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Preview of the 141st meeting: Lafayette/Lehigh

Remember when? November 20th, 2004? The 140th meeting?

Were you huddled in Fisher Field's stands, watching this guy, Lafayette's junior QB Brad Maurer, create 232 yards of offense for the Leopards?

Did you see LB Maurice Bennett punish Lehigh's offense with 11 tackles? Did you see LB Justin Stovall force two key fumbles, leading to Lafayette's 24-10 win?

Did you stick around to see him collect his Lehigh/Lafayette MVP trophy?

Did you stick around to see Lafayette carry their Patriot League championship trophy around Fisher field?

Did you see Lafayette fans storm the field to celebrate?

Did you have that sick feeling after the game that Lehigh's wonderful season was now laying in tatters? Did you have a restless night wondering if Lehigh will be selected to the I-AA playoffs as an at-large team?

I did. And I bet everyone involved in the Lehigh program did as well.

Well, it's nearly been a year since this game. The rest of the regular season has been played, and Lehigh and Lafayette once again are alive for the Patriot League title. Lehigh's mantra is really simple - win, and they clinch a co-Patriot League championship and a I-AA playoff berth - but truth be known, the loss on November 20, 2004 has been burning for an entire year. Even if Lehigh were 0-10 going into this game, Lehigh would be wishing to extract a pound of Leopard flesh.

Lafayette still has a dream of a Patriot League co-championship and a I-AA playoff berth. They will be out to try to capture that on Saturday, and they will be ready. This will be Lehigh's toughest challenge of the year in a season of tough challenges. The Delaware, Harvard, Holy Cross, and Colgate games were great challenges, but the final challege of beating Lafayette awaits.

And, Lehigh Nation hopes, avenging 2004.

Lehigh Injury Report
Senior QB Mark Borda (Ankle, Out)
Sophomore OL Mike Dodson (Groin, Questionable)
Junior FS Courtney Elder (Shoulder, Out)
Sophomore DB Ernie Moore (Knee, Doubtful)
Junior DB Calvin LaMont (Groin, Questionable)
Junior DE Matt Mohler (Ankle, Questionable)

So much for playing games with the injury report! The biggest injury worries (carrying over from last week) on Lehigh concern the starting defensive line, with senior DE Owen Breininger and junior DE Matt Mohler. Against Fordham, there were plenty of other linemen who stepped up their games - notably junior DE Paul Fabre, senior DT Chris Zambrano, and junior DT Josh Cooney - but it will be very interesting to see who is going to be starting on the "D" Line. Other than that, it looks like we'll be entering "The Game" reasonably healthy.

A Little About Lafayette
Lafayette is an excellent team with lots of talent. There's a reason why they are 7-3 and still in the hunt for a Patriot League title. They have a powerful defense - 10 of 11 Leopard starters return from last year's squad that held Lehigh to 10 points. Their offense has struggled at times this year, but last week they lit up Holy Cross for 41 points and seem to be hitting their stride at the right time. Of course nobody's going to overlook Lafayette, but it's important to consider how close they've come to being squarely in control of the Patriot League race.

They have been in every game this year, even in their three losses. Against 6-3 Princeton, had they been able to hold the Tigers once, they would have had an excellent chance to get in position for a game-winning FG. Against 6-3 Harvard, they were stopped on 4th down inside the 20 driving for the game-tying TD. Against 7-3 Colgate, the game-tying FG fell just short.

Should Lafayette lose on Saturday, the storyline for thier 2005 season will be that they could not reverse the tide of history by losing to Princeton (4-34-3 lifetime), Harvard (2-7 lifetime), Colgate (9-35-4 lifetime), and Lehigh (1-7 lifetime at Goodman Stadium).

Offensive Breakdown
Lafayette has struggled at times on offense this year as they've sturggled to get a good offensive rhythm. Against Holy Cross, they appear to have righted the ship, and head coach Frank Tavani is not afraid to hammer at a perceived weakness to get what he wants.

Junior QB Brad Maurer has started every game for the Leopards this year. However, Lafayette really has a two-headed QB. For five games this year, senior QB Pat Davis has come in to spell Maurer, so when you prepare for the Leopards you're really preparing against both QBs. Don't be surprised to see both on Saturday - we may even see Davis start. After a tough start to the year where he was playing hurt, Maurer has emerged again as a multidimensional threat running the ball and passing the ball. Davis has a stronger arm and is more of a pocket passer, but both are excellent players. QB is a strength no matter who's back there.

With the season-ending injury to senior RB Alfred Belton, junior RB Jonathan Hurt was thrust into the primary rushing role. A bruising back, he's the meat grinder to Maurer's outside running, but can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Last week he had 125 yards rushing and 2 TDs against Holy Cross, so again he's hitting his stride at the right time. Sophomore RB Anthony D'Urso is another bruiser and spells Hurt occasionally. Senior FB David Nelson is the lead blocker that helps grind out their yardage, and although he doesn't have his number called often while rushing, he's a very good blocker and also has good hands catching the ball.

A pair of senior wideouts - Joe Ort and Brandon Stanford - return as the top pass catching threats on the Leopards, though the passing game is spread pretty evenly between Ort, Stanford, senior WR Archie Fisher and freshman WR Shaun Adair. Add to this mix senior TEs Chad Walker and Brandon Hall - both whom can also catch the ball out of the backfield - and you have a passing attack that's not centered on one guy. When it's clicking, like it did last year in the 140th meeting, you have a team that will eat you alive.

The Lafayette "O" line has been shuffled around a lot this year due to injury, but with a pair of 300 lb players in seniors Joel Miner and Drew Buettner, they are still one of the beefiest lines in the Patriot League. They have not gelled as well as last year's squad, having fewer rushing yards and allowing more sacks than last year.

Defensive Breakdown
The Lafayette defense is one of the best in I-AA, period. They're allowing an average of 15.1 points per game. It's not just one strong player - it's a veteran defense that has been playing great all year. Playing a base 4-3, they have a bruising pass rush, a knack of stopping people on 3rd down (32%), and an opportunistic defense (15 takeaways on the year).

Senior DE Andrew Brown is the best tackler on a surprisingly smallish line with 59 tackles. The front four are smallish in the defensive tackles, but with their fantastic linebackers, it's debatable if you want to test that all the time. Senior MLB Maurice Bennett is a Buck Buchanan award finalist, and that's no fluke with his 117 tackles and 7 sacks on the year. He could very well be an NFL draft pick next year.

As great as Bennett is, you'd be foolish to overlook the outside linebackers in seniors Blake Costanzo and Dion Witherspoon, great tacklers in their own right. Combined they have 157 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks. With Costanzo's 2 INTs on the year as well, they are also good in pass defense as well. Overall, the Leopard linebacking unit is the best in the Patriot, bar none.

The defensive backfield is also real strong, especially on the corners with seniors Larry Johnson and Tye Murphy. Juniors Trey Martell and Torian Johnson are no slouches, either. They're only giving up 162 yards passing per game.

This will be the best defense that Lehigh, and sophomore QB Sedale Threatt, has faced all year.

Special Teams Breakdown
Brandon Stanford and Larry Johnson return kicks, and are near the top of I-AA in both categories, so that has to be a huge concern. Junior K Rich Ziska is holding down the kicking duties, while sophomore P David Yankovich holds the punting duties. Both have struggled with accuracy and leg.

Keys To The Game
1.Winning the turnover battle. This is important every week, but more so in this huge rivalry game. You have to expect a close game, and turnovers can be the difference in the game. Win the turnover battle, win the game.
2.Defensive looks. Keeping Maurer and Davis on their heels with different defensive looks could keep them on their heels and break their offensive rhythm.
3.Time of possession. Hanging onto the ball and tiring out the defense can be a huge boost to Lehigh's prospects for the "W". Execution in this game is critical.
4.Big Plays. It seems like these games always come down to big plays. If Lehigh can get more big plays than Lafayette, I think we may be sleeping soundly with visions of I-AA success in our heads.

Fearless Prediction
I really liked what I saw last week from Lehigh... and, unfortunately, Lafayette. There will be electricity in the air. Sparks will fly on the field, with 16,000 anxious fans looking on. And I see this game as a super-tight affair. I see this one as a back-and-forth affair. There's just too much emotion on the field for it to be a blowout one way or another, and too much skill to make it a runaway for either team.

There will be big plays, and I feel it will be going down to the 4th quarter this year. For Lafayette, one more time this year, the Leopards come out just barely short.

Lehigh 34, Lafayette 27

Comments

fxrer said…
Regarding last year....

"Did you have that sick feeling after the game that Lehigh's wonderful season was now laying in tatters?"

You BET I DID! Like every other Lehigh fan, I felt totally depressed. I dug out my capsule comments of last year's game that I sent to a brother.

Here are my thoughts from a year ago:

"After the way they performed Saturday, I felt they didn't deserve a spot in the playoffs. I feel they were totally out coached by the Lafayette staff. The defense was especially flummoxed by the Leopard schemes. How many times this season have we seen trick or misdirection plays from Lafayette? Even Lembo said they "expected" some of these things. Yet they could not come up with answers. The fake punt? Please!!! And how many times in the last 3 games has the Lehigh defense been beaten by the QB bootleg? LOTS! From Colgate, Fordham, and Saturday from the Leopards."


Let's hope history does NOT repeat. And I especially hope that our coaches have a plan to negate any trick plays, for which the Leopards are noted.
Anonymous said…
I think Lehigh wins this game beacuse of Sedale Threatt. Lafayette's defense is good but has never faced Sedale and most likely no one like him. I think they will have lots of trouble stopping Lehigh's "option" shotgun plays. Lehigh wins 31 21.
Billy said…
Great blog. But when you talk about the Lehigh O line, you only go tackle to tackle. What about the TEs? Those guys do a hell of a job blocking and clearing it out.
Anonymous said…
Lehigh 34-20. Remember last year we had barely gotten by Colgate and Fordham. This year we are rolling. Last year we sorely missed Cardwell in the secondary, this year he's leading the crew and the blown assignments last year won't happen, again. Plus we have Morgan back who was also missed. ADD the much improved WR corps and the multi-threat Threatt and LC won't know which way to look.
--Ngineer

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