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Lehigh/Harvard Preview

Just in case you thought Harvard wasn't going to take their battle against the Mountain Hawks seriously, I go over to the Harvard website and see the "Battle In The Valley" prominently on the front page. I know they're pumped by their 2-0 start and their emphatic wins against Holy Cross and Brown, but the extra production being made of this game makes me think one thing: They think they can beat us.

And why not? Officially, the whole Patriot League looks like they're down and out, with every team looking for some sort of identity. All you need to do is point to out out-of-conference record against out academic brothers, the Ivies - an awful 2-7. As we pull into Week 5 of this young 2006 football season, we’re finding the Patriot League’s reputation under assault from all quarters.

As a Lehigh fan, I don't know what to expect so far this year. Rebuilding, or reloading? I think we need to see our team right now as a work-in-progress, something we as Lehigh fans are not used to doing. We're used to upsetting I-A schools and beating A-10 teams, not taking time to find an identity and go-to players.

Having a nationally-ranked, and hungry, opponent in Harvard coming to town isn't exactly a recipe for an easy go on Saturday, especially after sitting on the Princeton loss for two weeks and suffering our third straight home defeat.

But I remember last year's Harvard game up in Cambridge. In that game, LB Anthony "Graz" Graziani, QB Mark Borda and WR Kevin Zebluim stepped up to be the go-to guys on the team, making big plays that made a battle of nationally-ranked teams in to a 49-24 laugher. Sometimes, a big performance (broadcast all along the East Coast on CN8) can get things kickstarted in a big way.

But it won't be easy. If the first two games are any indication, Harvard will be their usual dominating selves on offense and will be a difficult team to contain.

Injury & Weather Report
OUT:
OL Ben Harden
OL Brendan Caffrey
DB Courtney Elder

Questionable:
DL Paul Bode
OL Pete Morelli

The injury list this week is identical to the one two weeks ago. Not much to mention here except that big sophomore OL Kevin Bayani will be starting this week once again, giving him invaluable starting “O” line experience. In a minor change, senior DT Kyle Adams will be starting over senior DT Royce Morgan, but expect to see both a lot in the defensive line.

Luckily, Lehigh has been pretty healthy so far on both sides of the ball. Especially offensively, this should be an advantage as the team starts to gel further.

The weather in Bethlehem on Saturday is promising to be a gorgeous day, sunny with highs in the low 60s. With CN8 in the house televising the football game, should the weather hold this game could be a great advertisement for Lehigh football. I think the tailgate drinks of the week should be something with a bit of a rougher edge that the buttoned-up Ivy League – why not Long Island Iced Teas, and Hennessey on the rocks?

A Few Words on Harvard
You'd think we were talking about Auburn or Oklahoma when we talk about offseason problems in college football, but the offseason problems of the Crimson could rival those two football factories in 2006.

This spring, Harvard looked like nobody in the Ivy would even be near their zip code. But when LB Matt Thomas was kicked off the team with an alleged sexual assault charge, the defense lost their captain. Later in the summer, starting QB Liam O'Hagan would be suspended for half the season, ostensibly for his role in the affair as well - thus depriving them of TWO team captains in the fall.

For most I-AA programs, that could spell a long season. However, Harvard is not just any I-AA program. In their first two games against resurgent Holy Cross and last year's Ivy champion Brown, the games weren't even close as they demolished both teams. Clearly Harvard, year in and year out, is a deep team that can handle adversity.

[UPDATE: Another member, senior WR Keegan Toci, recently was also kicked off the team for exercising "poor judgement" merely two weeks ago. Unconfirmed reports claim he made jokes referring to the Ivy's postseason ban in some type of "skit". If Harvard can get a 10-0 season out of all the offseason foibles of this team, head coach Tim Murphy deserves some sort of award... or perhaps deserves to be Univeristy of Miami's head coach next year.]

Offense
Wunderkind and Lehigh Alum Dave Cecchini ('91) may be gone, but his legacy remains with Tim Murphy's Harvard team. In their first two games this year, the Crimson have scored over 30 points.

What makes this even more remarkable is that this was done with two different starting QBs - both of whom are not in the two-deep for Saturday. Could it be we're seeing the junior QB Richard Irvin - ostensibly the 4th-string guy last spring - starting against us? Not much in the scouting report to say, although he started last year's opener and his has a live arm. But this could be a huge break for our Hawks.

"The Man", though, in this offense is senior RB (and Payton Award candidate) Dawson. When Lehigh faced him last year, he was playing hurt and it showed. This year, in two games he's averged 175 yards rushing and 3 TDs a game. At our level he can do it all, although he's a better speedy outside runner and pass receiver than a bruiser. He must be accounted for at all times. The FB, junior Noah Van Niel, is primarily a blocker and a decoy running and passing, which is just as well considering Dawson's role in the running game.

Harvard's "O" Line is always solid, and this year is no exception. A big, experienced line, anchored by seniors Nik Sobic and Frank Fernandez, will again be a challenge for our front seven to run stuffing or putting pressure on Irvin. They were only credited with one sack so far this year - and even that was caused by a slip on the turf, not a breakdown in protection. These guys are good.

This year, coach Murphy has gone to a variety of targets through the air, not allowing any secondary to key on one guy. The best of the bunch is tall, sure-handed senior WR Corey Mazza, who was injured before last year's Lehigh game. He's big and makes small DBs pay big-time. Other than Mazza, sophomore WR Alex Breaux, junior WR Matt LaGlace and senior TE Matt Farbotko all get equal time catching the ball. Any one could be Irvin's target on the day.

Defense
Murphy prefers a base 4-3 defense that, like all the upper echelon Ivy teams, features superlative tackling and amazing run-stuffing. As a unit they're only averaging 37.5 yard rushing a game, so coach Coen's "Iso's" will be sorely tested against this "D".

Senior NT Michael Berg leads a smallish "D" line, but don't be fooled. Junior DE Brad Bagdis has been a standout player so far, and freshman DT Matt Curtis is a Royce Morgan-like presence so far with 4 sacks to his credit.

The prospects don't look much better at linebacker. Senior LB Ryan Tully by default leads this defense, but sophomore LB Eric Schultz has been a wrecking crew underneath so far with 15 tackles already. Like Princeton, they are a solid tackling unit that are great at closing running gaps.

The secondary has some good run support in senior FS Daniel Tanner, but perhaps some hay could be made on the small junior CB Stephen Willams or the inexperienced sophomore CB Andrew Berry.

Special Teams
Junior Matt Schindel is the punter and kicker for the Crimson. Although not tested very much kicking FGs, his punt average is on the weaker side. Clifton Dawson returning kicks is obviously a threat to score always, but Berry and senior DB Neil Sherlock have not been terribly effective in returning the ball so far.

Keys To The Game
1. Go-To Guys. We need to find the guys that want to get the ball or make the big hit with the game on the line. Last year "Graz", Borda, and Zebluim came forward. To win this game, we'll need the same thing to happen here.
2. Stretch the defense. We won't win this game by running "Iso" every play. The defense will need to be stretched to both sidelines and to the end zone. That could mean more passing.
3. Special Teams Advantage. These special teams need to come out special to make the battle of field position something genuinely important today. To win a close game against a nationally-ranked opponent, it will be crucial.
4. Stop Dawson. Easier said than done, but that was the key last year. I don't care how, but if we hold Dawson to under 100 yards rushing we will win this game. If we let him get his average of 175 yards and 3 TDs, we'll be in trouble.

Fearless Prediction
I've gotta believe that Lehigh will come out and play Mountain Hawk football this week. A win this week would set the rest of the Patriot League on notice who the big dog still is in the division. A win would also send notice to all of I-AA to not bury Lehigh, or the Patriot League, just yet. I think the differences between Lehigh and Harvard are slight, and it will reflect itself in a thrilling game. I'm hoping that in the last two minutes, we'll discover who our go-to guys are this year.

Lehigh 33, Harvard 30

Comments

Anonymous said…
Harvard 35
Lehigh 14

The Alumni up in the "expensive" seats will be screaming to bring Lembo back. It's gonna be a looooooooong year.
Anonymous said…
that is a fearless prediction. usually i pick Lehigh to win, even in someof the playoff games, but this game i admit, lehigh will not win. i would love to see them finially win a game int he 4th quarter but i expect another 4th quarter dissapointment.
Ngineer said…
Yes, this is a game where Lehigh should be considered a 'decided' underdog based on what has occured to date. IF the Lehigh of the second half of Villanova and first half of Princeton shows up for all four quarters, they can win this game. With an opponent like Harvard any 'lull in intensity' could be very damaging. You have to BELIEVE that with two weeks two refocus and prep that we're going to see the Mountain Hawks pick up their game and surprise a lot of people. We've shut down some big runners over the years and I'm banking on the D to be the catalyst for a Lehigh win, 24-17.
Anonymous said…
I think you have overanalyzed the team and the coaching staff to death. This one won't be close. the Mountain Hawks run the Crimson out of the stadium and show the naysayers that the season will be loooooong for the LU opponents. What a bunch of malcontents...blah! Lehigh 36 Harvard 10
LU in NJ said…
>>>>>>>>>>I certainly hope Coen has worked out the kinks and Lehigh can play aggressive, high powered football on Sat.

A repeat of anything like the measly 10 points scored against Princeton will simply not get it done.

Sedale was a strong QB the last five games of last year (after Borda was injured)and led an offense that averaged almost 40 pts per game.

Coen has been highly touted as a offensive guru and a "players coach" and I'd really like to see him live up to his accolades and start a winning streak.
Anonymous said…
I love it. Just because some of us realize this Lehigh team is just not very good, we're "malcontents". Hey Rah, Rah Boy - Which player are you dating? These guys are big boys. They can handle some criticism.
Anonymous said…
Rah rah boy says Im sure we could discuss which player I am dating in person you punkass bitch
Anonymous said…
Must take issue with your comment about Auburn and off-field problems.

No drive-by assassinations, please. Back up your statement with recent facts or change your target. Auburn has very few off-field issues. Very few.

The recent one where a player was arrested for a DUI has cost that top recruit at least a six-game suspension.

Your stereotypes are showing. I thought I could expect more from Lehigh.

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