Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lehigh 14, Villanova 33, Final

My wife, son and I came back from Villanova later in the evening after watching the 33-14 defeat to the Wildcats. The question I have now - which is the same question I had right after the game - was, what does this show us? After looking again at the stat sheets and reflecting on the game, I'm still having a hard time.

Was Lehigh blown out of the building? Not really. The Lehigh defense, as expected, did a pretty good job, especially in the first half. Senior LB Tim Diamond was a force of nature, with an interception and a strip of Villanova RB Aaron Ball which Diamond reovered and rumbled to the 1 yard line, which set up Lehigh's first touchdown. Junior LB Matt Cohen also came up big with a 4th down stop in the first half and several key stops.

But two other phases of the game -- offense and special teams -- struggled mightily against the #21 team in the nation.

Sophomore QB J.B. Clark's statline was not pretty: 20 for 44 passing, 200 yards, 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown. Clark was running for his life a lot of the day: although the statline shows only three sacks registered by Villanova, the seven rushes for -17 yards also spoke volumes.

Senior RB Matt McGowan, who was so effective against Drake, wasn't able to get too much going with 12 rushes for 29 yards and 4 receptions for 29 yards.

Special teams, aside from not being able to break sophomore DB John Kennedy free on kickoff returns, were also allowing Villanova to really put our offense behind the 8-ball. On seven returnable kickoffs, four times we didn't make it out to the 20 yard line. Also, a fake punt on 4th-and-18 was well short of the first-down marker, giving Villanova a short field.

That led to a familiar scenario that Lehigh fans saw frequently in 2007: the offense doesn't hold onto the ball for sustained drives, while the defense is on the field way too much. 82 plays for an offense as good as Villanova's is simply catnip. "We tired their defense out. We had them running ragged," Coach Talley candidly said in the post-game press conference.

There are really two ways to look at this for Lehigh: half-empty or half-full.

The half-full view is that this is really Clark's first "start" since the Drake game wasn't really representative of a typical game situation, with J.B. asked mostly being asked to hand off to McGowan. Furthermore, he's working against one of the best teams in the nation who could very well be on their way to a CAA title. The Wildcats might be putting a lot of hurt on teams defensively this year, and it's a rough assignment for a rookie QB in his first "start" no matter how you slice it.

The half-empty view looks at what Lehigh was able to do against Villanova the past two years, and doesn't like the way things are heading. The half-empty person looks at things and says, "Two years ago we beat Villanova, and last year we might have taken that game with a few bounces. This game was never closer than two scores by the end of the first half. I remember when we used to win these games!"

Me? I take a look at that glass right now, and it's looking a lot more full than empty. "We played a very good football team today," coach Coen said first thing in the post-game press conference. "Those a people we want to compete against, and that's the type of team where we want to get to be. I hope we don't play a defensive front as talented as theirs the rest of the way." He's right, too. I think Villanova will be making more teams look bad when all is said and done.

I also saw some good things out of Clark on a tough "introduction" to FCS football against a playoff-caliber FCS team. He made some excellent reads, and had a great deep TD pass called back on a holding penalty. Give him time, the glass-half-full in me says. By the Fordham and Harvard games he'll be a completely different quarterback.

I think for the most part I see a full glass. The season is young, the defense will continue to be solid. and this team appears that they will learn the lessons of Villanova and move forward. I see it in the press conference when junior WR Mike Fitzgerald hangs his head and says things like "The defense is carrying us right now, and we've got to step up our game, make plays, put points on the board."

Yet sometimes I take backwards glances at this glass, and I see "empty". But that's a subject for tomorrow's "Word".

Friday, September 12, 2008

Press Links for Lehigh/Villanova

It's Friday, and that means... it's time to gather around the water cooler and talk football.

Unsurprisingly, around here the big talk concerns the only sold-out football game in the Philadelphia area tomorrow: the Villanova/Lehigh game. The press links are below, including the national pundits' predictions.

There are several options for getting the broadcast of this game. It won't be on broadcast TV, but if you're already a subscriber to the Lehigh Sports broadcast package you can get audio of the game, courtesy of AM 1230/AM 1320 in the Lehigh Valley with Kody Fedorcha ('00) and Matt Kerr.

Another option is to subscribe to the video feed through the Villanova website through NovaNation ($9.95 for a monthly pass) or CSTV XXL.

Here are the links.

David Coulson, The Sports Network: Top 25 Predictions

After a respectable performance by the Villanova Wildcats in their season opening setback to West Virginia a couple of weeks ago, Andy Talley's troops have had a week off to prepare for in-state foe Lehigh.

In its first outing of the season, Lehigh showed some signs of life after struggling since Pete Lembo departed for Elon a couple of years ago. The Mountain Hawks scored a 19-0 win over Drake to commence the season last Saturday in Bethlehem, PA.

Senior quarterback J.B. Clark threw two touchdowns on 9-12 passing for 146 yards, while Senior running back Matt McGowan controlled the ball for Lehigh once it had the lead and kept the clock rolling with 173 yards on 39 carries to put the game away.

Villanova, led by signal-caller Antwon Young had several positives to pull from their loss in Morganton, Wva., out-gaining the Mountaineers 399-354 in total yards, tallied more first downs (28-21) and controlled the clock (37:32-22:38).

Lehigh leads the series 5-4 between the two Pennsylvania rivals but Villanova should tie the series at five this afternoon.

Villanova 24, Lehigh 20

The CSN Way: We Don't Like Ike

Lehigh at #21 Villanova. With a week off after their 48-21 loss to BCS title contender West Virginia, the Wildcats welcome a new local rival in Lehigh fresh off their 19-0 shutout of Drake. The matchup between Lehigh’s defensive front, featuring defensive lineman Brian Jackson, should be interesting to watch against dynamic quarterback Antwon Young and the Wildcats’ spread offense. The key, though, might be Lehigh’s inexperienced offense versus the more veteran Villanova defense.
Not Just Hoops Anymore 24, 12 Different Herbs & Spices 17.

The CAA Today: Answers, or just questions?

Lehigh at No. 21 Villanova 1 pm (Nova wins going away): Villanova has struggled against Lehigh in recent years, but I don’t think it will happen this week. I really believe that Villanova is the sleeper team this year. It is loaded, and I think Talley will have the players up for this game after a bye week. It is the Wildcats’ home opener; it’s parents’ weekend, and it has a sellout crowd. Lehigh is a good team, but this is one of the best Nova teams in recent years.

In week one, coach Talley thought his team came out of the West Virginia game fairly healthy, but as it turns out, he was glad he had the bye week as he felt that if he had to play this past week, he might have had to do so without six or seven starters. So, the bye week came at a good time after all. Other than starting guard Brian Brannigan, they are all back and healthy now for this game. Coach Talley had an interesting statistic that is telling about games against FBS schools. He said that West Virginia played about 70 people against him while he played only 34 players, which are just staggering numbers. Coach Talley also said that they used the bye week to work a lot on special teams, which was a weak spot against West Virginia.

My bet is Talley has them ready and Nova is just too much for Lehigh this year, but this could be a close one and because of the rivalry factor, I will set the upset meter a little bit past middle.
The Upset Meter Rating here is; [ - - - - - 6 - - - - ]

Official Lehigh website: Coen, Healion & Pierce Discuss Villanova (with video highlights)

Coach Coen on Villanova: “They present a lot of challenges. They’re going to be a very athletic football team, a very physical football team. So we’re going to have to play very well. But I certainly know, as we showed a couple of years ago, we’re very capable of going into Villanova Stadium and coming back with a victory.”

LFN Fave junior LB Al Pierce on Villanova's passing game: “This week, going into the week, we’re preparing for a fast quarterback. He’s strong running and passing, and I feel we just need to keep pressure on him to make mistakes.”

Senior TE Troy Healion: "They're big, they're fast, they're athletic. They did a lot against West Virginia, but against us they're going to blitz a lot more. We need to be ready to pick up all the blitzes and give sophomore QB J.B. Clark time."
Express-Times: Coen discusses upcoming game at Villanova (audio clip)

"I have a lot of respect for coach Talley and his program and his staff. His team will always be very prepared. Offensively, they are a big-play type of offense, very explosinve and junior QB Antwon Young is the type of weapon they need to execute that philosophy. Last year, he threw a TD pass that was probably 60 or 70 yards in the air against us. He's got great feet too, so the key for us in attacking him and not let him escape and make great plays with his feet."
Morning Call: Lehigh defense has tough job vs. Villanova

''This is going to be a good test for our defense because Young is a strong quarterback,'' Pierce said. ''Still, we're real excited to go down there and play them.''

This is the third year of the 3-4 scheme under defensive coordinator Dave Kotulski, and Pierce said everyone is comfortable with the system.

''Coach has simplified things for us,'' Pierce said. ''He shortened up what we're running, so we don't have as much to worry about.''

Villanova poses enough things to worry about.

''They present a lot of challenges with their athleticism and with how physical they play,'' coach Andy Coen said. ''We're going to have to play very, very well. But as we showed two years ago [a 31-28 win], we're capable of going into that stadium and coming out with a victory. We're just going to have to eliminate the mistakes we made last week in all phases.''
Groller's Corner: 5 Things to take away from Lehigh's Football Luncheon

The win over Drake, as suspected, was huge as far as building some momentum and confidence. Even though the weather was a major factor, the positive results early in building that 13-0 lead laid a positive foundation and showed the team, after all of those preseason practices, that they're on the right path. After reviewing the tape, Coen found even more things to like about how sophomore QB J.B. Clark handled himself in his debut.
Easton Express-Times: 'Nova likes to strike fast

Villanova head coach Andy Talley said his defense is focusing on stopping senior Matt McGowan and the run. McGowan had a career-high 39 carries and 173 yards against Drake.

"I am impressed with the Lehigh running game," Talley, entering his 24th year with the Wildcats, said. "I don't think we can stop them, but hopefully slow them down."

Coen said Villanova has an explosive offense that relies on big plays and said his players should build off of the positives from the win against Drake if they want to upset the Wildcats.

"Hopefully our kids know they can go into Villanova Stadium and come out with a victory," Coen said. "We need to be a confident football team if we're going to have any chance of winning."

Brown & White: Football team heads to Villanova Saturday

Senior defensive lineman Brian Jackson said he is confident the team will find the solution for success this weekend.

"Villanova is a nationally ranked team and they will be a tough opponent," Jackson said. "But if we play our game and play Lehigh football then we should come out on top."

With a win under his belt, quarterback sophomore J.B. Clark is excited to go head-to-head with Villanova.

Clark said. "We are all working hard. Whether it's on the field or in the meeting room, we know we have a big task at hand and we'll be ready."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Preview of Lehigh vs. Villanova

(Photo Credit: Villanova Athletics)

Let's face it: there is one team from the big, bad full-scholarship Colonial Athletic Association (or CAA) on our schedule this year - what many around the Lehigh program would like to call our "play-up" game.

And this, Virginia, is it.

In the CAA coaches teleconference, coach Talley said that Lehigh has "a star next to Villanova on their schedule", and he's absolutely right. Rightly or wrongly, the games against the CAA are seen as battles against the FCS elite, the games that are the biggest tests for Patriot League teams in general.

They are challenges. Top to bottom, the CAA houses some of the best teams in all of FCS and have created national champions like Delaware in 2003 and James Madison in 2004. Delaware and UMass were two of Appalachian State's victims in 2006 and 2007 in the FCS championship game, and last year two CAA teams were in the semifinals. The CAA has proven themselves to be an elite conference.

The Sports Network Top 25 rankings bear this out. In a league with twelve members, they have six slots in the Top 25 and seven teams receiving votes. Our opponent this week is ranked #21 in the nation as is widely seen as a real CAA title contender.

And for the first time in the longest time, we're not really expected to win. Back in those days, we'd either be ranked ourselves or at least be receiving Top 25 votes. We're not really getting those anymore.

In years past, when Lehigh was regularly picked to win the Patriot League or contend for the title, we generally were picked to give CAA teams a run for their money in games like this. But this year's Lehigh team was picked fifth in the preseason poll, and this team seen as having too many questions to be able to really compete against a team who could quite possibly another future NFL star as their quarterback.

If Lehigh were to somehow pull this off, it would be a call to the rest of the Patriot League - and maybe ever the rest of the FCS - that Lehigh is back, that they deserve Top 25 consideration once again.

Game Notes
Lehigh's game notes show the return of some dinged-up players from the Drake game, senior OL Kevin Bayani, senior OL Chris Tiefenthal, and senior DL Paul Bode, although he's now listed alongside senior DL Jon Warren this week on the depth chart. Also worthy of note is that senior FB Adam Watson is back on the depth chart alongside junior FB Anthony Fossati.

Other than than, coach Coen's depth chart is a model of consistency from last week. Sopohomore RB Jaren Walker is not listed on the depth chart and is a game-time decision, so backing up senior RB Matt McGowan on the depth chart this week is 5'8 sophomore RB Jay Campbell.

Villanova's game notes are listed at this link.

Weather Report
After a nervous week of looking at the weather report and seeing rain clouds, the chance of showers on Saturday appears to be dropping fast. As of now, the forecast is for "cloudy with a 30% chance of a few showers", with a high of 81. On Villanova's artificial turf stadium, it shouldn't have too much of an effect on gameplay - or tailgating.

A Word on Villanova
Villanova (6,335 undergraduates: Villanova, PA) has known only one head coach since resuming football in 1985 after a five-year hiatus: Andy Talley, well-known in the Philadelphia area and something of a legend. Ask any reporter about coach Talley and generally speaking they love the guy.

There are a lot of links between Lehigh, Villanova, coach Talley, and coach Coen. In 2002, 2004 and 2005 Coen was Penn's offensive coordinator, and the Quakers gave Villanova some true battles as that "Big 5"-inspired football rivalry was rekindled by the Wildcats. The last two games were nailbiting games going down to the final seconds that Penn barely lost (16-13 in 2004, 28-24 in 2005).

In 2004, Lehigh barely lost to Villanova by a 22-16 score in a game with some controversy. Early in the second half of that game, a Villanova player chop-blocked junior DT Royce Morgan and ended his season. There was also some controversy in the post game press conference when there was mention of stealing Lehigh's offensive signals as well.

In 2006, Lehigh started the year with a 17-16 loss to Albany, and it didn't look like coach Coen's first-ever coaching victory would come against the Wildcats - on the road, no less. But in what could be called Sedale Threatt's greatest moment as a Mountain Hawk, he would lead Lehigh to their best overall game, a 31-28 game that was an entire team effort. Threatt had 300 total yards on the day and 2 TDs. Coach Talley said the following year: “They outplayed us completely. Luck had nothing to do with the game last year. They just knocked us off the field.”

Last year, Lehigh played their opener against the Wildcats at Murray Goodman. Villanova, down a bunch of starters from the heat and with injuries from their loss to FBS Maryland the week before, prevailed 30-20 on a great performance by their sophomore QB. In a scenario that would replay itself way too often in 2006 for the Mountain Hawks, Lehigh's mental errors (including missed kicks and not converting in the red zone) would play large in the final result.

Last Time Out for Villanova
It's tempting to read into Villanova's 48-21 defeat at the hands of FBS West Virginia - "the best team we've ever faced," Talley told the media - but the truth of the matter is the Wildcats actually went into Morgantown and acquitted themselves very well against a team that might just be playing in a BCS bowl this year. Villanova actually outgained West Virginia 399 yards to 354, and the score might actually have been closer if it wasn't for three Wildcat turnovers.

LFN's Drink of the Week
In honor of the Philadelphia Club Tailgate, who is going to Flip & Bailey's for a 10:00 AM rouser, today's drink of the week is actually going to be the two types of drinks that will be available along with their breakfast buffet of bagels, eggs, bacon and other breakfast goodies: Bloody Mary's and Yuengling drafts. (You haven't really lived until you've sipped draft beer to go with your cereal, though admittedly I haven't done that since, oh, 1994?)

As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in tailgates, but please drink responsibly and please be of legal drinking age.

Breaking Down Villanova
If you watched Appalachian State's upset of Michigan last year or watched any game featuring Florida, you've seen the latest offensive craze: the spread offense. Villanova ran this offense to great effect last weekend, and have a junior quarterback that can execute it very well - when healthy.

Junior QB Antawn Young (pictured), built like a speedy linebacker at 6'4, 215 lb, is an ideal specimen for this offense. Hard to bring down, and speedy enough to hit the gaps and running lanes while still having a quick release if he does happen to be caught, Young is the heart and soul of this offense - and he's comfortable in this offense, too, after starting in six games last year before suffering an ACL injury. After watching the West Virginia game, it sure didn't look like he had any aftereffects from that injury.

As of now the Wildcats don't have a consistent rushing threat to complement Young's elusiveness in the rushing game. Two 5'9 sophomores, sophomore RB Aaron Ball and sophomore RB Angelo Babbaro took 17 rushing attempts for 60 yards two weeks ago. Ball seems to get the straight-ahead rushing plays, but you know he's also built for speed. Babbaro is also a speedster, and is also a receiving threat: he nabbed 2 receptions for 27 yards last time out.

Villanova's spread offense means that a variety of different receivers get looks. Against West Virginia, seven players got receptions, including five wideouts. Sophomore WR Matt Szczur, senior WR Phil Atkinson and junior WR Brandon Harvey are listed as the starters. Young's favorite target last week was Harvey (5 catches, 85 yards), but also high on the list was tall 6'4 freshman WR Norman White (3 catches, 31 yards), so these wideouts are deep and speedy.

The Wildcat "O" line did a fine job opening holes against an FBS defense, and have some awfully big boys on it. Senior C Michael Sheridan is the linchpin of this mammoth line that averages 6'3 and 300 lbs across. This "O" line could very well be our most serious test all year, and you can add to that senior TE Steve Pimm, who last week had no receptions.

During the broadcast of the West Virginia game, the Mountaineer announcers made special mention that it was odd that they were going against the same type of 3-3-5 stack defense they employ at West Virginia. The stack defense is used to leverage speed and to use it to combat the spread offenses that are springing up around college football these days. Happily for Lehigh, the saw a variation of that in Drake's 4-2-5, so they'll be somewhat familiar with it. But the athletes they're going against this time are a major upgrade over the Bulldogs.

The "D" line has a different role to play in the 3-3-5 stack than on most "D" lines. Junior DE Tim Kukucka, a second-team all-CAA selection last year, will play better than the 2 tackles he had last week. Also an important person in this scheme is junior NG Phil Matusz, the prototypical 280 lb "D" lineman this scheme calls for.

The stack defense allows the linebacking unit to use its speed to blitz from, well, all angles. Junior LB Michael Holland (4 tackles last week) headlines a speedy unit that can be unpredictable as to whether they're blitzing or heading back into pass coverage.

In the stack, the safeties take on special meaning since they tend to take on linebacker responsibilites often, and Villanova's two best athletes on defense are there: senior SS Darrel Young (9 tackles, 1 tackle for loss against West Virginia) and junior FS Ross Ventrone (8 tackles). These DBs are built for speed, however, not size: their tallest DB is 6 feet tall.

Special Teams
Senior PK Joe Marcoux highlights a special teams unit that is pedestrian at best. Marcoux wetn 12-18 on field goals last year with his longest being 35 yards, while last week none of his kickoffs went for touchbacks. Junior P Josh Ugarte averaged 39.2 yards per punt last week, making him an above-average punter, though one punt was blocked last time out. Worthy of note is that Talley "fired" some kids on special teams last week, so some new faces may very well be showing up on these teams this week.

Sophomore RB Angelo Babbaro is a very good return man and will be important to contain on kickoff return units:
he ran back 5 for 124 yards against West Virginia. Sophomore WR Matt Szczur is the punt return man, and while he didn't get any punts to return last week he did rip off a 36 yarder versus William & Mary last year.

Keys To The Game
1. Hitting Gaps. This will be one tough assignment for our defense, but critical in the containment of the spread is to plug the gaps well to close running lanes. Young will get loose outside occasionally, but swarming on him and making him think twice about taking off will be critical.
2. Time of possession. The offense needs to play some ball control and keep the chains moving - the best defense against the spread is to make sure it doesn't get on the field. Senior RB Matt McGowan will be a crucial piece to a potential Mountain Hawk "W".
3. Break a special teams play. A big return on a kickoff or punt, or a big turnover on special teams, can do wonders for building momentum (and time of possession). If the game is close, this is the sort of thing that could shift the game our way.
4.Physical play. Some say the best way to combat finesse is with pure physical play on both the "O" and "D" lines. I think a Lehigh victory is predicated on being the more physical team. This has to be the case if Lehigh hopes to win.

Fearless Prediction
This feels like a fairly tall order to ask sophomore QB J.B. Clark to carry the team on his back to win this game by himself. In order to win, the defense will have to play lights-out and other members of the offense will have to make some plays behind Clark to pull out the victory. Can Lehigh do it?

At this point in the season, I haven't seen enough to see that he can. The defense will keep the Mountain Hawks around for a while, but against one of the best teams we'll see all year I think the Wildcats will prove to be too much.

Lehigh 17, Villanova 24

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

LFN Readers "Game Ball" and Around the Horn

Yes, senior RB Matt McGowan, Lehigh Football Nation readers did indeed make you #1 this week. Overwhelmingly, the Hazleton Area running back was voted by Lehigh fans as the Player of the Week of the Drake game.

Every week, you, the LFN reader, gets to vote on the Player of the game, and I issue my own game balls to deserving Lehigh players (and if nobody deserves one, nobody gets one). It's important stuff: your votes help determine the LFN Hawks of the Year - and they count more than my vote on a day-to-day basis.

This week, game balls go to:

Readers' Choice: Senior RB Matt McGowan (39 rushes, 173 yards, only 1 rush for negative yards)

Offense: Sophomore QB J.B. Clark (9-12 passing, 146 yards, 2 TDs, 0 turnovers)

Defense: Senior DL Brian Jackson (7 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 QB hurry)

Special Teams: Junior LB Troy Taylor (2 special teams tackles, 1/2 sack, bone-crushing hit on defense)

Congratulations to all the winners!

Around the Horn, 9/10/2008
Every week I also go "Around the Horn" to see the goings-on in the Patriot League and with future Lehigh opponents as well. We'll look at "that school in Easton", of course - but also take a quick look at what's been going on with Villanova as well.

  • Before this weekend, I think if you'd ask Patriot League watchers what a successful weekend might be, I think they'd have said 4-3. But the Patriot League's 6-1 record did a lot to erase the bad taste of Colgate's opening-day loss to Stony Brook out of people's mouths. Yes, it's true that two of the schools were FCS non-scholarship and two more FCS teams were not carrying the full load of 63 scholarships either. But the fact that the Patriot League was a blocked field goal away from going 7-0 on the week - including a last second loss against a top 5 team in FCS - must have everyone in the league office with big smiles this week.
  • No game this week was more thrilling - or improbable - or controversial - than Colgate's last-gasp 23-19 win on Sunday versus Coastal Carolina. Click on the link and check out the video and you'll be sure to not be disappointed. And although coach Biddle was his usual quiet self in the postgame, Coastal Carolina head coach David Bennett sure wasn't. “We’re up 19-11 with 9:22 to go in the game, and there’s a lightning delay. We had them on the ropes pretty good, it was dadgum hot, and there’s an one hour and 50-minute delay. So we come back out and drive it down there to the 35. It’s fourth-and-1, and we don’t get it. So they drive and score and go for two and miss it, so it’s 19-17... All we’ve got to do is get a first down. They burn their timeouts, it’s third-and-2 — and we don’t get it. But we get a 49-yard punt and they are on their 30, no timeouts, but they drive it. And their quarterback goes to spike the ball, and we hit his arm, and it’s a fumble. They recover, and that clock is ticking down, 15, 14, and our clock operator stops the clock at 12 seconds. We’re saying, ‘Why? Why? Run the clock!’ and they start it back up again...But the officials stop it with eight seconds left, time for them to kick a field goal. They bobble the snap, and we try to tackle him, and the kicker’s all tangled up. But the holder takes three steps and fires it up, and their wingback catches it in the flat and scores the touchdown and they beat us.” Colgate certainly was lucky, but the Raiders didn't exactly have a great day statistically: even though senior RB Jordan Scott did get 190 yards and 1 touchdown on 43 carries.
  • Fordham's win didn't provide much drama, but the dominant way the (Bronx) Rams put the hurt on Rhode Island 16-0 on Sunday has to give the rest of the league pause. The Patriot League Rams pride themselves on having a balanced offense and defense, but the unit that shined the most was the defense led by sophomore LB Nicholas Magiera's 5 1/2 tackles and 3 1/2 tackles for loss. Not only were the tackles for loss stunning (a mind-boggling 14 of them on the afternoon!) and the rushing defense (allowing -29 rushing yards! Or is it, the achieved 29 yards of field position on the ground? You decide...), this wasn't done against Marist: this was done against a CAA team for Pete's sakes! I think it's the first time that a Patriot League team has ever shut out a Yankee Conference/A-10/CAA team as well. Yes, teams, that's what we're up against this year.
  • Here's how the week was for the Patriot League this week: even when we lost, it felt like a victory. Holy Cross' 45-42 defeat to #3 rated UMass on a last-second FG certainly can't be held against the Crusaders should they come in line for a potential playoff spot later in the year. The Boston Herald called UMass coach coach Don Brown "obviously releived" after the game - since, after all, big bad UMass wasn't expected to struggle against a "little" Patriot League team. Don't tell that to a disappointed Holy Cross team, though. Senior QB Dominic Randolph probably said it best: “I wouldn’t call it being encouraged, but we’re going to learn from what we did. We know we can compete with anyone. They’re a great team and we were right there with them until the very last second.”
  • All three Patriot League games that were delayed until Sunday due to Hurricane Hanna had close finishes, and Georgetown was no exception with a 12-7 victory as well. In a game well-covered by the Washington, DC media (although calling it "one of Georgetown's most important wins in years" seems a tad overdone), the hero of this Sunday game for the Hoyas (to me, anyway) was senior DE Atefiok Etekuren, with 5 tackles and 3 tackles for loss (including two sacks, one of which drove the Bison out of field goal range.) "It just helps us show D.C. that Georgetown does have a good team that can play a little football," senior WR Kenny Mitchell said. "I get those questions all the time, my whole career, and so it's just very special to finally show people." The next challenge for Goergetown is to beat a team without the nickname "Bison": their last win against a non-Bison team was in 2006 against Marist.
  • It perhaps wasn't surprising that Bucknell beat Duquesne in their first game this year: it's how the game played out. The Bison jumped out to a 48-7 lead... and then gave up 35 unanswered points on five straight possessions to make the final score look respectable at 48-42. (Strange to think if the Dukes recovered the onside kick and scored a touchdown and , they could have won the game after being behind 42 points in the second half!) Junior QB Marcelo Trigg had his best day ever as a Bison, completing his first 14 passes en route to a 14-16, 290 yard passing, 4 touchdown day. Trigg said that he's a big fan of the Bison's new offensive look - lining up in the shotgun. "It's a whole lot easier to read the defense five yards behind the line of scrimmage," Trigg said. "It's much easier to see what the defense is bringing or what they might be bringing (on a blitz). I [also] have to give a lot of credit to the offensive line. I don't think I was sacked. We are skill-position players and we're supposed to make the plays, but if the line doesn't block well, we can't do our jobs. They did a great job."
  • "That School in Easton", as predicted, didn't have much of a test in Marist after cruising to a 28-6 victory. Don't be fooled by the 14-6 halftime score: the Leopards held Marist to under 100 yards of total offense and senior RB Maurice White had a 29 carry, 212 yard rushing day with 2 touchdowns. Subtract a blocked Lafayette punt recovered by teh Red Foxes at the 1 and it's likely that the Leopards would have pitched a shutout. ''I'm the type of player, I really like running north and south; I don't like running stretch plays," White said. "The type of game this was, it was a lot of power, and zone plays and those are the type of plays that I love.''
  • Two weeks ago, Villanova was widely believed to not be anywhere close to FBS West Virginia in terms of offensive talent. After the game, however, the consensus was that the Wildcats earned an enormous amount of respect in a 48-21 loss to a BCS title contender. Despite two interceptions, junior QB Antwon Young went 17-for-33 with 218 yards and added a rushing touchdown. During the week off between West Virginia and Lehigh, Villanova head coach Andy Talley took the time to work on special teams ("We fired a few kids," Talley said, on special teams) and get "six or seven" starters healthy. "Lehigh is normally one of the very best teams in the country, and has been a team we have struggled with when we've played them," Talley said in the CAA teleconference this week. "It's a team we have a lot of respect for, and we're very, very concerned about them. It's a team that loves to play well against Villanova. If you take a look at their schedule, they probably have a big star next to Villanova - they take this game very seriously. [Because of that,] I've been talking about the Lehigh game previous to the West Virginia game."

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Press Links, Stunt Men And... Sledgehammers

(Photo courtesy of The Morning Call)

I actually remember a day when Lehigh coverage on the internet was simply one or two articles that you couldn't read without a subscription to the newspaper. Now, print is not even enough to contain all of it: Lehigh coverage has gone into audio and even video.

Start with the official Lehigh recap of the game on, which includes video of the postgame. It's worth it simply to see the sledgehammer, which now will be featuring Villanova on it, the postgame analysis by TV announcers Mike Zambelli and Mike Yadush ('93) and to see junior OL Ben Harden stealing valuable camera time from coach Coen.

Senior RB Matt McGowan: "It felt great. I finally came back and I'm back to full strength, and I finally got a chance to show everybody what I could do. It felt great to finally get a win here in the opener."

Then there's the iTunes podcast of the Lehigh post-game press conference...

Intrepid Reporter: Sekou, what does it say on your shoes?

Senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane: It says "Stunt Man", it's a nickname I got given to me by the coaches. I've made a lot of diving catches in the past and the coaches gave me the name, and they dubbed me the name "stunt man". A lot of times catches I've made have been diving catches, and coaches have been preaching to me to stay on my feet... [On the TD reception] I saw the ball in the air and I knew I was coming close to the sideline. I could have easily dived to the ball to catch it and go down, but I just wanted to focus on the catch and get yards after the catch.

Haven't had enough yet? The Easton Express-Times occasionally has audio interviews with coach Coen - they had one from the press luncheon before the Drake game. This time, there wasn't for the postgame press conference, but there was the official write-up of the game by Michael Lore:

Express-Times: Defense Carries Hawks in Win

"It was important for us to come out and practice what we've been preaching -- be physical, have fun and I thought the kids played pretty inspired football today in conditions where it's not easy to keep your focus," head coach Andy Coen said. "We can build on a lot of things that happened today."
And don't forget important notes in the Express-Times leftovers:

Sophomore RB Jaren Walker was helped off the field with an apparent ankle injury in the final minutes of the game. Coach Andy Coen said Walker's status was unknown.
And I haven't even broken into the links from Keith Groller of the Morning Call:

Lehigh Just Ducky in Win over Drake

''I was so excited with both of those touchdown passes,'' sophomore QB J.B. Clark said. ''I had a lot of relatives here and to get off to a start like that felt great.

J.B Clark thought he left Hurricane-type weather behind in Florida.

''But it seemed to follow me up here,'' Lehigh University's new starting quarterback said. ''On days like this, you've just got to do what you've got to do.''

''I guess I was making up for last season,'' McGowan, a senior, said. ''It felt great to get back out there and play after missing so much time. I've played a lot of games in the rain, both in high school and here. [Coen] said it was going to rain and prepared me. He said I could be the workhorse.''
Win Over Drake Important for Lehigh

''It was an important game,'' coach Andy Coen said. ''It was important for us to come out and practice what we've been preaching. We had some fun, we were flying around and playing inspired football in conditions where it was not always easy to keep your focus. We can build on a lot of things that happened.''

''I was pleased,'' Coen said. ''We had seven guys trying to block nine or 10 guys. But they fought their butts off, gave great effort and Matt [McGowan] nearly turned several 10-yard gains into 60 yards. That will happen on another day. We like to pull with our linemen and it was tough for those to make quick turns on a sloppy track.''
Groller's Corner: Lehigh Offered Bright Spots on Gloomy Day

Perhaps the biggest negative of the day was simply that the rain kept the fans away and Lehigh has just five home games this season and Lafayette -- with a guaranteed sellout -- is not one of them. I am not sure how much the athletic program is dependent on revenue from football to fund the other teams, but what could have been a nice day at the gate turned into a dismal one because there were certainly no walk-up sales.

The paid crowd was 4,706, but perhaps you could take the 4 off that total to show what was actually inside the stadium.

And the Brown & White:

Football Team Defeats Drake in Rainy Lehigh Opener

Senior TE Troy Healion said he was pleased with the team's performance in the tough environment that both teams had to face.

"We did well considering the conditions," Healion said. "J.B. [Clark] handled the ball great despite the wind and heavy rain."
All-American Jackson Ready for Senior Season

Senior DL Brian Jackson said he will not allow his preseason honors to distract him during the season.

"I am going to play my game," he said. "The only thing is that opposing teams will double and triple team me, attention will come my way, so our team has to exploit that."

Jackson said he is counting on Lehigh fans to show their support this season.

"We want fans to come to our games because we will entertain everybody," he said. "We don't care how the fans show up, but we want some crazy fans."

And did I mention the photo galleries on the official Lehigh site and on the Facebook page for Lehigh Football Nation?

Brian, trust me: you have a lot of crazy fans.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Sunday's Word: Soggy

It was very, very hard to come up with a Sunday word this week. Ultimately I settled on "soggy" because that more than anything else was the theme coming out of Murray Goodman this week.

It was fun to see sophomore QB J.B. Clark get his debut, to see senior DL Brian Jackson spearhead a dominating defensive effort, to see senior WR Sekou Yansane break a big one on the second offensive series of the game.

But soon afterwards, Hanna and her "soggy" sisters - rain, wind, and clouds - dominate the headlines of the game.

After jumping to a two score lead, the headline became the weather. Turnovers became the norm in a rain where it was near impossible to keep the ball dry. Content with the win, Lehigh got ultra-conservative and ran the ball to senior RB Matt McGowan for about 60% of the total plays of the game. It was a defensive, physical game, with bodies flying, footballs springing loose and hopes that kids wouldn't get hurt. (Near the end of the game, sophomore RB Jaren Walker limped off the field - the status of his injury is uncertain.) The win basically in hand, the story turned to rain, and how the newly-sodded field would hold up under the torrential downpour. The fans - especially a strong student section - left "soggy" after halftime and watched the games in dry places around campus.

Against Villanova - a faster team from the powerful Colonial Athletic Association, and a team that is nationally-ranked - we will get a better idea as to where this team is than this "soggy" display on Saturday. Until next Saturday, though, we only have glimpses as to what this team is capable of on a nicer day.

Around the Patriot League, three games were rescheduled to Sunday: Colgate, Fordham and Georgetown's games, all wins for the Patriot League. There was a thought to reschedule this game, but gameday officials were sure the field could hold up and the lightning would stay away, so they played the game anyway.

But I wonder if they knew that this Lehigh team could handle "soggy".

Before yesterday, the "soggiest" game I've been to was Lehigh's hearbreaking loss to Holy Cross 13-10. That game was different - Lehigh didn't have a power running game to complement the high-powered passing game, and the bad weather conditions served to ground Lehigh's greatest strength. Meanwhile, Holy Cross would use a kickoff return for touchdown, and a Crusader wideout would juggle the ball and grab it in the end zone to escape with a 13-10 victory on a field that was ripped to shreds and had huge pools of water, especially around the end zones.

This game came close to that level of "sogginess". However, maybe we can look to the new turf on Goodman as what may hopefully be an indicator to the season. Before, a little rain and adversity would spin us to defeat like in 2005 against Holy Cross. But now, perhaps Lehigh is stronger and can withstand the onslaught of "sogginess" or whatever other teams may throw at us. Maybe, just as the turf withstands the rain much better, this team can stand the onslaught of a season much better, too.
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