Never fear. LFN's here.
Saturday, September 17, 2016
Friday, September 16, 2016
It sometimes is tough for coaches and media types alike to preview teams that haven't played a single down, and with the volume of Ivy League opponents Lehigh and other members of the Patriot League face, the Mountain Hawks get more than their fair share.
Last season, much was made of the fact that head coach Ray Priore and a huge hunk of brand-new staff were competing together in their very first college football game together, a fact that unquestionably helped Lehigh out in a 42-21 win over the Quakers.
This year, though, to some degree the tables are turned.
With a full year under their belts - and an Ivy League championship year, at that - the Quakers will be not at all like the inexperienced bunch that Lehigh played last year. They've had one year in the system, one year knowing the expectations, one year going through the drills.
He'll be facing off against another former Bagnoli assistant coach, Ray Priore, who was a defensive coordinator at Penn when Andy was an offensive coordinator there.
Franklin Field, then, becomes one of the big #NarrativeStreet storylines going into Saturday, and for Lehigh, not a good reason.
Since 1895, when the enormous field was built in downtown Philadelphia, Lehigh has won exactly four times at the iconic venue, and the overall Brown and White record there is 4-28. Along the way, among the many losses by Lehigh there, came one recent one in particular that snapped a long Lehigh regular-season winning streak.
Thursday, September 15, 2016
"[We're] trying not to over-plan for Lehigh," Penn head coach Ray Priore said in his first Penn coaches' teleconference of the year. "And the kids are very focused. We got off to last years' start 1-3, our first loss was to Lehigh, and they tattooed us pretty good up there, so our kids remember that..."
If there was any doubt that the Penn players had somehow forgotten the way they kicked off the Ray Priore era - that they had forgotten that humbling beginning to their Ivy League championship season from last year - any doubt of that was easily erased by the easy way that "so our kids remember that" uttered from Priore's lips at the press conference.
College football head coaches generally don't like their opponents lying in wait for them for months upon months upon months. They prefer to sneak into town competing as lightly-regarded underdogs, preferably playing a "scrappy, fundamental game" (whatever that means), and escaping town with a character-building win and then heading home on the bus.
Head coach Andy Coen and the rest of the Mountain Hawks will definitely not have that luxury heading down to Franklin field this weekend. They're going to have a riled-up, laying-in-wait Quaker team that are favored to repeat as Ivy League champions.
"Our kids remember that."
Tuesday, September 13, 2016
Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune
Illinois State kicker Sean Slattery, right, celebrates with quarterback Koty Thelen after scoring the game-winning field goal as Northwestern running back Justin Jackson, left, reacts. (Nam Y. Yuh/AP)
Monday, September 12, 2016
Admittedly, it is a bit of a selfish impulse on my part. It is always easier to recap a heroic made-for-TVesque Lehigh win than a loss. Narratives and nicknames flow like water when games have outcomes like that.
Not so today, after Lehigh's 0-2 start. It's harder to pull together the game recaps when the outcomes of the games instead show a team that is on the brink of learning how to win, but hasn't been able to figure out how to turn that corner.
Two games into the season, I don't see a Lehigh team that is necessarily bad, or pointed in the wrong direction.
Instead, I see a team that is trying to figure out how to put away a tough opponent and win football games.
And frankly, there's nothing wrong with that yet.
Trying to hit the right tone after a loss like Saturday's poses a special challenge.
I've seen all sorts of Lehigh wins and losses. I've seen all the highs and the lows of the Andy Coen era.
|Makes Me Smile, Always|
But by far the hardest games to get right are these "moral victories," where Lehigh plays a truly strong game across the board against a team that is expected to be a playoff team, but falls just short.
By any measure, Villanova is a strong team at this point of the year. Their defense held Pitt to only 28 points, a squad that turned around and hung 42 on Penn State. If you're grading on a curve, Lehigh's offense scoring 21 points on this daunting unit - not bad.
Sitting at No. 19 in the FCS Coaches' poll, the Wildcats were a playoff team last year, and were picked to finish 4th in the CAA, behind the No. 2 team in the nation that eviscerated Virginia in Week 1 (Richmond), and two current Top 25 teams that were also FCS playoff teams last season, William & Mary and James Madison.
Given a recent history like that, many rightfully expected that Lehigh might struggle against the Wildcats, as is befitting their ranking.
|They Are Pretty Good|
On the road, the Mountain Hawks came in and came back from a 6-0 deficit to go up 14-6 at half, stuffing the Villanova run game on 4th-and-1 and orchestrating two excellent scoring drives. At times during that half, Coen said in the post-game presser said that the Mountain Hawks "dominated the line-of-scrimmage at times." Against such a quality team like Villanova, that's very positive.
We all know the rest of the story: in a game of inches, Lehigh came up just short on 4th and 10 to turn over the ball on downs.
Yet that escapes a key point: against the No. 19 team in the country, the Mountain Hawks were in a position to win.
Which is, of course, the conundrum of the coverage of the game. They were right there! They had a chance to win what could have been a season-defining game that pushes them through a daunting out-of-conference schedule that features three awfully tough Ivy League opponents in defending Ivy League co-champions Penn, always-tough Princeton, and Yale at the Yale Bowl, a place where Lehigh hasn't won in over a decade.
But it didn't happen that way. Instead, Lehigh starts out 0-2.
The end result is a mix of happiness that the Mountain Hawks were in it, and yet undeniably frustrating that Lehigh, on the brink of achieving a season-defining upset, came one or two yards short of the goal.
I think the most important thing to remember is how this loss, in the end, will not define Lehigh's season.
My mind keeps drifting back to Colgate, and the Raiders' 2015 season in particular.
If you were "Colgate Football Nation" at this stage of the 2015 season, two games in, the Raiders started the season 0-2.
They got trounced by Navy, 48-10, and then got pulverized by New Hampshire the following week, 26-8.
Would Colgate Football Nation have rushed to the exits, saying that things needed "fixing" and saying the season was on the brink of disaster?
Sure, there was a higher level of concern among the fans when Yale pulled off a miracle comeback to beat the Raiders the following week, 29-28, to give Colgate an 0-3 start.
|Not a Panic Moment for Colgate Fans|
After Colgate's 0-3 start, in what was unquestionably the most crucial game of the season, an away game at Holy Cross, it was the Raiders successfully pulling away late in the second half for a 31-14 victory.
It set the tone for the rest of the season, and you know the rest of that story. It ended with a Patriot League championship, wins over Fordham and Lehigh, a rematch win over New Hampshire, and a shock victory over James Madison.
Looking back now, it's easy to see that Colgate team as one that took some time to find itself. But they did, and it happened in spite of the two hugely lopsided losses in the first two weeks.
Colgate fans that stayed the course after their 0-2 start were rewarded.
What about other fanbases after this past football weekend?
Is Fordham Football Nation ready to put their team in the FCS national championship game after eviscerating an 0-2 Division II team 83-21, a game that was 31-0 at one point and ended up as a glorified practice in the second half?
Is Georgetown Football Nation starting to panic after only beating Marist 20-17, relying on a 4th down touchdown pass to preserve victory? Are they asking to revoke the need-based aid of their starting quarterback?
|Probably not panic button time for Bison|
What about the two other Patriot League teams that lost last weekend, Holy Cross and Lafayette? Are their fanbases crying that the season is over after losing to New Hampshire and Delaware last weekend?
If they are, they are missing the point of this part of the preseason.
The nature of the first two games of the season is that they're an "incomplete". Would season-defining wins been welcome? Definitely. But they're no reason to panic.
For my part, after sleeping on it and getting over how Lehigh was this close to beating the No. 19 team in the nation, I see a lot to be hopeful about for the rest of the season. There was a lot of improvement from the first weekend, and there's no reason to believe that the improvement won't continue going into next weekend's visit to Franklin Field.
I don't know what the future has in store for Lehigh in the next three out-of-conference games, before a no-doubt-about-it important game vs. Colgate in October. But what I do think is that this team deserves everyone's patience over the next three weeks. Based on a very good performance on Saturday - one that came up a yard short - that's the least we can do for them.
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Indeed they were, even if, after a disappointing loss last week to Monmouth, many across the nation had written off Lehigh's chances of an upset of the team ranked No. 19 in the FCS Coaches' Poll.
Stung from a first half against Monmouth when they failed to score a single point, Lehigh battled hard in the first half and played "outstanding" Coen said, as the Mountain Hawks jumped to a 14-6 lead. After missing a field goal falling behind 20-14, Lehigh rallied to retake the lead, and after falling behind one last time, the defense forced a stop and handed the ball back to the offense, with a chance to win.
But it came down to one play - converting a challenging 4th and 10, and a big pitch-and-catch that ended up just short of the yardage necessary to keep the drive going.
Last week, it seemed to many fans for it to be nearly impossible for the Mountain Hawks to be able to compete with the No. 19 team in the nation. Instead, here was Lehigh, inches away, just short of sending the home fans to bed without victory cigars.