Saturday, October 03, 2009

Lehigh 14, Harvard 28, Final

I'm developing an uncanny knack for taking pictures that, unfortunately, tell the story of Lehigh games in 2009.

This one came late in the first quarter, with Lehigh holding a 7-0 lead and - by any measure - had some serious momentum in the early going. Against the heavily-favored Crimson, Lehigh had their first lead of the year, thanks to an opening drive sparked by a 55 yard run from freshman QB Michael Colvin and finished beautifully by an across-the-body touchdown pass by sophomore QB Chris Lum to junior TE Alex Wojdowski.

After the defense forced a three-and-out, Lehigh was in a position to really put the screws to Harvard. Out of the wildcat, the ball went to Colvin, flea-flickered back to Lum, and lofted downfield - an attempt to capitalize on the positive momentum that was created.

Instead - well, my picture tells the story. Harvard senior SS Ryan Barnes was not fooled, and grabbed the momentum from the Mountain Hawks with what would end up being the key interception of the game.

"We has some opportunities for some of these guys to seize the moment, but they did not," coach Coen said in the post game press conference. "My history is that the kids enjoy an up-tempo game, and things can build with that. The game plays faster when you do that, and you don't have to worry about a lot of other things. It doesn't work, though, when you're turning the ball over and giving up sacks."

After the first turnover, things weren't quite the same. You could feel the air coming out of the balloon even then.

Harvard senior RB Cheng Ho made some plays after the interception: ripping off two 13 yard gains, the second of which would become the Crimson's first touchdown on the afternoon. Ho would end up with 132 yards rushing, his best-ever rushing game. Going into this week, his grand total was 8 rushing yards.

Lehigh would get the ball back, and then give up a sack, an illegal procedure penalty, and then another interception - which junior QB Collier Winters then turned into a 3 yard touchdown pass to junior WR Adam Chrissis. Harvard would go up 14-7, have seized the momentum of the game, and never trail again.

After Harvard's go-ahead touchdown, Lehigh's offense couldn't get a lot of positive forward progress. One first down and two three-and-outs later, and Harvard driving to try to score, Coen would elect to go into the half with all three time outs rather than make an attempt to save some time for a stab at a score - even though Harvard would get the ball first in the second half. As it stood, the defense made a big stop - and Harvard would miss a 36 yard FG attempt - but Coen elected to take a knee and take their chances in the second half instead.

The defense battled gamely, with senior SS Jesse Sanchez picking a wounded duck in the corner of the end zone to stop one Harvard drive, and senior LB Al Pierce, in his first start of the year, coming up with a bunch of punishing hits with his 10 tackles and 1 sack. Sophomore DB Colin Newton also came up big with 10 tackles, 1/2 sack, a slew of quarterback hurries and two passes defended.

But Lehigh's offense tried hard to regain momentum but couldn't deliver against a Harvard defense who was in Lum's face all day. Harvard senior LB Jon Takamura would lead the charge with 7 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks - and ultimately would return an interception for a "pick six" that would put rest to any thoughts of Lehigh taking this game.

I don't blame Lum for the pick six - who at that point was trying to force stuff up trying to make a play. This game was lost well before then.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday Water Cooler: Emma Watson, And Harvard Football

(Photo courtesy switched.com)

I'm sure this won't be appreciated by the latest famous freshman to attend an Ivy League school. No, no, I'm not talking about Brooke Shields, I'm talking about Emma Watson, the actress who is best known for her turn as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies.

We always knew there was something, well, different about kids who went to Harvard - a bit of an upturned nose, perhaps, annoying arrogance, or maybe even some Brahmin-ness while we're at it. Turns out, though, that some students were up to something more sinister: stalking Ms. Brown University at the Harvard/Brown game last weekend, as reported by the New York Post:

Page Six reported on Tuesday that the "Harry Potter" starlet and Brown University freshman looked "quite shaken" on Saturday as Harvard beat Brown 24-21 in Cambridge. Watson was reportedly flanked by security guards to protect her from gawkers.

But her discomfort was actually the result of a targeted campaign by the Harvard Voice student magazine to draw as much attention to her as possible.

Before the game, a blog post on the mag's Web site said: "We will be Live-Tweetin' the game and possibly stalking Emma Watson, so keep your eyes peeled for that, too!" A succession of tweets posted on the Voice's Twitter account during the game followed, including, "Let's go Hermione! Lolz," a reference to Watson's character in "Harry Potter." It went on, "In enemy territory. Lookin for a certain witch," and, "WATSON FOUND. i repeat WATSON FOUND."

Anyone else might have been coaxed into an apology after such a stunt, one that obviously shook Ms. Watson to the core. However, the article continues, the writers at the Voice were unrepentant:

The Harvard Voice also posted a picture of Watson on its Web site and proclaimed its stalking mission a "success." Some readers were furious. "There is a locatable cause of Watson's experience at Harvard Stadium and a blameworthy party," read one online rebuke. "Anybody can do anything unfeelingly to anybody in this day and age, especially if they feel imbued with entitlement from membership in Harvard College."

The Voice eventually attached an editor's note to its post of Watson's photo, saying, "There seems to be much ado about nothing over this photo and liveblog. Understand that these live tweets were made to be intentionally outrageous and overblown."

While Heaven knows I'm all for a certain amount of collegial hijinx, like Don Imus a few years ago these students didn't (and still don't) seem to get that they've crossed some sort of line - that the game itself was immaterial to stalking Emma Watson like greasy fan boys and fan girls. "Football on a Friday night, eh. But Hermione was there! Wow!"

Once you've made it completely about Hermione and Harry Potter - something fictional - instead of something real - the football game - you've entered stalking territory. Hijinx are fine. But when you do something like this - and you don't let Ms. Watson in on the joke - you've become stalkers.

Of course, there is a bright side to all this. Perhaps Harvard students need a Hermione sighting to get students to actually care about their games.

*****

To close out this bewitched week, I bring you my Patriot League picks, reprinted from my CSN Way column this week about "Close (Conference) Shaves". Enjoy: and see you at the game tomorrow.

No. 21 Holy Cross at Northeastern. Quarterback Dominic Randolph and the Crusaders should not have much trouble with the Huskies, who don’t seem to have figured out how to score points or prevent other teams from scoring, either. Not a good recipe for a upset of a ranked team.

Crusading Goliath? 41, Bostonian David? 14

(Note on game above: While early in the week I looked at Northeastern to give the 'Cross a good game, I looked closer, and yeesh, I didn't like what I saw. Cross wins big.)

Cornell at No. 25 Colgate. Speaking of emotional rivalries, you’d think this upstate New York rivalry, the 92 meeting between these two schools - the first in recent memory between undefeated Colgate and undefeated Cornell, no less - would be the source of an emotional press conference. Not so. Cornell defensive coordinator Clayton Carlin told the Cornell Daily Sun “We’re so much different this year than last year in every way, shape and form,” he said. “We don’t circle any game. … The focus is on us and how we can get better.” While admirable, to this reporter that sounds like the recipe for a blowout loss. Never, ever underestimate the factor of emotion here.

Big Maroon (Raider) Machine 37, Broken Down Big Red Machine 6

Lafayette at Yale. Led by Mark Leggerio, Lafayette’s defense is one of the best in the nation. The question is: with starting quarterback Rob Curley out with an injury, can Ryan O’Neil helm the offense to score enough points to take on another tough defensive team in Yale? (Don’t ever say I avoid picking tough games.) I’m thinking this is one of momentum: Yale, after their heartbreaking 14-12 last weekend, will not reverse their slide against the Leopards, who gutted out a 20-17 overtime win against Penn. Take the hot team.

Hot Steaming Leopards 15, Ice Cold Bolldogs 11

BONUS GAMES:

Old Dominion at Fordham. I'd love to take the Rams here, but with that emotional loss last weekend versus Colgate - and the fact that the Monarchs pretty much have zero pressure this year - I think Fordham lays an egg big enough for ODU to come away with the victory.

Baby Kings 28, Skelton's Skeletons 27

Georgetown at Bucknell. The Hoyas would love to build off their first offensive touchdown and ride that to another league win over the Bison, Bucknell still has designs on making a run at this Patriot League title thing. When in doubt - though it sounds cruel - take the team that knows how to win.

Balanced Bison 24, "Beat By Bison Times Two" 12

PS. Other games of note: I picked Brown to beat Rhode Island in the 93rd edition of the "Governor's Cup", and in the big game on Versus this weekend, I have Villanova beating William & Mary.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Game Preview: Harvard at Lehigh

"The game was lost in the first half; we made too many mistakes and didn't make the big play."

While this might seem like a quote from last week's postgame press conference, it wasn't: it was coach Coen's comments following a tough 27-24 loss to Harvard last year in Cambridge. Looking back on that game, it sounds eerily similar to last week's loss at Princeton.

Like last week, Lehigh dug themselves in a hole early in that game with an interception returned for a touchdown that was a great individual play by a linebacker. Two turnovers directly resulted in points. Those errors - along with key defensive injuries - didn't keep Lehigh down forever, however: the Mountain Hawks came roaring back with some offensive momentum, while the defense made some huge stops. Yet during their final offensive drive, Lehigh simply couldn't make a big play to come away with the victory.

It's a script that has played out too many times in the last few years - and it's happened twice already in the first three games this year.

But this weekend provides a chance for Lehigh to rewrite the script against one of the teams that handed them a bitter three point loss last year. It would undo some of the bad vibes generated by a forgettable September, and maybe even be some revenge for last year's game against Harvard, too.

Technically, this isn't a "must-win" game. Harvard isn't (right now, anyway) a Top 25 team; many folks are picking the Crimson to trounce the Mountain Hawks; and it's not an important game to Lehigh's ultimate goal, which is a Patriot League championship.

But this game could be a huge one in terms of "rewriting the script". If Lehigh can win this game, it would be a huge boost of confidence going into league play that all their hard work is paying off. It would be an affirmation that they can still go toe-to-toe with anybody.

Game Notes
This week's game notes holds the worst-kept secret of the year: sophomore QB Chris Lum will get the start in front of junior QB J.B. Clark. Will Lum be on a short leash? Will Clark get into the game, either as a Wildcat quarterback or if Lum struggles early? It's difficult to say; the only way to find out will be to wait until 12:30 this Saturday.

Aside from the huge news at quarterback, what once seemed like a huge strength for the Mountain Hawks going into the season is slowly turning into a M*A*S*H unit. Senior LB Heath Brickner is out this week with a shoulder injury, so junior LB Ben Fliszak, who himself just came off the injured list last week, stars in his place with sophomore LB/DB Colin Newton backing him up. Senior LB Al Pierce, who recovered from his preseason injury and played limited time last week, is now back in his expected position starting in the middle, and senior LB Tobi Showunmi is still listed behind senior LB Matt Cohen on the depth chart, though Tobi's status for Saturday is uncertain as well. Senior LB Troy Taylor, another linebacker who has lost time with injury, is back this week as well.

Senior DT Phil Winett is still out this week - he hasn't gotten into a game all year - while senior FB Anthony Fossati is once again listed as the primary fullback though he went out of the Princeton game with an injury, being replaced by sophomore FB Bryce Arruda. It's worth seeing if Arruda gets the start on defense over Fossati, though Fossati, one of the strongest members of the team, will most certainly get the start if he's healthy.

Harvard's game notes can be found here.

Weather Report
Not the best possible forecast for a sophomore in his first start at quarterback: the weather report today is calling for isolated thunderstorms and a high in the low 70s. Lehigh fans have to be hoping that game time will be dry so he will put his best foot forward. Stay tuned.

A Word on Harvard
Two weeks ago Harvard's student newspaper tried to pull a fast one on the rest of the nation. (For some reason this reminds me of the economic mess we're still sort-of in, but I digress).

In that article that could have come out of The Onion, a certain Ms. Amor of the Harvard Crimson tried to paint Harvard as some sort of David to Holy Cross' Goliath in the Crusaders' thrilling 27-20 win over the Crimson. This is abjectly ridiculous; by any measure on this planet, Harvard is always by definition the Goliath, and especially so in football.

You can start with Harvard's endowment - measured in the billions, and the largest endowment of any school on the planet. As a result, Harvard can offer "full scholarships" to any student - which happens to include athletes - whose combined income is under $180,000 a year. No other school can come even close to offering this - certainly not Holy Cross.

Furthermore, it's not like Harvard has been a sister of the poor in Ivy League football under Tim Murphy. In the last seven years, Harvard has won at least seven games every single year, including one co-championship (last year) and three outright Ivy League championships including two undefeated seasons. Murphy's record as head coach is one anyone would drool over - 97-52, or a 62% winning percentage (with many of those losses coming in the 1990s).

Harvard's athletes are from all over the country, and frequently Murphy has out-recruited FBS schools to get them. His starting quarterback is from Oklahoma. In recent memory one of his quarterbacks transferred to LSU (yes, that LSU) where he would have a legitimate shot at becoming the starting QB.

What's next? A headline stating Massive Economic Screw-Up Not Caused by Harvard Grad? (Onion: Take note.)

Last Time Out for Harvard
In stark contrast to Lehigh's problems at quarterback, Harvard's signalcaller achieved the New England Football Writer’s Gold Helmet Award last week after Harvard held on to beat Brown 27-24. Under the lights at Harvard stadium, he accounted for all three Harvard touchdowns, completing 18 of 27 passes for 223 yards while also averaging 5.1 yards per carry rushing.

While their quarterback was getting all the accolades, worthy of mention is the defense who nabbed the game-winning interception, held Brown to 117 yards rushing, and sacked Brown junior QB Kyle Newhall three times. Harvard shows clear signs that they are still the team to beat in the Ivy League - as they seem to be every year.

LFN's Drink of the Week
It's come to this: in a completely misguided effort to try to break Lehigh's losing streak, I actually took the effort to look up the "Drink of the Week" that I wrote up prior to Lehigh's last faceoff against Harvard in 2007. And - just to pre-emptively answer the question that will arise as a result - yes, I believe that this actually can work. Otherwise I wouldn't have done it.

"I think the best possible drink for this day has to be something ... that shows the average Lehigh fan that they can show these stiff Ivy Leaguers how to host a party. The answer? Bloody Mary Lobster Shooters. The easy way is to mix 1 inch of poached lobster pieces in your portable blender, add Bloody Mary Mix and vodka, blend and enjoy on the rocks with a celery stick as a stirrer, but if you're more ambitious you can try to make a real one following these guidelines. My preference, of course, would be one not from mix, but instead heavy on the celery, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice."

As always, drinks of the week have a place in responsible tailgates: that means being over 21 and drinking responsibly. Please do that. And for God's sakes kill the lobsters before you get to Murray Goodman.

Breaking Down Harvard
Offense
Coach Tim Murphy, 3-5 lifetime vs. Lehigh, kills you on offense with all the options that he has available. The offense hasn't changed that much since the days that Dave Cecchini (Lehigh '91) was assistant coach here, with a balanced rushing and passing attack and a dizzying array of targets to throw to on offense. In the first two weeks of Harvard's season, the Crimson have discovered a brand-new way to move the ball down the field: with an extremely athletic, speedy quarterback that will pose problems for Lehigh on defense.

Junior QB Collier Winters, the 5'11 Oklahoman golden boy for the Crimson, gave no doubt that he's the heir apparent to last year's Ivy League player of the year QB Chris Pizzotti on the offense. He's acheived it as much with his feet (106 yards, to lead the Crimson) as with his arm (40 of 64, 448 yards passing, 4 TD, 0 INTs). He resembles Colgate junior QB Matt Sullivan in that he's fast, athletic, a great decision maker, and will unhesitatingly turn into a speedy running back at a moment's notice. Uncommonly for a quarterback in his first two games, he hasn't thrown an interception and has only turned over the ball once - fumbling after a sack in the Holy Cross game. He will be difficult to fool - and will need a spy at all times.

When Winters isn't running the ball, the Harvard rushing attack has two change of pace backs: junior RB Geno Gordon and senior RB Cheng Ho. Both are smallish, speedy backs that the Crimson seem to grow on trees: if a situation arises where "tough yards" are needed, Murphy will probably go to the senior. Like Winters, all are under six feet and rely on the ability to "disappear" behind a large offensive line to get yards.

Harvard has at their base offense a three-wideout set, and already seven different players have caught passes from Winters. The premier receiver is 6'6 senior WR Matt Luft, who despite his modst numbers so far this year (4 receptions, 50 yards, 1 TD) he poses all sorts of matchup problems for all of Harvard's opponents on defense due to his size and speed. 6'4 junior WR Chris Lorditch (14 receptions, 164 yards, 1 TD) has emerged as Winter's possession guy, and the General's son, 6'4 junior TE Nicolai Schwartzkopf (2 receptions, 38 yards, 1 TD) and 6'2 sophomore WR Adam Chrissis (8 catches, 65 yards) complete the receiving corps. Year in and year out, the Crimson have one of the best, deepest receiving corps in all of FCS.

The bad news doesn't stop there. A big, talented "O" line, led by NFL prospect senior OL James Williams and senior C Alex Spisak, both all-Ivy League picks last year, have only allowed 2 sacks and given Winters plenty of time to settle in and be a good decision maker.

Defense
As good as Harvard is offensively, on defense they are equally challenging to play against. The Crimson play a basic 4-3 defense, but then again they don't need to be fancy with the sort of athletes they have.

Senior DT Carl Elrich and junior DT Chucks Obi (pictured) have already combined for 13 tackles on the year, are a mammoth defensive tackle tandem that stuffs the middle well - it will be difficult to get tough, interior rushing yards against this tandem. Something to watch for as well are tipped passes on the "D" line - this front four gets their hands up and tip and bat down balls often.

When a back gets through the line, the linebacking unit traditionally has been outstanding hitting the gaps and getting tackles. This year, however, Harvard doesn't have the punishers they've had here in the past. So far this year, senior LB Nick Hassleberg (9 tackles) has been the best linebacker on this unit.

Harvard does have an ace in the hole, however, junior FS Colin Zych, who is the enforcer in the run game and leads the Crimson in tackles (with 14). The rest of the secondary, however, is fairly green - and hasn't nabbed an interception yet this year. Matter of fact, the whole defense has only forced one turnover in two games.

Special Teams
Senior K Patrick Long had a terrific leg last year, but hasn't been asked to do that much yet this year - he's made one field goal, a 29 yarder, so far. Freshman P Jacob Dombrowski so far has been a below-average punter, averaging 35.2 yards per punt.

Murphy has speedy junior CB/RS Matthew Hanson and junior WR/RS Marco Iannuzzi return kicks. While Harvard's punt returns have been nothing to write home about, their return game has been solid on kickoffs, averaging 20 yard per return and holding opponents to 15 yards per return.

Keys to the Game
1. Two hands on the football. The emphasis has to be this week to minimize mistakes. In order to stay in this game, Lehigh will need to hold onto the football and not kill drives with unforced errors from any position on the field. If they don't, Harvard has more than enough talent to make Lehigh pay for their mistakes.
2. Make a big play - or three. Having said that, it would be a huge plus if the Mountain Hawks could get a big play - from any unit, offense, defense or special teams - to get kick-started in the early going. In 2007, Lehigh won the game with a big strip-and-scoop for the game-winning touchdown - such big plays have been lacking for Lehigh since that game, and will need to return if Lehigh's going to make a run at a win here.
3. Spy Winters. Winters is too much of a weapon to run to give him space to take off. Senior LB Al Pierce and senior LB Troy Taylor will need to have their eye on him always, and will need to punish him if he does run with the football.
4. Field position game. One area where Lehigh may have an advantage over the Crimson is special teams. If Lehigh gets locked in a defensive battle, the return game of junior RS/DB Jarard Cribbs and junior DB/RS John "Fear Itself" Kennedy may play a huge role in giving Lehigh a great chance to win.

Fearless Prediction
If I'm pulling out my "LFN Drink of the Week" from 2007 for good luck, you know two things: 1) that I think Lehigh has had more than their share of bad luck in this early going, and 2) I think this is a really tough spot for Lehigh this week. (And 3) I'm crazy, of course.)

There are so many questions that Lehigh needs to answer this week. Will the quarterback change make a difference in the ability of the offense to make plays? Is Harvard, with their always-tough team, the best spot for an essentially brand-new quarterback to get his first start? Can Lehigh play a clean game with fewer errors? Most importantly, can Lehigh finally break the familiar script where they dig themselves in a hole early, battle back to almost retake the lead by the end of the game but just fall short?

The Mountain Hawks may be better, but there are too many questions to pick them to win this game. They'll be better - just not better enough to beat Harvard.

Lehigh 17, Harvard 23

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Players of the Week, Princeton vs. Lehigh

Some quick notes before we enter the preview of Lehigh vs. Harvard. First of all, here are this week's LFN "Players of the Week":

Offensive Hawk: Junior RB Jay Campbell (career-high 88 yards rushing vs. Princeton)

Defensive Hawk: Senior LB Matt Cohen (6 tackles, 3 tackles for loss including 2 sacks)

Special Teams Hawk: Junior DB/RS John "Fear Itself" Kennedy (110 yards in kickoff returns including a 50 yard return)

In this week's game notes, the media luncheon and reported in the Express-Times, sophomore QB Chris Lum was anointed the starter for this weekend's game versus Harvard. "Hard decision to make," coach Coen told Michael Lore. "For whatever reason, things haven't clicked with junior QB J.B. Clark the way they were doing last year. Chris had three opportunities and he's done a great job every time he's gone out there. I felt I needed to give Chris the opportunity to be the starter to see if that changes anything this week."

Meanwhile, Harvard head coach Tim Murphy spoke at the Northeast Football Writers' Lunch about his "cool, calm, very tough, and very talented" quarterback from the state of Oklahoma, junior QB Collier Winters. He's been more than fine in his first two games. He has outstanding athleticism and improvisational skills. "

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

FCS East Wrapup: Controversy at Colgate

(Photo courtesy Fordham Athletics)

There were a lot of thrilling games this weekend around the world of FCS, but none more controversial or more important than the one in Hamilton, New York this past weekend. It was a game that few folks had on their radar screens since it featured an undefeated team at home facing off against a winless league rival. It ended up being a thriller.

  • From the official recap from Fordham Athletics: "The game ended on an odd play as Fordham senior QB John Skelton was sacked with under ten seconds left on the Colgate 28 and the Rams out of time outs. Fordham rushed to the line and appeared to have gotten the snap off in time but the players were confused. Some stopped playing, assuming the game was over while others started running the play. Skelton himself took a few steps back and stopped before rolling out to his right and finding junior WR David Moore in the end zone but there was no touchdown signal from the officials. The referee gathered with some of the other officials and, after a few minutes, signaled that the snap did not happen before the game ended." Many observers thought that Skelton did get the play off, and while the official report didn't talk about coach Masella ripping into the officials on the field after the game ended the Rams saw their upset bid come to an end in a 20-12 loss at Colgate.
  • It was definitely a bad-weather game - with three missed field goals, one missed extra point, one blocked extra point, and one extra point that ricocheted in off the goalpost - and a defensive game, with both teams combining for 21 tackles for loss in the game (is that some sort of record?). Senior LB Garrison Spence led a Colgate defense that terrorized Skelton - he had one of the Raiders' four sacks, while junior QB Greg Sullivan somehow spit and clawed to another incredible "Patriot League Player of the Week" sort of night: 109 yards rushing, 189 yards passing, and scored all three TDs. Sullivan leads FCS in rushing yards for quarterbacks, and his 4-0 Raiders greet undefeated local rival Cornell to Andy Kerr this weekend in the most unlikely of battle of unblemished teams. Winless Fordham will greet Old Dominion to Rose Hill this weekend and wonder what could have been.
  • That wasn't the only late-game drama involving a Patriot League School. Lafayette sophomore PK Davis Rodriguez put a rough (and tragic) beginning to the year behind him by booting a wet game-winning FG in overtime with a satisfying 20-17 overtime win over Penn. As if his early-season stuggles kicking weren't enough - against Liberty, he simply pushed a makeable field goal left, and he had missed five field goals up until that point, including a 37 yarder that would have iced the game - his buddy from high school reportedly had just died that week in a diving accident. But Rodriguez drilled the one that counted - and was the first score for Lafayette after senior QB Rob Curley exited the game with a concussion. Once Curley left, the Lafayette defense took over, holding Penn to only one first down the rest of the way, including overtime. Junior LB Michael Schmidlein, with his 16 tackles, won Patriot League defensive player of the week honors for their efforts. "That school from Easton" travels up to 1-1 Yale to soften them up before the Eli travel to Lehigh a couple weeks from now. (Last weekend, Yale lost 14-12 to undefeated Cornell on the strength of three Big Red interceptions.)
  • The team that visited Lafayette before Penn hosted James Madison this weekend in was determined to be the "FCS Game of the Week". The game, played in front of a packed house in a driving rain, was everything as advertised, and the Dukes' eventual 24-10 victory had a feel of a playoff game. Liberty head coach Danny Rocco was seen wearing a "Beat JMU" t-shirt, something that James Madison head coach Mickey Matthews used to great effect to pump up his team. "Just all the yapping about, you know, ‘They're ready to beat you. That's all they care about. They want to beat you all,'" senior DE Arthur Moats said. "That's all we kept hearing all week." Through two and a half quarters, it was a great contrast of styles: Matthews' attempt to bowl Liberty over, but a fired-up Flames squad keeping pace. Two big plays ended up being the difference in the game: in the second half, tied at 10, when backup sophomore RB Corwin Acker caught the left corner and was off to the races for a 65 yard TD run, and then the interception by junior FS Griff Yancey on the last-gasp Liberty drive that would essentially end the Flames' bid for the victory.
  • Speaking of the CAA, two more games made news in the fact that they there wasn't any news, much to the delight of the leadership of the CAA. No. 5 William & Mary's dominating 30-20 win over Delaware and No. 2 Villanova's 56-7 thrashing of hapless Northeastern sets up an all-CAA matchup between two nationally-ranked teams on Versus, a national cable sports channel: the best game of the year in this young 2009 season. It will be the first time that the Wildcats and Tribe have been on national TV during the regular season since 1987 and 1966 respectively.
  • You know what happened at Lehigh last weekend - Princeton had only six first downs but won. Similarly, Cornell beat Yale with only 166 yards of total offense. And Marist outgained Bucknell by 300 yards and held onto the ball for 40 minutes - and lost, 17-16. It was a wild ending: after sophomore DE Robert De La Rosa forced a fumble deep in Marist territory, Bucknell's go-ahead score would come a 3 yard sneak from senior QB Marcelo Trigg to take the lead. After Marist rode a huge kickoff return to a touchdown drive, junior DT Brian Tonge blocked the extra point, leaving the score 17-16. But that wasn't all: Marist would recover the onside kick, and aided by a roughing the passed penalty, would ultimately get a chance for a 28 yard game-winner - which was pushed wide right.
  • The 2-2 Bison will host next weekend the poor winless Georgetown Hoyas, who scored their first offensive touchdown last weekend but still failed to get in the win column with a 14-11 defeat to Howard in the second annual "D.C. Cup". (I still think they should call it the "D.C. Cab", and have a VCR tape of that Mr. T star vehicle bronzed as the trophy.) Freshman QB Isaiah Kempf did the honors with a 17 yard pass to sophomore WR Dishon Hughes for the score, and for good measure also passed for the 2-point conversion to make it a field-goal game. But the wet game at multi-sport field ended when Kempf threw an interception to Howard junior LB William Croner. Befitting this matchup of winless teams, all Howard had to do was run out the clock, but instead chose to run the ball - which was fumbled on the slick turf and recovered by Georgetown. But the refs blew the play dead instead - a call that was excoriated by the Georgetown radio crew.
  • Finally, under the lights on Friday in Cambrige, Harvard put their season-opening loss to Holy Cross behind them with a come-from-behind 24-21 win over Brown, avenging their only loss last season. Sophomore QB Collier Winters built off his solid performance versus the Crusaders with an efficient 18-for-27 performance against last year's Ivy League co-champions with 221 yard passing, 88 yards rushing, and a hand in all three touchdowns - and for the second straight week, no interceptions. He has left no doubt that he's "the man" for the Crimson - and Harvard looks like a team that could very well bag another Ivy League championship this year, too, except without the 'co-' in front of it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Press Roundup: Lehigh 14, Princeton 17

(Photo Credit: Brian Castell, The Brown & White)

It's difficult for everyone to write a wrap-up during a tough loss. The reports coming from all corners in Lehigh's 17-14 defeat at the hands of Princeton show interesting glimpses at what's happening within the team.

Official release: Lehighsports.com

"I think we out-played Princeton for the most part but in the end they made two big plays and that proved to be the difference," Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said. "We had a chance to win there at the end. We had the ball with two minutes to go, driving down the field and just couldn't get it done. We've been in this position before and have come up short too many times."
Morning Call: Lehigh Offense Can't Get it Done Against Princeton

''We're still a football team that's trying very hard to find ways to win games like this,'' Coen said. ''If we're going to be a good football team, we've got to win a game like this. We've got to find a way to go down the field in the last two minutes and win it or at least take it to overtime and win there. I've been saying it for four years, so it's on me.''
Express-Times: Breaking Down J.B. Clark's Struggles
"Sometimes QBs think too hard and don’t just play," Coen said when asked about junior QB J.B. Clark's struggles. "That’s one thing you can say about sophomore QB Chris Lum -- he was just playing. We need to have a guy there who isn’t worried about doing anything but play and moving the team.

"I love J.B. He’s a great leader, competitor. You make decisions like that, they’re not easy to make, to tell that kid he’s sitting down."
Morning Call: Coen Finds Himself in QB Quandary
''I'm going to be fair to both guys and watch the film,'' Coen said. ''I'll probably base my decision on what I see on the film. J.B. wasn't awful. It was just that nothing was really happening offensively. Sometimes when you go to a relief pitcher you get a spark. Yet as good as some of the things [Lum] did, he made a lot of mistakes.''

''It's going to be a thoughtful decision,'' Coen said. ''I really don't want to get into a situation, if I can help it, where we're going to go back and forth with different guys. If we were to go with Chris, we'd give him the opportunity to be the guy. I haven't made that decision yet.''

...

''The first game of the season against [Central Connecticut State] was very disappointing and we talked about that,'' Coen said. ''I thought he really improved in the Villanova game and I expected him to come out and play really well [Saturday].

''I don't know. The only thing I can think of is that quarterbacks sometimes think too hard and they just don't go out and play. One thing about Lum is that he was just playing out there, but as he said himself, he felt no pressure and didn't have any expectations and those types of things. We need to have somebody out there who is not worried about doing anything but playing and moving the team.''
Groller's Corner: Lehigh Seeing Another Season Slipping Away

The story to come out of this game was the quarterback change. I actually thought it could have and maybe should have come sooner.

Lum For whatever reason, J.B. Clark has not been the same quarterback that led Lehigh to that big win at Lafayette last November or played well in several other late-season games.

Chris Lum energized the offense when he came into the game. He wasn't perfect with his throws, but he provided mobility and a deeper, crisper passing threat. Everybody seemed to play better when he came into the game, especially wide receiver Jake Drwal who made several terrific catches.

I don't know what's going to happen at QB from here. Coen loves Clark's leadership skills, loves his confidence. But Lum's a year younger (a sophomore, while Clark is a junior) and may have more upside. Coen said he wasn't going to get into a quarterback-by-committee situation. He will evaluate everything, make a decision and stay with it.

I don't see practice, but from what I've seen from Lum in the Brown and White game last April, his drive late against Villanova and again today, I think he can get the job done.

Right now, Lehigh has to find a way, somehow, to get the job done, and win a game. Harvard's next and it won't be any easier this coming Saturday.
Brown & White: Football Team's Rally Too Little Too Late
"I think going into the half with some points on the board definitely changed the momentum of the game," said junior RB Jay Campbell. "Going into the second half, we were looking at the game as if it was 0-0. If we executed better, we could have easily come away with the win."

...

"When Chris came in, we wanted to rally behind him and keep his confidence up so we could try to win the game," sophomore WR Jake Drwal said.

"When Chris was put in, he gave us a spark," senior LB Matt Cohen said. "We wanted to get behind the young quarterback. He played aggressively when we needed him to in the fourth quarter."

...

Lehigh fought hard until the end, but came up short in an upsetting loss.

"As much as it hurts to have a performance like I did, I'm not going to sit back and give up. I'm going to keep working as hard as I can until I get it right," junior QB J.B. Clark said.

"The defense played a solid game, so we are looking forward to building on that and putting a full game together next week against Harvard," Campbell said.
Princeton Packet: Tigers Hold Off Lehigh for First Win
"The tight end broke out and I saw the quarterback looking at him, and I broke on it and he threw it a little inside,” said junior LB Stephen Cody, who led Princeton with 11 tackles. “I got my hands on it and caught it and thought I’d take off. I took off down the sideline and the quarterback gave a good pursuit, but luckily he slipped off the tackle and I was able to get in the end zone.

“It got us going pretty good,” he added. “Even Coach got a smile on his face. I’m not sure of the exact date, but I think it’s been a while since we got a defensive touchdown. It got us a little swagger going on the sideline. That got us some confidence.”

...

“I expected the inside backer to come outside, but he stayed,” sophomore QB Tommy Wornham said. “I ran out there and we had a receiver out that had just been moved from quarterback this week make a sweet block and there was no one there. It was pretty surprising, but it was awesome.”

...

“Both teams set offensive football back maybe 20 years,” Princeton head football coach Roger Hughes said. “Neither team executed the way that they could have.”

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday's Word: Build

While originally I thought about writing a "Sunday Word" that would have accurately reflected some of the thoughts going through my mind after yesterday's loss, it would be too easy to sit here and dwell on the errors of yesterday's game, or the first two games for that matter.

No, I didn't like losing to a team that only gained six first downs. No, I didn't like tearing my hair out watching the game.

But kvetching about it will not help. The first three games are in the books, and they are losses. They happened. They are over.

A win would have gone a long way towards making people forget the errors in the first three losses. But that didn't happen.

Right now the only thing that is important is how everyone involved with the program reacts. It's this critical time that will determine the course of this season.

*****

There are two reactions everyone can have: to "build" and learn from the hard lessons of those games, or not to learn from those games let the season fall apart.

And I have to beleive that there is enough to "build" on to turn things around. Do I like everything I've seen on the field this year? Of course not. But there is plenty of good stuff to "build" on. Really. This is a team with real parts that can be used to win football games.

Senior LB Matt Cohen and senior DT B.J. Benning have been everything as advertised on defense, and senior SS Jesse Sanchez and junior FS John Venerio have been enforcers underneath.

Junior DB/RS John Kennedy (30.2 yards per kickoff return, 1 TD) and junior RS/DB Jarard Cribbs (4.8 yards per punt return) have given Lehigh a dominating return game.

Junior RB Jay Campbell is averaging more than 4 yards per carry, and his 88 yard performance last weekend means that he has an opportunity to "build" off that performance and be a bigger part of this offense. Something that may be overlooked as well is that he's only had one run for negative yards all season.

Sophomore WR Jake Drwal is emerging as a big target after starting his first game a month ago, with 173 yards receiving and 2 TDs this year.

And freshman QB Michael Colvin has given Lehigh a very new dimension on offense, with 4.2 yards per carry. It's just that right now - a dimension - but it could be even more.

*****

It's also tempting to take what happened this weekend - when sophomore QB Chris Lum came in for junior QB J.B. Clark late in the game - and to give some sort of endorsement for who should be the starter, or who Lehigh's offense should "build" around.

Instead, I'm going to do something I basically never do: say what I would do in this situation.

If I were the coach, the game notes this weekend would read: junior QB J.B. Clark OR sophomore QB Chris Lum OR freshman QB Michael Colvin. I would use whatever quarterback fit the situation - running the "Wildcat" from the get-go, subbing in which QB is needed.

The reason for this is Lehigh needs desperately to "build" an identity on offense.

Right now, it doesn't feel like there is any identity: one week we're mad bombers; the other we're sort-of Wildcat lite; the third week we're Ground Lehigh, trasmuting into Air Lehigh Lite when we're down ten points.

And in my humble opinion, the "wildcat" offense has to be what Lehigh needs to go to first, and foremost, and always.

It can work: you just need to look at the Eagles today and Villanova any given Saturday to see that it can be effective. When run well, it's incredibly hard to stop, especially at our level of FCS football. Nobody else in the Patriot League really has the same system - run well, it could be a game-changer. It's groundbreaking, just like Air Lehigh was back in its day.

And what could be most important reason of all is: the wildcat fits our personnel the best. We have a speedy running back, and receivers that can kill. We have an "O" line that can take over when necessary, just like on that 5 yard TD run this weekend. And we have three different styles of quarterbacks with enough versatility to give Lehigh a ton of options running, passing, or even receiving.

It doesn't put all the pressure on one quarterback to win the game all by himself. You can list them all as starters in the game notes since they're all getting in the game. I honestly believe that all three athletes we have at quarterback have strengths and weaknesses - every one of which can be used to Lehigh's advantage, if folks just embrace the Wildcat completely. When asked to announce "who's the starter", just say "that's an outdated concept - we run the Wildcat, and we have three starters."

We have the personnel to run this well. I know this. But it will require "building" a new mindset: no quarterback will run the offense every single series. Egos may be bruised. It may not be what everyone signed up for. But it can be successful - this season. It could even - hard as it is to believe right now - still bring Lehigh a Patriot League championship.

But it won't happen unless it's a primary commitment on offense. The Wildcat is not just a tool you pull out when you need it. No more half-Wildcat. It's a philosophy you really need to believe in and something that you have to tell the players to beleive in.

In other words, it's something you "build" around.
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