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Lehigh/Albany Preview

I’m sitting down to write the first Lehigh game preview of the year, and as a Lehigh fan, I keep seeing not necessarily Patriot League championships, but challenges to be overcome.

I suppose could be looking at all the beaming predictions and fawning newsprint talking about the upcoming season. There are lots of excited fans out there for coach Coen and the Lehigh program. Sure, that and the piece on Sedale Threatt is great stuff, but a few days before the season is starting, and I can’t remember when I’ve had so many questions about our football team.

Has there been a Lehigh season in the past twenty years that has seen this much change? A complete, radical overhaul of the offense? A brand-new formation on defense? No dominating defender who has asserted themselves as a defensive leader (as of yet)? TE Pete Morelli becoming a guard? DB Brannan Thomas listed as a WR? Guys going from nowhere on the radar screen to become starters? DT Royce Morgan, arguably one of the linchpins on defense, going from “penciled in at DT” to “we have no idea when he’ll be back”?

I’m not a pessimist about this season at all – I just feel the need to point out the challenges that this season could entail to those fans whom have already anointed Lehigh as Patriot League champs. I’ve heard of optimism before, but this level of expectation from unproven quantities is something I’d expect from Georgia Southern fans, not Lehigh fans.

We’ll know soon enough how the whole story will sort itself out. But I’d be lying if I said that it puts me completely at ease going into this weekend. There’s just an awful lot that just isn’t known about this team yet, and going about proving it starts this weekend.

Injury Report and Weather Report
OUT:
OL Ben Harden
OL Ben Caffery
WR Brannan Thomas
DB Courtney Elder
DL Paul Bode
DT Royce Morgan (not on roster)

Of course, the biggest surprise was seeing senior Brannan Thomas with a “WR” next to his name instead of a “DB”, though we're pretty set at WR anyway in my humble opinion. DL Paul Bode’s absence will be missed almost as much as Morgan, depriving the “D” line of depth. Filling in at Morgan's sport is sophomore DT Brian Jackson, a Coen favorite from the summer practices, while a couple more sophs in Jon Warren and Keith Johnson will provide the depth at NT and DE. DB Elder will be replaced by the ever-reliable junior DB Ernie Moore.

As for the weather, this Saturday gives us a prediction of rain and thunder in an already-drenched Lehigh Valley. Hopefully it will be nothing like the monsoon from last year’s Holy Cross game. (Actually, let’s hope it’s 75 degrees and sunny, while we’re at it.) Bring your rain gear, and tarps for the tailgates.

A Few Words on Albany
Lehigh last hosted the Great Danes in 2004, and in that preview, I talked a lot about SUNY-Albany being a big party school as posted by the Princeton Review while Lehigh was conspicuously absent. This year, I'm very happy to report that Lehigh recently cruised past Albany in the party-school department. Finally, those Princeton Review folks have finally understood the wonderful benefits of "The Hill" over the hopping Albany bar scene. (Of course, Albany is so boring you'd probably have to drink to get through your time there... but I digress.)With #5 Albany looking up at #3 Lehigh, the Danes will just have to try to party harder next year to attain Lehigh's stature.

Football-wise, Albany has been coached by the same head man since their inception - the legendary Bob Ford, former mentor of many current I-AA coaches including ex-Lehigh head coach Pete Lembo. I like to call him the "old Cat" since has mixed odd formations and trick plays in order to win football games. In 2004, his trick plays kept the opening score deceptively close until Lehigh pulled away in a 44-14 victory.

Albany is in the Northeast Conference or NEC, who has recently become a limited-scholarship conference. What this means is that they will now be allowed to offer up to 30 scholarships on their team starting this year. The NEC has been improving in leaps and bounds, even before offering scholarships. Last year, fellow NEC member Central Connecticut State pulled off the biggest upset in the history of the NEC by upsetting Colgate on their home turf 24-22 on opening day. And Albany didn't just beat Fordham in the last game of 2005 - they absolutely crushed them 41-0. Anyone who thinks that a NEC team is a cakewalk had better revise their thinking. These guys are getting better by leaps and bounds, and a sleepwalking Lehigh team could easily become a victim.

Offense
Bob Ford's Albany team plays a multiple-option scheme, which (in layman's terms) is an offense with lots of inside and outside running, misdirections, and trick plays. It will be different than the 2004 version -- there have been scheme changes, and there will be a better, more experienced staff running it this year.

Sophomore QB -- or should I say athlete -- Daniel Bocanegra was the revelation of the Fordham game last year. A "jack of all trades that features in multiple phases of the game", he's not just a runner - he also has good speed and can throw the ball surprisingly effectively as well. Forcing him in the pocket to me is extremely important.

Along with Bocanegra (who could be considered a running back too in his own right), the RB tandem of senior Marcus Allen and junior Omar Johnson should be the feature of this offense. As much as we fear backs named "Omar" (see: Delaware RB Omar Cuff's game against us last year), Johnson appears to be more the "bruiser" while Allen and Bocanegra do more of the outside running. Allen is a bit of a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, as is junior FB Dan Biegel. Biegel mostly blocks, but sometimes can surprise you.

They will be running behind a BIG offensive line - one that could be the biggest line we face all year (yes, Virginia, even bigger than Villanova's line). Boasting three 300 pounders, the Danes truly have bookend tackles in two 300 lb seniors: T Jacob Hobbs and T Jacob Anderson. This line is what truly scares me, especially against a completely unproven 3-4 defense with our best "D" linemen out. Just in case you didn't understand, I'll repeat, I'm very scared of this line. This is not a line I think our guys can push around.

In the spread sets that Albany has, a wide variety of receivers are their targets. Their best receiver is junior Mike Wall, but fortunately for us is fairly inexperienced.

Defense
The Albany defense varies their sets with a 3-5-3 or 3-4. Their strength is their linebacking unit, led by the preseason mid-major player of the year. They are agressive, but this hopefully can be exploited.

Senior DE Andre Coleman is the leader of the Albany "D" line, and at 290 lbs should be the biggest "D" lineman on the field on Saturday. Matter of fact the entire Albany line outweighs ours quite significantly. Yet even so the Dane's line is not the strength of the team.

It's the linebacking unit, led by junior LB Colin Disch, is the strength of the team. Coming off a 100 tackle year last year, Disch leads a defense that was among the leaders in rushing defense last year - and whose front seven (or eight) are all returning from last year's team. This is no "mid-major" defense, and I'd be as surprised as anybody if Lehigh will be able to run right at them.

The secondary boasts experience with three seniors, but one key face that returns is senior CB Ryan Chrobak who is a very solid defender with five career picks. It will be interesting to see how our guys handle them.

Special Teams
The placekicking and punting teams of Albany are quite ordinary, though experienced. Junior PK Jason Fralicker was a very ordiary 8 for 16 in FGs last year, and sophomore P Chris Lynch's 33.8 punting average is OK at best. A slew of unproven freshmen and redshirt freshmen will have the punt and kickoff return duties.

Keys To The Game
1. Play 50 lbs bigger. Did I mention enough that these "O" and "D" lines scare me? The trench guys won't have much time to work out the kinks especially if they come in here expecting to coast to a "W". The lines will have to work extra-hard to battle bigger linemen and win these battles in the trenches. If we do that, then this game will be no problem. If we don't...
2. Speed and variance to the outside. There's a reason that senior RB Marques Thompson had a career day in 2004 against the Danes - his forte, the "screen pass to the outside", is a great way to bait overagressive LBs and get big yardage. That and soft passes over the zone could be a good source of production on offense.
3.Eight in the Box? It's no secret that Albany's strength is with their running game, but it's debatable whether you want to force them inside or outside. Perhaps bottling up the middle and shutting down the interior run is the best choice, stretching the Danes on the outside all game.
4."The Total Package" I so want to give Sedale the nickname "The Total Package", and he's come very close to earning it, though it was hard last year with Mark Borda's team. This year, against Albany, it's his team, and coming out with a huge impact game will be a big part of earning his nickname.

Fearless Prediction
The first game of the season is all about getting the kinks out, and this year there are more kinks than in any season than I can remember. I will be looking to see if Sedale can run the offense crisply. I will see if these different "O" and "D" lines can really smash a team that is bigger than them in the front seven. I will see if the 3-4 can shut down Albany's defense more effectively than the old 4-3. I will see if we can run the ball against an effective run defense.

You know what this spells? A close, low-scoring affair. I really hope I couldn't be more wrong, but I think that this game will be much more of a challenge than people think.

Lehigh 24, Albany 14

Comments

Ngineer said…
Yes, with a soggy field, I suspect a fairly low scoring affair myself. Forecasts are differing. Some say the rain may be over by game time, just leaving a soggy mess. Others say the rain will be at its peak during the game. Will definitely effect the strategies employed.
The big line is a concern, though the wet field can help neutralize that. I suspect with a good number of misdirection and traps, the running game can be successful. Straight on blocking against behemoths can only clog things up. Also look for a 'perimeter game' in such conditions. With Threatt and Thompson using their juke-ability on a wet field---remember Jermaine Pugh against Fordham back in 2003 on a wet field. He went wild.
I expect out mobile defense to do well, even without Bode and Morgan. This will be a real test for our 'new' linebacking corps. With UA's large lineman, they'll need to fly to gaps.
We should have a decided edge on special teams with Leo. Of course, conditions may have most impact there. Score should be in the range you suggest, fingers crossed.
Anonymous said…
40-7
73engineer said…
From the trenches an Albany Preview….

The Andy Coen era begins and Engineer fans should be excited about this opener. After talking with Coach Coen and Lehigh Radio analyst Marty Horn look for the Engineers to run the play more and use less shotgun formations. Coach wants a tougher, less finesse brand of football. There was a lot of concern with the direction Pete Lembo was taking the team, because they had pushed the running game to the back of the play script and relied on a controlled passing game. I am a Pete Lembo fan and wish him well at Elon, but this year Lehigh team will be more physical.

Morelli at OG is a sure sign that they want to run the ball. Do not be worried about the size differences, Lehigh is quicker and nastier to the ball then Albany. Sedale Threat should have a nice opener. He is a Division IA quarterback and will show Albany what he can do passing and running. Look for top receivers to be Lee Thomas, lets hope he keeps his concentration on the ball this year and doesn’t drop some key passes like at Delaware on 3rd and 7 in the 4th Quarter or against the Easton school, high school teammates Frank Travato and Pete Donchez. Also look for Seku Yansane to emerge. Coach Coen said at his weekly press conference that he had a very good summer camp. I am excited to see Josh Pastore , the transfer from Kent State, play.

Defensively, it will come down to how good the young linebackers play. Lehigh had a great group last year with Purdy, Garziani and Breininger. They have all graduated and depth is always a problem at IAA non scholarship schools, so their replacements will have to step up quickly if Lehigh is going t stop the Great Danes attack. The Engineers DB’s are good again, lead by Captain Julian Austin and the DL will be tough. I am not worried about Albany’s 300lbs linemen, almost every team we play will have big lineman and if they were 300 lbs and good they would be playing somewhere other then Albany, trust me.

One important thing to note for the future, the NEC schools, Sacred Heart, Stony Brook, Duquesne have made a commitment to football and working toward a full compliment of scholarships. Albany, has a number of scholarship players on the team right now. Scholarships gives these teams access to a wider range of player, it also present new competition for Lehigh on the recruiting trail.

On Saturday, First win for Head Coach Andy Coen and new President Alice Gast,
Lehigh 31 Albany 10

Go Engineers!
Anonymous said…
Albany web site has video of Bob Ford summarizing the preseason and the outlook
http://www.albany.edu/sports/Video/ford8-31-06.mpg
73engineer said…
Today's weather in Bethlehem is very windy and less rain then expected. Good day to demonstrate the reinvigorated running attack. Not as bad as last year's Holy Cross debacle.

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