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Preview of Lehigh/Colgate

Every year, the Lehigh/Colgate game is circled on any Lehigh player's and fan's calendar. Every year it seems to have Patriot League title implications, and this year is no exception. In the past I called this game the "Patriot League Championship Game", and while this year it is clearly not that, it still is a vital game for championship hopes, especially Lehigh's. It has evolved into a huge rivalry game between like-minded institutions who are very similar athletically and academically.

When Colgate faces Lehigh, I am instantly carried back to my college days in the late '80s and early '90s, when there were classic NFL matchups between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants. Both teams had world-class talent, and both had great defenses, but the Giants would have a more old-school, power running team, while the 49ers had the "West Coast Offense" with their vaunted passing attack.

Lehigh's and Colgate's football philosiphies also fall within this line. Both have class recruiting, great linemen, and overall great Patriot League athletes. Colgate's specialty has been great big quick RBs that get yards through the blocking of the massive "O" lines, while Lehigh's specialty has been developing outstanding QBs and WRs to trigger their wide-open passing game.

Over the past four tries, Hamilton, NY has not been kind to Lehigh. The Mountain Hawks have lost three of their last four games at Andy Kerr stadium, including a tough-fought 25-22 Hawk win in 2001, and a tough 17-10 Engineer defeat in 2003. In fact, overall Lehigh is 6-16 at Andy Kerr, while only twice winning by more than 14 points (the last time this happened was 1974).

If Lehigh pulls off the win in Hamilton, that would be a major feat in the face of history. If they win in Andy Kerr by more than 2 TDs, that would be a special feat unequalled in 30 years of Lehigh football. The questions on every Lehigh fan's mind should be - is this a team of history? Or will this be a team with yet another "AKO" on the record?

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

As everyone should know, Borda will be in Hamilton as sophomore QB Sedale Threatt's QB coach. Elder's and Lewis' injuries we have known about. More worrisome is LB "Graz"'s and Chris LaMont's injuries. I have a really hard time picturing "Graz" not suiting up for a huge game like Colgate, but I don't know the full extent of his shoulder injury. And Chris LaMont, should he be unable to go, could pose a depth problem which would probably be filled by sophomore LB Rashaun Gasaway and maybe even freshman LB Tim Diamond. Hopefully "Graz" will be good enough to go on Saturday.

A Little About Colgate
If you look at Colgate's box scores this year, you'll notice something. In every game this year they have not only won the time-of-possession battle, they're routinely holding onto the football for a full 10 minutes longer then their opposition. Even in their losses this year they have done an outstanding job of holding onto the football and preventing the opposing offenses to take the field. They play a time-of-possession game; they play a game with few penalties; and they play a game with fewer turnovers than you. And they win.

Colgate had some surprising losses to Central Connecticut St. and Dartmouth early this year, but I'd get them out of your mind right now. Colgate lost those games themselves with 11 turnovers, including 2 that were returned for TDs. When Colgate has been allowed to play their game and they hold onto the football, they have dominated some teams that have played great football this year: 5-3 Holy Cross; 4-2 Princeton; and they handed #6 UMass in their only loss of the year.

Offensive Breakdown
Colgate has sturggled early in the season with an offense consisting of a lot of youth at the offensive skill positions, but has pulled it together extremely well of late. Just look at their 78% red zone conversion rate for proof. With the exception of 6th-year senior WR DeWayne Long, almost everyone in the skill positions didn't play much last year, if at all. This will be the most important game they've ever played as Raiders.

The triggerman who will be doing his best Phill Simms impersonation on Saturday is junior QB Mike Saraceno. If you throw out his unfortunate game against Central Connecticut, you would see that he has 5 TDs and only 2 INTs over the last 6 games to go with 142 yards rushing, so he's mobile and does a good job hanging onto the football. His pass accuracy level is at 52%, which is a little bit low, but he seems to be getting the job done.

The main rushing load is shouldered by freshman phenom Jordan Scott, who does his best job running in-between the tackles. He's been a revalation to Raider fans and has been a key ingredient to their success. Against Holy Cross last week he amassed an amazing 222 yards on the ground, so he's been incredibly effective so far this year. In many ways, he's the engine that makes the Raider offense work.

As coach Dick Biddle said in today's press conference, "Jordan was a consistent option because he wanted to both run and block," which is a not-so-obvious dig at his backup, sophomore RB J. J. Bennett, a I-A transfer from U. of Kentucky. Bennett is the change-of-pace back to complement Scott, and he has 100 yards on the year so far, but unquestionably he's a talented back that also can't be ignored. Senior FB Ben Evans is also used in the rushing game, where he has 136 yards and a TD on the year.

So who plays the part of Mark Ingram in the Colgate offense? That would definitely be WR DeWayne Long, who is an outstanding athlete and also a I-A transfer from Nebraska. Last year, Long had a career day against the Mountain Hawks with 12 catches for 126 yards and a TD, so his ability to perform against us is not in question. He's a "G" Walker-type burner, tall and with good hands, so our corners will have to play extremely well to shut him down. He's a player I worry about a lot - if he's 100%. With two receptions last week against Holy Cross (granted one was a big 66 yard gain), there is a question about his health, but if I know Long, he will be suited up and ready to rumble on Saturday.

It's not like the other Raider wideouts are slouches, either. A guy to keep an eye on is sophomore WR Eric Burke, who stepped up in a big way last week against Holy Cross with six receptions for 75 yards and a TD. On the other side is a capable possession WR in junior Kenny Parker, with 269 yards and 3 TDs on the year. Parker gets lost sometimes with all the other weapons, but he cannot be ignored, or he can kill you. Junior TE Jeff Brown is primarily a blocker but can catch the ball occasionally as well.

If you're not already scared, you will be when I talk to you about the one part of Colgate's offense that is loaded with good players and senior leadership - the "O" line. Senior OL Jeremy Wurst leads a big, talented line with 3 seniors. They have given up 7 sacks on the year and do not lose many trench battles. It could very well be that how our "D" line holds up against the Raiders will be the difference in the game.

Defensive Breakdown
You thought I was gushing about the Raider offense? Let me gush even more about the Raider defense, who is 1st in the league in rushing defense, 13th in the nation in overall defense, and haven't given up more than 21 points a game all year. This defense will be the toughest nut Lehigh will have to crack all year - tougher than Delaware, Harvard, or Yale.

An all-senior front four leads the "D" line, and all are great athletes. Josh Wurst, Tom Cassano, Chris Petrone, and Jeff Gallety all are strong and it seems like every week it's a new lineman stepping up to the plate. Even the backups are experienced with two seniors among them, so a hurry-up offense may be very important to prevent rotating in fresh linemen.

Colgate's LBs may be a bit undersized, but don't let that fool you for one second - the trio of junior David Wesley, senior Jared Nepa and senior Zach Dollar are fast, excellent tacklers, and also have an excellent nose for the ball - just last week Nepa had an interception return for a TD. They also bring a fearsome pass rush as well, so it is vital that Lehigh's "O" line offer Sedale enough time to execute the gameplan.

There's not even a dropoff in Colgate's secondary. Sophomore Chris Williams, I hate to say, is excellent on the year with 3 interceptions (including one returned for a TD), and the Raiders only get better from there with preseason defensive player of the year FS Geoff Bean (a junior)and senior CB Chris Williams, with 5 interceptions among them. They are aggressive and should be difficult to score against.

Special Teams Breakdown
Junior P Jason Sutton has struggled at times this year with a 32.3 yard average, one of the few visible weak spots in Colgate's formidable team. Geoff Bean is an excellent return man, with 60 and 50 yard kickoff and punt returns to his credit, while Colgate's front four has been terrorizing opposing special-teams units on extra points and FGs. An injury to K Mike Rava has pushed freshman K Jacob Stein into the starting role. He has been accurate, but has not been tested for distance - or been tested in a big pressure situation.

Keys to the Game
1.Turnovers and penalties. This has to be on the absolute top of the priority list. Colgate beats teams by turning over the ball less and committing fewer penalties. We have a chance to win if we do a better job taking care of the football and not killing ourselves. If we lose the turnover battle, we will lose the game.
2.Time of Possession. We may not win the time of possession battle with our type of offense, but if we can get 27 to 28 minutes of possession time, we should be in a good position to win at the end.
3.Trenches. Trench battles are always the key to any Lehigh/Colgate game, and if you've seen them the past few years it's obvious how important it is. Great blocking, especially on the "O" line, will be crucial to get "TNT" Rath and Threatt some yards on the ground, not to mention good chunks of passing yardage.
4.Red Zone Conversion. With the time of possession game being so important, conversion inside the 20 is vital for success, whether it be FGs or TDs. We may not get as many opportunites inside the 20, so conversion is absolutely vital to have a chance to win.
5.Make this a field position game. Don't shy away from the possession game - welcome it. Exchanging punts may work to our advantage with our return game and good punting game. Those exchanged punt could set up short fields for our offense.

Fearless Prediction
It should be obvious that I'm worried about this game. Andy Kerr is never an easy place to play. I do not have any doubt about the heart and desire of this Lehigh team to win and succeed, and with their proverbial backs against the wall Lehigh will play to the hilt. Every Mountain Hawk will have to step up, and I think everyone will. But Kerr is a strange place, and Colgate is the best team we have faced all year. I don't know how Threatt will react to such a strong defense. Establishing the run will be a challenge. Stopping teams on 3rd down has not been Lehigh's forte this year.

If we score more than 26 points, get 27 minutes of possession time, and win the turnover battle, I think we will win the game. But unfortunately I don't have a good feeling that we're going to do that. I sure hope we do; but that isn't my prediction.

Colgate 28, Lehigh 25, OT

Comments

colgate13 said…
Two corrections:

Erik Burke is a sophomore and DeWayne Long is not hurt; he's just be getting a lot of attention by defenses so we've been going to 2nd and 3rd receivers who are open.

Oh, and at TE Brent Dillingham is a freshman who will be more of a threat.

Should be a great game. You should also write some press for Colgate! ;)
colgate13 said…
I forgot: the dig on backs not wanting to block is probably not towards Bennett. We have two senior backs riding the pine right now...
Anonymous said…
Yea Chuck I think Colgate 13 is right, you should write for Colgate.
Anonymous said…
Lets think about this for a second. You said they lost twice this year when they have had 11 turnovers in those two games. That is really sloppy play v. not as good teams. Yes, they beat UMass but, they had a int and a fumble returned for a td. I would say UMass wins 8 out of 10 times v. Colgate. All in all it will be Lehigh's second hardest game of the year (v. Del was harder). Lehigh 31 Colgate 28
colgate13 said…
If you think that Delaware will be a harder game than Colgate, you will be in for a rude surprise.

Looking at the UMass game, keep in mind the starting QB and TB from the past four wins did not play. Also, keep in mind our defense held them in check for most of the day.

Should be a great game.
Anonymous said…
Colgate is no Delaware...LEHIGH 30 TOOTHPASTE 14

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