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Preview of Lehigh/Yale

Last year, I wrote that the Yale game took on new importance. Since we had lost to Holy Cross the week before, a bounceback game was necessary to get any momentum going into league play.

This year, although we're entering the Yale game off a 28-3 win over Georgetown, it's equally as important to keep the winning ways going another week for the same reason. I think for this team specifically, getting on a roll and maybe, hopefully, getting another solid win under our belts, would be a great confidence and psychological boost going into the games that will determine the league champion.

We have been bloodied by the Ivy League this year, going 0-2 versus undefeated Harvard and Princeton. The rest of the Patriot League has done no better against them either, going an insane 3-11 against them overall. Winning against one of the real contenders in the Ivy League title chase would not only reassert our league a little bit against the Ivies - it would put ourselves just one little tiny psychological bit ahead of that college over in Easton, who lost 37-34 to Yale two weeks ago.

Yale is 3-1, with their only loss coming to a nationally-ranked San Diego team in a 43-17 thrashing. However, they've taken care of business against two of the lower-echelon teams in the Ivy in Dartmouth and Cornell, putting them at 2-0 in their league. Like the win against that Easton college showed, these kids can play, and if we have mental errors and take naps in the middle of the game, we may find ourselves losing and facing the prospect of being 2-4 going into the Patriot League title chase.

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

Once again, we mercifully have a reasonably empty injury list, though there is another new face on the injury list in freshman LB Al Pierce, another special teams hawk. Just a hunch, but we might see more of freshman LB Tobi Showunmi on the travel team this week replacing him.

It's another boring week up and down the depth chart, but there's another small change to report as senior G Pete Morelli will be replacing sophomore G Kevin Bayani on the "O" line this week. Not sure if this is a result of some of those holding calls that negated some big runs against Georgetown, but it wouldn't surprise me. This would put four seniors on the "O" line, and the best of the bunch, junior T Jimmy Kehs, in the starting lineup as well. This seems like a good move as we strive to win the league and get that Patriot League championship.

The weather report for New Haven, CT calls for a "mainly sunny" day with highs in the high 50s and low 60s. If you've never been to the Yale Bowl - one of the greatest historic venues for I-AA football - it's worth the trip, with acres of fields for tailgating and footballs before heading into the cavernous Bowl. Definitely a trip to bring a case of good white (or red - your preference) wine to go with your tailgating fare. I always liked meatball sandwiches on days like that.

A Word On Yale
Yale head coach Jack Sidlecki is in his tenth year of coaching the Elis, but for those who don't know he has a deep connection to Lafayette as well, serving as an assistant coach to the Leopards' head skipper Bill Russo from 1981 to 1987. There at the same time was current Harvard head coach Tim Murphy as well, so the Harvard, Yale, Lafayette and Lehigh connections all run very deep. They all know each other well, and coach Sidlecki also knows coach Coen well too, having faced him as offensive coordinator at Lehigh and Penn.

You might not think of this mini "rivalry" as a trophy game (Yale holds a 12-5 edge), but this year the winner of the game will be presented the "Yank Townsend 1895" trophy to commemorate Townsend, an 1895 graduate of Lehigh and a renowned New Haven area architect. I looked up ol "Yank" on the internet, but was unable to fill in the blanks on his engineering or collegiate career, though while Yank went to Lehigh we lost to Yale twice, 38-0 and 34-0.

Yale knows what Sedale can do. One of Sedale's big moments last year came when Borda had his season-ending injury against the Elis, down 21-13. Sedale then rallied the offense for a TD, 2-point conversion, and also led the game-winning drive in OT. Yale will be looking for revenge from that game as well - this time, with a full week to prepare for Sedale.

Offense
Yale beat that college in Easton by running the ball. A lot. Although they have a receiver that is a true burner, this is a team that will try to smash you in the mouth and run at you to beat you with both their QB and RB. They will come after you with 2, sometimes 3, receiver sets, but offensively they are, on balance, conservative.

Junior QB Matt Polhemus has been quite a pedestrian QB, though in the last two games he has improved. In four games he has only averaged about 20 attempts a game, with 10 completions and 3 TD passes. Where he really shines, though, is running the ball by designed runs or broken plays, averaging a big 43 yards a game. Against that college in Easton he played like a champ with a big 63 yard pass connection and a huge 28 yard TD scamper, so he has been shown to be quite capable when the chips are down.

Sophomore RB Mike McLeod has more than picked up where he left off as a freshman, emerging into a 30 carry-a-game back with 537 yards already and 5 TDs. Averaging 5.0 yards a carry, he's quite versatile with speed to the outside but with ability to also run between the tackles and catch the ball out of the backfield. After McLeod, the running game is extremely thin. Senior FB Taylor Craig is primarily a blocking back, and backup RB Matt Murray hasn't had many touches. The entire game goes through McLeod.

Senior WRs Ashley Wright and Chandler Hendley are the go-to guys at receiver averaging about 50 yards a game. Wright in particular has great speed, as shown in the Lafayette game, but both are also good hands guys as well. Aside from the two wideouts and McLeod catching the ball out of the backfield, nobody has really stood out at all for the Elis receiving corps. The TE position, a strength last year for Yale, hasn't been very effective with junior TE Langston Johnson having only one reception so far this year.

There is no doubt that this Eli "O" line has a boatload of talent. They boast 2 300 lb bookend tackles, one of whom is senior LT Ed McCarthy. So far this year, they have not lost many trench battles. Remember that great defensive front we heard about from that college in Easton this year? Well, this "O" line managed to carve 218 yards rushing against them. Clearly, here is where the battle will be won or lost.

Defense
Yale plays an interesting base 5-2-4 defense, which normally does an excellent job stuffing the run. The flip side of such a configuration is that the two linebackers have a monstrous job to do in run support and pass coverage - which means there could be hay to be made in short zone passes. What has really made this defense excel this year, however, is forcing turnovers.

Senior DE Brendan Sponheimer is the "old man" on the "D" line featuring one sophomore and three juniors as well. Yale rotates in a bunch of "D" linemen so it's hard to know what you'll get at any given time, but nobody is particularly huge - Sponheiler is only 235 lbs. They deserve credit since they've stripped a lot of balls and forced a lot of turnovers, including 3 versus that college in Easton.

The loss of LB Lee Driftmeier for the year has hit the Elis hard in the toughest position to play on Yale's defense. Senior LB Chris Barry is still a solid tackler and also has an interception on the year. Sophomore LB Bobby Abare is a bit green, but had a good day versus Lafayette.

Senior CB Kevin Littleton is the lone player with experience in a young, sophomore-laden secondary. Sophomore FS Stephen Santoro does have 2 interceptions on the year, however. Still, you have to take a look at what nationally-ranked San Diego did against this secondary with 345 yards passing and 4 TDs.

Special Teams
Like last year, Yale's kicking teams have struggled. Junior PK Adam Kimball has a good leg (with a 46 yard FG to his credit) but has struggled with accuracy, going only 4 for 6. Freshman P Tom Mante has a low average per punt - 34.5 yards - as well.

On return teams, however, Stephen Santoro has already returned a kickoff for a TD, while senior RB Jordan Spence also has emerged as a kickoff return threat as well, averaging 18.2 yards per return. With guys like that, you have to at least think about squibbing it every so often. WR Chandler Hendley has not had great success with punts just yet, averaging only 7 yards per punt.

Keys to the Game
1. Make Polhemus Throw. If we can stuff McLeod and force Polhemus to throw the ball early and often, we could be poised for a good day. Last year, we did a great job with this.
2. Short Passing Game. I think some guys might be able to get open against this Yale defense, particularly underneath on rollouts. Don't go for home run balls when an easy 3rd down conversion is there for you at the first-down marker.
3. Field Position. With our punting and return game getting going, we may be able to win some of these field position battles if we keep our wits about us.
4. Trenches, Trenches, Trenches. If we win these battles in the trenches - limiting McLeod's yards between the tackles, and doing a better job on our offensive line of scrimmage, we will win this game. I will be looking very closely at this.
5. Stupid Mental Errors. These have to stop. The same errors that happened versus the Hoyas could be fatal against Yale.

Fearless Prediction
On paper, this matchup yet again would seem to favor the Mountain Hawks. Last year's Yale game was close mostly because their QB Dave Mroz kept things close with a surprisingly effective passing game against our defense, while this year it's unclear if Polhemus can pull out the same sort of magic with his arm. Offensively, it's extremely hard to tell which Lehigh team will show up - the unstoppable team at Villanova? Or the team that scored 14 points in 3 quarters versus Georgetown, marred with holding penalties and an inability to convert on 3rd down?

The trenches will determine the winner in another close, thrilling Lehigh/Yale encounter. No matter what the statistics say, no matter what the odds, this always seems to be a good game. I think Lehigh barely pulls this one out. Why? I'm not sure. Maybe it's simply listening to my heart, which tells me that this Lehigh team is better than they have played up until this point. or maybe it's that Lehigh has won the last five versus Yale. I've got to beleive that Lehigh will continue to pull things together and not play so sloppily. The matchups look good for Lehigh here. With a clean game, we should be able to pull this one out.

Hopefully I won't be proven wrong.

Lehigh 20, Yale 17

Comments

Ngineer said…
Amen
Anonymous said…
Polhemus and McLeod were arrested in a brawl with the Yale hockey team a week and a half ago, but YALE has decided to let them play until the charges are proved. I think that will be done conveniently after the season concludes. Funny how important winning is to even the storied ivy league members.

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