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Preview of Lehigh/Fordham

It's another championship/playoff game this week for our beloved Mountain Hawks as we take on Fordham on the brand-new turf at Jack Coffey field. Win, and we keep on the march towards the Patriot League title and I-AA Playoff autobid. Lose, and all those dreams pretty much are over.

On the brand-new field turf at Jack Coffey field, Lehigh cannot afford a slip-up or a subpar game. In the Patriot League title chase, Colgate and Lafayette are eagerly waiting in the wings to see us stumble, hoping to snatch the title and a I-AA playoff berth from our hands.

In the past five years, I've learned a lot about the Lehigh squads in this game right here: the game before Lehigh/Lafayette. The teams that have been able to put the hammer down in this game usually goes on to beat Lafayette, while the teams who don't usually lose.

In 2000: Lehigh 51, Fordham 17; followed by Lehigh 31, Lafayette 17.

In 2002, Lehigh 24, Bucknell 0 (who was 2-9 that year); followed by Lafayette 14, Lehigh 7.

In 2003: Lehigh 45, Bucknell 9; followed by Lehigh 30, Lafayette 10.

In 2004, Lehigh 21, Fordham 14; followed by Lafayette 24, Lehigh 10.

I think these prove the point - the teams what have been able to step on the throats of their opponents the week before, have then gone on to step on Lafayette's throats the following week. At this point in the year, there's no point in keeping it in. You've got to play at your best.

For all their success, Lehigh has been only able to step on one team's throats all year - Bucknell. In every other game this year, including last week versus Georgetown, every game has been close at halftime. I think this team needs a game where they jump out early and put this game away quickly.

The big question is: Can they do that against Fordham?

Lehigh Injury Report
Senior QB Mark Borda (Ankle, Out)
Sophomore OL Mike Dodson (Groin, Doubtful)
Senior FB Greg Fay (Back, Questionable)
Freshman RB Matt McGowan (Ankle, Questionable)
Junior TE Pete Morelli (Shoulder, Questionable)
Junior FS Courtney Elder (Shoulder, Out)
Senior DE Owen Breininger (Shoulder, Doubtful)
Junior CB Brannan Thomas (Quad, Doubtful)
Junior DB Calvin LaMont (Groin, Questionable)
Junior DE Matt Mohler (Ankle, Questionable)

A long injury list, with some key players. Where to begin? Fay's injury may give freshman FB Adam Watson or sophomore John Piascik more looks, or may put Eric "TNT" Rath and Marques Thompson more in the backfield together. McGowan's presence will be missed on special teams. Breininger's and Thomas' probable absences also worry me. Sophomore Julian Ahye has gotten a lot of reps and will probably get the nod at CB, while the "D" line may be seeing some additional appearances by junior Erik Rakus and senior Chris Zambrano. Let's hope we can get through this game without anyone else getting banged up.

A Little About Fordham
It figures. Fordham starts the year at 0-7 and is in total disarray after losing to Duquesne, Columbia, and Georgetown. Then, in the span of two games, they not only win, but win in fairly impressive fashion against Holy Cross (24-20) and Bucknell (28-21). Figures it had to be right before they meet us that they rediscover a surging offense while developing the killer instinct to finish off games.

In Ed Foley's second year after Dave Clawson's departure to Richmond, the Rams have struggled. RB Jamaal Hunte left the team for personal reasons after he was supposed to be a key cog in the Rams' three-pronged rushing attack, and a team that was supposed to be competing for the Patriot League title is now playing the role of spoiler. Foley is 7-13 as coach of the Rams but have won their last two and are trying to build something for next season.

In their last two wins, you can't help but notice that they've won by establishing the run. The ingredients to their wins have been: solid defensive play, establishing the run, and applying the knockout punch in the 4th quarter. In both wins, the Rams went out to quick starts, so preventing that should be job #1 for the offense.

Offensive Breakdown
Fordham lines up in a pretty basic set on offense. I'd look, however, for Fordham's coaches to clean out their playbook for this game, so we may see some surprises on Saturday.

It will be up to junior QB Derric Daniels to pull the trigger for the Rams. Daniels is a very athletic mobile QB despite his lack of rushing yards, but only has a 50% completion percentage and generally has a low number of pass attempts per game. Throughout his career has shown flashes of brilliance - but mostly on gamedays has disappointed. Having said that, underestimating him is a mistake that shouldn't be made. He has athleticism and talent, and if you fall asleep you'll be in trouble - just ask Holy Cross, a victim of one of his 86 yard TD passes.

The real meat in the Fordham attack comes from senior RB James Prydatko, who is averaging over 100 yards a game on the ground. A possible first-team all-Patriot player, he's big, strong and quick and public enemy #1 for the Hawk defense. His backup, sophomore RB Jonte Coven, is a shorter, quicker change-of-pace back. He broke free last week for 61 yards and 2 TDs. Neither have been big options catching the ball out of the backfield this year, while the trio of fullbacks who have started for the Rams haven't been much more than blockers all year.

At wideout, senior WR Rashawn Haynes has good speed and is probably the Rams' top deep threat on the year with 226 yards and 2 TDs on the year. On the other side, the possession threat is junior WR Mike Melvin, who is leading Fordham with 345 yards receiving and 3 TDs. Big, strong senior TE James Cafarello is not only a terrific blocker and a possible all-Patriot selection, he's also a definite receiving threat with 153 yards and 1 TD in 4 games.

Fordham has had massive problems along the "O" line with an eye-popping 31 sacks allowed, and they are considered undersized compared to Lehigh's line. Senior OL Mike Bottiglieri is their best, strongest and largest lineman at 280 lbs, and he just returned from injury last week.

Defensive Breakdown
Fordham has an excellent defense that has not been blown out all year. Sure, Fordham has lost games, but it's not due to lack of defensive effort - most times they've been worn down due to lack of offensive production. They play a basic 4-3 and when they get leads from their offense, they've held on and won games.

On the defensive line, they have size, strength and talent, and their leader is senior DE Jay Edwards. With 8 sacks on the year, Edwards leads the Patriot League. Of note here are also two tough defensive tackles in senior DT Ed Gordon and junior DT Eduardo Boza, who are both 280 lbs and can be a major headache with north-south running.

When I picked freshman LB Louis Woodland to be a face to watch this year, I basically went with what I had heard from some Fordham buddies on some of the message boards. But in the linebacking corps he's been nothing but a revelation since Ryan Kleve was knocked out for the season - he's started the last 4 games, with 11 tackles last week. When combined with senior LB Marcus Taylor in the middle, you have a great bunch of tacklers with incredible athletic ability. This front seven will not be easy to neutralize.

The secondary is filled with seniors, but the best of the bunch may be junior FS Carl Garritano, with 2 forced fumbles and 1 interception on the year. They haven't really seen a team like Lehigh passing the ball, though, so it's hard to judge how they will react against the best receivers they have seen all year.

Special Teams Breakdown
Fordham boasts the best punter in the Patriot League in senior P Anthony DiFino, with nearly a 40 yard per punt average. They also boast one of the best kickers in junior PK Micah Culkey, who has a good leg and has 7 FGs on the year. The kickoff return squad consists of Prydatko and Coven, so you know they're going to be great there, while on punt returns there have been a trio of returners, none of whom have stood out.

Keys To The Game
1.Come out of the gate strong. More than any other game this year, I'd like to see Lehigh come out of the gate strong - not only to make us forget about the sluggish first half in the G'Town game, but also to keep from falling behind early. Falling behind early is exactly what happend with Holy Cross and Bucknell.
2.Aggressive offense. As talented as Fordham's defense is, I think that if we come out aggressively on offense and put them back on their heels we should be able to establish some great offense - and we'll need it to put the Rams away.
3.Spy Prydatko. You know he's so much a part of the offense, so it's worth it for the defense to spy Prydatko early and often.
4.3rd-and-long. Getting the Fordham offense in third-and-long situations should cause Lehigh to be able to punish Daniels with the pass rush.

Fearless Prediction
I think the Mountain Hawks are really, really aware that this is a big game, and won't suffer a "trap" against Fordham. I also think that we'll see a better effort against the Rams against Georgetown. With destiny in their hands, I see Lehigh pulling out something impressive this week. I'm hoping.

Lehigh 47, Fordham 17


colgate13 said…
not sure which is which, but you've got Jonte Coven both quitting the team and backing up Prydatko. I think you mean Jamaal Hunte left the team.

Otherwise, I too think Lehigh needs to come out strong or else this game will be closer than Mountain Hawk fans will like.
Anonymous said…
Colgate13 surfaces!!! This time with a warning for the Mountain Hawk faithful. Don't you have somewhere else to hang out. Lehigh 47 Fordham 7
LBPop said…
Don't sell 13 short. Fordham can be physical and they don't back down. If Georgetown doesn't pick up a fortunate fumble and complete a deep pass (yes, we were shocked too), Fordham would have a three game winning streak.

Lehigh is the superior team, but they will have to play 55 or 56 minutes to beat the Rams. (Yeah, I think they can probably start thinking about Lafayette with around 5 minutes left).
Anonymous said…
Sorry, you are right, I don't want to underestimate Fordham...LEHIGH 46 FORDHAM 7
LBPop said…
I knew if I presented my case, you'd come around.
Anonymous said…
Although the injuries present problems, I think this team will be focused enough to get the job done. We have too many weapons on offense and have been strong against the run all year--which is Fordham's strength. If we force the Rams to pass, where they have struggled all year, I'd look for a bunch of sacks and ints. 38-13.

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