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Lehigh/James Madison Preview

Lehigh/James Madison Preview
Here is what you've been waiting for.. the special Lehigh Football Nation preview of Lehigh and James Madison. The Dukes will be, at this point, the best team Lehigh has faced all year.

They are a team, like Lafayette, that runs the ball to make their offense work with a multi-faceted rushing attack. Although they don't have one player that will kill you consistently, their team has solid scholarship talent across the board and features strong team play. The Mountain Hawks will have their work cut out against this squad.

Before jumping in the pool...
I wanted to feature some press on the upcoming game. Both the Easton Express-Times and Allentown Morning Call have been writing so many pieces it's almost impossible to keep up.

Allentown Morning Call:
Lehigh Happy To Be Home
Dukes Surprised, But Happy, To Be on Road
Easton Express-Times:
Lehigh Not Only Gets In, It Gets To Play At Home
Mountain Hawks Ready For Another Gridiron Battle
Richmond Times-Dispatch:
JMU Reaches I-AA Playoffs

''We feel very humble, very blessed to have an opportunity to continue our season,'' Lehigh coach Pete Lembo said... It was not a good reflection of the kind of season we've had. There's nothing we can do it about it now except learn from the mistakes we made. We just feel fortunate to be in the field of 16 and can hopefully redeem ourselves in some way with a performance that is more representative of the Lehigh football program.''

"If we were deserving of a home game then obviously Lafayette is," Lembo said. "I certainly hope Lafayette goes down there and represents the Patriot League well. I know they will."

''I talked to Mickey Matthews and he was somewhat surprised to be going on the road,'' Lembo said. ''He mentioned that perhaps the large number of Atlantic 10 teams in the tournament may have influenced the committee not to give every single one of them a home game... I don't know why Delaware hosts over us.''

''It was definitely a surprise,'' JMU coach Mickey Matthews said Monday. ''We had every indication we'd be given a home game. Our home attendance is in the top two or three in the nation [12,790 average] and our venue has greatly improved. Our facilities are among the best in the nation. So, yes, it was a surprise to us.''

''You look at what we've done against ranked teams and you'd think we'd be seeded fairly high,'' he said. ''But the committee evidently saw things differently. No matter where we play the game, our kids will be anxious to play it and we know we're going against a great program in a real nice place.''

But while Matthews may use having to make the trip to Bethlehem as a motivational tool, he actually doesn't mind the ride north on I-81 all that much for the 12:30 p.m. game at Goodman Stadium... He is a friend of Lehigh coach Pete Lembo. The two have worked together on the I-AA Coaches Executive Committee and Matthews visited the Goodman Campus during Eagles' training camp last summer.

"Matthews' relationship with Mountain Hawks defensive coordinator Shannon Morrison goes back to the early 1990s when they were coach and player at Marshall and won a national title in 1992.Matthews chokes up when Morrison's name is mentioned... ''He's like a son to me, to be honest with you,'' he said. ''I really don't like competing against him. Shannon is the most competitive player I've ever coached. Few players have meant more to me because of how hard he competed. It will be great to see him. We're still close and several of his former teammates are on my coaching staff.''

"Matthews, like Lembo, is a past Eddie Robinson Award recipient as the nation's top I-AA coach. He won the award in 1999, his first year, when he led JMU to the I-AA playoffs.

''They play in one of the best I-AA conferences in the country and are one of the most physical teams in I-AA football,'' Lembo said. ''We'll have to be at our best... After seeing the looks in their faces after watching that television (NCAA selection) show," Lembo said, "I really believe they will be focused and give us everything we've got."

"The team has a great deal to prove," said former Pius X star Eric Rath, Lehigh's normally sure-handed rushing leader whose first two career fumbles came at critical times in the loss to Lafayette. "We want to go out there, we want to play our best. We want to go out knowing we gave everything we have."

Some interesting storylines here on the Lehigh side. As if you needed any more reasons to tune in on Saturday.

Lehigh Injury Report
TE Steve Burant (OUT)
OL John Reese (OUT)
FS Kaloma Cardwell (OUT)
DT Royce Morgan (OUT)
LB Randy Rovesti (OUT)
MLB Owen Breninger (Doubtful)
FB Greg Fay (Questionable)
OL Rob Sandie (Questionable)
WR Gerran Walker (Questionable)
CB Neal Boozer-Gallman (Questionable)
OLB Jason Murray (Questionable)

Jon Guynes, afer being out last week, is now listed as 'Probable'. He should slide right into Owen Breninger's spot, who's now listed as 'Doubtful'. That's a big sigh of relief for Lehigh, who might have been exposed there had both Breninger and Guynes been out or doubtful.

Aside from that, there are some bang-ups, especially on defense. But this is the playoffs - I think the 'Questionable-s' may end up being 'Probable-s'. We'll see.

Scouting James Madison
The Dukes, unranked and picked to finish fourth in the A-10 South, find themselves co-champions and (undeservedly, in the minds of coaches and fans) on the road at Lehigh in the first round. They should be fired up out of perceived "disrespect".

They enter this weekend at 9-2 after tying for the Atlantic 10 championship. They beat Delaware at home, and Villanova on the road (Lehigh lost to Villanova, 22-16, in September). JMU's only losses were to I-A West Virginia, and to A-10 co-champion William & Mary on a last-second 48 yard field goal.

They don't have one player that beats you, but instead play effectively together as a team in all three phases of the game. They have no playoff experience with this group, but this full-scholarship program is packed with great athletes who have got the job done all year. Let's break it down.

The offense is led by sophomore QB Justin Rascati. The starter all year, he is a QB that can throw the ball and tuck the ball underneath his arm and run just as easily. On first glance, he seems similar to QB Brad Maurer of Lafayette last week - and we all know how that turned out.

Following the analogy, the back who could be doing their best Joe McCourt impression will be junior HB Raymond Hines (assuming back Maurice Fenner won't be available). However, unlike McCourt, he doesn't catch the ball out of the backfield often, with only 4 receptions on the year. In his last 2 games, he has averaged 170 yards per game with 3 TDs. Obviously, he or Fenner will be a guy who we will need to key on against the run. Against Towson, Hines ran a lot up the middle - it will be intersting to see if they try the same thing against Lehigh.

FB and TE feature a pair of seniors - FB Chris Iorio and TE Tom Ridley. Both are mostly featured as blockers rather than rushers or receivers, but they get the occasional call.

The right side of the line is big and filled with seniors, with RT Jermaine Crowder weighing in at 300 lbs. On the left tackle is a 340 lb sophomore, George Burns, which should be an indication on what the defensive line is up against. They like to run the ball, and have been effective at it all year.

At receiver is an inexperienced trio, which may explain why the Dukes tend to run about twice as often as they pass. Sophomore WR D.D. Boxley is the best of the bunch, with 420 yards and 4 TDs.

James Madison's goal is: run the ball, and stop the run on defense. To that effect, the Dukes have done extremely well, only giving up 87 yards of rushing game against scholarship competition. They have played a lot of close games this year, and defense has been a huge part of this. Like Lehigh, they thrive on forcing turnovers, and have a great turnover ratio.

Frequently the Dukes play an eight-man front to stop the run. Playing that way consistently allows a team to get a lot of passing yards in the process. They average about 2 sacks a game.

The defensive line is similar to Lehigh's is size and weight. Senior DT Brandon Beach anchors the line.

At linebacker, senior Kwynn Walton is the man in the middle who more often than not gets the tackle in the front eight. None of the linebackers are particularly big or dominating, but all eight get the job done.

In the backfield, redshirt freshman FS Tony LeZotte is the A-10 rookie of the year and could be the most talented member of the entire defense. He's a ball-hawk and big tackler. Senior CB Cortez Thompson is also a speedy cover guy.

Special Teams
Cortez Thompson and receiver L.C. Baker are fast and very dangerous return men. Thompson is the more deadly of the two with a 30 yard kickoff average and 1 TD. Punting could be a weakness, with only a 37.4 yard average for Nick Engleheart

Keys To The Game
1.Passing. The Dukes have shown themselves to be susceptible to the pass. Getting to Bergen, or another reciever, underneath for a big day may be crucial for Lehigh winning the game.
2.Turnovers. Winning the turnover battle will be crucial. Rath is eager to prove to I-AA nation that he won't lose the ball again, and that will be important. Giving up the ball and letting JMU's tackles pound the defensive line repeatedly could be devastting.
3.Jump out to an early lead. Getting up by 2 scores, and forcing Rascati to beat us with his arm, is something I'd really like to see.
4.Special teams. Work on this unit will be imperative. Week after week JMU has made key special teams plays that have made the difference between winning and losing. Tackles on runbacks could be huge.

Fearless Prediction
I've said this to a lot of people - I like the way we match up against JMU. Although at first glance they seem like a clone of Lafayette, I don't think this one will go the same way. On the road this might be a different story, but at home, I like Lehigh to pull this one out. Borda gets a 300+ yard day, a well-rested defense intercepts a big JMU pass at the end of the game, and next week we're talking about the weather down in South Carolina.

Lehigh 28, JMU 24


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