Saturday, September 20, 2008

Two Out of Five... Isn't Good

The Patriot League only managed to win two out of their five Ivy League matchups this week, with Fordham and Colgate winning over two Ivy teams picked in the preseason to finish in the lower half of the league. Colgate was tied 20-20 with Dartmouth at the end of the 3rd quarter before pulling away for a 34-20 victory, while Fordham had to rally with 2 touchdowns in the final quarter to eke a 29-22 victory over Columbia in the annual "Liberty Cup".

Bucknell was unable to squeak out a victory over Cornell in a 21-20 defeat, who was picked to finish fifth in the Ivy League, and Holy Cross and Georgetown, respectively, fell to the two teams picked to vie for the Ivy League title: Harvard (losing 25-24) and Yale (losing 47-7).

What might be even more revealing, however, was how the three Ivy League games that didn't involve the Patriot League went. Brown beat Stony Brook 17-7, a team that pounded Colgate 42-26 the first weekend of the year. Princeton actually led at Johnson Hagood Stadium 17-7 at halftime over the Citadel (coached by former Lehigh head football coach Kevin Higgins) after ultimately falling 37-26 against a nationally-ranked team in the SoCon.

And Penn gave nationally-ranked Villanova all they could handle after suffering an absolutely gut-wrenching 20-14 overtime defeat. And yes, that's the same Villanova team that handled Lehigh easily 33-14 last weekend.

A 2-3 weekend that was two quarters and an overtime away from being 0-5 for the Patriot League.

Thanks to Fordham and Colgate for saving this weekend for the League.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Patriot League Picks, Weekend of 9/20/2008

I realized just today (on Lehigh's bye week, unsurprisingly) that I've neglected to make Patriot League picks for the first three weeks of the year. This is largely because I've been such a maniac in doing stuff for the College Sporting News, this blog, Facebook, and (oh yeah) the rest of my life, too. (You should see my garage.)

But for those of you that are unaware I write the CSN Way at the College Sporting News, and I make picks over there. This week I pick several games in my regular CSN Way column, and I'll reprint them here for everyone's enjoyment. And I'll add in exclusive coverage of the other games this week. (Besides, I made the poll over there picking how the Patriot League will do this weekend, so I'd better be honest and say what I think too, eh?)

For those that care, I'm 4-3 on the year in Patriot League games so far.

Holy Cross at Harvard. Holy Cross quarterback Dominic Randolph won’t have Harvard’s Stephen Williams to pick on anymore, but to me this just seems like the perfect time for Holy Cross to play Harvard: the Crimson haven't had a chance to work out all the kinks, and the Crusaders' offense and special teams are running on all cylinders. On a special Friday Night of Patriot League football, give my Holy Cross.
Cruisin’ Crusaders 37, Hoppin’ Harvards 29.

Cornell at Bucknell. Confidence is contagious in football. Could Bucknell jump out to a 3-0 start and start to make Patriot League watchers turn their heads at runningback A.J. Kizekai and the triple-option-powered Bison? They’ll have their hands full in the season opener for local rival Cornell, and quarterback Nathan Ford will be eager to erase the memory of last year’s loss to Bucknell as well. While the Bison are improved from last year, Cornell will prove to them their first great test – and, just barely, they’ll survive.
Bison – Undefeated? 23, Big Red – Winless? 21.

Georgetown at Yale. The Hoyas' defense is improved - led by linebacker Nick Parrish -- but they will face a much tougher challenge against an Ivy League title contender in Yale. Here's where the fact that the Eli haven't played a game yet works to the Hoya's disadvantage: if Yale is indeed opening up the offense a bit more to take pressure off of runningback Mike McLeod, that will not help this defense. The Hoyas battle hard, but take it on the chin.
Elated Eli 35, Hopeful Hoyas 23.

Colgate at Dartmouth. The Raiders have failed to impress after three games - sure, their offense, led by runningback Jordan Scott, is as powerful as ever. But their defense, who has given up 42 points apiece to Stony Brook and Furman, has struggled to find their stride. Dartmouth on the surface would seem to be an opponent that the Raiders could dispatch without a problem since they're picked to finish in the lower half of the Ivy League. But this team seems, well, different. Runningback Milan Williams is the linchpin in what seems to be an improved Big Green squad - and I see them pulling off what could be considered an "upset".
Very Green Kegs 34, Very Red Raiders 23.

Fordham at Columbia. One of my favorite games - the "Liberty Cup" - is gaining popularity in New York City as Fordham looks to put their 23-20 upset behind them against Dayton of the Pioneer Football League. The series tied at 3-3, Columbia always comes out strong for this game while the Rams' loss to Dayton exposed some problems, notably of special teams. Despite the fact that Fordham was picked to win the Patriot League this year, this will be a close game - but a fired-up Ram team looks to be able to put the Lions away.
Rebounding Rams 24, Leapin' Lions 18.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

LFN Readers' Game Ball and Around the Horn 9/15/2008

For the second straight week it was not much of a contest: you, the fans, picked senior LB Tim Diamond in a landslide as LFN Readers' "Player of the Week". (Full disclosure: he was my pick of the week, too.) You're not alone, either: the Patriot League also game Diamond Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week honors as well for his 14 tackle performance against Villanova. It's hard to see what more he could have contributed with 14 tackles (including an eye-popping 10 solo stops), 1 1/2 tackles for loss, an interception, a pass break-up and (oh by the way) a strip of Villanova RB Aaron Ball which he recovered and returned to the 1 yard line, setting up Lehigh's first touchdown on the day.

This week, game balls go to:

Readers' Choice: Senior LB Tim Diamond

Offense: Senior WR Sekou Yansane (5 receptions, 47 yards, 1 TD)

Defense: Junior LB Matt Cohen (5 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, 1 sack, two big tackles to stuff 4th down conversion and big 3rd down)

Special Teams: *NONE*

Before I go "Around the Horn" this week, one special programming note: I decided that I would make Twitter my quickblogging service of choice over InGameNow. The reason is InGameNow looked like it could allow folks to comment on games in progress - but updating the blog with their content is simply too slow. Twitter works much faster, plus I can update it from Facebook or my cell phone as well. If you ever care to follow LFN updates to the blog on your own Twitter account (and I may be doing quick in-game updates with this as well), you can click this link to do so.

Oh yeah, one more neat thing is that Lehigh athletics also has a Twitter to follow, and I indeed am a follower myself. Yes, Virginia, I'm entering the 21st century, and it feels great. (Now, where did I put my rocket boots?)

Here's a 21st century "Around the Horn":
  • Want to know the difference between official game releases and blogs? Just study this: first, the word from Joe "Must Go" Walton from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review at the post-game press conference after Bucknell beat Robert Morris 17-14 on blocked 27 yard field goal at the end of the game by junior LB Sam Nana-Sinkam. "It was a good, hard-fought football game, and we had a chance to win at the end, but we didn't deliver," he said. "Too many penalties, and our kicking game didn't come through." Then, read the raw analysis of the game over at the Colonials Corner blog. "What should have been a statement by Robert Morris ended up a crumbled mess tossed into a trash can. The Colonials had the game-winning touchdown called back because of an illegal shift penalty and the game-tying field goal blocked, all within the span of 15 seconds, as they lost 17-14 to the Bucknell Bison at Joe Walton Stadium." The comments as well offer more illumination on how Robert Morris did a lot to help Bucknell get a gift win - with a key roughing the kicker penalty and two missed field goals that would have been the difference.
  • And that was the positive news from this week. Fordham had a sloppy loss to Dayton 23-20. While the report from the Dayton Daily News seems to harp on Fordham's "size advantage" that the Flyers were able to "overcome", that's not why Dayton won: that came down to Dayton's defense (forcing three fumbles, including forcing one from junior QB John Skelton in the red zone) and special teams (senior DE Scott Vossler blocked a punt which he recovered for a touchdown, and for good measure also blocked an extra-point attempt which was returned the other way for 2 Dayton points.) Careful not to mention the fact that Dayton, like Drake, comes from the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, coach Tom Masella said that "It was a great college football game — if you came out on top. We left a lot of points out there. You can't leave that many points out there against a good football team." No doubt Dayton is a good football team - and what will be interesting is observing Fordham's special teams units this week against Columbia. Is this going to be a trend -or a one-game aberration that will be corrected?
  • According to the postgame report from the Utica Observer-Dispatch, there were several key game-changing moments in Colgate's 42-21 defeat at the hands of Furman, Appalachian State's big SoCon rivals. More broadly, though, it seemed like it was more of a game-long trend rather than a few key moments. First, it was the inability of Colgate to slow down Furman's offense for any stretch - it was only in the first drive of the second half that the Raiders were actually able to stop the Paladins for the first time all game. Second, it was special teams: it's clear when the Raiders give up 212 yards on 7 returns on the afternoon that something's not working right. Colgate's quiet head coach Dick Biddle said, with considerable understatement: “They had a lot of skill players. The place that shows up a lot is on returns.” One thing's for sure: senior RB Jordan Scott will need to have a lot more than 19 carries and 113 yards - and maybe more than 2 touchdowns, too - if they hope to beat Dartmouth this week.
  • As expected, Lafayette beat Gerogetown this weekend, but that didn't exactly impress the locals with a pretty uninspiring 28-6 victory. What's got the natives especially restless is not the performance of defense, led by junior LB Mark Leggerio's seven tackles - holding what some folks are calling a "much-improved" Hoya team to 13 first downs and 276 yards of offense. Junior QB Rob Curley, while snaring Patriot League Offensive player of the week honors for a 2 touchdown day, wasn't enough for Paul Reinhart of the Morning Call: he pointed to struggles in the red zone and a pedestrian 14-for-24 passing day. ''Offensively, we're moving the ball, pounding it, but then we come up empty in the red zone,'' Leopards head coach Frank Tavani said. ''That's got to change. It is a concern that we want to get better at. The good news is, we have two weeks now to prepare for Penn.''
  • Of course, what might get lost in this talk is the fact that Gerogetown's defense looks to be much improved over last year: sophomore LB Nick Parrish notched 12 tackles and 1 1/2 tackles for loss on the evening. The Hoya defense should really get a workout this coming week, however, when they visit the Yale Bowl to take on the Eli in their home opener to face senior RB Mike McLeod. One of the preseason favorites for the Ivy League title, it will be a big challenge.
  • Although it's Lehigh's bye week this week, you wonder if there will be seat in The Citadel's Johnson Hagood stadium for the Lehigh coaching staff as they could scout out their opponent two weeks from now, the Princeton Tigers, facing off against a former Lehigh head coach, Kevin Higgins. Central to Lehigh's scouting report would be how left-handed senior QB Brian Anderson looks in the pocket in only his second college football start. This article in the Princeton Times talks about Anderson, Princeton's "mystery man" in detail. His M.O.? Minimizing mistakes. "I get guys to play, that's the main thing, staying confident and making the right decisions," Anderson said. "We talk about with the quarterback position minimizing the negatives. Because things are gonna go wrong during the game, adversity is going to be there. But just making sure when things go wrong, they don't go really wrong."

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Press Links, Wearing Down and... Vanilla

(Photo Credit: Jonathan Wilson, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

The press links are all in on last week's game, as well as exclusive photos from The College Sporting News' own Mark Campbell on the 33-14 defeat to a team that reminds me of the world's most beloved ice cream flavor.

Lehigh Athletics: No. 21 Wildcats hand Lehigh first setback of 2008


"We talked a lot about overcoming adversity and dealing with challenges, and I think our defense epitomized that today," Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said afterwards. "The defense was out there for 82 snaps, on a hot day, and I think they competed tremendously and kept us in this football game."

He went onto say, "I think our kids competed well today, and that's a great start. We played a great football team and certainly made our share of mistakes, but now we'll go forward from here."


Philadelphia Inquirer: Opportunistic defense helps Villanova win

Young, a junior who suffered a season-ending injury last season in the Wildcats' sixth game, said it was a matter of settling down in the second half. "The coaches talked to us at halftime about letting the plays come to us," he said. "In the second half, we wore them down. I was able to step up in the pocket, and our fast receivers were able to outrun their [defensive backs] and get into open space, and I was able to deliver the ball."

The Sports Network, David Coulson's Around FCS: Changing Reservations

Other than a few rain drops on Interstate 95 in Delaware, I managed to avoid the storm I would have witnessed in Lake Charles, though the weatherman did serve up some Louisiana-styled humidity as Villanova hosted Lehigh and Delaware took on West Chester in my FCS doubleheader.

The contest turned with Villanova holding a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter. Lehigh quarterback J.B. Clark fired a 34-yard scoring strike to split end Mike Fitzgerald, but a holding penalty negated the go-ahead touchdown.

On the next play, Clark was pressured by Wildcat defensive end Greg Miller and forced out of the pocket. Clark threw a pass near the sideline and into the hands of outside linebacker Osayi Osunde, who seemed like the most startled man in the stadium to find that he had the ball.

"I pretty much was in the right place at the right time," said Osunde. "Once I realized I had (the ball), I just started running."

"When you go out and play a game, there is Heaven and there is Hell," said Villanova coach Andy Talley. "We're in Heaven right now."

Morning Call: Villanova wins on Lehigh's letdowns

''Obviously, J.B. went through some growing pains today,'' Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. ''I had hoped he'd handle some things better than he did. But I don't think we're going to be dealing with the same caliber of pass rush against a lot of the other teams that we play.''

Most encouraging to Coen was that even down 30-7 in the fourth quarter, Clark kept firing away and guided the Mountain Hawks on a 75-yard scoring drive that ended with a 6-yard TD pass to Sekou Yansane. ''The important thing is he got better as the day went on,'' Coen said. ''I'd be feeling a lot worse if he didn't take us down and score on that drive.''

Easton Express-Times: Turnovers, penalties kill Lehigh's chances


Lehigh seemed to snuff out its momentum throughout the game -- a pattern that started in the first quarter. Diamond intercepted Villanova junior quarterback Antwon Young, taking the ball to midfield, but a holding penalty brought the ball back to the Lehigh 34.

On the next snap, Clark gave the ball right back to the Wildcats, throwing an interception to cornerback Fred Maldonado -- leading to Marcoux's first field goal.

"Those were the killers, but that's the game of football," Coen said. "But great teams learn to overcome those problems."
Morning Call: Lehigh's Defense Shows Some Fight

Ultimately, however, the Lehigh defense wants stops and wins, not compliments.

Diamond wasn't satisfied.

''Villanova's very talented and the positive is that we held them to a bunch of field goals [four],'' he said. ''But we made a lot of mistakes and we've got two weeks to learn from them and get back after it.''

Groller's Corner: For Lehigh, Patience is Needed, For Now

But despite the 19-point margin, the scrappy, hustling defense was good enough to generate plenty of optimism and there was enough flashes of what could be on offense to also have fans looking forward the next game, Sept. 27 at Princeton.

It would be wrong, however, to sweep this one under the rug because plenty of warts were revealed.

"I'm not pleased at all," Coen said. "I thought this game would be more competitive than what it was. We just didn't really do anything on offense to let it be more competitive. Our young players have to learn from this and grow. They can't hang their heads. We knew we were going to have some individual failures today, but the key is to keep coming back and competing, that's the message we have to have as we go forward."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday's Word: Train

When my family and I left Villanova on Saturday, I left with more questions than answers. While I still overall feel sophomore QB J.B. Clark will grow into his job as Lehigh's quarterback and overall I am still bullish on Lehigh's chances in the Patriot League this year, I still sometimes look at that glass and see it as half empty rather than half full. But the reason I feel that way is not specific to Lehigh football in general. It's something else.

Every Sunday night I go through my tasks and work on ranking my Top 25 for the upcoming polls. As a national writer, I am a voter in multiple polls and I try to do the work to truly represent the FCS landscape as I see it.

What I generally do is I rank the Top 20 more or less how I feel they actually are nationally and then use 21-25 to put some of my "stretch picks" - the Albany's, the Stony Brook's, the Liberty's - that I'm keeping an eye on for the future and deserve some recognition.

I also generally put a Patriot League team in there if there are isn't one currently in the Top 25 mostly because I feel that the best Patriot League team(s) is/are genuinely good enough and talented enough to be in the Top 20. After all, the Patriot League has had a history of having teams that are good enough to win playoff games and even make it to the championship game.

For the first time in recent memory, I couldn't bring myself to vote for a single Patriot League team.

I mean, really, exactly who was I going to pick this week? Fordham, who lost due to (of all things) a blocked extra point getting brough back the other way for 2 points? The Rams, for the second straight year, lost 23-20 to non-scholarship Dayton - the 3-point swing from the extra point try being the margin of victory in the game.

Lafayette, who failed to inspire offensively two straight weeks with a 28-6 victory over non-scholarship Marist and a 24-6 win over perenial Patriot League struggler Georgetown?

Coglate, who got slammed 42-21 by a Furman team that is picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the SoCon? And who got dominated 42-26 earlier in the year by a Stony Brook team that historically has been dominated by Patriot League teams?

Bucknell, who squeaked by two middle-of-the-road (at best) NEC opponents in Robert Morris (17-14) and Duquesne (48-42)?

Maybe Holy Cross, who put up a game effort against #3 ranked UMass but lost 45-42, should have been my token choice. But that's exactly what it would have been: a token choice.

(Fittingly, the team I picked to replace my token Patriot League team in my Top 25? Villanova.)

The Patriot League out-of-conference is currently 7-5. But look closer and the picture continues to look worrisome for Patriot League fans.

The best win for the league was without question Fordham's 16-0 shutout versus 1-2 Rhode Island of the CAA in a game delayed by the remnants of Hurricane Hanna. But Rhode Island looks like they are going to be a terrible team in the CAA as they transition from a triple-option offense to a pass-happy one - and they have to do it without their best player, senior FB Joe Casey.

Colgate also won a game against Coastal Carolina, who has appeared in the playoffs before and play in the Big South which hopes to become playoff eligible in 2010. But they needed the miracle of all miracles to do it - not to mention some horrible officiating - after escaping South Carolina with a 23-19 victory. Their game-winning a touchdown came on a muffed field goal after the officials stopped the clock with 8 seconds after a Colgate fumble.

Georgetown's 12-7 win over Howard in the inaugural DC Cup sounds impressive on the surface - after all, Howard plays in the MEAC and they also get an autobid. That is, until you consider that they've only had three winning seasons in the past ten years and have won exactly one MEAC championship in the past twenty years.

The remaining wins are two against non-scholarship teams (Lehigh beating Drake, and Lafayette beating Marist), one against a team transitioning from non-scholarship to scholarship (Duquesne) and another that is picked to be a middle-of-the-road team in the NEC (Robert Morris). Not a single one of these wins were a call to the rest of the league to look out for them.

In 2003 - which is looking more and more like a high water mark in recent Patriot League history with Colgate's run to the championship - the league as a whole went 24-16 versus the rest of I-AA. But included in those wins were some impressive scalps: Colgate demolished I-A Buffalo 38-15 and made mincemeat of teams in the playoffs, including UMass and a Florida Atlantic team that was filled with I-A caliber talent.

Somehow, I don't think Bucknell's 48-42 win over Duquesne is going to occupy the same place in the Patriot League pantheon - especially considering that the Bison almost blew a 41 point lead before recovering an onside kick to win.

In week one, I said that I had hoped that Colgate's loss to Stony Brook wasn't a "canary" in the coal mine signifying a year that the Patriot League would struggle in out-of-conference play.

With a week two with good effort by Holy Cross against UMass, and a bunch of wins against out-of-league teams, I thought I saw a light at the end of the tunnel.

Now, after this week's pathetic 0-4 out-of-conference record against some good teams with playoff potential? I'm trying my best to withhold judgement, but it's not easy. We'll know a lot more, I keep telling myself, after the first round of games versus the Ivy League, who choose to not play in the FCS playoffs, this week.

Unfortunately, I'm wondering if that light might be - you guessed it - an incoming "train".
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