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Preview of Lehigh/Harvard

Yeah, I'm working on about 2 hours of sleep. Yeah, I've done a pretty poor job as a self-described Lehigh football fanatic hyping everyone up for what could be one of the most important games on Lehigh's schedule in regards to the I-AA playoffs. But here I am, and here is this week's Lehigh/Harvard preview.

This is going to be a huge game, with much of I-AA nation tuning into CSTV nationally (and to channel 69 in the Lehigh Valley) to watch. (Not to neglect that the radio play-by-play will be on AM 1230 and 1320 in the Lehigh Valley as well.) With Lehigh ranked at #12, and Harvard at #14 according to the Sports Network, I-AA nation wants a few questions answered:

1) Is Harvard as good as some people say they are?
2) Is Lehigh *really* a candidate for the I-AA championship, or are they just a bunch of hot air like the rest of the Patriot League?

From the Mountain Hawk perspective, this will very likely be the highest-ranked team they will play for the rest of the year. A win here against a ranked opponent would put them in a good position leading into the Patriot League schedule. If they win this game and get the Patriot League auto-bid, home playoff games could be a possibility down the road. If they win the game and don't get the Patriot autobid, the I-AA playoff committee could point to this game as a "quality win" that may put the Hawks in as an at-large bid. Lose, and it would seem like Lehigh would have lost any fudge room concerning the playoffs - they would need the autobid to get in the playoffs most likely. No doubt this is a big game.

Lehigh Injury Report
No injury report yet, but I will come out with this tomorrow, once the Lehigh game notes come out.

A Little About Harvard
Harvard is riding the longest undefeated streak in Division I football right now at 13 games, and if you look at their game notes for this game they are very very proud of that fact. Last week they kept their win streak alive with a nail-biting, come-from-behind double-overtime win against Brown, 38-35. During the game, starting in the 2nd quarter, coach Tim Murphy played it like a playoff game, going for 2 2-point conversions and being successful with both. On what has to be considered one of the gutsiest calls ever, coach Murphy also elected to *run* the ball against the Bears with 15 seconds left and no timeouts on the Brown 3 yard line, and junior RB Clifton Dawson delivered to put the game into overtime. Coach Murphy appears to be a dogged sort, but considering that the Crimson's last losing season was in 1998, it's hard to argue with his results. If he sees a weakness, he'll come right after it.

Earlier this year, I wrote a series of articles celebrating the "Best Fans in I-AA, and I had the Crimson at #8. Here's an excerpt of my then-assessment of their fan base:

Deep down inside, when you peel away the intellectualism, affluence and prestige, in every Harvard fan is a crazy McNeese State fan just waiting to come out - to let loose at the tailgate, to let loose a lusty "Yale Sucks!" in the stadium (even when you're playing Northeastern), to go Crimson crazy. Lobster canap├ęs instead of BBQ Ribs at the tailgates, perhaps - but the same, down-home, good ol' fashioned love of the Crimson and hatred for the opponents. Especially if it's Yale.

You'd think that Harvard fans would be pouring out of the woodwork agreeing with my analysis, right? You'd be wrong. One shockingly said that the Crimson fan base was "nothing compared to Yale's". It goes to prove something: Harvard fans are funny, even if it's completely inadvertent. In any case, I see a lot of them coming out to see the Mountain Hawks this Saturday, and we'll see exactly how rowdy they will be.

Offensive Breakdown
Former Lehigh TE and former Lehigh Coach Dave Cecchini was the architect of the Lehigh offense that you see today, and he is the Crimson's offensive coordinator. What that means is you're going to see lots of sets, spread offenses and aggressive play. Since the Crimson have scored more than 30 points in 12 of their last 13 wins, Cecchini I can safely say is an offensive mastermind, and the Mountain Hawks' defense will have their hands full stopping it.

In the first two weeks the Crimson have been breaking in sophomore QB Liam O'Hagan, and his results against two tough teams have been mixed. Against Holy Cross he had a solid game with 2 TDs and one interception, but against Brown he only went 17-for-34 with 2 interceptions. Still, he averages 282 yards passing a game and - importantly - almost 50 yards a game rushing. O'Hagan offers a multi-faceted attack which is reminiscient of Colgate's QB Chris Brown in 2003. Although a sophomore, O'Hagan is a talented kid not to be taken lightly.

If this team resembles the Raiders of 2003, then junior RB Clifton Dawson is the Crimson's Jamaal Branch - except that Dawson is even better. A Payton Award candidate, he's averaging 171 yards rushing his first two games, and his first two seasons he cracked the 1,000 yard mark playing only 10 games a year. Branch had a tendency to slow later in games, but Dawson has breakout quickness that can leave defenses in the dust. He also catches the occasional pass out of the backfield, making him a nightmare for any defensive coordinator. If we hold him to under 100 yards, we'll be lucky.

Harvard's leading receiver this year, junior WR Corey Mazza, is out indefinitely after suffering an injury in the Brown game, which potentially could be an opening for Lehigh. That means senior WR Ryan Tyler and sophomore WR Joe Murt become the starting wideouts. Tyler is more of a speedster, while Murt is a tall receiver who will be looking for his coming-out party. Harvard still has a talented group, but losing Mazza really hurts the Crimson. Senior TE Jason O'Neill hasn't caught a pass all year, and appears to primarily be a blocker.

The "O" line on the Crimson doesn't lose many battles, and just by looking at 6'5, 300 lb senior T Brian Lapham you know why. The Crimson line is big, experienced, and good, and probably better than Delaware's "O" line. Lehigh's front seven may have a rough time with this trench battle.

Defense Breakdown
On "D", the Crimson's 4-3, like Lehigh's, have given up a lot of points per game this year. Like Lehigh, their defense is a mixture of veteran stars with underclassmen looking to settle into their roles. Whichever defense gels into the better unit first may be the one that wins the game.

The "D" line's big star is senior DE Erik Grimm, with 8 tackles on the year including 2 for loss. Overall, the Crimson line is a bit undersized, with the biggest guy at 260 lbs, which could be yet another Lehigh opening.

In the linebacking unit, seinor LB Matt Thomas is the star, with 14 tackles and a sack. He's their Anthony Graziani. Like the front four, they are a bit undersized, but they are hard and sound tacklers and are very talented - the strength of the Crimson defense.

The big man in the defensive backfield is junior CB Keith Howell, with 11 tackles and a sack to his credit. Their tall corners appear to have a lot of potential, but a true freshman CB and a sophomore FS are starting, which Brown and Holy Cross attempted to exploit with some success. It will be interesting how they match up with Lehigh's passing attack.

Special Teams Breakdown
Sophomore K Matt Schneidel has gone a perfect 4-for-4 on FGs, but none over 35 yards, so it remains to be seen how good his leg really is. Senior P Mike King is merely average so far this year, Senior Ryan Tyler and Neil Sherlock return kicks, with their longest being 33 yards.

Keys To The Game
1.Mental toughness. This doesn't only mean getting the VMI near-loss and the Delaware loss out of our heads. It also means focusing on holding onto the ball, making few mistakes, and executing the gameplan. It will take a higher level of concentration than the troops have shown thus far.
2.Dawson Challenge. Lehigh Football Nation's challenge is this: Keep Dawson to under 100 yards rushing an the Mountain Hawks will win the game. That means controlling the trenches against an awfully great Crimson front line. Rise to the challenge!
3.Rath rampage. Lehigh may like to pass the ball, but I see a light front seven as a great way to attack this defense. Rath, Fay, Thompson and Borda perhaps on some rollouts, may be able to move the ball effectively with a varied straight-ahead and sideline running attack. That could set up the pass quite nicely.

Fearless Prediction
Harvard is a great team, but with Mazza out, it really hurts the Crimson. At the risk of sounding like a homer, I think the Crimson just doesn't match up well against the Mountain Hawks, and Lehigh will play better than they showed last week at VMI. You'd better tune in to see which way the Lehigh season goes - this week, it will go one way or the other.

Lehigh 35, Harvard 10


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Anonymous said…
What the heck is all that English blarney?
Anyway, I don't think we have to hold Dawson under 100 yards. But we must control him. If he gets 120-140 yards, but on 35-40 carries, then they're not getting into the endzone alot. H'as secondary is suspect. I like the size issue in the trenches, and it would be nice to see Rath get asserted early setting up some big time play-action, which only works if the ground game is. I would llike to think you're correct, but I dont see this as a blow out. Lehigh has a history of holding down some big backs in big games. IF Dawson is held to under 100, a win should be assured. But even if he gets his yards, we still win with more balance and weapons.
Anonymous said…
As much as I wish otherwise, this is about to become a "down" year for Lehigh football. The defense has looked bad all year and against Harvard it will be fully exposed. Even without all the injuries in the defensive backfield, the defensive line has been totally unimpressive. All the new faces are still learning, but in the meantime they are not getting the job done.

Lehigh's offense should move the ball against Harvard, but they make too many mistakes to threaten the Tide. I see Harvard's defense bending at times but not breaking when it counts. They will stuff Lehigh's running game.

The final score will be 35-13 (another missed XP) with Harvard coming out on top. Sorry. Maybe next year.

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