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Sunday Thoughts on Lehigh/Monmouth and...

As much as I'd like to talk about Lehigh's unbelievable offensive performance on Saturday, on a perfect day in Murray Goodman, my thoughts keep drifing back to another score on the day:

Central Connecticut State 24, Colgate 22.

Yes, Mark Borda played like a champ with 6 TDs going 22 for 31. Yeah, Gerran Walker had one of those days that receivers just dream about. But Colgate, losing to Central Connecticut State, could be the most significant development of the week.

When I picked CCSU to be beaten by Colgate 56 to 3, I obviously did no research on the Devils whatsoever. What did I know? I knew they played in the Northeast Conference. I knew that they were #6 in the Sports Network I-AA mid-major poll, and that's about it. I felt like they weren't as good as Monmouth. I also knew that even though Colgate has some question marks on offense, they always seem to have a Chris Brown or a Jamaal Branch hiding in the wings just waiting to get into the starting lineup, and that this past Satruday they were going to go out there and send a message to the rest of the Patriot League that they were going to be a force to be reckoned with.

But, that didn't happen. QB Mike Saraceno struggled mightily. The Raiders turned over the ball 7 times. They couldn't get the big TD when they needed it, and instead settled for FG after FG. And, on the next to last play of the game, they gave up a 66 yard pass play (presumably in the prevent defense) to set up the Devils' winning FG.

And this was from a team that fully expected - and may still be expected - to be challenging for the Patriot League title. Who lost to a team that many feel will be the 2nd placed team in the limited-scholarship NEC conference. It was one thing to have Monmouth beat up on Georgetown last year when they weren't expected to compete for the Patriot League title. It's quite another when a legitimate Patriot League title contender falls to a limited-scholaship NEC team that plays a brand of football that is considered a step below I-AA playoff play.

That sends shockwaves through the whole conference, not just Hamilton, NY.

Adding to the shock, most teams in the conference struggled early against their out-of-conference foes. Fordham, who is expected to challenge for the Patriot League title, fell hard to a doormat of the A-10, 34-20. Holy Cross fell behind 14-0 to middling NEC member Sacred Heart before pulling away to cruise 56-28. Even Marist of the limited-scholarship MAAC was within 3 against Lafayette midway through the 3rd quarter before the Leopards pulled away for a 40-21 victory. And Monmouth of the NEC was up against Lehigh 14-10 midway through the second quarter with all the momentum on their side.

That's the scariest thing of all. It could have been Lafayette. It could have been Holy Cross. It could have been us. Play a sloppy game, have things fall apart, and it can be you. In the first half, being a Lehigh fan on Saturday was nerve-wracking. At no time in the first half did I feel like our defense had Monmouth in check. They racked up 300 yards passing against our defense. They made many key 3rd down conversions. At halftime I was very, very worried that Lehigh could be an upset candidate. Monmouth played an inspired game, with great offensive production - and on a different day, they could have had Lehigh's scalp.

Should I not be worried? Should I expect the NEC to be much improved over years past, when Lehigh beat Monmouth 56-10 and Fordham beat Marist 46-0? Lehigh, Lafayette and Holy Cross did manage to right their ships and roll to easy wins in the end. Or were they also just a few plays away from a CCSU-like victory? Maybe the NEC in 2005 will prove to be an excellent conference. But maybe it won't be up to Patriot League snuff, just like all the other years. And we could have lost to Monmouth.

You can bet that the rest of I-AA nation is looking at CCSU beating Colgate and collectively saying, "See, the Patriot League isn't that good." True or not, that will be the perception in this coming week. Some might even point to Lehigh's early struggles and say "gee, there's not that much separation between Lehigh and Monmouth, or CCSU, or Marist".

The only way to shut up the critics and to change that perception is for Lehigh to beat Delaware this coming Saturday.

Tomorrow, we'll see game balls and the media wrapup. And I promise I'll start whipping you up into a frenzy for Lehigh/Delaware, I promise.


Anonymous said…
Homework does help. CCSU was picked #1 in the NEC by one football mag, and right behind Monmouth in another. These teams have vastly improved over the past five years. MU's WR's were just as talented as ours. Clearly their depth and conditioning was not there in the second half. I would look at Saturday's results as the NEC having raised the bar. And that will be good in the long run.
Anonymous said…
Excuse me did the ngineer say that Monmouth's receivers were just as good as ours? Must have had his beer goggles on.
Anonymous said…
I just hope Pete has some schemes he was hiding in the Monmouth game because Delaware will blow our doors off if the defense plays like that again. They gave poor #12 no help all day. Monmouth kept exploiting the one on one coverage on his side of the field by drawing our safeties the other way. If they expect the kid to play man up they had better generate more of a pass rush.

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