Friday, October 31, 2008
In my column this week for the CSN Way, I talk about the new proposal to have the championship game played the day before the BCS Championship game in January. Bottom line: I like it.
And here are my quick picks this week in the Patriot League (home team in caps):
COLGATE 35, No. 21 Lafayette 31
HOLY CROSS 45, Bucknell 3
FORDHAM 27, Marist 14
If I wish upon a star, I wish for a Lehigh victory, of course, but I also wish for a cure for ALS, too.
Have a great weekend.
If you look at history, Lehigh has dominated this series. Since the Hoyas joined the Patriot League in 2001, the Mountain Hawks have put 40 points up on Georgetown six out of the last seven years, while only having given up a field goal to the Hoyas in the last two meetings.
But it's also hard to escape the fact that it's a 2-5 team traveling to a 1-6 team in the first week in November.
For Georgetown, this is the sort of game that could start them on the road to competitiveness. They've never beaten Lehigh in the modern era, and a win would prove to them they have truly arrived.
For Lehigh, even at 2-5, it's a win they expect, and need, to have. It's one game at a time. Win each week, see what happens.
This week, a Mountain Hawk run at the championship starts, or ends, now.
Not much change in the game notes this week. Senior DL Paul Bode is officially off the depth chart this week (probably due to injuries sustained in the Harvard game), with senior DL Jon Warren, who has been playing well the last few weeks, taking his spot. Backing him up is senior DL Keith Johnson.
It was reported in the Morning Call that senior WR Sekou Yansane had sustained a head injury and that his return was uncertain, though he's still listed on the depth chart. Should he be out indefinitely, sophomore WR Craig Zurn would get the call to start in his place.
As of the time of this posting, Goergetown hadn't posted their game notes. However, the HoyaSaxa fan site always comes out with an excellent preview, and they have done so yet again.
If you head down to Washington, DC for the game, you're in for a treat: near=perfect weather. High of 69, mostly sunny - pack your short-sleeved shirt and go!
Breaking Down Georgetown
(I really hate to do this, but I am pressed for time. The following is quoted from Georgetown's press release on the game. I am sorry, but I am leaving on a plane in a few hours and I need to get this done.)
Coach Kevin Kelly, once again, seems to be building his entire offense from scratch, returniong only three players from last year's offense (which also struggled mightily). In his modified spread option, coach Kelly still struggles to find players that can execute the gameplan.
On the offensive side, sophomore quarterbacks Keerome Lawrence (New Haven, Conn./James Hillhouse) and freshman James Brady (Melville, N.Y./St. Anthony's) will lead the team. Lawrence leads the team in rushing with 83 carries for 320 yards and three touchdowns, while completing 34-of-60 passes for 256 yards. In the last three games, Lawrence has 42 carries for 195 yards and two touchdowns. Brady, meanwhile, has completed 75-of-142 passes for 690 yards.
Georgetown quarterbacks have completed passes to 20 different players this season, with freshman Keion Wade (East Orange, N.J./East Orange) leading the way with 19 receptions. Senior tight end Collin Meador (Lyndhurst, Ohio/St. Ignatius Prep) has 16 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns. In the last three games, Meador has caught nine passes for 103 yards.
Three Georgetown defensive players rank among the top-10 in the Patriot League, led by sophomore linebacker Nick Parrish (Irving, Texas/Jesuit College Prep), who is seventh, averaging 7.7 tackles per game. Junior Travis Mack (West Chester, Pa./The Hill School) leads the team in tackles with 48 overall and is ninth in the league, averaging 6.9 per game, while junior Chris Rau (Avon Lake, Ohio/Avon Lake) is third on the team with 43 stops.
Senior defensive end Ataefiok Etukeren (Phoenix, Ariz./The Lawrenceville School [N.J.]) is fourth on the team in tackles (41), and leads the team in tackles-for-loss (10) and sacks (5). Etukeren ranks fourth in the Patriot League in tackles-for-loss and is second in the league in sacks.
Sophomore P/K Casey Dobyns has gone 2 for 5 on field goals, his longest being a 30 yarder, and averages 33.1 yards per punt, which is on the low side.
Senior slot Kenny Mitchell (Atlanta, Ga./Westlake) is ninth in the Patriot League in all-purpose yardage per game, averaging 95.9 yards. He has caught 13 passes for 175 yards this season and returned 24 kicks for 488 yards. Mitchell ranks 11th nationally in kickoff return yards, averaging 64.3 per game.
Keys to the Game
1. Alternate backs. If there was ever a game where we could use a bruising running game to set up the run, it's today. Using multiple backs might be a good idea to build offensive confidence to build onto next week.
2. Extinguish the run. Keeping Lawrence under wraps will be vital to winning this game. If we keep the Hoyas under 100 yards rushing, we'll be having a good day.
3. Field position battle. We have an edge in punting: exchanging possessions could end up with a big boost in field position. Patience - and a solid day punting - could mean big chunks of yardage for the Mountain Hawks.
I'm heading on vacation, so I apoligize for the shorter-than-usual preview and with shortcuts on the breakdown section. I get back in a week, where I will try to finish up a "Hate the 'Gate" preview (or at least a blog posting) before the big game against Colgate.
It's hard not to mention Georgetown without putting the word "poor" in front of it. In large part, they are outmatched by other teams in the Patriot League, and Lehigh historically has had their way with them. If Lehigh comes out strong from the opening gun and puts points on the Hoyas early, unfortuantely I don't see any reversal in that trend this weekend for them.
As for Lehigh, a win wil put some wind back in the sails and give some momentum into "Hate the 'Gate" week. I'm predicting that Lehigh does just that, as they overpower the Hoyas once again.
Lehigh 37, Georgetown 0
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Today, I get my normal news alerts, and I see a new AP story about Colgate RB Jordan Scott, courtesy of the International Herald Tribune. If you're a follower of the Patriot League and specifically of Colgate, you already know most of the story: in the offseason, he was arrested for burglary in an on-campus incident. He spent time in jail, served his suspension from the team (for one game), and as far as I was concerned, that was the end of it.
Until I read this:
Maybe Scott simply wanted to prove something because of that off-the-field mistake. He's had to deal with some of the content on the Lehigh Football Nation blog, where various entries said Scott was a stalker, that people didn't like him on campus, that he was a jerk once to a little kid, that he got a free pass on his bad behavior because of his athletic ability.I nearly choked.
In the blink of an eye, Scott, a native of Hyattsville, Md., has gone from football star to blogosphere criminal.
This season hasn't been as easy as he's made it look. At Fordham in September, Scott heard shouts of "jailbird" more than once during warmups.
"I was expecting that," said Scott, who responded by rushing for a career-high 272 yards to set a Colgate record for most yards in two consecutive games (511). "All that stuff my mom and I talked about. We knew I would have to address it. I expect to get it from Lehigh, too."
Fans out there have said a lot of things on the variety of message boards, and in the comments section of my blog. However, I said no such things.
The blog entry in question that was referenced in the AP article is linked here, and the "entries" that the writer is mentioning in here came from the (anonymous) comment section, where anonymous posters have gone back and forth for months with rumors and innuendo about this incident and Mr. Scott's past and present behavior on campus.
I don't vouch for the truth or falsity of these comments. I just didn't write them.
Let's just be very, very clear about what I said about Mr. Scott in this posting:
If the incident is indeed "minor" as was relayed to me, one would hope that Scott would be able to pass through the boards and be allowed to play again next year. Coach Biddle, of course, will have the final say on that.
You never wish something like this on any school and especially to Scott, whom I met last year at Patriot League Media Day. Everyone should hope that this is indeed a minor incident and that Scott will be playing next year for the Raiders.
It looks like coach Biddle and Colgate's administration are doing the correct things here. I just feel sorry for Scott and Morgan, who appear to have allowed a horrible lapse in judgment to endanger their football careers and possibly their college diplomas.
And being the good blogger that I am, I also followed up on this huge Patriot League story later:
I am no a legal expert by any stretch, but 21 days in jail seems like a long time to me considering their crime was a misdemeanor (not to mention one year of probation). I don't know the answer to this, but I wonder - how many other folks are spending that much hard time on that specific charge? Not many, I'd bet.
Coach Biddle seems be a stand-up guy who has firm control of his team. His kids persist and his kids graduate as Colgate's APR numbers show. The Raiders haven't had a culture of disciplinary problems in his tenure as head football coach, which will enter its 12th year in 2008. As a matter of fact, Biddle seems to run a pretty tight ship as far as I can tell.
Coach Biddle has had a history of doing right by athletes. He personally told RB Jamaal Branch to take a year off to figure out his life before Branch returned to the team in 2003 to lead the Raiders to the I-AA National Championship game. That to me doesn't sound like a guy who is out there to win at all costs. In that situation, he could have easily lost their best player.
My instincts are to give coach Biddle the benefit of the doubt in this situation. He has been at Colgate an awful long time and (to me) developed a reputation as a coach in good standing ethically - and I say this as a Lehigh fan.
I think coach Biddle suggested the punishment he thought best, in regards to his view of the circumstances and without regard to Colgate's football chances in 2008. I think he's earned that much.
I think these actual blog postings should say a lot. Far from portraying a single-minded obsession with trying to bring an athlete down, I think it shows a balanced picture of the entire situation. As any regular reader of this blog would probably know, I've always tried to do that.
I'm a bit of a homer for Lehigh (imagine that) and I do like to tweak a nose or two sometimes in previewing the games, but it's generally all good natured fun. When it comes to stuff that's important like a young man's life, I hardly get involved in hysteria business.
And looking at the comments from that follow-up post, I think most fans seem to agree:
Nicely put and fair and balanced. Nice to see that someone who is by no means a Raider fan, as I am, can be rational and just in their opinion. Too much hysteria and stupidity on some of these chat boards.
Alot of truly false and negative things have been said on these lehigh message boards. This is by far the fairest.
The AP implying that I personally said Scott was a "stalker", got a "free pass because of his athletic ability" and was "mean to other kids on campus" was, in my opinion, irresponsible to the highest degree since it flies in the face with the facts, which I've reprinted here for everyone's reading enjoyment.
As for Scott, if he chooses to take my blog postings as a reason for motivation to do well against Lehigh, that's his prerogative. But if he does, I would hope that it's more towards the many folks that have posted anonymously here and on message boards, not me.
I have absolutely no ill will towards him. He's the best Patriot League running back I've ever seen. I only wish him well.
Well, maybe not against Lehigh, but I think you know what I mean.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
That's what my wife, the Phillies fan, said to me after Brad Lidge stuck out the last batter, got on his knees and pointed up at the sky - and after Ryan Howard and the rest of the Phillies gang-tackled him at the mound.
First pitch, 8:37 PM on October 27th. Last pitch, a little after 10:00 PM on October 29th. In between, a weather pattern that seemed to imply that a second Phillies World Series was having a rough time fitting in with the cosmos. Pouring rain, which caused the first (and only one, to this point) World Series game suspension. The next day: rain, sleet - and snow, for the first time in this area in 30 years. Even earlier today it wasn't at all clear that the game would go on with more sleet and snow.
Much was made about Philadelphia's drought with pro sports franchises in the past 25 years, the curse of William Penn, and the like. The attempt of folks to shroud it in some sort of "curse", it must be said, was laughable. Beleive that the city ordinance had something to do with it if you must, but I think the drought had a lot more to do with cheap money-grubbing owners scrimping on players and leasing one of the most charmless, cookie-cutter stadiums for the better part of twenty years before getting Citizens Bank Park.
Yeah, they did have 1993, which has retroactively become one of baseball's "loveable losers" teams, talked about in the same tones as the "Whiz Kids", mostly because crazy John Kruk was on that team. But that team was notable for being mostly a team of reclamation projects - Kruk, Len Dykstra, Jim Eisenreich. Mitch Williams was basically cast from the Cubs and the Philles, desperate for a closer, took him.
1993 was the aberration. When I think of the 25 year drought, I think more of Von Hayes than I do John Kruk.
Now the Phillies, awash with cash and with (uncharacteristically) smart management, Philadelphia finally has the team they deserve. Young pitching, the best bullpen in baseball, bona-fide bats in the lineup, built painstakingly over the course of several years.
Enjoy, Phillies fans. You finally have a team you deserve.
Game Balls will be going to:
Reader's Choice: Senior RB Matt McGowan
Defense: Senior DB Quadir Carter (13 total tackles including 9 solo stops, 2 interceptions in red zone)
Defense: Junior LB Heath Brickner (10 total tackles, including 9 solo stops)
Special Teams: Sophmore DB John "Fear Itself" Kennedy (4 returns, 74 yards)
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
'Nova fans probably aren't that upset with the Sports Network's Top 25 this week, which has them maintaining their No. 7 ranking this week after falling on a last-second hail-mary play to James Madison this week. (Full disclosure: James Madison was still my No. 1 pick, and I dropped Villanova a couple points in my poll.) Lafayette continued to climb the rankings too (No. 21, up 3 spots), as did Harvard (No. 23, up 2 spots).
Likewise, in the official ECAC Lambert Cup Poll this week, James Madison and Villanova remain squarely at No. 1 and No. 2. As a matter of fact, the only change from this week to last week's poll is that Albany dropped out at No. 10 and was replaced by Maine. (Go figure; they both won last week.)
But in my Lambert Power Rankings, margin of victory does not matter. What counts is that they lost, and as a result Villanova fell behind a logjam of other teams while James Madison increases their stranglehold on the top spot. Here are my LPR rating this week:
1. (1) James Madison (CAA, 7-1, 88.5 points)
2. (2) Richmond (CAA, 6-3, 73 points)
3. (3) New Hampshire (CAA, 6-1, 63 points)
4. (5) Lafayette (Patriot, 6-1, 60 points)
5. (6T) Maine (CAA, 5-3, 58.5 points)
6T. (6T) UMass (CAA, 5-3,
6T. (8) William & Mary (CAA, 5-2, 57.5 points)
8. (NR) Brown (Ivy, 56.5 points)
9. (5) Villanova (CAA, 5-2, 56 points)
10. (9) Colgate (Patriot, 5-2, 54.5 points)
Once again, very interesting that my LPR rankings also dropped Albany out of the No. 10 spot last week (they sit at No. 11 this week), while Brown is the one who leapfrogged into the rankings with a win over Cornell, not Harvard with their win over Princeton.
As for Villanova, I think my LPR ratings were way too harsh on them this week. Had they won, they would have been No. 1 by a few percentage points over James Madison. The silver lining is that if they keep winning, starting this week at Northeastern, they should be right back up into the upper echelon: with six spots separating 4th and 10th, I could see a lot of shakeup before the end of the year.
The GPI this week also saw barely any movement with Eastern schools:
1. (1) James Madison (1.00)
2. (3) Richmond (4.88)
3. (2) Villanova (6.13)
4. (4) New Hampshire (9.38)
5. (5) William & Mary (12.63)
6. (6) UMass (13.38)
7. (7T) Maine (19.13)
8. (9) Lafayette (21.25)
9. (7T) Harvard (22.75)
10 (NR) Liberty (23.13)
Following these ten are two CAA teams with losing records (Delaware and Northeastern), but then comes up some interesting schools: Brown, Holy Cross, Penn and Colgate, and Albany not all that far behind either. Penn plays Brown this week; the winner should show up in the ECAC Lambert Poll next week for sure with a 4-0 Ivy League record.
Here's the GPI of all the Patriot League schools (and the change from last week):
20. Lafayette (21.25) (+6)
40. Holy Cross (35.13) (+6)
42. Colgate (36.63) (+5)
74. Lehigh (56.25) (-10)
79. Fordham (57.63) (-10)
89. Bucknell (65.63) (-4)
104. Georgetown (74.75) (+3)
Of the eight playoff conferences, the Patriot League maintained a slim GPI lead over the OVC, and also maintained a large lead over the MEAC making the Patriot League still the sixth-best autobid conference out of eight. However, both the Ivy League and Big South conferences leapfrogged over the Patriot League's GPI, making the Patriot League No. 9 overall. Less than .60 GPI points separare the Big South, Ivy and Patriot Leagues, while the bloodbath in the OVC last week gave the Patriot League a 1 GPI point breathing room.
WORCESTER, Mass. – Holy Cross quarterback Dominic Randolph threw for 330 yards and three touchdowns as the Crusaders rallied past visiting Lehigh by a 35-21 score at Fitton Field on Saturday afternoon. Trailing 21-nothing, Lehigh (2-5 overall, 1-1 Patriot League) battled back to tie the score in the third quarter, before the Crusaders put together the game’s final two scores. Senior captain Matt McGowan had a career day for the Mountain Hawks, rushing for 178 yards and one touchdown to go along with two receptions for 66 yards and another score. His 178 rush yards were the most by a Mountain Hawk since 2003.
“I’m disappointed obviously,” Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said after the game. “I thought we came in with a good game plan and in that first quarter we didn’t execute very well, particularly on defense. We had missed tackles and a few other missed assignments. I was happy with how we came back after being down 21-0. But you can’t spot a team 21 points, especially a team as good as this. And then when we did get back and had a chance to take the lead, we turn the ball over on consecutive possessions. We seem to be our own worst enemy.”
Former Lehigh assistant coach (and current Holy Cross skipper) Tom Gilmore talks in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette's wrap-up of the game about the difference in his squad after halftime:
“We showed we could win a close game,” said Holy Cross coach Tom Gilmore, whose team snapped a 21-21 tie with a pair of fourth-quarter scores. “I think this is a little bit of a turning point for us. I think it will give us the confidence and the motivation to finish the season strong.”
Senior DB Quadir Carter, however, did garner Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance in the game:
Following a career day in Lehigh’s game at Holy Cross this past weekend, senior safety Quadir Carter was named the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Week on Monday. The Bethlehem native notched a career-high with 13 tackles against the Crusaders as well as a pair of interceptions.
However. we hear from the Morning Call that senior WR Sekou Yansane is out indefinitely:
Sekou Yansane, one of Clark's favorite targets, is expected to miss considerable time after suffering a head injury Saturday.
And coach Coen also re-emphasizes that Lehigh has everything to play for:
''We can't take anything for granted,'' Coen said. ''But if we go down there and win that game, we're 2-1 in the league and Holy Cross, Lafayette, and Colgate -- the three teams tied for first place in the league -- all have to have to play a round-robin against one another. If we win this week, we can get ourselves back in the mix."
Monday, October 27, 2008
We are Philadelphia fans. We love each other like brothers, but will roll others out of the upper decks like nutters. We are cheesesteak-eating, soft pretzel-munching Rocky's, Pat Croce's, Bernie Parent's. We go about our day with memories of bitterly falling short in key situations, near-complete ineptitude in the front office, strange blot clots taking out top goalscorers one series before the Stanley Cup, Allen Iverson, mysterious stomach viruses affecting our starting quarterbacks, and - worst of all - Mitch Williams. Each day we curse New York and the Rangers, Giants and Yankees which play there. And neither fog bowls, nor World Series downpours, nor Eric Lindros, nor gloom of Doug Moe stays these fans from their appointed rounds.
Philly fans stayed the whole world series, chilled to the bone, most likely catching pneumonia. But they know they need to take in Game 5, wet socks and all, since they have no idea when it might ever come back.
Even if they have to show up at the Linc tomorrow at 8 PM to do it.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
With two World Series wins at home, the improbable Phillies are on the brink of their first world title sine 1980, and all of a sudden you can see more Phillies shirts and hats (seemingly, with the tags still on them) on people in this area than ever before.
That's not all. Penn State further extended their stranglehold on the Big 10 title with a hard-fought 13-6 win over one of their big-time stumbling blocks, Ohio State. The Flyers are winning. Even the Eagles - who have given their fans more frustration than smiles this year - took advantage of a horrible call by the officials (the ball bounced straight up, zebras!) and put away the "Dirty Birds" of Atlanta 27-14.
In Lehigh's neck of college football, the Football Championship Subdivision, No. 9 Villanova seemed to be on the brink of putting away No. 1 James Madison - until a miracle last-second hail mary pass bounced off the helmet of a Wildcat defensive back and into the hands of wideout Bosco Williams for a miracle 23-19 victory. Despite the setback, Villanova (who beat Lehigh earlier in the year 33-14) sits at 5-2 in the powerful CAA and has every right to expect a playoff bid should they sweep through the rest of their schedule.
At Yale, Penn went to 3-0 in the Ivy League with a ridiculously defensive 9-7 victory over Yale, who fell to 1-2 and most likely fell out of the Ivy League title race.
And of course "that school in Easton" built off their dismantling of No. 14 Liberty last week and throttled Fordham 48-13 in the Bronx.
Everything seemed to come up smiles in this area this weekend - except up in Worcester, Mass, where a team picked to finish in fifth place in the Patriot League lost - pretty much as expected, except in the minds for a few "delusional" Lehigh fans (like myself, I hasten to add) - 35-21 to Holy Cross, who join "that school in Easton" and Colgate (52-28 winners at Bucknell) at 2-0 in the Patriot League.
The Crusaders, at 4-3, proved that they belong in the discussion for the Patriot League title, decimating Lehigh with an offense that looked at times uncomfortably like the one that Lehigh employed in 1998 that decimated everyone else in the league that year.
All is not lost for Lehigh with the defeat. At 1-1, technically the Mountain Hawks can still win the Patriot League title or a share of the title. In order to do so they'd have to win the rest of their games and have Holy Cross lose twice. It's certainly possible - the Crusaders did just that last year, losing to Fordham and Lafayette in consecutive weeks near the end of the season. And Lafayette suffered their first league loss to Holy Cross in 2006 before firing off four straight wins to close out the year and win the Patriot League and the autobid. It can, and has, happened.
But let's stop being "delusional" for a second. This Lehigh team that played this weekend is not a Patriot League champion team.
Why? That's easy.
Champions don't dig themselves in early holes every week and then force themselves to battle hard to come back.
Champions don't allow 100 yard rushers - or allow Crusader running backs to average 4.5 yards per carry.
Champions don't have a 0 sacks for 0 yards against the Patriot League preseason player of the year, senior QB Dominic Randolph.
Champions convert on the opportunities given to them on offense. At the end of the first half, you've got to find a way to make that second interception into points - somehow. Down 28-21, you've got to convert that 3rd-and-4 - you've got to put people in a position to make that play.
And for Heaven's sakes champions don't come out of the gates as completely flat as Lehigh did on that opening drive. I know Randolph is a great QB, but you can't make him look like Tom Brady on the very first series, giving up five completions on six straight passing plays (with a pass interference call for good measure, the only way we seemed to be able to slow him down).
I don't think it's because this team lacks heart, or work ethic. This team has battled back and played well for a good portion of this game, and others.
But I'm not "delusional". Work and heart aside, what we have before us a 2-5 team. A team that's worked hard and played tough - but lost. A team that is one loss away from being under .500 for the second straight year. A team that may very well go 4-7. Or maybe even 3-8.
Maybe it's unfair. Lehigh, after all, came into the year with uncertainty at QB and was predicted to be fifth out of seven teams in the Patriot League this year. Maybe it's unfair to expect titles and playoff berths. Maybe a winning record - maybe a solid third-place finish, with a win over Lafayette - should be accepted as enough progress this year.
But I, as well as all the other Lehigh fans I know, expect more. It doesn't matter is we're "delusional", whether it's realistic, or what - that simply is the expectation. If you come to Lehigh, you expect winning records and you expect to be a part of a championship team. You don't expect a solid third-place finish and maybe beating "that school in Easton".
Lehigh fans are not used to losing - nor should they be. I'm getting used to Lehigh losing now. When we didn't convert that 3rd-and-4, at no time did I say that Lehigh was going to come back and win this game. Against Harvard, I was utterly convinced we would win. But yesterday, I just knew that was it.
Does this team has talent? Yes. Senior RB Matt McGowan had a monster game. Senior DB Quadir Carter has rapidly become one of the best players on the defense with his second consecutive double-digit tackle game - and also came down with two huge interceptions.
But this team, for whatever reason, is not consistent enough - unable to put everything together in one game - to be Patriot League champions this year.
While still mathematically alive, I honestly don't believe that this team will suddenly pull it all together and avoid a losing record, beat the best rushing team in FCS, avoid a five-game losing streak to "that school in Easton" -- and also have Holy Cross lose twice.
I look at this team, and I don't see "Champions".
Is it due to the fact that Holy Cross looked more poised, more emotionally ready to start the game, more like a Championship team yesterday? Is it just the cumulative effect of so many losses this year, and last? Is it so many losses to "that school in Easton" that are clouding my optimism - my hopes - for another championship?
Or is is simply that I'm not "delusional" anymore?