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Princeton/Lehigh Preview

Has it really been two weeks since the season has started? In ways, it feels like two whole seasons have past us. With the rollercoaster ride of emotions the past two weeks, we now see our beloved Hawks return home to enter into the part of their schedule where we challenge the best teams the Ivy League has to offer. This week, it's the Princeton Tigers playing in their opener.

I won't be at this game or blogging about it since I'm going to be covering the Fordham/Columbia game for I-AA.org that day. I thought it appropriate with the 5th anniversary of 9/11 that I finally go see what the "Liberty Cup" is all about. (On a related note, my piece on 9/11 and I-AA was just published on I-AA.org, that goes into the history of the Liberty Cup and how 9/11 affected some of the schools in the area.)

Rest assured, though, I'm going to watch the replay of the game online and weigh in Saturday night with my thoughts. (Ah, the magic of the internet.)

Lehigh brings a ton of momentum into this game after upsetting Villanova 31-28 last week, their first win over Villanova since 1924. As great as last week's win was, the pressure will be on to keep the ball rolling this week and to get into the I-AA Top 25 conversation. This week, the swagger should be back - but it will take a lot more than swagger to win this game.

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

Questionable:
DL Paul Bode
OL Pete Morelli

Senior OL Pete Morelli, and opening-day "O" line starter, was injured last week and will be questionable to play. Stepping into his spot is sophomore OL Kevin Bayani, and the 300-lb behemoth that sould be able to fit in quite nicely. DL Paul Bode may also get his first game action of the year as he's upgraded to "questionable". The depth on the "D" line is much needed, so that's a very encouraging sign.

The "D" Line should enjoy some new faces, with senior DT Royce Morgan listed as the starter, and senior DT Kyle Adams backing him up. It's not clear if Morgan is 100% up to game shape, so look for Adams and Morgan to possibly split time. Sophomore DL Keith Johnson, the starter in Morgan's absence, could also get some time on the line as well. It's great to see all these guys getting healthy and getting playing time.

Right now, the forecast (mercifully) calls for a cloudy and cool day, highs in the mid-70s. With a 1:07PM kickoff, that means that this week's tailgate drinks of choice have to be your Yuengling beer of choice: Yuengling light, Yuengling Premium, or (for the adventurous) Yuengling Black & Tan. (Contrary to popular belief, Yuengling brewing company does NOT underwrite this blog.)

A Few Words on Princeton
I've said before that "playing the Ivies are like a box of chocolates; you don't know what you're going to get," and this is still somewhat true today. Most Ivy teams cannot just reload every year with pro-caliber players since Ivies cannot offer traditional scholarships (though the aid they give students is not "blind" to football ability). But the upper-echelon Ivy teams seem to have at least one or two NFL-caliber athletes on their rosters. Princeton is one of these teams. From last year's team, four Tigers ended up on NFL rosters this summer.

For those who don't know, the Ivy League operates over different rules (by their own choice) than the rest of I-AA. Their seasons open this weekend (later than the rest of I-AA), and Ivy teams play a ten-week season with no playoff opportunity. This is by decree from the Ivy presidents, against the wishes of many alumni, Ivy fans, and (especially) the players.

Of course, all of this doesn't stop me (or anyone else, for that matter) from speculating about Princeton's football ability this year. At Ivy League media day, the members present voted Princeton to finish sixth this year. I happen to think they're nuts. In the I-AA Preview magazine, I picked Princeton to finish much higher, and I stand by my prediction. Last year, Princeton was picked to finish sixth and ended up a solid third - and I think they could do it again. Although they lost some great impact players, a good core remains from a team which went 7-3 last year and also beat Lafayette.

Lehigh and Princeton will be meeting for the 50th time on Saturday. Princeton holds a 36-11-2 edge in the series, but Lehigh has won the last seven contests. In the modern era, the Hawks have been an impressive 9-3, with only one of those losses coming at Murray Goodman in 1992.

Finally, coach Coen will have faced head coach Roger Hughes quite a bit as Penn's offensive coordinator. Hughes has been the Tiger head skipper since 2000, so we may have a leg up in that department.

Offense
The Tigers in 2005 boasted a three-headed rushing attack behind an offensive line loaded with veterans. It seems likely that they will do so again in 2006. Trouble is, you don't know which guy Hughes will feature from week to week.

Senior QB Jeff Terrell is the team captain and will be a threat to run every time he touches the ball. In 2005 he was a so-so passer with 9 TD strikes and around a 50% completion percentage, but I beleive in 2006 we'll see Terrell as more of an all-around QB. When healthy, he was a good offensive leader, and it will be interesting to see how he does here.

He'll be throwing to a veteran receiving corps, with senior WRs Brian Brigham, Brendan Circle, and Brian Shields. Brigham and Shields are burners; Circle is the "hands" guy underneath. If coach Hughes finds what works, he'll tend to keep going with it until you stop it, so any one of these targets could be a favorite against Lehigh. Sophomore TE Billy Mitchell is an unknown quantity, but Hughes used TE (and current Steeler) Jon Dekker a lot last year on offense, so you have to guard the TE as well most likely.

Joining him in the backfield is the leading rusher from last year, junior FB Rob Teresco. Like DeQueese May last week, he's a multi-faceted threat rushing or catching the ball out of the backfield, and would seem to be poised for an increased role in 2006. At running back we could also see one of two sophomores in RB Pete Ploszek or R.C. Lagomarsino, or the returning senior, RB Cleo Kirkland. Again, Hughes seems to "go with the hot hand" so it's difficult to key on any one guy.

The "O" line is completely rebuilt from last year. There is some beef on the line (senior G Kyle Vellutato is 300 lbs) but this will by far be the smallest "O" line we've faced this year. With a true freshman starting at RT, and two tackles averaging 247 lbs, senior OLB Matt Mohler might be poised for a good day.

Defense
Hughes' base 3-4 features some solid veterans - some with great experience and talent - but also features some gigantic question marks in the front seven.

The three "D" linemen are all sophomores, the best being DE Pete Buchignani, the Tigers' top defensive freshman in 2005. They are all decent-sized linemen and hard to judge as a unit, though two played last year as freshmen.

The linebacking corps, led by senior LB Luke Steckel, is also loaded with first-time starters, but don't be fooled here. With two seniors and two juniors, this is not a bad unit. Compared to Villanova last week, though, this is a smaller unit, averaging 215 lbs across. These guys will be undersized, but good tacklers and good athletes.

The strength of this "D" will probably, again, be the defensive backfield. Senior CB J.J. Artis, a four-year defensive starter, is very talented and will be difficult to fool. The starting safeties, seniors Rob Anderson and Tim Strickland, are good in run support and in pass defense as well. This will not be an easy secondary to crack.

Special Teams
Not much to say about a new sophomore PK in Connor Lauden, but senior P Colin McDonough could be an NFL-caliber punter with a 40 yard net average in 2005. The punt and kickoff return duties will be also be some familiar faces from 2005: junior RB Bill Foran, and senior WR Brian Shields. Consider Tiger special teams to be a major strength.

Keys To The Game
1. Run Between the Tackles? I must admit, with this inexperienced front seven, it's awful tempting to grind out a lot of yards on the ground. No "three yards and a cloud of dust", but my plan would involve some inside running.

2. Attack, attack, attack. The inexperienced "O" line, combined with smallish outside linemen, could mean pressure from the outside may disrupt things effectively. I'd blitz a lot from the outside and hopefully make life miserable for Terrell.

3. Don't sleep on special teams. These teams could be the best we've faced so far. It's important to play smart and to help get better field position. We cannot afford to sleep against these units, or we will have ourselves some big-time problems.

4. Princeton 23, Lafayette 21. Last year, Lafayette sleepwalked through the first half, and couldn't rally in the second half to beat the Tigers. It could absolutely happen again if we're not careful; Princeton has the talent to make you pay. I'd watch that game film again.

Fearless Prediction
We've learned how Lehigh responds after a loss; we'll now see how we respond to a win. I don't think Coen is fooled by Princeton, but I'm still not sure how the troops will respond after hearing all the prise about last week's game. But I think we have a good shot if we stay aggressive and keep the mistakes down again. I think the troops will be ready - but it won't be as easy as some think.

Lehigh 31, Princeton 24

Comments

Go Lehigh TU owl said…
I have more confidence this week i than you do Chuck. Princeton was picked to finish 6th in the Ivy this year and have a lot of holes to fill. By saying "we have a shot" against a team picked to finish in the bottom half of their conference playing their first game shows me you don't think this Lehigh team is very good. If this game was on the road i could maybe see a little closer game but simply put if Lehigh is a legit threat to win the league this year they should beat a youthful Tigers team by more than a TD at home. Coen's knowledge of 'Nova i think really helped them last week and it should pay dividence this week as well. Lehigh is by far the more experienced team playing their third game of the year at home. Lehigh 34-17. Anything less than a 10 point win IMO should cause serious concerns.
Anonymous said…
LFN,
I'm curious to see the impact new Oline coach Greg Perry has on this Princeton team. If you recall, he was the long time line coach at Delaware during the Tubby Raymond years. This guy is a great coach with an impact similar to that of Hefner at LC.
Ngineer said…
Lehigh has to come out and grab the game by the throat. Especially against Princeton's inexperienced line. While a lot of mistakes were made against Villanova, the heart of this team was exposed and faced with the prospect of going 0-2, responded impressively when it had to. This week I'd like to see an established consistency from the beginning. It would be great to 'destroy' Princeton, but I doubt that will happen. I agree, though, that if we end up in a major struggle, then concern for the rest of schedule arises. I think our offense should move at will. Hopefully our run D will tighten up. 'nova had some huge stretches of running against us, that luckily, they went away from.
Lehigh 37-17.

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