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Preview of Bucknell/Lehigh

We are going to find out exactly what we have in Lehigh football in 2006 this week. It's a week without "mystique" or fanfare, but a week that will tell us what type of team we have. One that will be playing important games in November, or those dreaded words "rebuilding year".

What do we have? A team that played great in all phases of the game at Villanova? Or the team that went up 24-7 versus Harvard and let them come back and beat us by 2 points? The team that only gave up a little over 200 yards to Georgetown? Or the team that gave up nearly 500 yards to Yale? The team that only gave up 4 FGs all year, including several blocked kicks? Or the team that muffed three kicks versus Albany?

I see that this Lehigh team is a good team with potential that hasn't put it all together yet. Another opportunity presents itself this coming Saturday at home versus Bucknell. The Bison are 3-2, 1-1 in the Patriot League, and will be hoping for a win here to vault them into the Patriot League race. They've seen the standings and the results. They know it's a "down year" for the Patriot League. They are probably coming in here with more confidence than they've had in a long time.

Last year in mid-October, Holy Cross came to town in a deluge and escaped with a 13-10 victory. The Bison must be looking at Lehigh's four-game home losing streak at Murray Goodman. I'm sure Bucknell head coach Tim Landis is saying, why not us?

This is the week. Lehigh needs to show them why it shouldn't be them. The way to do that is to execute well and be the more aggressive and harder-working team on Saturday. It's not about streaks or mystique. It's about going out there, working harder, executing better, and finding some way to win a football game even if the final score is 3-2.

I feel in my bones that this team can be successful in 2006. I see the talent; I see the flashes of great play. There are good kids out there that are working hard in practice. If we come out this week and play a good game, I will feel a lot better about our chances the rest of the way. One game to put it all together. There's no point in holding back now.

Injury & Weather Report
OL Ben Harden
DB Jarvis Lewis
DB Courtney Elder
LB Al Pierce

Same injury report as last week, but there's a surprise on defense as senior DB/WR Brannan Thomas is now starting at CB over junior DB Aaron Gilliard. That's a move which is bound to make some folks happy as our secondary gets some more support with a speedy guy who has proven that he can do it (he started there last season). Another interesting new starter is sophomore DT Brian Jackson, who is getting rotated in with senior DT Royce Morgan in his spot as well. I'm real curious to see how the two new guys respond in their new starting roles, especially Thomas at CB.

Right now, the forecast in Bethlehem is calling for 60 degrees and a perfect sunny day. It should be a great day for football, and a great day to come to Murray Goodman for an important October game. Bison burgers? They, without a doubt, have to be on the tailgating menu. So what drink goes with those? Stock up on full-bodied red wines (I'd suggest a nice Cabernet Sauvignon) and pale ales (my suggestion: Stoudt's American Pale Ale).

A Word on Bucknell
The Bison have not beaten Lehigh since 1997, which, not coincidentally, was the last time Lehigh had a losing record in football. Lehigh has played Bucknell every year since 1950, and the Moutain Hawks enjoy a 37-29-3 series lead on the Bison. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, these games had Patriot League championship connotations seemingly every year. Although difficult to fathom now with Lehigh being so dominant in the league over the last ten years, the games against Bucknell were more highly regarded that the games against "weak sister" Colgate.

I hesitate to bring up history (since the "mystique" is clearly gone), but since that loss to Bucknell in 1997 Lehigh has dropped more than 40 points on the Bison five times in the past eight years. I'm not sure if this team will be able to drop 40 on them this year, but it does show that in the past we've done well against them.

For the past three years, Bucknell has had major injury problems before playing Lehigh, and this year is no exception. This year is not nearly as bad as 2005, where DB Dante Ross was pressed into starting QB duty since the four QBs ahead of him on the depth chart all went down, but key playmakers are hurt on offense. Oddly, this could be the healthiest we've seen the Bison at this stage of the year in quite some time, especially on defense. Their starting eleven have essentially been intact all year.

Bucknell coach Tim Landis runs the spread option offense, which is similar to the type of offense run by Wofford currently and the classic Georgia Southern teams in their championship years. It is very difficult to prepare for in one week's time, though since we have Bucknell as a league opponent every year, we have seen it and know how to prepare for it. In a nutshell, it is a predominantly a running set using 2 wideouts, 1 fullback, 2 "slotbacks" that play RB or TE, and the QB as a rushing threat. So, get ready to hear "Marcello Trigg, 2 yard gain" on Saturday.
In the spread option, the most critical position on the field is the triggerman, the QB. Bucknell's preseason QB options, Navy transfer QB Andrew Lair and QB Terrance Wilson, both are hurt and will not be able to play. That leaves the "triggerman" duty to true freshman QB Marcello Trigg. As you might expect for a true freshman, he has been struggling a little to learn the offense, completing less than 50% of his passes and averaging only 14.7 yards per game rushing. Having said that, he hasn't turned over the ball this year and Bucknell fans claim that he offers "more of a passing attack" than Lair or Wilson.

With a spread option offense, you have to count on a team which is predominatly rushing the ball, and Bucknell has the #5 rushing offense in Division I. What's more amazing is that they've done this with three starting backs out due to injury and no individual back having gained more than 300 yards. Their leading rusher, FB Josh DeStefano, is out with an injury and is a huge blow to the Bison. In his place is sophomore FB Kevin Mullen who has done a decent job replacing him so far. The other "slotbacks" are the "old man" of the backfield, senior RB Peter Kaufman, and true freshman RB A.J. Kizekai. Both slotbacks are the speedy kind, with Kizekai a back to watch averaging 8.9 yards per carry. Of the three backs, only Kaufman has shown any ability to catch the ball out of the backfield at all, and even then he only has 3 receptions on the year.

The main receiving threats are both very young. Sophomore WR Daniel Zvara and true freshman WR Cale Cadman are this week's starters, and neither as of yet have shown the ability to stretch a defense. Sophomore WR Alex Odenbach will also find his way into the game, but all three are receivers who hang around the first-down chains.

Bucknell's "O" line has been steady and solid all year - but, as seems to be every year, are undersized. Still, there are three seniors on this line led by OL Stephen Niemczyk with lots of experience and have paved the way for a lot of rushing offense this year.

Bucknell's biggest strength is on defense, where a handful of seniors have been helping to have their unit gel very well in the first half of the season. There is lots of youth to spare in this basic 4-3, but they have been playing almost completely unbroken as a unit since Week 1.

No part of this defense is younger than the Bison "D" line, but there is some good talent here marked by standout true freshman DL Josh Eden. He leads the Bison with two sacks on the year.

The LB unit, though, is the heart and soul of this defense. Senior LB Dorian Petersen is an All-Patriot type of talent, already amassing 66 tackles on the year and three forced fumbles. But he's not it. Junior LB Ryan Slater and true freshman LB Sam Nana-Sinkham have also been playing great ball - both not far behind Petersen in tackles. They may not quite be Witherspoon/Costanzo/Bennett from that school in Easton last year, but they're not far off.

Bucknell has two experienced senior CB in David Frisbey and Matt Palermo - but both are 5' 11. Over the middle, the safety combination of junior FS David Collage and true freshman SS Brigham Farrand are taller and also offer decent run support.

Special Teams
Returning kicks are a couple more young players in sophomore CB Nolan Applegate and freshman CB Jason Davis. Neither have broken one for a TD so far this year and haven't really stood out returning kicks. Sophomore PK Will Carney seems to have a good leg for kickoffs, but has been largely unproven on FGs this year. Sophomore P Phil Azarik is a very good punter, averaging 41 yards per punt.

Keys To The Game
1. Simplicity. I think, overall, this team needs to relax and get back to the basics of executing the game plan effectively. I don't think we need tricky stuff here. Pure hard work and execution.
2. Short Corner. I'd like to test those corners deep with our taller receivers. If there was a week where one of our stable of receivers could emerge as a consistent threat on the other side of "Al Del Greco" Trovato, this is it.
3. Plugging Gaps. Plugging the gaps in the line and outside pursuit of the speedy slotbacks will be key in containing this spread option offense. This will be a big day for our outside LBs in Campion and Mohler. They will need to be agressive, pursue well and tackle well in order for us to win.
4. Just Win, Baby. The win doesn't have to be pretty. Just find a way to win and go with what works. If necessary, go at something until they prove they can stop it. Just find a way to win.

Fearless Prediction
I have an odd peace this week that Lehigh will be able to put things together this week. There's no reason to be tentative, and I know there is a lot of talent on this field that has had to make a lot of adjustments from last year. Even in last week's loss, I saw some players really starting to emerge and play better, and I think if this continues this week, we "survive and move on". I sense some confidence coming back into this Lehigh team just in time for the rest of the league schedule.

Lehigh 30, Bucknell 10


Ngineer said…
I've said this before. When faced with an option offense, the D has to be aggressive and force the hand of the QB. Force mistakes, make hasty decisions. Laying back and stretching out the run won't work.
We got killed last week and at several other times this week with lousy contain from the DE/or OLBs. This has to be corrected. Of course the inside guys have to make their plays,then.
I like Thomas returning to the secondary. He has good speed and is tough.
Princeton had a yound DL that I thought our more 'senior' OL would handle, but they couldn't. OL has to really assert itself. As you say, BU has a strong LB corps and people are going to have to get hats on the numbers quickly.
Most games are won and lost in the trenches. If your skill people have time or openings to 'do their thing' you can usually get the job done. I'm sensing something in a similar range of 31-13.
bison137 said…
1. Trigg may be a better passer than Wilson but he is definitely not a better passer than Lair, who won the job originally partly due to his better throwing. Trigg actually was #4 at the start of camp but returnee Ryan Ahern has also been hurt all year.

2. Not only have the Bison lost DeStefano but they also have lost their two freshman phenoms, Bumpers and Forcellini and also lost last year's best RB, Kadero Watson. Thank God we had some depth at the position but it's much weaker now than it was a few weeks ago.

I'm hoping we can keep it close but LU has to be a significant favorite.
Anonymous said…
rihsoqoBeware of the "red herring" left by bison137...playing down their running attack may be a ploy. A.J. Kizekai, the freshman tailback who is now starting for Bucknell, was hurt in preseason, otherwise he would definitely have been pushing for a starting position from day 1. He may be the quickest back we will face this year(he runs a legitimate 4.4 or better forty) and is an extremely quick explosive starter. We must wrap him up in the first few yards or he has the ability to break it.
LU in NJ said…

Lehigh has never won games with mystique. This is a program that has a w-l record slightly over .500 for it's entire history.

Don't even think of confusing Lehigh's football history with USC or Notre Dame------we've had some good years and some terrible periods.

Lembo posted the best w-l record in Lehigh's long football history----and he didn't do it with mystique.

Only only way a private school with a non-scholarship program can consistently compete and win at the high I-AA is with an excellent coach.

Lembo proved he knew how to recruit the right kids, hire the right asst coaches, install and coach good offensive/defensive schemes, scout and implement good game plans and motivate/push the players to really excell.

There is no mystique------but Lembo knew the attraction of an Air Lehigh offense to skilled players and he recruited more than his fair share.

This season is far from over and Lehigh has the talent to run the table.

Coen has managed to make fools of all the people that praised him as the perfect antidote to Lembo, but he has a chance to turn things around and win the Conference.

I really would like to see Coen and the team succeed.

Hopefully they will start by playing a complete game (no more flat 3rd Qs) with a spread offense and a disciplined, hard hitting defense.

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