Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lehigh 31, Bucknell 15, final

It's a win. Was it always pretty? Hardly. But it's a win, and I'll gladly take the feeling of a win this week over a loss.

Fortunately for Lehigh, the offense scored right out of the blocks, with a 16 yard scamper by sophomore RB Jay Campbell. On Bucknell's first offensive drive, junior LB Matt Cohen, scoop-and-scored a Bison fumble to allow Lehigh shoot out to a 14-0 lead.

Bucknell really didn't recover after that, but the final outcome was far from assured by the end of the first half.

After a block of senior P/K Jason Leo's punt, the senior actually made a heady play to boot to ball out of the end zone, denying the Bison a touchdown. Then when Lehigh got the ball back after a Bucknell drive went nowhere (helped hugely by some big Bucknell penalties), Lehigh stepped forward into Bucknell territory... then made three huge steps backward with a fumble, a huge sack for a loss, and then an interception (the "trifecta of terror" for Lehigh fans, all on one drive).

Twice Bucknell drove inside the Lehigh 30 in the first half, and twice head coach Tim Landis elected to go for it instead of kick 40 yard field goals. Once, the ball fell incomplete, the other Bucknell WR Shaun Pasternak was tackled by senior LB Tim Diamond two yards short of the first down marker.

In the second half, things would start to come together. The defense - and, specifically, junior LB Matt Cohen - kick-started things again, this time by reaching up for an interception and returning it 20 yards. Three plays later on a 3rd-and-6, sophomore QB J.B. Clark would find senior WR Mike "Cris Carter" Fitzgerald for a 7 yard TD strike that would make it 21-2 Lehigh.

After Bucknell responded with a 11 play, 72 yard touchdown drive, sophomore KR John "Fear Itself" Kennedy would rip off a 35 yard return, and Clark would find senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane for a 37 yard fallback reception. A 10 yard rumble by senior FB Adam Watson would lead to a J.B. Clark sneak for a touchdown. Leo's 4th point after would make the score Lehigh 28, Bucknell 9.

Leo would leave Murray Goodman for the last time with a great day - perfect on extra points, adding a 30 yard FG to finish the scoring, and for good measure booted 3 punts for an amazing 55 yard average. Included in that was a 75 yarder downed at the 5 yard line - his career high.

While the offense had some struggles, with only 204 total yards on the afternoon, it was the defense, directly responsible for one touchdown and setting up another, that really stood out. Four 3-and-outs, the two huge turnovers, and the two 4th downs - they were huge components to Lehigh's victory.

The unexepectedly pleasant afternoon - unfortunately only witnessed by a little over 4,700 paying customers - was a great sendoff for the Lehigh seniors that have been through a lot over these last four years. They leave Goodman with heads held high.

The win also gives Lehigh some important momentum going into the final weekend of the season. "That school in Easton" lost a heartbreaker to Holy Cross today - 27-26, on a Randolph touchdown strike in the final 30 seconds of the game - in a hard-fought, emotional game that eliminated the Leopards from Patriot League title contention (and almost certainly postseason contention, too).

Lehigh enters the 144th meeting on the high of victory. All Lehigh fans hope that the momentum from that victory - and the hangover of the loss in Easton - will carry over into next Saturday.

Like every year, "Rivalry Week" starts... now.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Preview of Bucknell at Lehigh: Senior Day

(Photo Credit: Bucknell Athletics)

For the second year in a row, Lehigh plays this game against Bucknell out of the playoff hunt. Yet this year on "Senior Day" the Bucknell game takes on more significance than last year: it's Lehigh's "Senior Day", and the seniors will be looking to play at Murray Goodman stadium one last time and leave the stadium as winners.

There are twenty members of the senior class that will be honored this weekend, fourteen of which are starters. While this weekend has been deemed "Military Appreciation Weekend" (and two of our nation's bravest, U.S. Army Specialist Angel (Manny) Pina of Mifflinburg and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jonathan Berceli of Pittsburgh, will be honorary Lehigh captains this weekend), it's also a good time to list the seniors who have given four years (or more) of their lives to the Lehigh football program. They deserve to go out as winners.

I'm not going to mention numbers; they've all sacrificed to be here, whether starters or not. This Saturday is their day - their day to be honored.

Let's hope they leave on this day as resounding winners.

The graduating football class of 2009 are:

Senior OL Kevin Bayani
Senior DL Paul Bode
Senior DB Quadir Carter
Senior LB Tim Diamond
Senior WR Jason Figura
Senior WR Mike "Cris Carter" Fitzgerald
Senior TE Troy Healion
Senior DL Brian Jackson
Senior DL Keith Johnson
Senior WR Nick Johnson
Senior OL Alex Kuziel
Senior P/K Jason Leo
Senior RB Matt McGowan
Senior LB Ben Pravata
Senior DB Steve Santora
Senior OL Chris Tiefenthal
Senior DB Brendan VanAckeren
Senior DL Jon Warren
Senior FB/RB Adam Watson
Senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane

Game Notes
Lehigh's game notes have become an exercise in frustration when it comes to reporting injuries. The lineups change little week to week, even when the Morning Call reports that senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane has a concussion and will not play, or that senior RB Matt McGowan is too hurt to play on Saturday.

This week, the depth chart says at tailback it will be senior FB/RB Adam Watson or McGowan at running back - but the Morning Call reports the inconvenient truth that McGowan will be held out another week. That means sophomore RB Jay Campbell can - and probably should - get some more opportunities to run the ball behind Watson.

For those who thought that senior P/K Jason Leo might get benched against Bucknell, think again: on the depth chart, Leo is atop the depth chart again. Should he struggle, it looks like sophomore PK Tom Randazza might get another opportunity to kick. Come what may, Leo will still be punting.

Weather Report
The terrible luck at Murray Goodman when it comes to weather continues. The weather report calls for an 80% chance of rain, including thundershowers and rainfall of nearly half an inch. Bring your galoshes.

A Word on Bucknell
The Bison have not beaten Lehigh since 1997. In fact, Lehigh has played Bucknell every year since 1950, and the Mountain Hawks enjoy a 39-29-3 series lead on the Bison.

1950 was a special year for Lehigh, as under head football coach "Bill" Leckonby and runningback Dick Doyne, they were undefeated and "Middle Three" Conference champions. That year they beat Bucknell 27-6 en route to the Engineer's first-ever perfect season at 9-0. The following year, though, Bucknell unleashed their savage attack on Lehigh with runningback Burt Talmadge, and beat Lehigh 47-7 en route to their first-ever perfect season. A rivalry was born.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, these games had Patriot League championship connotations seemingly every year. Although difficult to fathom now with Lehigh being so dominant in the league over the last ten years, the games against Bucknell were more highly regarded that the games against "weak sister" Colgate.

Lehigh has won ten straight against the Bison, and Bucknell head coach Tim Landis has never beaten the Mountain Hawks. To beat Lehigh would be a great accomplishment for Landis and his seniors, and he'll be emptying out the playbook to do so tomorrow.

It's not LFN if I don't put in a little dig against Bucknell fans, and with Bucknell's men's basketball team heading down to Maryland on Friday to play the Terps in their opener, it's an open question if Bucknell students are aware that there going to be a game going on at Lehigh on Saturday. (Rimshot.) With the weather so shady on Saturday, the only thing I do know for sure is that the Bison will bring more fans to Maryland than Bethlehem.

LFN's Drink of the Week
What sort of drink is appropriate on a warm, wet, November day with thundershowers? You could say that *any* drink would probably do to warm the toes, but I'm going to go with Irish Coffee. Hot coffee, Irish whiskey, cream and sugar - for a religious hot coffee drinker like me, that's just the sort of drink I would happily drink into Murray Goodman stadium.

Breaking down Bucknell
Offense
Landis runs the spread option offense, which is similar to the type of offense run by Wofford and the classic Georgia Southern teams in their championship years. It is very difficult to prepare for in one week's time, but since we have Bucknell as a league opponent every year, Lehigh's staff is very familiar with their offense. The spread option is a predominantly a running set using two wideouts, one fullback, two "slotbacks" that play RB or TE, and the QB as a rushing threat. A lot of different athletes touch the ball in this system, and it requires the running game to be working to function effectively.

From Lehigh's perspective, this is an offense that has a tendency to beat up the skill players since they take so much hard contact. That means when we play Bucknell late in the year, we tend to get a team that has been smacked a little with injuries. This year is no exception.

Junior QB Marcelo Trigg, last year's starter, is hurt, so senior QB Andrew Lair will be getting the starting nod for the second straight week. That's a break for Lehigh, since Trigg is by far the better passer. Lair, however, is a strong runner - he's the second-leading rusher on the team (62 carries, 287 yards, 4 TDs) and he has ripped off a 58 yard run this year, so he's got some good speed to the corner.

The duo of slotbacks also feature two juniors in junior A.J. Kizekai and junior RB Josh Lee. Kizekai is 5'9 and Bumpers is 5'1, and are the same mold of small-speedy backs that Bucknell has churned out in recent years. Kizekai could very well be a first team all-Patriot League running back when all is said and done (96 carries, 456 yards, 1 TD), while Lee is averaging 7.7 yards per carry. Both can also catch the ball out of the backfield, with Kizekai second on the team in receiving (364 yards, 1 TD). At fulback, senior FB Kevin Mullan occasionally gets the ball (46 carries, 110 yards, 1 TD), but he's more of a blocking fullback. He's the "giant" in this backfield: 5'10, 205 lbs.

This year has shown an emergence at wideout: sophomore WR Shaun Pasternak is having a season that could be considered for first-team all Patriot League (54 receptions, 834 yards, 10 TDs). He's a receiver that deserves double-teams. On the other side, junior WR Cale Cadman doesn't get nearly as many looks (7 receptions, 56 yards). Both have an important job in blocking downfield as well in the spread option - and they're trees, comparatively, at 6'2.

6'6 senior OL Stephen Edwards is the anchor of a line that is inexperienced and smallish, averaging 6'2 and 264 pounds across. Edwards started his first game against Robert Morris, the second game of the year. The "old man" on the "O" line, junior C James Phelan, has only 15 starts on the "O" line to his credit.

Defense
Landis continues to tinker with his defense. Two years ago, he abandoned his base 4-3 defense to install a 3-4 to take advantage of his talent and depth at linebacker. Now Landis has installed a multiple 3-4 defense with a linebacker that does a lot of blitzing... looking, often, like a 4-3 defense. Like on the offense, injuries have wrecked some havoc on this unit, too.

With the departure of DE Josh Eden on his two-year Mormon mission (when he returns he'll be a junior), the anchor on this defense has been freshman NG Robert De La Rosa, adds 34 tackles and 5 tackles for loss (including 1 1/2 sacks). Senior LB Marques Morgan (39 tackles, 5 tackles for loss including 2 sacks) also features on this "D" line and regularly gets good push on the quarterback.

When sophomore LB Sam Nana-Sinkam is in there, Bucknell has a ferocious defense. For the second straight year, he is out with an injury. That means the leadership duties lie with junior LB Greg Jones (66 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception) and senior LB Todd Manjuck (49 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries). While this front seven does get good push on the quarterback in passing situations, they have let up decent chunks of rushing yardage to the tune of 196.9 yards per game.

The "old man" of the secondary is junior SS Brigham Farrand (39 tackles), who anchors a young secondary who only boasts two of Bucknell's six interceptions on the year. Starting at corner for the first time is sophomore CB Ahkiel White (39 tackles, 2 interceptions), showing some of the Bison's troubles back there.

Special Teams
Sennior K Will Carney is a fantastic kicker, boasting a 23/37 career record on field goals (including a 47-yarder this year), and 80/84 on extra points. Senior P Phil Azarik is a very solid punter as well, averaging more than 40 yards per punt for his career.

Adding to the headaches that Bucknell poses on special teams is junior RB A.J. Kizekai - who just had a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown vs. Lafayette last week and has 922 return yards this year, putting him 15th nationally in that category. (Kick away from him!). Sophomore WR Shaun Pasternak hasn't returned many punts, but he is a speedy, sure-handed return man. It will be important to keep these guys under wraps.

Keys To The Game
1. Special teams shutdown. This unit is bar none the best special teams unit in the Patriot League, and they will need to be shut down in order to preserve a "W". Kicking away from Kizekai, and punishing their return men with strong (clean) hits will be essential.
2. Spy Pasternak. Don't let Pasternak beat us. While Lair is not as accurate as Trigg is passing the ball, Pasternak is the type of big-play receiver that could have a big day against us the same way that Colgate WR Pat Simonds did last week. Shut down that threat on the outside.
3. Tackling. If it's a close, bad-weather game, solid tackling will be crucial That means wrapping up ballcarriers on defense, and limiting the yards after carry to a minimum. Good tackling will give Lehigh their best chance to win.
4. Play within yourself on offense. This Lehigh offense is a very good unit. They can play solid, error-free football. Commitment to perfect execution on offense will be key for this week and next - playing within yourself. No penalties, and better execution. Only that way can Lehigh win football games.

Fearless Prediction
Last year, I said that whether Lehigh can get back in sync after a big loss is the key to this game. This year, I'm saying the same thing. Can Lehigh get back in sync?

I think the weather will be a factor, but I see no reason to believe that they won't get back in sync - as long as they take this game seriously. It would be a huge mistake to go into this game and assume that 3-6 Lehigh is better than 4-5 Bucknell. This team needs to be mad, and be ready to punish a team.

But if Lehigh plays within themselves and focuses on perfect execution and a cleaner game, I think Lehigh will deliver the big win that the program desperately needs seven days before Lafayette.

Bucknell won't make it easy, but Lehigh delivers the win they need to have a chance versus "that school in Easton".

Lehigh 34, Bucknell 17

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Drink of the Week for "The Rivalry"?

Thought I'd try something interesting here. I'd like to hear your nominations for "LFN's Drink of the Week" for "The Rivalry" (or Lehigh/Lafayette, for you newcomers here). What drink sums up this year's game in Easton? Yuengling? Any variety of wine? Perhaps a drink including Jagermeister?

After the Bucknell game, I'll put up a poll with everyone's favorites, and you, the readers, will decide what the drink will be! And the winning drink will be posted in my preview of the game next Thursday,

Leave a comment on this post with your nomination below!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

J.B. Clark Is Player of the Week Again

Despite the disappointing performance this Saturday, sophomore QB J.B. Clark once again gets LFN Player of the Week honors this week. Clark had his best day statistically in a Mountain Hawk uniform, going 24-for-39 with 338 yards passing and 4 TDs (and no interceptions). He also showed a ton of grit, rallying from a 21-6 deficit for 27 unanswered points. He could have very easily had five TDs: he hooked up on a 58 yard strike to senior WR Sekou Yansane that was set up a 6 yard TD run by senior RB Adam Watson, too. His gutty performance makes him the Player of the Week this week.

Game balls will be going to:

Reader's Choice: Sophomore QB J.B. Clark

Offense: (tie) Senior WR Sekou Yansane and senior WR Mike Fitzgerald (Yansane: 6 receptions, 113 yards, 1 TD, Fitzgerald, 7 catches, 111 yards, 2 TDs)

Defense: Senior DT Brian Jackson (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss)

Special teams: Sophomore DB/KR John "Fear Itself" Kennedy (5 kickoff returns for 89 yards, plus a 15 yard interception which set up Lehigh's last TD.)

Congratulations to all the winners.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lambert Power Rankings, 11/11/2008

For those that have been following my Lambert Power Rankings this year, James Madison has pulled so far away from everyone. The regular-season LPR title could still be poached by a team (or two), but it's looking pretty likely that it will be going to them:

1. (1) James Madison (CAA, 8-1, 98.5 points)
2. (3) Richmond (CAA, 7-3, 92 points)
3. (2) New Hampshire (CAA, 7-2, 83.5 points)
4. (7) Villanova (CAA, 7-2, 80.5 points)
5T. (5T) William & Mary (CAA, 7-2, 77.5 points)
5T. (8T) Maine (CAA, 7-3, 77.5 points)
7. (4) Colgate (Patriot, 7-2, 74.5 points)
8. (8T) Albany (NEC, 7-3, 73 points)
9. (10) Lafayette (Patriot, 7-2, 71 points)
10. (5T) UMass (CAA, 6-4, 68.5 points)

Let's just say if the Dukes beat William & Mary this weekend, they will clinch the LPR regular-season title. Interesting as well that there has been no movement in and out of the Top 10 this week, only a shuffling of teams.

The official ECAC Lambert poll this week shows:

1. James Madison
2. Villanova
3. Richmond
4. William & Mary
5. New Hampshire
6. Maine
7. Harvard
8. Colgate
9. Massachusetts
10. Lafayette

The official poll includes Harvard and doesn't include Albany. Interesting that my formula-based LPR weights the NEC more heavily than the Ivy League, which admittedly has seen a lot of parity this year. Harvard's only loss came to Brown, but the Crimson haven't gotten a lot of credit in their last four games with their wins over Lehigh, Princeton, Dartmouth and Columbia. (Beat Penn this weekend, though, and they will move more.)

After beating Lehigh this weekend, Colgate jumped from No. 24 to No. 23 in the Sports Network Top 25 poll. Just outside the Top 25 in the "Receiving Votes" column is Lafayette and Holy Cross. There's a chance that the winner of the Holy Cross/Lafayette game this weekend may end up in the Top 25 next week - and if that team is Holy Cross, it will set up a winner-take-all game in Hamilton with the Crusaders facing off against Colgate. (The Raiders are idle this week.)

Here's the latest GPI numbers for all the Eastern schools:

1. James Madison (1.00)
2. Villanova (4.63)
3. Richmond (5.25)
4. William & Mary (10.0)
5. New Hampshire (11.13)
6. UMass (15.63)
7. Maine (16.00)
8. Harvard (19.75)
9. Delaware (26.00)
10. Lafayette (27.50)

Eight out of the top ten schools are CAA schools (including 4-6 Delaware on that list). Also worthy of mention is five of the top eleven schools in the GPI are all CAA schools. This raises the spectre of three at-large bids from the conference this year - perhaps even four.

GPI of all the Patriot League schools:

28. Lafayette (27.50)
29. Colgate (27.75)
32. Holy Cross (30.75)
73. Lehigh (53.00)
77. Fordham (56.13)
90. Bucknell (65.38)
103T. Georgetown (74.50)

In the past two weeks, the Patriot League has soared in the conference ratings for the GPI, thanks to Colgate's winning streak and Lafayette's win over Liberty. They are a solid sixth out of eight autobid conferences, and with a rating of 47.86 should easily finish ahead of the OVC (52.09) and MEAC (60.79).

While we're pretty far away from the next autobid conference (the Missouri Valley, at 38.86), we're also maintaining a slim lead over the Ivy League (.03 points - they sit at 47.89). In other words - thank you, Georgetown! Your win over Marist last weekend made the difference!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Official Release: Colgate 34, Lehigh 33

The official release for the game from Lehighsports.com was released yesterday. Too bad the outcome wasn't as great as the picture leading into the article.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Colgate quarterback Greg Sullivan hit Pat Simonds on a seven yard touchdown pass with 2:28 to play to lift the 24th-ranked Raiders to a come-from-behind 34-33 win over Lehigh Saturday in front of 10,841 on Family Weekend at Goodman Stadium. Sophomore J.B. Clark threw for a career-high 338 yards and four touchdowns, to lead the Mountain Hawks, who trailed 21-6 midway through the second quarter, but rallied to take a 12 point lead halfway through the third quarter.

The loss drops Lehigh to 3-6 overall and 2-2 in the Patriot League, while Colgate remains tied atop the league standings at 8-2, 4-0 in league games.

"We probably deseve a better fate than we've gotten," Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said afterwards. "But it is what it is. I certainly don't feel like we're a 3-6 football team, but that's what our record says, so that's where we're at."

He continued, "This will be a tough one because it really knocks you out of contention (for the Patriot League Championship), but our guys are competitors and they have two football games left to play this season and I expect them to come out and play hard in those games."


Michael Lore of the Easton Express-Times emphasized the missed extra-points:

“We made too many mistakes,” Coen said. “Obviously – extra points. We don’t have any answers there. That kind of changes the flow of the football game. It’s very reminiscent to the Cornell game (on Oct. 4)

“You add them up in one-point games, it’s tough.”


The Morning Call's Keith Groller talked a bit about sophomore QB J.B. Clark and about the disappointment of losing the game in his wrap-up and follow-up in the paper. However, he minces no words in his blog:

I don't know what's going to happen with this team, or with Coen's future... But some of these critical errors has to fall on the coaching staff and can't merely be attributed to inexperience.

The agonizing thing is that the talent is in place for this club to be much better 3-6. Again, people are then going to why they are 3-6.

I know from my own e-mails that people are upset, disenchanted. Many of them were spoiled during the Higgins and Lembo eras, even though Lembo wasn't nearly as liked as Higgins and many were happy when he left.

I give these Lehigh players and coaches credit for coming back hard each time they've been dealt tough blows this season. Now, they're going to have to do it again. It's not going to be easy.

In happier news, senior DB Brendan VanAckeren has been named to an academic all-American team:

Senior captain Brendan Van Ackeren has been named to the ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District Football Team, it was announced on Thursday. Van Ackeren maintains a 3.48 grade point average as an Industrial Engineering major, and has started all eight games for the Mountain Hawks this season at safety.

And the winter sports season started with a bang - or, more accurately, a signature upset by the wrestling team over No. 17 Maryland in wrestling coach Pat Santoro's debut:

They look like the Mutt and Jeff of Lehigh University wrestling, but on Sunday afternoon, a pair of bookend redshirt freshmen sparked the Mountain Hawks to a 21-15 upset of 17th-ranked Maryland.

John McDonald put the home crowd of 1,967 on its feet with an opening-bout win at 125, and heavyweight Zach Rey's decision sealed Lehigh's victory inside Leeman-Turner Arena at Grace Hall, ushering in the Pat Santoro coaching era on a positive note.

''I think McDonald's first match at Grace Hall was the pacesetter,'' said Lehigh sophomore 174-pounder Alex Caruso, whose 5-3 win over Maryland freshman Corey Peltier put Lehigh on top for keeps. ''It's a great way to start the year.''


Finally, the associate director from "That School in Easton" wrote a letter to the Brown & White that might raise a few eyebrows:

Perhaps you haven't noticed that we have won the last four Lafayette/Lehigh football meetings, two of them home games. Plus we lead the overall series by 14 wins.

We have even scored more points in the history of the rivalry.

Why do you continue to challenge us when you know we are better?!

We would like to propose to you the latest challenge - off the field.

Raise more money than us for the Senior Class Fund Drive this year, and we may concede that you have some fight left in you.

It must be November - Christmas decorations in the stores, and smack from the Leopards.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Sunday's Word: Shots

Originally I was going to go with the word "momentum" here, but after reading the fan reaction to the loss over the past 24 hours, I'm going with a different word.

Folks out there are mad. Exasperated at a 3-6 team that looks like they should be better than their record. Frustrated at seeing so many "shots" at close wins not pan out - not only this season, but stretching into last season as well. Remember the fourth-quarter interception at Fordham, down 21-18? Remember "that school in Easton" converting a 4th-and goal late in the 4th quarter to win "The Rivalry" last year?

All this frustration seems to be concentrated on the latest set of play calls at midfield. Fans are taking "shots" at the last offensive play call be Lehigh on Saturday - a fade pattern on 4th down and 2 to senior WR Sekou Yansane which ended up being an incomplete pass. Colgate gets the ball on downs; they run out the clock, and escape Lehigh with a "W".

Let me be on the record as saying that I was not against that particular call at all. I think it's very unfair to blast the call - mostly because the play call pretty much worked. Our QB went to our go-to receiver - and he came very close to making the play. In my book, fault the play call if it's - say - a 4rd and 3, Lehigh calls a power sweep, and gets tackled for a 2 yard loss. Not if the play basically worked.

The problem on Saturday was not that particular play. The problem was that it should never have come down to one "shot" to win the game at the very end.

Football on offense, in a lot of ways, is about momentum. One good play sets up another good play, and another, when finally it seems like everything that's getting called just ends up working. Yardage comes in chunks, and scoring simply happens. The momentum then carries to the special teams and defense, who bring up their level of play, take their "shots" to disrupt the opponent, and then the offense gets the ball back. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Teams that win big games and win championships know this. Nobody's perfect - sometimes teams make mistakes. But they don't make as many that this Lehigh team has made over the course of this year.

Good teams don't let mistakes get in their heads and affect them the entire game. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back out there and do what needs to be done to fix the problem. Sophomore QB J.B. Clark epitomizes this - he's made some mistakes, but for the most part he's shown a remarkable ability to rebound from them and lead the offense to a score on the next drive.

Missed extra points, though, are momentum-killers. When blocked, they give a surge of confidence to the opposing special teams - when shanked, they allow teams to keep the lead rather than, say, tie the game. It's easy to point at 7-6 early score and say it doesn't matter, but the fact that it wasn't tied at that point really does matter. These missed "shots" at scoring also have the problem of making a coach have to chase those extra points all game. Every subsequent PAT becomes a game of "should he go for 2?"

All year this team seems to get some positive motion forward, then losing it on the next play. The missed extra points after big touchdowns are but one example. Against Colgate, it's easy to find other examples. Completing a 20 yard pass to junior RB/LB Al Pierce one play, then getting called for a false start the next. Getting a huge stop to close the first half to force a punt, potentially getting the ball back and maybe score at the end of the half - instead, a special teamer doesn't get away from a bouncing ball, it hits his foot and Colgate pounces on it.

Offensively, we have the ability to convert on quick strikes - on five of our scoring drives against Colgate, four of them came on drives of six plays or fewer. Yet we've also had 21 fumbles (losing 10 of them) over the course of nine games - an astounding average of more than 2 fumbles per game. That's not a statistic of a winning team.

Defensively, we showed that we can disrupt the power running game of a team like Colgate - holding them to 175 yards rushing, nearly 100 yards below their average. Yet when it comes to a 3rd down and 5 near the goal line, up by five points, we can't stop their best offensive player on the field this afternoon- Colgate WR Pat Simonds, who got the final 7 yards receiving of his 148 yard day with the decisive TD catch with 2:30 to play. (His third TD grab on the afternoon, by the way.)

And that's not only the story of this particular game. It's the story of four other losses this season. Mistakes which allowed Harvard to get a big lead, roaring back and ending up just short. Getting only a handful of "shots" to score offensively against Princeton - and not converting enough of them, while giving up the big pass play to allow the Tigers to escape with a "W". A missed extra point ended up dooming us in the Cornell game. The defense started off on the wrong foot versus Holy Cross, then the Mountain Hawks roared back to tie the game, and ultimately fell behind a big offensive surge in the 4th quarter.

Give credit to all these teams - they beat Lehigh fair and square. But the Mountain Hawks had their "shots" in all four games, and Lehigh made critical mistakes in all phases in all four losses.

In order to win the last two games - and to be able to say to the fans that in 2008, there was real progress over 2007 - this Lehigh team doesn't need to learn how to convert on opportunities in the 4th quarter. It needs to learn how to make their opportunities count in the 1st and 2nd quarters, while minimizing their mistakes.

The season still can be one of improvement over last year - one that will allow the seniors to leave Lehigh with heads held high and make them feel they're part of a resurgent Mountain Hawk program, while giving the underclassmen confidence going into next year.

But it will require two wins. No less than that will do.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...