Saturday, September 19, 2009
Backup Liberty sophomore QB Mike Brown - playing for the injured senior QB Tommy Beecher, who was held out in a gametime decision - was an efficient 29-for-36 with 88 yards rushing, 256 yards passing and a touchdown pass and a TD run for good measure. Against what is historically considered the top defense of the Patriot League, the Brown/Simmons express racked up 361 yards of total offense.
Right off the bat Lafayette seemed to be put on the back foot after Liberty unexpectedly lined up in the empty formation, with Brown hitting Summers for a 7 yard gain to set the tone early. But the efficient Liberty drive, which put the Flames up 7-0, would be the only scoring until the second quarter as Lafayette's tough defense held up for most of the first half.
Overall, senior LB Mark Leggerio (15 tackles) and junior LB Michael Schmidlein (14 tackles) led a game defensive effort and definitely let "that school in Easton" hang around probably longer than Liberty head coach Danny Rocco might have liked. And the Leopards, to their credit, stopped Liberty's rushing game cold, with 105 total yards rushing on only 2.8 yards per carry, and limited Liberty to only one field goal in the second half. But the Flames defense did a very good job of stuffing the Leopards' running game as well on their own, holding them to 70 yards rushing overall, and Liberty also kept them off the field as well, holding them to 48 offensive plays and only 11 first downs.
The crowd, a healthy 8,000+ for a night game in Easton, was a feisty crowd - on both sides, as Liberty traveled extremely well. They brought what looked like a 256 piece band (with 5 marimbas - are there even 5 marimbas in the entire Lehigh Valley?) and were loud, filling the stadium and even rivaling that AC/DC music that blares out of Fisher Field's loudspeakers. In addition, there was a very strong sea of red on the other side taking up 1/3 to 1/2 of the visiting stands. Liberty looks like they will be a sought-after dance partner in FCS: they bring fans in the seats.
Overall, it was a nice night for football. Lafayette proved that their defense will be as tough as ever once Patriot League play comes around. Liberty showed that James Madison is going to have to be very, very careful next week. And while the Patriot League brass might have hoped that Lafayette might have poached a win here at home, it wasn't meant to be at Fisher tonight.
Friday, September 18, 2009
So there I was, trying to make plans to travel up to Holy Cross to watch the Crusaders take on Harvard. I then get an email asking me if I could use an extra ticket to the Eagles' home opener.
Fortunately, he got to me before I could figure out the price of hotel rooms in Worcester, Mass. So I changed my plans for the weekend, instead staying local to take in the other great Patriot League game in the area: Liberty taking on Lafayette, two teams which could make a case for the Top 25 when the game is over.
As some of you may know, going to an Eagles/Saints game for me is such a mixed thing since I am a fan of both teams. Growing up I was a rabid Saints fan - I've seen the Saints play in New Orleans, saw them take on both the Jets and Giants in Giant Stadium, and I've even high-fived WR Quinn Early in a game against the New England Patriots almost a decade before they became the most Hated Team In America. And I've seen the Eagles play the Saints at the Vet - wearing a Saints jersey in the 700 level, and living to tell the tale.
Quite frankly, I've spilled a lot more virtual ink about the Eagles in the past year than the Saints. With Eagles training camp in my backyard - and my wife a rabid Eagles fan - the Eagles dominate my conversations a heck of a lot more.
When I was a kid, the Saints had a great defense and an offense that had a lot more grit than talent. The "Dome Patrol" - Pat Swilling, Rickey Jackson, Vaughan Johnson, and the pride of Montclair State, Sam Mills - were my guys. I loved how they dominated a game, how they loved to hit. They'd win games 10-3 - until the damned 49ers came to town, and Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and (alter) Steve Young would kick our ass.
These Saints are different. The head coach Sean Payton looks like he could kick your ass (never mind TE Jeremy Shockey), but they're all offense these days. Don't get me wrong, I still follow Marques Colston, Drew Brees and all - and I like them - but I still long for those days when our 5 foot nothing linebacker would lay out, say, Vaughn Hebron.
But I'm looking forward to filing a report on the Saints game this weekend, divided loyalties be damned. Besides, I might even get to see Jeff Garcia.
Back in the world of the Patriot League and FCS, my latest column in the College Sporting News is out, and it's all about the CAA. Face it: the CAA right now is the top conference in all of FCS, and it's difficult to see how that will change this year.
I pick the Top 25 in that article, and other games of interest around FCS. The game of the week this week is No. 25 Harvard at No. 23 Holy Cross, the only ranked FCS matchup this week. My Patriot League picks from there - as well as bonus picks - are at the end of this blog posting.
An interesting article in the Hampton Roads Daily Press saw columnist David Teel talk about the death of regional rivalries with William & Mary teams due to the priority of FBS Money games. But what was most interesting was the mention of the Patriot League, which probably tails into a lot of public perception about the league:
Another non-league contest is saved for Virginia Military Institute. The programs met for 65 consecutive seasons before agreeing to a one-year respite in 2009, in part because the Keydets wanted to play a money game of their own, against Army.Middleweights - at best. Again, this is just the perception of the Patriot League in the wider FCS world.
"I was told when I got here that we have a special relationship with VMI," said Driscoll, who arrived at William and Mary in 1996.
That leaves Driscoll with one game to rotate. During his tenure he, in concert with Laycock, has scheduled Hampton, Norfolk State, Liberty and Furman, among others.
"I've been trying for a long time to get an Ivy League (opponent)," Driscoll said. "We were close with Princeton but couldn't (coordinate) the dates."
Penn is ideal for William and Mary on several fronts. Laycock and his staff recruit extensively in the region — the Tribe roster has 11 players from Pennsylvania and 13 from New Jersey — and appreciate the history of venerable Franklin Field, the Quakers' home stadium.
Also, William and Mary and Penn are comparable academically, with the Quakers providing credible but not intimidating football opposition.
If not the Ivy League, Driscoll would like to arrange games against Patriot League programs such as Bucknell, Lehigh and Lafayette. Again, academic heavyweights and football, at best, middleweights.
Here are my Patriot League picks this week:
Game of the Week
No. 25 Harvard at No. 23 Holy Cross. In the past three years, Harvard has always seemed up to the challenge of facing the Crusaders, and while Randolph will get his yards, you wonder if Holy Cross will throw in enough wrinkles to fool the Crimson on defense enough. But what might look like Harvard’s biggest weakness - an unfamiliar offense, and new starters on defense - is actually their strength. Holy Cross will need to adjust - and by the time they do, Harvard will have won their Fitton Fling.
Harvard 34, Holy Cross 31
Liberty at Lafayette. I figured I’d start with the game I’m going to this weekend: a revenge match, as Liberty’s 35-21 win in Lynchburg last year may very well have kept the Flames from the postseason last year. But already this is a different team from that squad; start with the fact that former South Carolina quarterback Tommy Beecher (228 yards passing, 1 touchdown) is helming the Flames. Can head caoch Frank Tavani’s always-stifling defense, led by Mark Leggerio, stop Liberty? I think Lafayette will slow them down, but ultimately the fire of revenge burns brighter.
Preacher Beecher 28, Def Leopards 21
Columbia at Fordham. (The Liberty Cup) This battle between crosstown New York City rivals, inspired by 9/11, is always a huge game on both the Rams’ and Lions’ schedules.
While Ram quarterback John Skelton is eager to erase a bad 41-24 loss to Rhode Island two weeks ago, Columbia senior Austin Knowlin may be the X-factor that gives the Lions a big confidence-boosting win to open their season. “We have to play keep-away and keep him [Skelton] on the bench,” Columbia head football coach Norries Wilson said in the pre-game press conference. They will; and they’ll win.
Blue Boys 24, Red Rums 21
Colgate at Dartmouth. It remains to be seen how well Colgate does when they don't have a CSN Way pick against them in the national media, though I heavily suspect that Pat Simonds, Greg Sullivan and company will do just fine.
Spotless Raiders 38, Dirty Green 10
Bucknell at Cornell. With a rebuilding Cornell squad, this should be a good game. But Bucknell's inability to score points on offense is troubling enough to take the Big Red in this one.
Big Red Machine...? 30, Firing Blanks 13
Georgetown at Yale. I think the Hoyas will play the Eli tough: but last I checked, you need to score in order to win football games. They won't score enough to win - a third-straight game without an offensive touchdown.
Eli Eli O 28, Hoya Hoya Oh 9
NOTE: Looking over the picks, I have the Patriot League going a lofty 1-5 against the rest of FCS, and 1-4 against the Ivies. Not good.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Other Players of the Week this week include:
Fans: Sophomore P Alex Smith
Offensive Hawk: Junior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn (6 catches, 72 yards, 1 kickoff return of 10 yards)
Defensive Hawk: Senior LB Matt Cohen (8 tackles, 1 sack, 1 touchdown-saving tackle of Villanova senior WR Matt Szczur)
Special Teams Hawk: Junior DB/RS John "Fear Itself" Kennedy (100 yards of kickoff returns, 4 tackles)
Lehigh's bye week is this weekend. Tune in this weekend for a special "Bye Week" word, and a Friday water cooler looking over the upcoming Patriot League weekend.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Lehigh wasn't the only victim of a nationally-ranked CAA team this past weekend. The world of FBS continued to be terrorized against teams from the conference that is ostensibly the one that the Patriot League is supposed to be competing against in the world of FCS. Not only that, the CAA's only losses so far have come against either each other or FBS schools. It's worth a closer look.
- New Hampshire made it five straight FBS wins in a row after they held on to defeat the defending MAC champions, Ball State, 23-16. David Letterman's alma mater dug themselves in a deep 23-9 hole early in the 3rd quarter after UNH junior FS Hugo Souza forced a fumble at the Ball State 7 yard line, which junior RB Sean Jellison gratefully put into the end zone on the offense's next play to take the two-touchdown lead. The Wildcats' defense was dominant all evening, only holding the Cardinals to 58 total yards after three quarters (no, do not adjust your eyes), and stuffing the Cardinal offense at the end of the game as they were sitting on the UNH 20 yard line. (You wonder if Pitt, who is currently scheduled to play the Wildcats in 2010, might just want to pay them their guarantee money and forego the inevitable loss.)
- James Madison ended up falling to FBS Maryland, but not before making all of the leadership in the ACC panic in their 38-35 defeat to the Terps. The Dukes, you see, had the Terps on the ropes: gaining 400 yards on Maryland, and holding a lead of 35-28 after junior QB Drew Dudzik rumbled for a 70 yard touchdown on an option play. And even with the score tied at 35 with 3 minutes to go in Terp territory, an extremely late flag called for holding at the end of a 30 yard run meant head coach Mickey Matthews needed to be restrained on the sidelines. When the Dukes missed a 41 yard FG in overtime, Matthews would angrily have his sixth attempt at an FBS upset go for naught - but it was a scare that Maryland fans won't soon forget.
- As endings go, it's hard to top the Richmond/Delaware game this past weekend. With Richmond's "Desperation Unit" coming on the field to block a chip-shot FG that would give Delaware a victory over the No. 1-ranked Spiders, team Desperation did the unthinkable: they blocked the kick to allow Richmond to escape Newark with a 16-15 victory. On the "Desperation team" is one of the Spiders' offensive stars, junior WR Kevin Grayson, who ended up being the Spider to block the kick. "I don't know what feeling went through my body when that ball hit my hand, but I can tell you I was the happiest person in America," Grayson said in the post-game press conference.
- Back on planet Earth, Colgate showed they're definitely a Patriot League title contender with their second win over a "scholarship school" in the past two weeks, this one a 23-13 win over Stony Brook. Senior SS Uzi Idah is rapidly making Colgate fans say, "Wayne who?" in their secondary, with 9 tackles, 2 sacks, and a "pass defended" that was actually a fierce hit on WR Stephan Towns that prevented a touchdown. Meanwhile, junior QB Greg Sullivan gathered Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week honors with an impressive 113 rushing yards and 148 passing yards. Clearly, Colgate is establishing themselves as a Patriot League force to be reckoned with. "We’re 2-0 and I don’t think a lot of people thought we were going to be," head coach Dick Biddle correctly noted in the post-game press conference. "An all-league cornerback decides not to come out and you lose the Patriot League Rookie of the Year and then his back-up gets hurt and you lose the starting offensive lineman, I think kids have stepped up and I think we’re playing pretty well.” Colgate will face off against Dartmouth this weekend.
- It was raining at Holy Cross' Fitton field on Saturday, but that hardly stopped the Crusaders as they cruised to a 52-21 victory over another "scholarship school", Sacred Heart. The the Pioneers never really got to a point where they were a threat to win the game - they trailed 21-0 after the first quarter, senior QB Dominic Randolph showed another side to his game: running the ball, to the tune of 74 yards (and 2 rushing TDs) to go with his 274 passing yards. The scary part? After Randolph's 4 TD effort, head coach Tom Gilmore in the post-game press conference was lamenting - wait for it - ... not enough points. “We left some points on the field again,” he said. “And we’re going to have to get more consistent, but offensively we made some good adjustments to what they (Sacred Heart) were doing." Holy Cross faces Harvard this weekend in what will be a battle of nationally-ranked teams.
- Few teams score 0 points on offense in the second half and win football games, but that's exactly what Bucknell did in their 26-23 win over "scholarship school" Robert Morris last Saturday. Two interceptions returned for "Pick Six"-es - one by senior LB Brigham Farrand and another by Patriot League defensive player of the week senior LB Greg Jones - plus a second half safety led to the Bison victory. Bucknell recorded five interceptions - one shy of their all-time single game mark. The Bison face next a rebuilding Cornell team - one that can't be happy to see the Bison get their defensive groove on.
- Finally, "that school in Easton" saw senior QB Rob Curley explode out of the gates in their opener in DC as they took out Georgetown 28-3. An effecient 20-of-34 with 259 yards and 3 TDs had to be just what the doctor ordered, while on defense the Leopards were as impenetrable as ever, with senior LB Mark Leggerio holding the Hoyas to 19 yards rushing. Worrisome for the Leopards, however, was sophomore PK Davis Rodriguez missing 3 FGs on the evening - but more worrisome had to be the Hoya offense, who hasn't scored a touchdown in two games. Georgetown sophomore DL Andrew Schaetzke, however, has been a terror on the Hoya 'D' Line - he's 9th nationally in tackles for loss with 4 1/2, all coming against the Leopards. Lafayette welcomes Liberty to Fisher Field this weekend, while Georgetown travels up to Yale in the Eli's season opener.
Monday, September 14, 2009
[Programming note: I'm going to set up the voting for LFN's Player of the Week on the Facebook page. I'll keep the voting open until Thursday since I didn't get it up yesterday.]
First, though, the recaps:
Lehigh Athletics Release:
No. 3 Wildcats prove too much for Lehigh, 38-17
"I thought we made improvements over last week but certainly not enough to
win against the number-three team in the country," Lehigh head coach Andy
Coen said afterwards in the press conference. "But we did clean things up in
certain areas and now we have to keep moving forward. We have our bye week
coming up which will allow some of our banged up guys to get healthy and
we'll go back, watch the tape and continue to improve."
Hawks better, but not winners
''It obviously wasn't the type of night we wanted to leave here with,'' said
Lehigh coach Andy Coen, whose team lost to Villanova for the third straight
year. ''We knew we were playing a good team and Villanova didn't disappoint us
in that regard.
''I thought our team improved over last week. That was a big goal for us, but you play to win and we didn't win, so we can't feel great about what happened.''
''With any loss, you're going to be down,'' said senior LB Matt Cohen who led the defense with eight tackles. ''We still have everything we want to accomplish ahead of us. It was important that we got better tonight and we did.''
Mountain Hawks focusing on positives after 0-2 start
''We were competitive and got much more physical play,'' coach Andy Coen said.
''Our kids battled. We fought hard in the trenches. We pass-protected pretty
well, giving up just one sack. We had some young guys in there up against a
seasoned defensive line and they held their own. So just the whole energy,
intensity and physical play was really improved.''
Lehigh used freshman QB Michael Colvin out of a Wildcat formation and the Morristown, N.J., product led the team in rushing with 26 yards on six carries.
''He's a talented runner,'' Coen said. ''He was a quarterback in high school, but he ran it a lot. He was a spread-type of quarterback and the whole offense was built around him. He's a good player. We'll probably use more of him. We had to be creative because we knew we'd struggle to run the ball against Villanova.''
''We're glad to have the bye week so we can get people back, and moving on from here, playing the people we're going to play, I think we've got a chance to win every game,'' Coen said. ''I really do.''
Lehigh University football team loses to Villanova
Brown & White:
Villanova (2-0), which upset Temple last week, had little trouble running the ball -- 310 yards on 47 carries -- and saw two players have career days. Quarterback Chris Whitney (11-for-16 for 106 yards, two TDs) racked up 130 yards on the ground and wide receiver Matt Szczur had 103.
"That's why this team is the No. 3 ranked (Football Sub-Division) team in the country," Coen said of Whitney. "They're a much better football team with him in there. Unfortunately, he was able to make some plays."
"We missed a lot of tackles last week but I thought we were better today," said senior LB Matt Cohen, who had a game-high eight tackles. "With any loss, if you're competitive in your nature, you're going to be down. It's going to be crucial in the off week we get healthy and keep pushing forward."
Lehigh Falls in Defeat to Villanova 38-17
Junior K Tom Randazza expressed his disappointment in the loss and
reiterated the team's season goals.
"Obviously you hate to lose any game," Randazza said. "But we played a
lot better than we did in the first game. Our team goals are to win the league,
beat Lafayette and represent the league well in the playoffs. With the right
mindset and our continued effort, we can accomplish these goals and restore the
Junior QB J.B. Clark said he remains optimistic after the defeat.
"We now have a week off to recover and get some guys back who were
injured from camp," Clark said. "All we can do is learn from these games and
grow from them."
While the recaps make for tough, sobering reading, it's Keith Groller's blog posting that is sure to cause the most debate during the bye week.
Difference between scholarship and non-scholarship schools evident again
It was December, 2001 and Furman had just handed Lehigh its first loss of
the season in the second round of what was then the NCAA I-AA playoffs. The
score was 34-17 and there was plenty of talk about how the Paladins were bigger,
stronger and faster that day than the team The Morning Call was still referring
to as the Engineers.
Fast forward nearly eight years to Saturday night at Villanova Stadium and I was thinking that really nothing's changed since that day in Greenville, S.C.
The team playing Lehigh [this weekend] was bigger, faster and stronger. Lehigh battled hard, but simply wasn't as talented across the board as Villanova. And frankly, not many teams the Wildcats will play this year will
match up either.
And it becomes more and more apparent that Lehigh or any Patriot League program will not be able to match up with the Villanovas of the world in the postseason.
The Patriot League continues to get more and more evidence that if it wants to compete in the playoffs and for national titles, it has to make the move to scholarships.
As it is now, no Patriot League team is going to win a national title and one will be lucky to get to the second round.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
In 2004, Lehigh beat Liberty 34-16 going into the bye week.
Since then, every year the Mountain Hawks have gone into the bye week with a loss. 2005 saw a heroic effort against Delaware with a missed extra point in OT to lose in a 34-33 heartbreaker. 2006 - the year where Lehigh beat Villanova 31-28 in a huge upset - saw a massive letdown the following week with a 14-10 loss to Princeton going into (you guessed it) the bye week. In 2007, Lehigh had a bye week in the first week of the year but lost to "that school in Easton" the previous year. (For good measure, they lost the season opener to Villanova, 30-20). And last year, of course, Lehigh greeted the bye week with a 33-14 defeat to Villanova. (And that was with senior QB Antwon Young starting for Villanova.)
Nobody likes starting the season at 0-2 - the first time that Lehigh has done so since 1982. But going into the bye week at 0-2 makes Lehigh fans extra cranky. I know I was cranky going home. The fact that we were victims of Villanova for what seems the umpeenth time didn't help, either. (Nor did the shouts of "Nova Nation!" coming from the student section.)
But I wasn't thinking about the game I just saw. I was thinking about Lehigh teams of the past. Not all that long ago Lehigh was terrorizing members of the CAA - and almost always competitive. When Lehigh played Villanova in 2006, I didn't enter that game thinking that Lehigh would have to play basically a perfect game to win - and we won. I knew Lehigh had a shot ot beat Delaware in 2005, and we did. When James Madison came to Lehigh in 2004 in the playoffs, I thought Lehigh would win - and might have, too, if they just could have stopped 7th-and-goal. (The same Dukes, who, oh by the way, came close to causing the complete collapse of ACC football had they managed upset FBS Maryland this weekend - they lost in overtime 38-35.)
It would be too much to claim that Lehigh enjoyed dominance over A-10 (now CAA) teams during that time. But it wasn't too much to ask to be able to give these guys a game. For years, Lehigh did. Folks may forget that CAA teams dreaded seeing Lehigh show up on the schedule or in the playoffs, but I sure don't.
Looking at the game again on TV, Villanova's sloppy play did their best to keep Lehigh in it, too. Lehigh's best drive on the evening was sparked by a pass interference call on 3rd down to keep the drive alive, leading to a nice option play to junior RB Jaren Walker for the touchdown. That touchdown would be the last one the Villanova defense would allow to Lehigh the rest of the game.
Up 10-7, Villanova faced back-to-back holding and clipping penalties on the ensuing drive. But Villanova junior QB Chris Whitney calmly on 2nd and 28 completed a pass to junior RB Angelo Babbaro for 14 yards, broke a 3rd down play pass play for a 13 yard scramble, and then converted 4th-and-1 to keep their drive alive. Babbaro would ultiamtely convert a screen pass into a 13 yard TD catch to take a 17-7 lead.
Later in the game, up 24-10, Villanova learned well from the "learning experiences" in the first half. On one drive, Whitney would read the Lehigh defense and ripped off a 23 yard run off another broken pass play. Then, Villanova senior RB Aaron Ball ran an easy run off left tackle and zipped untouched in the end zone. 31-10. Game over.
No wonder I was cranky: I wanted the season-opener of 2008 (beating Drake 19-0) and the second game of 2006 (beating Villanova 31-28). Instead, I got the season opener of 2006 (losing to Albany 17-16) and the second game of 2008 (losing to Villanova 33-14).
So Lehigh's now 0-2. So what was my "learning experience" this weekend?
I learned that Villanova is a great team. They're big in the trenches, and fast pretty much everywhere. Even when not on their best day, they're hard to beat - and they punish defenders that are out of position.
I learned that Lehigh has some fight in them. The Mountain Hawks battled to try to keep themselves in the game. After a horrible call by the officials - ruling that junior RB Jaren Walker had fumbled the ball when he was clearly down (and to top it off, he only fumbled the ball because he was hurt) - a 24-7 lead could have seemed insurmountable. Yet Lehigh came out after the break and made something happen - with a key pass to junior TE Alex Wojdowski from junior QB J.B. Clark - to at least cut it to two touchdowns. They didn't fold - they made something happen.
I learned that senior LB Matt Cohen is a very good football player that isn't a miracle worker. His touchdown-saving tackle of senior WR Matt Szczur was great, but he was bailing out his teammates that couldn't get in Sczcur's way for the other 75 yards.
I learned that the Mountain Hawk offense wasn't always pretty, but there was creativity there - and a new wrinkle in the Wildcat formation that has the potential to make the next nine games more exciting. Freshman QB Michael Colvin led Lehigh in rushing on the game, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. But Lehigh fans may need to give it time to come together. It's going to be a "learning experience" for them - and us.
I learned that our special teams are looking pretty good. Sophomore P Alex Smith averaged 39 yards per punt, and junior K Tom Randazza coolly kicked a 41 yard FG. Meanwhile, junior CB John "Fear Itself" Kennedy ripped off 5 kickoff returns for 100 yards, and junior WR Craig Zurn also ripped off a nice 10 yard return.
I learned that the Mountain Hawk defense needs to find its footing - and fast. The defense does fly to the football, but there needs to be more improvement. While I appreciate that CCSU and Villanova are teams that run the ball well, but there's no way that the Mountain Hawks can survive giving up 300 rushing yards to our opponents every week.
And I learned that Lehigh still keeps making too many mistakes to win big games. To beat Villanova, Lehigh needed a crisp game with few errors. They didn't get it.
There really is only one possible solution to this game, for fans and players alike: to chalk it up as a "learning experience".
For fans, really, what other answer is there? It's only Week Two. It's too early to doom the season to failure at the hands of one very good team and one unearthly team. And certainly the goals of the season can still be achieved even starting the year at 0-2. With these frustrating games, it's sometimes hard to keep it in perspective.
But for the players and coaching staff, how they react and respond to the "learning experience" of this weekend will determine the course of the rest of the season. They have to know that a similar-looking result against Princeton will not be acceptable to anybody.