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Lehigh/Delaware Preview

As promised, here's your Lehigh/Delaware preview.

About Lehigh and Delaware

Lehigh and Delaware are physically separated by about 100 miles - 60 of which are on I-476, or the "Blue Route". However, Delaware and Lehigh are separated by more than the Blue Route.

They're also separated by the number of scholarships - the Hens have 63 full scholarships versus Lehigh's 50 or so grants-in-aid.

They're also separated by the number of transfer students - though I'm not sure how many Delaware has currently, they do have more than Lehigh's 2 transfers.

They're separated by quality of their conference -- the A-10 claims the last two I-AA championship winners (one of whom was Delaware), while the Patriot League is still looking for its first I-AA championship in their history.

Finally, Delaware has owned Lehigh in the "Blue Route Battle" - they have won 9 of the last 10 meetings, including a 47-22 mauling in 2000 in the latest game in this rivalry (in the I-AA playoffs, no less).

For Lehigh, beating full-scholarship schools from the Atlantic 10 is sweet... but nothing compared to beating Delaware. When it happens, of course. For the past 20 years, for better or worse, Delaware is the yardstick that Lehigh is measured against, and for the past 20 years, Delaware as a general rule has been the better team. As a diehard Lehigh fan, in my heart I am going to be rooting for the Mountain Hawks to pound the despised Blue Hens. It could very well make my season. But my brain keeps looking at this won-loss record for the past 10 meetings. Delaware is a formidable team. They always are.

How big is this game? There's been certified message-board smack on this game ever since June. This game was the fastest Delaware home-game sellout in their history (prompting a mini-row about Lehigh's ticket allocation). Matt Dougherty has called it the "I-AA Game of the Week". This is big.

Win, and Lehigh will be seen as not only the Patriot League favorite, but they will be seen as one of the best I-AA teams in the country. Lose, and all of a sudden the Mountain Hawks could be faced with requiring the autobid in order to qualify for the I-AA playoffs.

Let's break it down.

Lehigh Injury Report
OL Shaun Strickland (questionable)
FS Courtney Elder (questionable)
CB Calvin LaMont (questionable)
DE Matt Mohler (questionable)
CB Andrew Nelson (questionable)
LB Matt Purdy (questionable)

There are a lot of banged-up defensive players, and it is difficult to forsee who might be starting at any of these positions. If we miss all 3 starters from this list - CB Andrew Nelson, LB Matt Purdy, and DE Matt Mohler - the ramifications could be huge, with a slew of sophomores needing to jump in to take vital roles.

Mohler is backed up by junior DE Paul Fabre. In my opinion he's a very promising player, so I don't think the line would skip a beat if he was the starter - even though Mohler got 2 sacks last week against Monmouth.

Backing up Nelson are sophomore CBs Daynin Blake and Aaron Gilliard, who collectively got picked on last week against Monmouth. Give the nod to Gilliard for the start, but he will have to improve from last week against another talented set of receivers.

Matt Purdy's backup is sophomore LB Rashaun Gasaway - a promising linebacker, but still an unproven commodity.

The potential lack of depth in the secondary, with Courtney Elder and Calvin LaMont banged up, is also a concern. Look for sophomore DBs Laquan Gasaway and Ernie Moore to see some more time if so.

Offensive Breakdown
Senior QB Sonny Riccio, a transfer from the University of Missouri, takes the starting QB reins for the second straight year. Averaging 207 yards passing per game last year, he has had a bit of an erratic arm with 14 interceptions on the year - more than 1 per game.

Further complicating matters for Riccio is the fact that his #1 and #2 targets from last year, WR Justin Long (dismissed from team) and WR David Boler (ACL tear) are out for the year. In their place, senior WRs Joe Bleymaier (a transfer from Arizona State) and redshirt freshman WR Kervin Michaud take their place, but I'm sure that both are extremely talented. If there's a problem with Riccio and this duo, senior TE Justin LaForgia (a transfer from Cincinnatti University) is also a deadly pass-catching option.

The rushing attack will be led by sophomore RB Omar Cuff, a slasher who was effective in the Hens' final three games last year. He will be looking to build on last years' success - however, it's not at all clear who might back him up or spell him. Brusing junior Niquan Lee, or possibly true freshman Danny Jones, could be the backup.

Questions abound about the "O" line. Senior OL Rob Bergman (a transfer from Miami, FL) will be anchoring the line, along with senior OL Brian Sims, but after that there are serious questions. 320-lb sophomore Joel Holler (a transfer from Penn State) shows promise, but was a washout at Penn State since he couldn't keep his weight down.

Defensive Breakdown
The defense, as always, will feature many talented players from last year, as well as a host of new players that could have an immediate impact.

Senior DL Tom Parks will be the new leader in the front four for Delaware. He returns after a 48 tackle, 10 1/2 sack year. Sophomore DL Mike Sothern (a transfer from Penn State) and junior DL Rachid Stoury (a transfer from West Virginia) could be joining him.

Senior LB John Mulhern is the man in the middle for the Hens. With 80 tackles last year including 8.5 tackles for loss, he looks to be the leader of the front seven.

Junior DB Zach Thomas is the remaining holdout from last year's incredible secondary featuring Sidney Haugabrook and Garron Bible. Junior DB Bryan Durango (a transfer from Rutgers) could also feature in the secondary.

Special Teams Breakdown
Sophomore kicker John Nauss will be taking over the kicking duties on Saturday in his Blue Hen debut, while senior P Mike Weber had a pedestrian 37.2 net on punts. Rashaad Woodard would appear to be Haugabrook's heir apparent in the kick return department.

Keys to the Game
1.Hit hard, and hit early. It's Delaware's opener, while our beloved Mountain Hawks already have a game under their belts. An early score, before the Hens have a chance to react, could ultimately be the key to the game.

2.Double-team Bleymaier. Although I'm sure LaForgia is a great talent, and I'm sure Michaud is, Bleymaier is a proven commodity that can't be allowed to burn deep. There may be an opportunity to win if you make Michaud and LaForgia beat you instead of Bleymaier.

3.Field position. I think this will be a defensive struggle, so the punting game could take on new importance. Special teams could be extremely important in pinning the Hens deep and creating points for the Hawks.

4.Short game. Delaware's defensive backfield look to be very tough. That means the running game and the short passing game will be vital for victory. Establishing the running game will be huge, as well as getting those short outs to keep the chains moving.

Fearless Prediction
The key to this game will be Lehigh getting an early lead, having the defense come up with big plays, and making it stick. My heart says: yes, they can. My head says... reluctantly... yes they can.

Lehigh 17, Delaware 14

Comments

dtashjian said…
It appears that Adam Bergen made the AZ Cardinals as back-up tightend. Haven't seen anything from LU about it, but saw his name on roster as they prepard for Giants this Sunday.
Anonymous said…
In your efforts to play up the transfer angle, you have succeeded in mentioning five players who won't start while neglecting to mention 14 players who will.

UD will start four transfers. Lehigh will start two. It's too bad that you consider this to be so important.
Anonymous said…
Other than PK Musiek, I'm not aware Lehigh has any other transfers, let alone transfers starting. I may be wrong, but I don't recall any SIGNIFICANT transfers to Lehigh in recent memory.
Anonymous said…
Sorry, but my crystal ball says:

Delaware 35
Lehigh 20

Lehigh's defense is exploited once again. This will continue to be the team's Achilles Heal all season long.

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