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Preview of Lehigh/Bucknell

Lehigh, after a huge win against Yale at home last week, now travel on the road to play Bucknell in an important Patriot League matchup. Like all league games, this is a must-win, and will serve as a sign for the rest of the league to continue to take Lehigh seriously in the title hunt. The temptation is to look ahead to Colgate next week, and to keep an eye on the scoreboard for the Colgate/Holy Cross game; but the future is now, and that means taking care of a struggling Bucknell squad in Lewisburg.

Bucknell's season has been one of deep disappointment. Even with sophomore QB Terance Wilson projected to start, the Bison were expected to be a Patriot League title contender this year. However, Wilson and former all-league FB Blamah Sarnor got hurt in the first game of the year as Bucknell lost to Georgetown 19-16, and a litany of other injuries have seen the Bison limp to a 1-5 start to the year. The injuries have indeed been staggering - QB, P, WR, offensive line - Bucknell head coach Tim Landis has had to be a magician to take care of them all.

Despite their struggles, beating Lehigh would make the Bison's season. They have a lot of talented players, especially on defense. They still have pre-season defensive player of the year Sean Conover on their talented defensive line. Our sophomore QB Sedale Threatt will be starting for the first time in his college career against this tough line, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. How Threatt plays in this game will determine what sort of expectations we should have for the rest of the year.

There will be no TV feed for this game, but you will be able to follow on the radio on ESPN 1230 and 1320 in the Lehigh Valley. As always, you can follow the audio feed on Yahoo! Sports (reg'n and $$ required). I am covering the Yale/Penn game at 3:30 on Saturday, so I will probably listen to the first half and only do limited blogging. After my day, I'll probably listen to the highlights online.

When in doubt, you can always go to lehighsports.com to get the latest broadcast information; plus, there are links to broadcasts of Lehigh Sports magazine, the Wednesday press conferences, and the audio (and, when applicable, video) feeds of the games! Obviously I am a subscriber and I love it!

Lehigh Injury Report
Senior QB Mark Borda (Ankle, Out)
Senior WR Adam Kovacs (Hip, Questionable)
Junior DB Courtney Elder (Shoulder, Out)
Senior LB Anthony Graziani (Shoulder, Questionable)
Junior DB Calvin LaMont (Groin, Questionable)
Freshman DB Jarvis Lewis (Groin, Questionable)

We all know that Borda will not be playing any more Patriot League games this year, and sophomore QB Sedale Threatt will be the starter going into this week's game. Elder is still out, and junior SS Julian Austin will continue to start. Some of those 'questionable' injuries are also a cause for concern. Kovacs' position should be filled by senior WR Aaron Argenta if he's unable to go. Junior LB Micah Greene would fill in for "Graz", and one of last week's stars in sophomore DB Julian Ahye would continue to be the backup corner. Something to keep an eye on this week is Greene's play in the middle should "Graz" be unavailable.

A Little About Bucknell
If you look on Yahoo!'s stats page for Bucknell, you will see something I guarantee you will not see for any other school in Division I. That is: you'll see senior QB/DB Dante Ross in every statistical category. He has: completed passes, rushed, been a receiver, returned kicks, punted, and scored an interception. (If I'm Tim Landis, I'd consider trotting him out for an extra-point and FG attempt, and go for some sort of record!)

The Bison have not beaten Lehigh since 1997, which, not coincidentally, was the last time Lehigh had a losing record in football. Lehigh has played Bucknell every year since 1950, and the Moutain Hawks enjoy a 36-29-3 series lead on the Bison. 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 in the league over the last ten years, the games against Bucknell were more highly regarded that the games against "weak sister" Colgate.

Offensive Breakdown
Bucknell coach Tim Landis runs the triple-option offense, which coach Lembo has said is very difficult to prepare for in one week's time. In a nutshell, it is a predominantly a running set using 2 wideouts, 1 fullback, 2 "slotbacks" that play RB or TE, and the QB as a rushing threat. So, get ready to hear "Dante Ross, 2 yard gain" on Saturday.

Superman senior QB/DB Dante Ross became the QB when injuries forced him in the starting QB role against Marist three weeks ago, and Landis chose to put his most athletic player in the QB position. He responded with the Bison's only win of the year.

Ross' biggest asset is his speed to the outside. At 5'8 and 164 lbs, he should be the quickest player on the field, which could make him difficult to tackle if he gets free of the front seven. On the minus side, he is extremely short for a QB and will be giving up a full 6 inches to his linemen, which should mean not many passing opportunities for Bucknell in the middle of the field. He has not been an extremely accurate passer up to this point either, going 9-for-21 on the year. 6 of his 9 completions did come against Villanova, however, so we can expect more designed passing for Ross.

The other backs in the triple-option offense have been somewhat of a disappointment with senior FB Blamah Sarnor's injury. Last week the primary non-Dante ballcarriers were sophomore FB Josh DiStefano and junior RB Kenny Davis, but both combined are averaging less than 50 yards rushing a game, with no TDs. They are little better receiving the ball, with only 100 total yards combined receiving. The third slotback is junior Peter Kaufman, who appears to primarily be a blocker.

The receiving corps are hard to judge with so few pass attempts, but the Bison's prime receiving threat is junior WR Richard Simpson, with 100 yards receiving this year with a TD. A freshman starts on the other side in WR Zach Allen, who caught his first two career passes last week.

To add to Bucknell's injury worries is the fact that their "O" line, in my opinion, is extremely undersized. Sophomore LT Chad Glasser is the largest lineman at 6'2 and 268 lbs, and with such a short QB in Ross, they hae extra challenges to open passing lanes for him as well.

Defensive Breakdown
Bucknell plays a 4-4-3 defense that is designed to stop the run. With the strength of Bucknell being their talented defensive line, this makes it a challenge to offensive coordinators to establish the run against them, and their strange formation makes it difficult to prepare for them. On the other hand, it requires fast and speedy defenders to cover the pass, with only one safety deep and underneath.

The best "D" lineman is preseason defensive Player of the Year, senior DE Sean Conover. At 6'5 and 270 lbs, at the beginning of the year he was a legitimate pro prospect. It's a bit misleading to look at his stats - 27 tackles, and 2 1/2 sacks - to judge him as a player. He's good enough to require near-constant double-teaming.

The linebacking corps has two defensive standouts in sophomore LB Ryan Slater and junior LB Dorian Petersen. Slater, with 52 tackles and a forced fumble, and Peterson, with 51 tackles and 2 interceptions, feature a solid tackling unit and anchor a very solid front eight.

Ross was considered one of Bucknell's best defensive players when he switched to offense, leaving a large void in the defensive backfield. That forced several freshmen and sophomores to start, showing some inexperience in that position. The "old man" in the backfield is now junior CB David Frisbey, with one interception and 34 tackles on the year.

Special Teams Breakdown
It's no secret that KR Dante Ross - where have I heard that name before? - is a huge threat on special teams, with 451 punt and kick return yards on the year. But with freshman P Phil Azarik out with mono, junior Matt DeMartino and Ross have also filled in as punter as well. Starting at K this year has been freshman K Will Carney, who already has a 42 yard FG to his credit, so he has a good leg. (Don't be surprised to see Ross kicking by the end of the year - it's probably the only position he hasn't played for the Bison in his career.)

Keys to the Game
1.Spreading the "D". With our large front four linemen, and the underneath passing game less of an option, I'm thinking that man-to-man on the receivers with linebackers covering the outside runs could force the Bison to run in-between the tackles. That could mean a big day for Lehigh's defense.
2.Deep passing. In my mind, the way to beat an eight-man front is to burn people deep. With youth and inexperience in their secondary, I'd like to see "G" Walker burn them for some long gains. It will be interesting to see Threatt's arm, and how he connects to the senior receivers.
3.Punt and kickoff containment. Lehigh's containment units have been one of the Mountain Hawks' biggest problem spots this year, with many penalties and one killer return for a TD. You cannot let Ross break one for a TD this week.
4.Statement. Every game from this point forward is a statement to the rest of the league. Can you beat us? A VMI-like effort gives the signal to Colgate and Lafayette that "we're beatable". We need another effort that says, "We're still the top dog in this conference, and we're going to prove it today."

Fearless Prediction
We've been waiting to see the dominating Lehigh team come out for weeks now. Even this year's best win against Harvard has seen mental errors and mistakes. When will we see the real potential this Lehigh squad possesses? Hopefully this week, even with the inexperienced greenhorn Threatt at QB. I don't expect too much from Threatt in his first collegiate game, but I do expect a "W".

Lehigh 27, Bucknell 10

Comments

colgate13 said…
"Weak sister"?!??!?! Why I outta... ;)

Good luck - for this week anyway!

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