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Preview of Lehigh/Bucknell

Hey, you!
Tear yourself away from baseball for a minute to check out this Lehigh/Bucknell preview! I know it's not easy (this is coming from a lifelong Red Sox fan, see previous post), but there are important games to be played in this Patriot League season, and they continue this weekend at Murray Goodman stadium.

But first..
I thought, going into this week versus Bucknell, that it would be interesting to read the following piece in the Express-Times on the strategy that Lafayette used beat Bucknell:
Tavani takes page from Tuna's playbook

Something sticks out at me about this article, quoted below:

"Lafayette, lining up in more two-tight-end sets than maybe anyone in the country but Joe Paterno's Nittany Lions, went straight at the Bison.

"It didn't matter the Leopards only had six yards rushing and just one first down by the end of the first quarter. Tavani's club had a plan ... the Leopards weren't afraid to tell the Bison: "here we come, try and stop us."

By game's end, McCourt sloshed his way to his third consecutive 100-yard game with 167 yards on 33 carries... McCourt's rolled to 360 yards on 69 attempts... "We just stuck with the game plan and pounded them," McCourt said. "They knew it; we knew it. They knew we were coming right at them."

Lafayette played an extremely straighforward game against Bucknell. They ran, they ran, and ran some more in between the tackles. They only passed 10 times the entire game (versus 48 rushing attempts). Granted, that is how they seem to be playing right now. But they didn't think to do much else rather than run in-between the tackles.

To this partial observer, this smacks to me of attempting to exploit a weakness against the run. And it's not like they've shown to be weak against other teams in this area (they held Penn to 105 total rushing yards). Has Lafayette determined that this is a major weak spot?

Lehigh/Bucknell Injury Report:
OL Tom Toth (OUT)
DT Royce Morgan (OUT)
OLB Randy Rovesti (OUT)
OLB Jon Guynes (OUT)
K Matt McNeils (Doubtful)
TE Steve Burant (Questionable)
OL John Reese (Questionable)
CB Neal Boozer-Gallman (Questionable)
LB Claude Kershner (Questionable)
DE Matt Mohler (Questionable)

Though the list is growing, it's not that different from last week. The only new faces are OLB Jon Guynes and DE Matt Mohler. Sophomore LB Travis Stinson steps into Guynes' place backing up Anthony "Graz" Graziani on the outside. (Sophomores have really been doing a great job on the team this year.)

The other thing to note is that although OL John Reese is questionable for the game, he's been replaced in the starting lineup by sophomore Jim Petrucelli (at right tackle), making this week's "O" line lineup the 5th different lineup in 6 games. Lehigh fortunately has been able to hold things together, however, and in the process has given a lot of looks to the sophomores.

Preview of Lehigh/Bucknell
Lehigh has a 35-29-3 record against Bucknell, starting in 1888 with a 74-0 win over the Bison. Since 1950, Lehigh has played Bucknell every year, and the games are frequently close: in fact, 7 of their last 11 meetings have been decided by a TD or less. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, these games had Patriot League championship connotations seemingly every year. Although difficult to fathom now, with Lehigh being so dominant and Bucknell having struggled of late, the games against Bucknell were more highly regarded that the games against "weak" Colgate.

Last year Lehigh crushed an ineffective Bison team 45-9 in a dominating victory on both sides of the ball. To be fair, the Bison were pretty banged up and demoralized after getting knocked out of the Patriot League title hunt the third to last week of the season.

This year, Bucknell comes into Bethlehem after suffering a crushing loss to Lafayette at home, 14-13, where PK Ryan Korn had his game-winning FG try blocked with three seconds left, recovered by Bucknell, and denied a game-winning TD at the half-yard line. Bucknell should be coming into Bethlehem working hard to try to salvage a season filled with promise and a potential Patriot League title run.

Killing Bucknell this year has been turnovers. Their defense hasn't been forcing many, and the offense has been giving the ball away too often. If you read the press reports, Landis and the team seem to be looking for answers about their problems, and it doesn't seem like happy times in Lewisburg after high hopes.

Offense
The Bison team features the triple-option offense. As anyone who has played with an option team on NCAA Gamebreaker will tell you, it requires an athletic quarterback that can run to the outside and pass the ball fairly effectively. The triggerman for this offense is the very talented senior QB Darius Wilson, a converted wideout. Wilson has a lot of talent, but last week he was pulled after fumbling 4 times (in the first half!) against the Leopards and senior backup QB John Henry Jackson came in to relieve him. Jackson had no TDs and was ineffective against Lafayette's defense.

When Wilson is on, he can do it all. He's the Bison's leading rusher on the year, and also has an impressive 75% completion percentage. His weakness is 5 interceptions and a major case of fumble-itis last week. Looks like being opportunistic against Wilson could be a good thing.

The main back who would normally be working with Wilson would be junior FB Blamah Sarnor, but he is out this weekend against Lehigh. In his place will start senior FB Frank Lazio who is no slouch, but doesn't have the same level of talent. The starting slotbacks will be junior Mike Cangelosi and talented sophomore St. Mary's transfer Kenny Davis. They are averaging 4 and 6 yards a carry respectively, so you have to respect all of these rushing threats.

The Bison's have a pair of strong receivers: senior WR Nisan Trotter and senior TE Ian Nutt. This duo has accounted for almost 80% of the Bison's receiving yards, and 6 of 7 of their recieving TDs. Defending Nutt should be similar to the defense covering Bergen in practice, so there could be an advantage there for Lehigh.

The "O" line features 2 seniors in a line that is geared for run blocking (3 if you count Nutt). At over 200 yards rushing per game, it's clear that they have been effective to date implementing Tim Landis' offensive style.

Defense
Bucknell plays a base 4-4, with lots of linebackers getting back in coverage. It looks a bit similar to Albany's "D" (who had a strange 3-5-3 style formation), which may also favor the Mountain Hawks. They are loaded with experience, featuring 6 seniors.

Bucknell's defense also appears to be similar in one respect to last year's club. In their wins against Georgetown, Cornell, and Columbia, they were surprisingly effective. But in their losses, the Bison's opponents were able to adequately execute pretty much what they wanted. Penn and was able to rack up more than 300 yards passing, Lafayette was able to get a huge rushing day by Joe McCourt, and Villanova was able to gain through the ground and through the air effectively.

Senior DE Corey Mayo anchors the "D" line, and senior ILB Kevin Ransome leads the linebacking unit. Mayo is one of the better "D" linemen in the Patriot League and is leading Bucknell in tackles for loss. Ransome is the team's leading tackler and team co-captain.

Their three DBs in their base 4-4 are strong players with lots of experience. CB Jerome Acy is a 5th year senior, along with senior Virgil Rush and speedy junior Dante Ross. But with having 3 DBs, someone's going to be open. And the DBs are only credited with 3 takeaways all year.

Special Teams
On special teams, Ross is an outstanding kick returner with 2 kickoff returns for TDs already this year. He's probably the best return man in the Patriot League and will need to be contained. PK Ryan Korn has a great leg for kickoffs and long field goals (his longest this year was 47 yards!)- but an important 39-yard kick last week was blocked, so you may wonder about his confidence level this week.

Keys to the Game
1. Kick away from Ross. Ross has shown to be a great kickoff and punt returner. Don't make him have a chance to affect the game - kick away from him.
2.Be aggressive with Wilson. When Wilson's on, Bucknell is a very tough team. The defense's job is to keep Wilson out of rhythm passing and pounding him when he runs the ball. That means "Graz" and Jason Murray need to get outside to contain him effectively.
3.Work the 3 DBs. Guys should be open with that 3 DB set, especially WR Gerran Walker and TE Adam Bergen - find them.
4.No letdown. This game is a must-win, like all league games. Colgate is next week, but taking care of business first against Bucknell is the ONLY priority.

Fearless Prediction
Like last year, I don't think Bucknell matches up well with the Mountain Hawks, and I believe Lehigh gets another big win before "The Patriot League Title Game" next week versus Colgate.

Lehigh 41, Bucknell 9

Coming up tomorrow: My favorite 1-AA columnist; Feuding, Lafayette-style

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