Friday, October 25, 2013

Game Preview, Lehigh vs. Bucknell, 10/26/2013

"After the halftime speech, this team pulled together and had the will to win this game. They overcame their mistakes. They got back down to it, and did what they needed to do to will this game into the win column. Players stepped up and made plays. Others shook off a rough first half and really stepped up in the second to show the nation what they are capable of doing."

No, those aren't the words of the Sunbury Daily Item sportswriters after Bucknell's 17-14 win over Dartmouth this weekend.

This was a part of my "Sunday Word" after Lehigh, back in 2010,  rallied from a three-score deficit to beat Harvard, 21-19 and - in retrospect, a sentiment shared by myself and head coach Andy Coen, for starters - kicked off the amazing success on the field that the Mountain Hawks have enjoyed ever since.

It's too early to say yet if Bucknell's win, where the Bison defense shut down the Big Green and allowed the Orange and Blue offense to score 17 unanswered points, will have a similar effect on the guys out in Lewisburg, PA.

But there's some indications out in central PA that the Bison are starting to put things together.


In 1997, a young, talented Lehigh team coached by Kevin Higgins travelled to Lewisburg, PA to take on the Bison.  On Higgins' staff was a young coach, Andy Coen, who was still trying to put the pieces together for the Mountain Hawk offense.

On that weekend, the Mountain Hawks were defeated, 21-14, and Bison FB Jeremy Myers caught and ran for a touchdown in the win, while RB Rabih Abdullah, whose injury was a key reason why the Mountain Hawks would stumble to a 4-7 finish, ran for 150 yards.

There was a reason why it was a ground-it-out game - it was played in a driving rainstorm.

"That was a horrible, horrible rain game," Andy told Keith Groller of the Morning Call this week.  "It was a monsoon, a messy, messy game.

That was the last time Lehigh lost to Bucknell, a streak which started in Lehigh's epic 1998 season with QB Phil Stambaugh at the helm.

It also was a season when most of the current players were in preschool.

Since then, the Lehigh/Bucknell series has been one of the more lopsided in the Patriot League.

In the last fifteen wins, only two were by a touchdown or less.  In only three of those wins did Lehigh score less than 30 points, while on only two occasions did the Bison score more than 17 points.

One of those occasions was last season, though maybe not exactly the type of memorable even Bison head coach Joe Susan might want to recall.  It was a 42-19 blowout that featured a blocked extra point by DE Anthony Verderame and two blocked kicks by sophomore DB Laquan Lambert, one which he scooped up for a 60 yard touchdown that earned him Patriot League Player of the Week honors.

It's the longest-ever victory drought for the Bison in the series against Lehigh.

Granted, the Bison have struggled over the years, but what makes this streak even more remarkable is that Lehigh has not been consistently dominating year in and year out.  Even when the Mountain Hawks went 4-7 recently, one of those wins was a double-digit win over Bucknell.

Lafayette, over the same stretch, have lost four times.  Colgate, three.

Heck, even last season the Bison enjoyed a 27-24 win over Fordham with many of the players there that are a part of the Rams' incredible 8-0 season thus far.

One who is superstitious might wonder if the Bison are due for that elusive win against Lehigh this season.

"I know we're not talking about having won 15 straight in this series, but I guarantee Joe Susan is talking about it," Coen said. "You've got that and it's Homecoming and it's a team that's going to get a boost because it's getting its quarterback back. There's a couple of things working against us."

The Bison also have a big boost because they relearned how to win last weekend.

Though they survived a scare when the Big Green blocked a punt and scored with under a minute to play, the Bison special teams recovered the onsides kick to cement Bucknell's 17-14 win.

The Bison defense stuffed 12 Dartmouth offensive drives up until that point, allowing Bucknell to hang around long enough to put the game away with scoring runs from freshman RB C.J. Williams and sophomore RB Matt DelMauro.

“We knew QB Dalyn Williams and RB Dominick Pierre are big threats in the run game and we wanted to do our best limiting them on the ground,” Susan said after that game. “Our defense did a great job stopping them.”

“We pressured Williams enough and gave him enough looks that prevented him from being consistent and getting comfortable,” Susan said, with "pressured enough" meaning five sacks, and keeping the elusive Williams to 9 yards and keeping him under 50% in completion percentage and only 104 yards through the air.

Like Lehigh's breakout game back in 2010, Bucknell regrouped at halftime and came up with a formula to escape with the win.  Like Lehigh in 2010, Bucknell is a young team that is showing glimmers of getting things together.  Coach Susan is all too aware of the fact that a win over Lehigh might be the boiling point for this young team, allowing them to put things all together for a title run next season.

"They're very powerful, a very explosive offense," he said this week of Lehigh, "What they do offensively allows them to take some chances defensively.  Winning last week really allows you to be upbeat, up tempo, going into this Homecoming week."

It's probably wrong to call this a "trap game" for Lehigh in the classic sense.  The Mountain Hawks have a bye next weekend, even though the three games following the bye, Holy Cross, Colgate, and Lafayette, are all going to be giant games as well.

But when it comes to emotion, Bucknell without question will be jacked up to the max to play this game - playing the only nationally-ranked team on their schedule, likely their only chance to showcase to the world how far they've come as a program.  On Homecoming.

The Mountain Hawks are used to being the team circled on the opponent's schedule by now.  And after last season's 10-1 season without the playoffs, they also know that losing to the Bison is not an option if they want to be practicing on Thanksgiving.

Will Lehigh be able to come up with the gameplan and the powerful offense to overcome the emotion in Lewisburg?

Game Notes

An interesting tidbit to come out of Lehigh's game notes from this week is that senior OL A.J. Hood has been moved up to the starting right tackle position, displacing, for now, junior OL Wenner Nunes.  That's the only difference in this week's depth chart, but that's not the end of the injury information.

Thanks again to Michael LoRe's Twitter feed, we learn that senior WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto and sophomore WR Derek Knott are out this week with different injuries, and won't make the trip to Lewisburg.  Taking Soto's place on the two-deep is likely to be highly-regarded sophomore WR Stephen Sansone.

Also, sophomore LB Mat Verdon is also out with a broken toe, meaning it would seem freshman LB Pierce Ripanti will return on the two-deep this week at outside linebacker after not playing last week.

Weather Report

Ready for brisk?  It's going to be a brisk, partly sunny day - closing out a fantastic month of football weather-wise, with a high of 54 during gametime.  Overnight it will hover around freezing, but the Fieldturf at Christy Matthewson stadium should be unaffected.

Famous Bucknell Alumnus You Didn't Know About

Ever wonder why the Patriot League is on the CBS Sports Network?  I did, too, but combing over Bucknell's list of famous alumni, now I may have an explanation.  Les Moonves, former CEO of Viacom and current television power broker extraordinaire as president of CBS, is a Bucknell alumnus.

It also makes me wonder why there never was a CSI: Lewisburg, investigating cow slayings.

LFN's Drink of the Week

This week, I'm going with an oldie but a goodie: the old mixed-drink standby, the Black Bison.  It's hard to go wrong with this mixed drink - three parts cola (LFN preference: Pepsi), one part Vodka (LFN preference: Stoly) and a twist of lemon (LFN preference: Sunkist), over ice or drink chollers.  It's probably the last day one can count on a cool drink not named Yuengling, too, making it more apropos as well.

As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you behave yourself, don't get behind the wheel while impaired (or worse), and are over 21. Please do that.  Especially with a three hour car ride home from Lewisburg.

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