Saturday, November 03, 2007

Lehigh 7, Colgate 21, final

Lehigh put another listless performance today in falling 21-7 to rival Colgate this weekend. It was not pleasant to watch, although it seemed to start out well. After the defense did a good job forcing the punt, the Mountain Hawks had an impressive drive, subbing in sophomore QB Chris Bokosky and senior QB Sedale Threatt, with Threatt actually catching a pass and getting some tough runs including a touchdown. Freshman RB Jaren Walker also had some very impressive runs too, getting tough yards to the outside.

But then, not much went right.

After Colgate drove to a touchdown off a 34 yard pass to a wide-open Pat Simonds, freshman WR John Kennedy had a fantastic return, and a blocker with only the kicker to beat. But the blocker fell asleep to let the kicker make the play to stop Kennedy from finding the end zone. A play that could have truly shifted the momentum back to Lehigh was completely foiled by an inexcusable mental error - and two plays later, a fumbled QB-to-RB exchange gave the ball back to Colgate with 0 points.

The numbers weren't all bad - Lehigh actually outgained Colgate - but Lehigh could not overcome 5 turnovers, a botched FG attempt, 1-for-8 on third down conversions, and 1-for-5 on fourth down conversions. The third down conversion came on the first drive of the game, while the fourth-down conversion came on a fake punt. Of the 19 first-downs Lehigh got, 3 were handed to us on penalties, and one came on the fake punt.

Turnovers. Mental errors. A listless performance. Sound familiar? Superstar Colgate RB Jordan Scott didn't need to score any touchdowns the way this team played.

I could live with a loss if I felt like the team was learning valuable lessons as to discovering how to beat Lafayette and to win a championship next year. But I don't think that's what's happening. What did the team learn after today? Tackle the kicker if your guy is ready to make a break for the end zone? Don't throw interceptions? Don't take probably your second-biggest league rival for granted?

Again I'm asking: where's the fight in this team?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Patriot League Picks, Week 10 (and Press Links)

If you're reading this, chances are you have plans to watch the game on TV (Channel 69, WFMZ), listening to the game on the radio (ESPN AM 1230 or 1320 in the Lehigh Valley) or watching/listening on Lehigh Broadcast and are not some of the heartier souls taking the bus up to Hamilton. I'm going to be catching the replay myself as I'm almost ready to go to see the "Rumble In The Bronx" as Holy Cross plays Fordham.

Before I go, however, I wanted to post the press links and my Patriot League picks this week.

Patriot League Picks
As always, some of these are cross-posted over at the College Sporting News. It's interesting times in the FCS as, quite possibly, a SWAC team may qualify for the playoffs. Read the article to find out how.

Holy Cross over Fordham
The “Rumble In the Bronx”, a battle between unlikely Patriot League co-leaders in Holy Cross and Fordham, may not determine the eventual Patriot League champion, but it will go a long way in doing so. The Crusaders, with one of the best passing attacks in FCS led by quarterback Dominic Randolph, have a new threat that has emerged in recent weeks in runningback Terrance Gass (125 yards and 2 touchdowns against Bucknell). Fordham, meanwhile, has become a contender on the back of sophomore quarterback John Skelton (1958 yards passing, 17 touchdowns) and a tough secondary with 12 interceptions (led by defensive back Earl Hudnell’s three picks). But can the young Rams keep up with that passing attack? My bet is “no”, and Holy Cross gets in the driver’s seat for the Patriot League title.
The Purple Army 45, The Red Army 35

Lafayette over Bucknell
With a demoralizing loss to Colgate last weekend, the Bison may be looking at the Leopards as a possible upset candidate. But RB A.J. Kizekai and company, I think, will be running into a very upset Leoprd team that wants to preserve their slim title hopes. The Leopards roll.
Lunchpail Leopards 35, Grazing Buffalo 7

Georgetown over Marist
A hard-working Georgetown team is all that's keeping the Patriot League from an out-of-conference record of over .500 or the Patriot League. The Hoyas will deliver.
Hoyas With Howitzer 24, Foxes With BB Guns 14

Press Links
Morning Call: Coen Keeps Colgate Guessing
Express-Times: Hawks Still 'Hate the 'Gate'
Brown & White: Hawks Looking To Build On Shutout
Utica Obsverver-Dispatch: Scott Piling Up Honors At Colgate

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Preview Of Lehigh/Colgate

Rivalries. It's what college football is really all about, and Lehigh will be facing one of its biggest league rivals as the Mountain Hawks travel to Hamilton, NY to face Colgate in their annual brawl.

Giving credit where credit is due, last year linebacker Matt Mohler crowned the week before the Colgate game as "Hate The 'Gate" week, and it has stuck. All week, Lehigh fans have been "hating the 'Gate", showing exactly how far this rivalry has come since 1922.

And this Lehigh football team has gotten into it.

At the press luncheon this week, senior Rashaun Gasaway ("Our goal is to win football games, not to lay down so teams can win championships.") and senior TE Joe Sutherland ("We don't like Colgate very much. I know we hate going up there because it’s in the middle of nowhere. Every year, it's a big game." ) talked about it.

This rivalry has come a long way from that first game in 1922, which was played in Johnson City near Binghamton, NY. It was set up by William Fisher, the athletics director of the Endicott-Johnson corporation, and Lehigh's athletics director at the time, H.R. Reiter. The New York Times reported that the game "will be of great interest to all Central New York and Pennsylvania, and will probably result in an annual contest in Johnson City."

Although the yearly meeting in Johnson City wasn't meant to be, both national powers at that time battled fiercely, by account of the New York Times. Lehigh center "Wild Bill" Springsteen recovered a fumble for a touchdown to go up 6-0, but the Maroons (as they were then called) piled up 35 unanswered points to win that inaugural game 35-6.

Instrumental in setting up the annual rivalry between Colgate and Lehigh was former head football coach Fred Dunlap, who was a star football player at Colgate. He saw how similar Colgate and Lehigh were in terms of academics and athletics. And when the Patriot League formed in 1987, it was natural that Lehigh's northern rival be included along with Holy Cross, Lafayette, Bucknell, Lehigh and Davidson.

More recently, this game has generally featured prominently in the battle for the Patriot League title, which has brought this historic rivalry into sharper focus. Since 1997, Lehigh or Colgate have been either outright or co-champions in every Patriot League title. One of those games featured senior QB Sedale Threatt, in his second start in relief of injured starter Mark Borda, who helped drop 50 on the Raiders in a wild 50-34 victory in 2005.

This year, Colgate needs help this weekend from Holy Cross if they realistically hope to win a Patriot League championship, and they need to win this weekend versus Lehigh as well. Lehigh's extremely slim shot at a co-championship involves beating Colgate this weekend, and getting a whole lot of help.

In any event, it would be a great source of pride for the Lehigh seniors to have gone 4-0 against Colgate. And a win here would provide a great boost of wind in Lehigh's sails going into the final weeks of the season and "The Rivalry".

Last week, Lehigh picked itself up off the ground. This week, we see if we can continue our forward march to our fourth straight won over the 'Gate, a winning record, and possibly even a Patriot League co-championship.

Hate the 'Gate, indeed.

Game Notes & Weather Report
The big question is invariably about the quarterback. Will senior QB Sedale Threatt start the game? Will sophomore QB Chris Bokosky? Will they split time? Coach Coen isn't saying, and all indications are that it will be a gametime decision. It would not be surprising at all to see them both split time.

Junior RB Matt McGowan has firmly placed himself atop the depth chart at running back, while the freshman "dynamic duo" of freshman RB Jaren Walker and freshman RB Kwesi Kankam backing him up. Junior RB Josh Pastore seems dinged up and doesn't look like he'll make the trip - hopefully that won't come into play this week.

One more interesting note is that sophomore LB Heath Brickner is off the depth chart and senior LB Rusty Campion has moved to the No. 1 spot at outside linebacker. I think Brickner is hurt. In any event, Lehigh has depth at LB so it shouldn't be an issue.

Weather-wise, it's going to be yet another clear day for Lehigh football. As November days in Hamilton go, a high of 54 is downright balmy - look for short-sleeved shirts and tank tops from the Colgate crowd, who might not be used to this "global warming stuff." (With a low of 34 at night, the Raiders may be feeling a bit more comfortable.)

A Word On Colgate
If you're going against Colgate, you're also facing the experience that head football coach Dick Biddle has in this rivalry. Now in his eleventh year, you're not likely to surprise him.

In years past, Colgate's smash-mouth team was very much a contrast to Lehigh's spread, pass-happy offense. We could very well this year see two teams who are trying to win in the same way now with a smash-mouth style, making this more of a "mirror match" than in the classic Lehigh/Colgate battles of the past.

The Raiders can legitimately say that they are one of the best teams in the Patriot League this year. If you take away two interceptions, Colgate could very well be 10-1 going into this game.

Against Fordham, Colgate's only interception of the game led to a 21-point Ram outburst that allowed Fordham to outlast Colgate 34-31. And a 71 yard interception return for a touchdown ended up being the difference for Cornell in a 17-14 defeat over the Raiders.

Since then, the Raiders have made a habit of coming from behind to squash their next two opponents, Towson and Lafayette. Trailing 10-7 to Towson at halftime, they outscored Towson of the CAA 20-7 in the final half to gut out a 27-17 victory. Trailing 21-3 to the Leopards, they effectively came together in the second half to squeak out a 36-27 victory.

This is a team that has a lot of fight in it, has a lot to play for, and has a tendency to wear teams down. It is Lehigh's challenge to not be worn down like Lafayette and Towson were.

Offense
Colgate's offense, like Yale's, is centered around the running game. Their style is a smashmouth running game, funneled primarily through the star running back, and then using the runnign game as a decoy to get off some short passes. It's not as extreme as Yale's version of the game, but it's been very effective. Like Yale, the running game wears you down over time, meaning a lot of their scoring comes in the second half and in the fourth quarter.

Lehigh is "blessed" with having to face the No. 1 and No. 2 rushing leaders in all of FCS this year. No. 2 is junior RB Jordan Scott (pictured), Colgate's star running back. His totals speak for themselves (1,375 yards rushing and 15 TDs), but what's most interesting is the number of carries: 310! To compare, the rusher with the second-most carries in FCS is Yale's Mike McLeod with 239. That means he's averaging 4.44 yards per carry (almost a full yard below McLeod's), and you wonder what this type of toll will take on him going into November.

That's not to take away from his skill as a runner. Biddle said: "Jordan gets his yards in 5- or 6-yard clips here, a 15-run yard run there. And a lot of his yards come in the fourth quarter. His yardage is tough yardage. He’s carrying the ball and he’s getting pounded. That’s what is unique about him. He’s very strong, deceptively strong.”

He's not the fastest back we'll face, or the quickest. But he's undoubtedly the toughest. And he does so either between the tackles, catching screen passes, or running on sweeps. Freshman FB Gigi Cadet is first and foremost a blocker for him as well - there's not much of a change-of-pace back here to take pressure off of him.

Trying to take pressure off of Scott's running will by junior QB Alex Relph, who has been very inconsistent this year. Last week versus Lafayette, however, he had one of his better days: 16-for-26 with 220 yards (but 0 TDs and 1 INT). He's not as effective as Yale's quarterback in exploiting the fake of the running game to create scrambling yardage and completing 3rd down passes (but then again, who is?). When Colgate is at their best, Relph is an effective counterpoint to Scott, and he has getting better every week. If he's having a good day, we could be in trouble.

When the ball has been put up, Colgate has a pair of starting wide receivers that are extremely solid in 6'6 sophomore WR Pat Simonds and 6'1 senior WR Erik Burke. They are tall, can stretch the field extremely well (both are averaging more than 15 yards per catch) and effective (both have combined for 1,125 yards and 9 TDs). The positive thing is that they don't really have any other consistent threats receiving outside of the wideouts and Scott, so they should be easy to key on by the defensive backs.

In height and weight, Colgate's offensive line is comparable to ours, but obviously the Raider line has done a much better job grinding out rushing yardage. The leader on the line is clearly 6'4, 300 lb senior C Matt Sullivan, who should be a runaway 1st-team all-Patriot team player this year.

Defense
Where Lehigh and Colgate does have some contrast in defensively. Unlike Lehigh's 3-4, Colgate boasts a 4-3 centered by exceptional linebacker play. This unit is a tough-tackling unit that could be considered one of the best in the Patriot League.

Weight-wise, again, the Raider "D" line is close to Lehigh's, but their front four, with a fair amount of bodies getting rotated in, don't have a real standout player. The closest thing they have to one is sophomore DT Paul Mancuso, who has 8 1/2 tackles for loss in his young career. Their line has gotten decent pressure on the quarterback in general, getting 2 1/4 sacks, on overage, per game.

A big part of that is due to the pressure that the linebacking unit applies. Senior LB Mike Gallihugh is the heart and soul of this defense - he is seemingly in on every tackle (he has 92 on the year), is equally effective in pass coverage (3 interceptions) and is around the ball constantly. He is quick and is a hard hitter. Right behind him is his heir apparent in sophomore LB Greg Hadley with 44 tackles. Overall, the front seven are big, fast, and solid tacklers.

The secondary could be this team's achilles' heel. Although senior CB Cody Williams has proven to be a tough defensive back, the three other starters are freshmen and sophomores. Sophomore CB Wayne Moten has gotten better, however, week to week and has 3 interceptions on the year.

Special Teams
Junior P Jacob Stein is a pretty good punter, averaging 38.1 yards per punt with a long of 51 yards. Senior K Mike Buck has been solid, kicking 21/21 on extra points and 8/11 on field goals.

Senior CB Cody Williams and junior RB J.J. Bennett have formed an effective return unit on punts and kicks, averaging more than 20 yards per kickoff. Although neither have returned one back, they certainly have that capability.

Keys To The Game
1. Find A Passing Game. Colgate's biggest weakness is in the deep passing game. Our best chance to exploit their defense is to soften up their weak spot, and have the running game act as a counterpoint to that. It's our best chance at winning.
2. Punishment. Scott may get his yards, but Lehigh needs to dole out punishment to him if that's what he tries to do. Tellingly, Lehigh has been one of the few teams that has bottled up Scott effectively, and we cruised to relatively easy victories when we've done so. Limit him to 100-125 yards - and no TDs - and we should be in good shape.
3. Field Position. Punting could be important in this game. Lehigh should be able to play a field position game if the Hawks can stop Scott on the ground. I'll gladly take that 5-10 yards every time we exchange punts.
4. Ball Control. of course, to do that, we need to control the ball and move the sticks, even if it doesn't result in touchdowns. If we can control the time of possession, and keep Scott off the field, that would help immensely.

Fearless Prediction
Colgate is a tough team that happens to be strong where we would like to be strong, and weak where we will have a hard time exploiting the weakness. Although we've won the last three in this rivalry, it will be a tough order to manage a fourth here.

The feeling on Lehigh in this game depends mostly on how far you think the offense has come. Are we ready to smash a "smash" team in the mouth? Can our two-headed quarterback exploit the weaknesses in the offense? Can we stop one of the toughest backs in all of FCS?

Although I think we'll slow him down, I don't think we'll keep him out of the end zone twice. And I think that will be enough.

Colgate 20, Lehigh 13

Players Of The Week, Georgetown/Lehigh

This week, it wasn't even close.

On defense, game ball goes to junior DL Brian Jackson winning the defensive honors, with three tackles but that included 1 1/2 sacks for 10 yards. Well overdue honor for Jackson as he has had a great year so far, which hopefully will continue in Hamilton this weekend.

Special teams ball goes to senior KR Brannan Thomas this week. 6 punt returns for 87 yards, including a 27 yarder, gives him the nod this week.

But the big winner this week was the landslide choice by you, the fans, of junior RB Matt McGowan for Player of The Week. He had the day that Lehigh fans were looking for: the first 100-yard rushing performance (128 yards, on 24 carries) and 2 touchdowns. Finally healthy, his performance gives Lehigh fans a lot of hope going into Hamilton, NY to face an old rival in Colgate.

Congratulations to all the winners, and look tomorrow for the Lehigh/Colgate preview.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Around The Horn: 10/30/2007

I figure by now you're sick of watching the Democratic debate by now, and are instead hungry for the weekly roundup of other games and items of interest. (And of course checking out the YouTube thing in the side panel over there.)

But before I get into that, I cannot understand the latest Sports Network Poll, although it's worthy of mention that Holy Cross is on the brink of entering the poll in the "Others Receiving Votes" section (putting them, in effect at No. 27 in the nation). But how does undefeated Yale *drop* two spots by beating 1-5 Columbia by 21 points, yet Wofford *gains* one spot by squeaking by 1-6 Western Carolina by three points? It simply makes no sense.

Granted, Yale grants themselves no favors by being in the Ivy League, with only ten games and no playoffs. But Yale is one of the best teams in the country, and they could end up not even being in the Top 10 by the end of the year unless voters pick their heads up out of the sand. That's a travesty. I wish they could play in the playoffs to show exactly how good they are, but this year, they'll just simply have to blow out their competition and hope people wake up.
  • Predictably, Fordham blanked Marist 33-0 last weekend, and equally as predictably, it was the least-well covered game of the weekend - all I have is the thin AP report on the game. Of course, the key here was that sensation sophomore QB John Skelton had a quick day, only going 5-for-11 passing - but with 175 yards and a touchdown. With the huge showdown coming up against Holy Cross against the Bronx, the Fordham Observer (finally) put something football-related in their sports section: this piece on Skelton. This quote, by junior WR Richard Rayborn, should have the whole league shaking: ""He's a lot more comfortable," Rayborn said. "He's making different reads against defenses and the team is gaining more confidence in him."
  • Meanwhile, the Worcester press seems to be competing with each other for "biggest Ram bulletin-board material" in their take on the Crusaders' 45-21 thumping of Bucknell. I mean, really, leading with this? "Bucknell wore its blue jerseys (instead of white) when it hosted Holy Cross yesterday, so they couldn’t be taken off and waved in the air to surrender." Coach Gilmore, was more diplomatic and measured: “We came in and did what we had to do. This puts us in the position where we need to be late in the season, still in contention for the title.” Everyone in the league knows that junior QB Dominic Randolph is great, but what has to have Fordham really worried is junior RB Terrance Gass' recent emergence - this week, he got 125 rushing yards on 12 carries, with 2 TDs. If he can do that this weekend... Holy Cross could have the edge in the "Patriot League title game". It's going to be a great game in the Bronx this weekend - and I'm hoping to be there.
  • Bucknell's take on the game? Pretty much shell-shock. Bison head football coach Tim Landis: "They are hitting on all cylinders. They are going to be very difficult to beat. They have the best offense I've seen this year. We didn’t have a lot of answers for them. We couldn’t get them off the field. They took the ball and kept it from us. It's a very formidable running game, so it's a double-edged sword. What do you try to stop?" Sophomore RB A.J. Kizekai was a bright spot as always for the Bison, with 102 all-purpose yards and 2 TDs - but he only touched the ball three times all game.
  • Speaking of shell-shock, Lafayette scooted out to yet another lead - this one 21-3 over Colgate - but just like what happened versus Fordham and Harvard, the Leopards let it slip away in a tough 36-27 loss to the Raiders. This one is the third straight for the Leopards. Sophomore QB Rob Curley took the reins and did pretty well in getting the 21-3 lead, but ended 15-for-26 with 174 yards and 2 interceptions. Despite having the No. 1 rated defense in FCS, Colgate's star RB knew what to do: "They're a very fast defense and they run around a lot. But we felt that if they were challenged right into their blitzes, right into their schemes, we could be successful." The Leopards strike me as a team that is where Lehigh was last week: a pretty good team on a three-game losing streak who will have an opportunity to make things right next week at home versus Bucknell - and they should.
  • Two individuals cast their shadow over the Lafayette game last week, and they will be the pillars which coach Coen will be hoping to topple next week. First, it's stoic head football coach Dick Biddle. Ed Laubach's column described him for the Lafayette game, but it really could be any game: " Biddle, hatless and wearing khaki trousers, strolled out casually, hands in pockets, well ahead of his players at the opposite end. Looking more like a greeter at WalMart than football coach, Biddle slowly made his way to the bench." The other pillar this year is junior RB Jordan Scott, who should remind Lehigh fans uncomfortably of Yale's junior RB Mike McLeod. Scott basically wore down the No. 1 defensive team in the nation last weekend, to the tune of 194 yards and 4 TDs. His 171.9 yards per game are second in FCS (no awards as to who's first), and he has 1,375 yards on 310 carries and 15 TDs. “It’s a tribute to him, because Jordan has fun playing football,” said Colgate head coach Dick Biddle. “Practice is not drudgery for him. It shows on the field.” How he can get 310 carries and still be upright I'll never know, but it's clear that Scott is a very special back that will be a challenge to stop.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Press Links

(Photo courtesy of Andrew Maier, Brown & White)

Some interesting things in the press links, but first I'd like to call your attention to the "Media" Links on the left and the Webshots Albums. That's a holding area for all the pictures I've taken during the games I've attended, including the Lehigh/Fordham game that I just uploaded. Due to popular demand, I'll be uploading the Holy Cross/Lehigh pictures too soon as well. (For those of you who prefer looking a pictures of Lehigh victories, Lehigh/Princeton is there as well.)

Junior RB Matt McGowan, who was day-to-day early in the week, suddenly was available to go later this week for the Georgetown game, while some reports hint that senior QB Sedale Threatt was more banged up than was originally let on, which led to sophomore QB Chris Bokosky to get more reps in practice and get the start.

A good piece, incidentally on how Threatt took the news of splitting time with Bokosky, and some questions as well if Lehigh will be going with their "smash" attack against their old rival Colgate. Stay tuned.

Morning Call: New QB, TB Do Wonders For Lehigh in Rout
Morning Call: Threatt Showing Character
Express-Times: McGowan Helps LU Bounce Back
Brown & White: Hawks Break Losing Streak, Shut Out Hoyas
HoyaSaxa: Lehigh 45, Georgetown 0

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sunday's Word: Smash

Ever think you'd ever see a Lehigh game where there were only five pass completions (out of 12 attempts) for the Mountain Hawks... and that Lehigh would win by their biggest margin of victory on the year?

It's because Lehigh has become a "smash" team.

Now more than ever, it seems clear what coach Coen wants Lehigh to be: a team which dominates the line of scrimmage, beats up the opponent physically, runs the ball effectively, and flies to the ball on defense. "Smash" the opposing offense with our linebackers and defensive linemen, and our O-line needs to "smash" the defensive fronts of the opposing team.

With junior RB Matt McGowan finally healthy, and a team which is undersized at the line of scrimmage, we saw what a "smash" offense is capable of. It's capable of 5.3 yards per carry. We also saw what a "smash" defense is capable of: shutouts.

The team played with pride yesterday, played much better, and delivered the resounding win most of us would have expected over Georgetown - back when many of us thought we'd be competing for Patriot League championships.

The win could well be a starting point for us to enter the "smash" era of Lehigh football. It's a striking departure from "Air Lehigh" and all the derivatives from that offense that seem to have been Lehigh's hallmark ever since I was an undergrad in the early 1990s.

Week 2 of the "smash" era will be tested once again in Hamilton, NY against an old rival in Colgate. It will be interesting to watch.
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