to teammates, you know this team is brimming with confidence. After setting an Ivy League record with their second-consecutive 50 point effort against an Ivy opponent, Yale head coach Jack Sidlecki credited his lines. "I really like the way we're playing, how physical we are on both sides of the ball, the enthusiasm level we have. We've got to bring it every week like that because that's the team we are. We're going to be a very physical, up-front team on both sides. We've played three great football games in a row in terms of setting the tone physically." "Only" up 22-3 at half, Sidlecki talked about "reasserting our superiority" by taking the ball out of the locker room and scoring a TD on the Big Green to make it 29-3. In a nutshell, that's the confident, physical, and intimidating team we're up against this week.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sunday's Word: If

Normally by "Sunday's Word" pieces are struggles to find the exact word: but I knew almost instantly after leaving the Bronx that "if" was going to be the Sunday word this weekend.

It's been a rough 36 hours for Lehigh fans. Point blank, beating Fordham is something that Mountain Hawks fans expect Lehigh to do every year, having only lost to the Rams one other time in our history. Fordham may be a better team than they have been the past couple years, but this particular loss has shaken the Lehigh fan base to its core.

Fordham is a good team; anyone who thinks that the Rams didn't earn this one on the field is truly mistaken. The way Fordham was playing, at no time did I feel like the lead, if we got it back again, would be safe. Their sophomore quarterback, who we'll be seeing again for the next two years, is starting to blossom into a really good QB who gets good production - and if he keeps the turnovers down like he did last week, the rest of the league had better watch out.

Yet fans, including myself, were shaken by the number of Mountain Hawk errors made on the field yesterday. Lehigh fans, some of them unforgiving in the best of times, cannot forgive the number of errors and missed opportunities in this game.

The point of this blog isn't to single out players or coaches to tell them how to do their jobs, but the point is to show what this particular Lehigh fan is feeling, and hopefully also express what other fans out there are feeling. And it's a feeling I've never seen before in games that don't involve "that school in Easton".

Efforts like this don't just put things like Patriot League titles in doubt. They put into doubt whether Lehigh will win any more games this year. This isn't mere exaggeration: with formidable Yale up next weekend, and Holy Cross after that, we have teams that put up 50 and 49 points on their opponents this weekend. It's not hard to imagine Lehigh losing both of these games when the offense has only managed 1 offensive TD in the last two games. "If" Lehigh goes 0-2, what then?

And now we're at the point of today's word: "If". "If" Lehigh goes 0-2, 1-1, or 2-0. "If". "If" there's a word that has plagued Lehigh for the past three years, it's that word. "If".

For three years, we've been haunted by the word "If". "If" we got that extra point in Delaware in overtime in 2005. "If" Mark Borda didn't get injured. "If" the 2005 game at Holy Cross wasn't played in a rainstorm. "If" the Lehigh defense had gotten to Pat Davis a split second earlier. "If" it didn't rain against Albany in 2006. "If" we had gotten the 2-point conversion against Harvard. "If" we could have gotten some key Ivy League wins. "If" we converted one of three FG attempts in the red zone, or drove for that game-winning touchdown against Fordham in 2007. "If, if if".

It doesn't stop there, either. How many times have I said the following to people: '"If" Lehigh's (offense, defense, kicking game, special teams) gets it together, they're the best team in the Patriot League, hands down?' How long do I have to wait for receivers to catch balls, or offensive linemen to dominate a game? How long do I have to wait for a defensive effort without mental lapses like I saw yesterday? Is it too much to ask to maybe limit the bad snaps to once a game? How long do I have to wait for players to deliver on the wonderful potential that I and others have seen in spots for the past three years?

I still look at this team, and the rest of these teams around the Patriot League, and I can't help thinking about "if". Lafayette has struggled at times to score points; Holy Cross has struggled at times to prevent teams from scoring points; Fordham has struggled to be consistent; as has Colgate. Hands down, "If they can just get things together..." they still have the potential to be the best team in the Patriot League - though that is no longer totally in their own hands. It's still not unreasonable to think Lehigh can still win the league: after all, no Patriot League team in the past three years has won the title without at least one league loss, so it's possible that it could happen again this year.

But at some point, potential for greatness simply becomes the present, and your record is right there, live in front of you. And it's happening to this team, right here and right now.

And it's also killing me, especially with senior QB Sedale Threatt. I want nothing more than for Sedale to be successful in life and to get a shot at the NFL. To me, he clearly has the talent for it, and I would never, ever say that if I didn't believe it. I feel he's the most talented quarterback I've ever seen put on a Lehigh uniform. He can do things with the football that quarterbacks on classic Lehigh teams could only dream of doing.

At times I've seen Sedale move the ball on offense for Lehigh, and it's a thing of beauty. I've taken to calling them "those drives", where everything falls into place, all the timings are perfect and it looks like we could move the ball against Georgetown, Yale, or even Penn State. It's not just Sedale, either: once a game, the blocking seems perfect, the receivers' timing seems perfect, the running backs seem to burst out of the blocks. But one of "those drives" only appears to happen once a game, and I wonder yet again, What "if" we could get three or four of these a game?

But there it is again. "If". "If" Sedale plays well the rest of the way, he might get a shot at the NFL. "If" some receiver could step up and consistently be Sedale's go-to guy. "If" one of our talented RBs can step up and take some heat off Sedale, and not turn the ball over. "If" our offensive line could dominate a game the way they're expected to. "If, if, if."

Sedale is one player. Wins and losses aren't only on the back of one player. It's on the back of the entire team, who has to work hard all week, and work hard the entire game. After all is said and done, it's the work of everyone on the football field to get the job done. You never want to look at the Fordham game - heck, any game - and say, what "if"? What "if" we worked harder? What "if" I had made more blocking assignments? What "if" I had made that tackle? What "if" I didn't commit that penalty? What "if" I didn't throw that interception?

Potential, in the end, is nothing. It's all about who works harder, who blocks better, and who makes fewer mistakes. If you do that, there is no "If". "If" means you're always wondering about what could have been, what potential could have been fulfilled, what wins we could have had. I'm sick and tired of "If".

If one positive comes out of the Fordham game, I hope it's the realization that it all has to come together right here and right now, next week against Yale. It's no longer "If". It's "Now".
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