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Preview of "Benedict Arnold Bowl"

Preview of the"Benedict Arnold Bowl"
When you have an eleven game regular-season, and you have played 4 games, it is fashionable to say that the season is a quarter of the way through, though technically it is 4/11ths though. But after 4 games, Lehigh seems to have tantalizing potential to win the Patriot League and qualify for the 1-AA playoffs after a 2 year absence.

With Colgate at 2-2 after losses to UMass and Yale, Lehigh is the highest-ranked Patriot League team at #17 nationally. And with a bunch of borderline teams still clinging to high rankings like Wofford, New Hampshire, Villanova, and Northern Arizona, and other borderline teams that could go down at any minute like Jacksonville St. and Cal Poly, it's not inconceivable to think that should Lehigh keep winning through October, they could be in the top 10 by November.

You can feel the expectations growing in Bethlehem. Is the team up to the challenge?

But first...
DE Tom Alfsen's monster defensive performance has not gone unnoticed here at Lehigh Football Nation. Every game this year he hs gotten a brand-new LFN Game Ball for dominating defensive performances. It looks like 1-AA nation has also been paying attention, too. Today Alfsen has been added to the Buck Buchanan Award list, which is awarded to the best 1-AA defensive player of the year:

SportsNetwork.com:
Buchanan Awards List Revised

Congratultions, "Alf". (Yes Mr. Tom Alfsen, that's your nickname.)

Lehigh/Holy Cross: Injury Report
OL Tom Toth (OUT)
OL John Reese (OUT)
DT Royce Morgan (OUT)
OLB Randy Rovesti (OUT)
WR Lee Thomas (Questionable)
OLB Anthony Graziani (Questionable)
LB Claude Kershner (Questionable)
LB Jason Murray (Questionable)
LB Travis Stinson (Questionable)

With backup C John Reese out, we fortunately have OL Shaun Strickland back to backup multiple line positions, so depth shouldn't be a concern. But depth at linebacker looks like a real concern, with 5 LBs banged up. We may see a lot of sophomore LB Micah Greene rotating in. Other possibilities include sophomore LB/DB Chris LaMont, or little-used senior LB Mike Horvath.

Scouting Holy Cross
Holy Cross comes into this year, like last year, with few expectations for football. Since the good old days when Holy Cross was a consistent national powerhouse, to the good not-so-old days when players like Gordie Lockbaum and Gil Fennerty wore the purple-and-white, since joining the Patriot League Holy Cross has chosen primarily to focus on maintaning a world-beating quality basketball team. As a result, their football team has been in steady decline since the early 1990s.

Last year, the Crusaders' coach died shortly after being dismissed by the university of chemical sensitivity syndrome. In the offseason, Lehigh defensive coordinator Tom Gilmore took on the job of building the Crusader football program essentially from scratch.

Adding insult to the injury of Gilmore hightailing to Holy Cross in the middle of recruiting season, Gilmore also convinced defensive backs coach Issac Collins to follow him in his rebuilding effort - after Collins had already been promoted to defensive coordinator.

Hence "Benedict Tom" now is coaching against his former team. Think Coach Lembo is going to take this stuff sitting down? I have a feeling Lembo is serious about going in there and making a statement if possible.

Last week, Fordham played Holy Cross at Fitton field in Worcester, Mass for the "Ram/Crusader" trophy, won in the final minute by the visiting Rams, 42-35.

In analyzing the Fordham/Holy Cross game last week, I was struck by the number of sustained drives by the Crusaders against the Rams, who in the preseason appeared to have one of the best defenses in the Patriot League. The first drive was a 1-play, 50 yard pass play to WR Sean Gruber, but the other drives were not aided by Fordham turnovers or loads of defensive penalties. To showcase the fact that their drives were multi-dimensional, their game-tying drive in the 4th quarter featured 9 runs (2 on scrambles by QB John O'Neill), 3 passes, and 1 sack.

They had over 370 yards of offense against a team featuring 3 candidates for the preseason Patriot League Defensive Player of the year. Much of their offense involved runs from junior QB John O'Neill (to the tune of 86 yards) to go with his 193 net passing yards.

They won the time-of-possession battle. And they didn't turn over the ball. In a nutshell, they didn't seem like the same team that had lost to Harvard 35-0 two weeks earlier.

Offense
The aforementioned John O'Neill is the Crusaders' QB. He is mobile and has been improving every week passing the ball. Last week he was responsible for 280 of Holy Cross' 370 total yards, passing and rushing. He is not to be taken lightly and a key to the game will be containing him.

Holy Cross has been running the ball more than they have been passing in general, though last week they were more balanced. They run a pro set with 2 wideouts - nothing Lehigh hasn't seen before.

At RB, senior Steve Silva has been getting the majority of carries this year, with former Patriot League Rookie of the year, junior Gideon Akande also coming in at times for a change of pace. They both are also solid options catching the ball out of the backfield. FBs Brian Gavin and Josh Ruffin last week didn't play, but are listed on the depth chart this week. They are primarily blocking options out of the backfield.

The wideouts feature junior wideout Sean Gruber. He is the meat and potatoes of the receiving corps with 336 yards receiving this year and 3 TDs (including the touchdown on Holy Cross' first play from scrimmage last week). Not incredibly far beind is junior Bryan Anderson and junior Bob Turkovich, but they are definitely not in the same class as Gruber.

The "O" line is young, with 0 seniors. LT Lee Chase is their biggest lineman at 309 pounds, on a line that on average is about the same size as Lehigh's. Their line has struggled, however, to get much established offensively, especially against Harvard three weeks ago.

Defense
The front of their 4-man defensive line is undersized compared to Lehigh's, but loaded with experience. Seniors David Mitchell, Nick Nelthorpe, and Adam Luker are featured. DT Nelthorpe is probably the best on the line.

At linebacker, senior OLB David Fitzpatrick is the Crusaders' best player on defense. Sophomore ILB Sain Karim is starter and a up-and-comer. Having said that, the front seven have been giving up 183 yards a game rushing, which leads one to believe their front seven have been overmatched in many, if not all, of their games.

In the defensive backfield, there is a real dearth of experience and speed. Two freshmen start - SS Ken Flanders and FS Obioma Green. Junior Tyler Nugent and sophomore Casey Gough start at the corners. These backs have let up an average of 228 yards passing a game against some teams like Duquesne and Fordham that are not known for having prolific 1-AA passing offenses.

Special teams
CB Casey Gough seems to be the heir apparent of all-league KR Ari Confessor who graduated last year, averaging nearly 75 yards a game in kickoff returns. The punting game has been a concern, however, as sophomore P Ryan McManaway has only a 31.5 yard average.

Keys to victory
1.Spying O'Neill. O'Neill, 80% of the offense last week against Fordham, needs to be contained in the pocket and between the tackles. Keeping him in the pocket, with good pressure, should keep him contained both running and passing the ball.

2.Keep dominating the trenches. The past 2 weeks has seen Lehigh winning the trench battle and dominating the game. Against the Crusaders, with a smaller "D" line than Albany or Liberty, the "O" line needs to contain their rush and open holes. The "D" Line needs to keep penetrating and overpowering Holy Cross' inexperienced line.

3.School the youngsters. The inexperienced freshmen safeties should be tested early and often. Running up the middle, and passes in the center of the field to Adam "Public Enemy" Bergen, should be a daunting test for them.

4.Coverage of Gruber. "NBG" should cover Gruber like a blanket. Tad Kornegay didn't last week, and Gruber got a couple TDs. Taking Gruber seriously will be important in containing thir offense.

Fearless prediction
Lembo has been downplaying the revenge factor this week. Much undoubtedly will be made of Holy Cross' tight game last week against Fordham instead. But I honestly think that Holy Cross' performance was more a function of Fordham's weakness rather than Holy Cross' strength. But I think all of this will work against Holy Cross rather than help. A serious revenge-minded Lehigh will put a hurting on the Crusaders.

Lehigh 49, Holy Cross 17

Coming up: Weekend predictions; My Favorite 1-AA Columnist; Friday Press Roundup

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