Monday, October 05, 2015

Yale Came Into Our House And Pushed Us Around

In the movie Rudy, Notre Dame head coach Dan Devine gets painted unjustifiably as a bit of a jerk.

His treatment in the movie, I feel, is what prevents Rudy from being a mostly-loved movie from a near-universally loved movie.

Some people will never forgive the moviemakers, for the convenience of drama, for changing the reality of his coaching career.

Yet despite this fact, actor Chelcie Ross manages to deliver one of the iconic halftime locker-room speeches in cinema.  You're not really supposed to like him, as the movie goes, but somehow he manages this great line:

"No one, and I mean no one, comes into our house and pushes us around."

It's great because it is a universal football concept.  Bowl-eligibility, conference games, even in playing out a 3-8 season, it doesn't matter.  Nobody wants to play the game of football and get pushed around, ever, but to be pushed around at home?  Somewhere, you have to draw a line.

This weekend, Yale pushed us around.  At home.  There's no hiding it.  They weren't always pretty doing it - the Bulldogs made a fair number of mistakes in the form of penalties and turnovers.  But ultimately, they won the game because they pushed us around.


In my preview, I thought Lehigh might have an advantage because their first string running back, RB Candler Rich, was hurt in the second half of the Cornell game last week.

His backup, RB Deshawn Salter, ran the ball 11 times for 36 yards in his place last week, averaging 3.3 yards per carry.

Yale head coach Tony Reno clearly made it a point of emphasis against Lehigh to establish the running game with Salter, and he apparently was able to put somewhat of a chip on the members of Eli offensive line, daring them to do what's necessary against Lehigh's defensive front to get Salter 100 yards, probably.

Behind an impressive performance from the offensive line, Salter was able to gain more than 200 yards and score 2 touchdowns, which was probably double Reno's original goal and ended up being plenty enough to beat Lehigh on this homecoming weekend.

Yale's Offensive Line: The Real MVP
While it would be Salter who would win co-offensive player of the week honors in the Ivy League this week, it is probably more accurate to award it to the Yale offensive line.

Their offensive line pushed us around.

"I think Yale really handled the line of scrimmage, dominated the line of scrimmage in my opinion," Coen said after the game. "What was disappointing to me was how well they ran the football against us. That's a conversation that we'll have to have a little bit just to figure things out in that respect. ... Over 200 yards can't happen."

Coen and senior LB Noah Robb, to their credit, didn't make any excuses for allowing a backup running back to dominate the way he did.

"We thought we did a better job of tackling this week than in previous weeks, but there's still a lot of room to improve," he said.  "They came out and hit a lot of cutback gaps and we just really weren't ready for it in the beginning.  Obviously 27 points is unacceptable.  We allowed a lot of third downs converted, didn't do a very good job there."

Lehigh's offensive line struggled, too, strangling Lehigh's running game that was a bright spot versus Princeton.  After rushing for more than 100 yards last week, freshman RB Dominick Bragalone was stufffed for only 18 yards on 8 carries, with Yale's defensive line holding the Mountain Hawks to only 87 net rushing yards all game.

Can't Let This Happen
With Bragalone's run game negated, and linebacker spies on junior QB Nick Shafnisky most of the afternoon, Lehigh was forced to air things out.

"We thought one of the keys to the game for us was to kind of limit his opportunities to run with the football and have time throwing," Tony Reno said. "Did we get him every time? No. He's a heck of a football player and Lehigh's a great team. But for us, the biggest chance for us to keep Shafnisky off the scoreboard was to put some pressure on him in the pass game."

Pressure was something that Yale managed to deliver well, notching 4 sacks for 31 yards.

"I think the biggest thing was we couldn't get the run game going, so they pretty much just pinned their ears back and kept blitzing, bringing six guys sometimes," Shafnisky asaid after the game, also not making any excuses.  "We'll work on it and get better."

Their defensive line pushed us around.

And in the end, that's what sunk Lehigh on homecoming afternoon - losing the battle of the trenches on both sides of the ball.  Whether you're Andy Coen, Dan Devine or an irate Lehigh football fan, it's pretty clear if you let the opposing offensive and defensive trench players push you around, you're not going to win many football games.

In out-of-conference play, Lehigh starts the season 2-3.

On the positive side, Lehigh can say that the combined record of the teams that beat them is 11-0, including James Madison, who are certainly a contender for the FCS National Championship.  Yale and Princeton, too, certainly will be no pushovers for the rest of their league.

You could also say the teams Lehigh has beat, though, haven't been anything special.

Penn is 1-2, and aside from their (literally) unbelievable win over Villanova, it looks likely, after their 41-20 whitewashing at the hands of Dartmouth, that they end up in the Ivy League cellar this season.

And Central Connecticut State is 1-4, with their only victory a squeaker over Division II Bowie State.  It's hard to imagine them in the conversation for an NEC title and autobid at this point, either.

Another positive side is that there is one record where Lehigh starts the season at 0-0 - Patriot League play.  These are the games that count, the ones that will ultimately determine the success and failure of the season.

But football is a game of "momentum", a term that coach Coen has been using a lot in the last three weeks, and Lehigh certainly isn't heading to Bucknell with much momentum on their side.  And the Bison, who just came from VMI with an overtime victory, certainly do have momentum.

I do know one thing - if Lehigh is to compete for the Patriot League championship, trench play will simply have to get better.

The O line needs to take over the line of scrimmage, and the defensive front will have to stop the run better.

There is no other path to the championship.

In other words, Lehigh can't let itself be pushed around anymore.

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