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Lehigh/Villanova Preview

This week, Lehigh will be travelling down to the Main Line to take on Villanova in a battle that takes on new proportions with last week's disappointment against Albany.

Both Lehigh and Villanova enter this game at 0-1 and are looking to establish themselves in any title discussions in their respective leagues. Villanova last week lost 35-16 against a I-A school in Central Florida and will be just as eager as Lehigh to not start the season 0-2.

There are a lot of links between Lehigh, Villanova, coach Talley, and coach Coen in this game. Coach Coen faced Villanova quite recently in 2002, 2004 and 2005 as Penn's offensive coordinator. The last two games were nailbiting affairs going down to the final seconds that Penn barely lost (16-13 in 2004, 28-24 in 2005).

In 2004, Lehigh barely lost to Villanova by a 22-16 score. In that game, Lehigh lost a 16-0 lead. Further controversy surrounded that game as well. First of all, when Lehigh was up by more than a TD early in the second half, a Villanova player chop-blocked junior DT Royce Morgan and ended his season. (Obviously, after he left, Villanova rallied to win the game.) Second of all, Wildcat head coach Andy Talley said in his press conference that Villanova was stealing offensive signals from the sidelines - an accusation that then-coach Pete Lembo vehemently denied. Not exactly a love-fest - maybe even the starting point for a rivalry.

These would seem to point to a hard-fighting game this week, with some residual bad blood between these two schools. Ironically, Villanova may be facing Royce Morgan again in some capacity, since he's on the roster for this weekend's game. Had he not been injured in 2004, he would have exhausted his eligibility and wouldn't be playing today.

What's certain? Villanova would certainly have to answer some questions about their team this year if they lose to a Patriot League school (especially one that's not nationally ranked), after going 18-2 against them since the inception of the league (their only two losses were back in Holy Cross' heyday in the '80s; Lehigh is 0-1 against them since 1985.) And Lehigh would need to do some soul-searching as well if they go 0-2 for the first time since 1982. Although not a killer to the team's postseason chances, it sure would be a blow to the ego, and to the passionate fans. Lehigh fans are not known for their patience.

This game will be different that last year's A-10 battle, the Lehigh/Delaware game which the Hawks lost in OT on a missed extra point. There's clearly a lot more at stake. Emotion, a whole lot of pride, and the team's direction for 2006 are also on the line. A loss wouldn't be the end of the world for either team - but the road for the loser would be just that much harder.

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

Questionable:
RB Marques Thompson

As WR Brannan Thomas makes his "official" return this week (actually, he returned kicks last week), we see senior RB Marques Thompson listed as questionable with a rib injury sustained in the Albany game. Fortunately, if he's unable to go, sophomore RB Matt McGowan will slide right in as the starting back, with junior RB Josh Pastore rotating in with him. For the first time in a while, our RB situation is quite settled, even in the backup position.

If Thompson plays, we're going to get the same starting twenty-two as last week. Interestingly, senior DT Royce Morgan is on the roster for this week, but not on the depth chart. His status is completely unknown. Is he even ready to play? I'm not sure, but if I were Royce and fit and able to play, I'd probably want to play every down against the team that ended my season in 2004.

The weather forecast couldn't be more different for Saturday evening - 80 degrees and clear during the day, 60ish at night. The alumni tailgate (starting at 3:30PM in the visitor's area of the Law School lot) should be a rousing success. It should be a nice long tailgate, so I'm thinking Mint Juleps for the ladies, and Martinis for the men.

A Few Words on Villanova
Before getting to football matters, a word on Villanova football fans. You may think that most fans are mostly basketball-crazed and only have a vague idea of a football team in their midst. Not so. Last year I went to a Villanova/Rutgers game, and there were lots of passionate fans there - I'd go as fa as to say they were good fans. Still, at times it must feel like being, say a fan of a big city's third most prominent sport. Kind of like being a Metrostars fan.

You'll hear a lot of words this week about Villanova's team concerning their last game versus I-A Central Florida. Mostly, they will involve statements like this: "They outgained the Knights in yardage, so they must be great!" But let's look a little closer a this.

Villanova had five drives in the first half. Two were 3-and-outs. One was a TD. The last two were decent drives that (importantly) stalled at the UCF 30 yard line. Were they able to move the ball? Sure. But were they able to move the ball in key situations? For the most part, I don't think so.

In the meantime, the Villanova defense faced five drives, four of which resulted in Knight TDs. In the second half the Wildcats played better defense, shutting them down for the most part - but, down by three scores for most of the game, were the dogs called off?

This week leading up to the game, the bad blood between Lehigh and Villanova is apparent. See if you can see the similarity between coach Talley and something John Calipari might say: "We have great respect for Coen, last year when Penn came out here, their QB didn't miss a pass." (Translation: I don't think you can do that again.) "Lehigh two years, ago, I don't think we got a first down in the first half." (Translation: Until we took out your best player.) "We are very concerned about Lehigh, we have a lot of bad memories from our last time up there, so we know this time around it will be a rough game." (Translation: You thought it was bad in 2004?)

Lehigh better be prepared for a Villanova team that will be playing *extremely* physical, and a team who will try to beat them up. The Hawks can't allow that to happen.

Offense
This could be the only time this year that Lehigh will be facing a "mirror match" on offense: an extremely talented QB, an offense with a variety of sets, some inexperienced wideouts, and a big, senior-laden offensive line. At least going against Sedale in practice should prepare Lehigh's defense for their task this Saturday.

The "big dog" to contain is senior QB Marvin Burroughs. Sidelined by a broken arm after the season opener last year, he's shown no sign of that injury in last week's game. He's mobile (the 18 yards rushing he got last week is misleading), and was very accurate in the short passing game last week (22-for-32 for 241 yards and 1 TD). Since he can kill you both ways, he's difficult to stop.

Villanova used their fullback extensively in their offense last year, and in 2006 it looks like they will do so again. Senior FB DeQueese May was the leading rusher last week getting 27 yards, while junior RB Matt Dicken only managed 10 net yards rushing. How much can be attributed to I-A Central Florida's rush defense? Hard to say, but it's safe to say that May is the feature back in this offense that will get carries and receptions out of the backfield, adding a different type of attack than the standard RB rushes. May between the tackles, and Burroughs and Dicken to the outside. It's possible that we could see one of a couple of highly-touted freshman running the ball at RB as well, so don't count that out either.

Talley also likes to spread the receptions around to a variety of talented receivers. Although there doesn't seem like one dominating receiver in the bunch, junior TE Matthew Sherry is a legitimate pass-catching threat and could easily be a killer underneath if you let him. Their receiving corps is solid and deep, but lacking a true burner: senior WR Chris Polite, junior WR Anton Ridley and sophomore WR Phil Atkinson are all solid underneath pass-catching threats. If there's a "speed guy", that's Atkinson - he needs to be watched. With this many targets, it will be tough to cover them all. Our secondary will be tested.

The "O" line features two 300-lb seniors in C Christian Gaddis and G Michael Costanzo, but also feature a true freshman and a sophomore. Overall, the line seems pretty balanced on both sides and deep - a prototypical "scholarship line".

Defense
Talley prefers a base 4-2-5 defense that may not be seen the rest of the year by Lehigh. The fifth DB actually doubles up as a linebacker in key situations in this interesting defense. It's another intriguing wrinkle to an already-challenging game for the Hawks.

The defensive line is extremely young, with four sophomores across. Their line is only marginally bigger than ours, with the highest-touted member being DE David Dallessandro. Last year he totalled 52 tackes and 2 1/2 sacks. They're smallish, so they may be some hay to be made here.

It would take a pretty darned good linebacker to put one of last year's starters, senior LB Bryan Adams, on the bench, but that's just what sophomore LB Michael Holland did. With his eight tackles and two sacks last week, he's now the starter and must not be overlooked - he looks like he could be a differencemaker on defense. Senior LB J. C. Cooper is steady and dependable on the other side, but smaller physically than Holland. Both are solid players - they need to be, in this formation.

The defensive backfield is loaded with talent and experience. Senior FS Allyn Bacchus is another defensive leader and is a hard-hitter that will blitz on occasion. With the 4-2-5, it will be very interesting to see how Coen handles it. Can they be burnt with sideline streaks with two senior corners? It will be interesting.

Special Teams
Sophomores and freshmen abound. Sophomore PK Joe Marcoux missed two FGs last week, but both were from more than 40 yards, so you know they have confidence in his leg. True frosh P Josh Ugarte had a so-so afternoon last week. Returning kicks are Atkinson and sophomore WR Salim Komora, who were unremarkable last week.

Keys To The Game
1. Defense On Your Toes. With all the threats coming from all directions offensively, it will be vitally important to tackle well and keep the "yards after the catch" to a minimum. They can be contained, but it will take concentration and good tackling, first and foremost.
2. Balance is the Key. Mixing the rushing and passing will be huge. I wouldn't be afraid to run in between the tackles, either, with that inexperienced front four. Once that's established, play action is your best friend.
3. Unforced Errors. Not much needs to be said here, but unforced errors need to be minimized. An A-10 team like Villanova will be brutally unforgiving.
4. Hit 'Em In The Mouth. It's going to be a grudge match - a physical game. Anyone who doesn't like contact need not apply. Winning this game will mean establishing a physical presence for the whole game.

Fearless Prediction
I think this game comes down to the one that wants it more. It's an "old saw", but I see this as a closely-fought match against two teams that could be looking in the mirror at each other. I could see this coming down to the last seconds, or even going to OT. But this Lehigh team hasn't proven yet that they can win this type of big game, and last week's loss doesn't help.

It is true that Villanova probably won't learn much from the Lehigh/Albany game tape, which probably works to our advantage. It is also true that Lehigh needs this win as much as Villanova. But it's simple - it comes down to the fact that Lehigh last year and this year haven't been able to make that big play.

I will be rooting for Lehigh as hard as ever, but I'm predicting a loss here.
Villanova 36, Lehigh 30 (OT)

Comments

Anonymous said…
"Brendan Caffrey" not "Ben Caffery"
Go Lehigh TU owl said…
Lehigh can win this game, does it mean they will, maybe not. However, anything less than a tough, mentally desciplined effort will not get job done nor will it look good moving forward. Lehigh should have a strong following on the main line which should give the team an extra boost. Lehigh needs a strong effort from the OL and their WR's, if both of those units step up i think Lehigh WILL win. Lehigh's D, small and quick, will help them keep pace with 'Nova's offense on the turf. Coen knows 'Nova very well, this is his game to shine and basically erase last week. One thing i give Lembo credit with is rallying the troops after losses no matter how it happened. Anyone know how the team morale was this week?
Anonymous said…
I didn't see 'Nova play last week, but a friend did.

Burroughs played exceptionally well against a team that went to (and I think won) a bowl game last year.

From the sounds of it, he will easily outplay LU QB.

I can't be too optimistic about a Lehigh win, unless 'Nova is overconfident and Lehigh makes no mistakes. Too many Mountain Hawks missing from last year and too little epxerience.
Anonymous said…
Well done preview. I'm the only Villanovan in a family of Lehigh grads (Lehightians?), and I'll be rooting for the Cats, but this could develop into a great rivalry. Hope we keep playing beyond the length of the current contract.

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