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Preview of Colgate/Lehigh

It's hard to believe how the Lehigh/Colgate rivalry has affected my life. For sure, for the past nine years this game has Patriot League title implications, and yet again this game in 2006 will either put Lehigh clearly in the driver's seat for the title - or make the title race a mess. But for me it's hard not to look at the personal side to this once-secret rivalry and my elevation of this to the national stage.

In 2003, my first year of the blog, Colgate/Lehigh was a treat not well known outside fervent Patriot League watchers. We had just bought a house and my wife just gave birth to our son, and I remember working on my basement listening to a grainy radio trying desperately to figure out the score. It was probably just as well as our Mountain Hawks got drilled 17-10 in a smashmouth game that would ultimately doom our postseason hopes, while Colgate would go 11-0 and start their incredible march to the I-AA championship game.

In 2004, Lehigh would host Colgate, and I approached a website called I-AA.org with an idea (cribbed from a columnist at the time, Scott Garner, who still has a great blog), about doing a "diary" of a I-AA game from the fan's point of view. I-AA.org guru Ralph Wallace gave it a thumbs-up, and next thing I knew I was covering the Lehigh/Colgate game for that website in my first-ever column. Lehigh would win that game 21-14, capped off by a timely interception in the end zone from (I beleive it was senior DB Courtney Elder).

Last year Lehigh made the trip up to Colgate, and I celebrated by helping expose the legend of Engine 13 and showing the "origins" of the Lehigh/Colgate rivalry. In a spirited week before the game, some of Colgate's superfans (notably Colgate13, author of "The 13 yard Line" blog) challenged me to a "Blog Bowl" where the winner of the Colgate/Lehigh game could display the trophy on their website for a full year. As sophomore QB Sedale Threatt had a banner day up in Hamilton, "dropping fifty" in a 50-34 shootout, and I was the inaugural winner of "Blog Bowl I".

This year, although both Colgate and Lehigh are having disappointing seasons so far, this game still means everything to the Patriot League title race. If Lehigh wins, our record goes to 5-4 (4-0 in conference) and would put Lehigh squarely in the driver's seat for the title. If Colgate wins, they would go to 4-5 (3-1 in conference) and the Raiders would cling to a shot for at least a partial Patriot League title, leaving four teams with one loss in the conference. I'll be there covering the game for I-AA.org, watching this key Patriot League game. It's "Hate the Gate" week. It's a big week for Lehigh football.

Colgate should be playing with a firey sense of purpose this Saturday - to keep their slim chances at a title alive; to keep the promise of a winning season alive; to avenge last year's 50-34 loss; to beat a huge conference rival. Lehigh currently is standing on the throats of the rest of the Patriot League and is in firm control of their destiny. Lehigh can afford no slip-ups against a team that will be itching to prove that their 27-10 loss to Lafayette last week was simply a fluke.

Injury & Weather Report
OUT:
OL Ben Harden
DB Jarvis Lewis
DB Courtney Elder
LB Al Pierce
It wouldn't be another Lehigh Football Nation injury report without the same injuries and the same starters week-to-week. For preview writers, it's, well, boring. For lack of other subjects to talk about, the Lehigh players and trainers have to be given some props for making this the least injury-riddled season in recent memory. This could be a huge reason why we are "hitting our stride" at the right time and playing meaningful games in November once again.

The weather report for Bethlehem is for a sunny but cool afternoon with highs in the high 40s or low 50s - it should be a great day for football and promises to be another day with fantastic turnout. As for tailgating fare, it has to be a day for rare, red meat (Colgate red, one might say), so this week's tailgate drinks have to be able to go with that. A Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Pinot Noir (1997 is preferred) would be simply perfect for feasting on fresh Raider meat and watching a Lehigh victory.

A Word about Colgate
I don't think going into the year that Patriot League fans and Colgate watchers had any hard-and-fast rules about Raider teams coached by Dick Biddle. They just always seemed to be there, under the surface, facts that were assumed every year. In Biddle's eleven years of coaching the Raiders, there were inalienable facts that you had about him and the program. But this year, all these "facts" are now coming apart in an uncharacteristic way.

Fact #1: they always beat rival Cornell and fellow league-mate Lafayette. In ten years Biddle-coached Colgate teams were a perfect 20-0 against them: an incredible feat no matter how you look at it. But this year, both streaks came to a screeching halt with a 38-14 loss to Cornell and a 27-10 drubbing to Lafayette.

Fact #2: they always have a winning record going into the Lehigh game. Granted, their five losses have come to tough teams: #3 UMass (7-1), #21 Princeton (6-1), Monmouth (8-1) as well as Cornell and Lafayette. But the fact is that Colgate is 3-5 at this stage of the season for the first time ever since Dick Biddle has been head coach, with their only wins coming over Georgetown (1-7), Fordham (2-6) and Dartmouth (1-6).

Fact #3: they are always in the driver's seat for the Patriot League title before the Lehigh game. With the loss to Lafayette, they are hardly in the driver's seat. They would need to win the rest of their games and need Lehigh to lose again to Lafayette to have a chance. Could it happen? Sure: but this is unfamiliar territory for the Raiders, who are used to controlling their own destiny in winning this game.

I don't think anyone could have anticipated the Raiders struggling this much before the season started. The preseason showed Colgate favored to win the Patriot League title and senior SS Geoff Bean as the preseason MVP. Senior QB Mike Saraceno was anticipated to continue his development, while freshman rushing sensation RB Jordan Scott was supposed to be the next coming of Jamaal Branch. I think folks were thinking that they could have been 6-2 or 7-1 going into the Lehigh game this year, to be frank.

Still, after losing three of their last four games, I picture Colgate to be like a starving cat stuck in a corner. They still have all-league talent and have a chance to poach at least a co-championship this year, if not sneak the Patriot League autobid. Lehigh will need another all-around effort like they have had the past two weeks.

Offense
Colgate's offense is a base "I" and pro set that this year centers around the running game. Biddle likes to smash opponents in the mouth with his fullback and tight ends, having them act as extra linemen, but won't be afraid to pass the ball in certain situations either. I could see Biddle emptying the playbook against us, so we'll have to be on the lookout for anything and everything.

Senior QB Mike Saraceno has not been a world-beating QB this year, and hasn't done a great job rallying the team from behind with the exception of the Princeton game this year. He's only passed for 6 TDs to go with his 7 interceptions, but he does offer a problem with his feet and his mobility. At a 60% completion percentage and 1,500 yards passing, if he's on pace for a career day against us, we will be in trouble.

Hurting Colgate has been the lack of a consistent deep threat receiving the ball. The Raiders really miss the departure of WR DeWayne Long last year, as senior WR Kenny Parker hasn't filled enough of the void with only 354 yards and 1 TD. Junior WR Erik Burke and sophomore WR David Morgan fill out the receiving staff. Burke is the biggest receiver and more of a target over the middle, while Morgan has the most TDs from the wideout position with three. (I wouldn't be surprised to see highly touted 6'6 freshman WR Pat Simonds get the call in this game, so I'd be on the lookout for that.) Rounding out the offense is senior TE Anthony Pumilio, who isn't a major factor in the offense so far - he's primarily a blocker.

Sophomore sensation RB Jordan Scott has also been a bit of a disappointment. Sure, his numbers are gaudy - 101.1 yards per game and 11 TDs to go with 133 yards out of the backfield - but look closer and you'll see that he only broke the 100 yard barrier in Colgate's three wins. He's a good-looking back who reminds me of a poor man's Clifton Dawson, with good acceleration to the outside while still being able to drive between the tackles. But when teams have keyed on him and held him to under 100 yards, teams have beaten Colgate. His backup, sophomore RB Steve Hansen, is largely unproven should Scott get dinged up, while senior FB Steve Salavantis hasn't even carried the ball once this year. They are both subbing for the injured junior backs J.J. Bennett and David Wegner respectively, whose injuries are the source for some of their October slide.

The "O" line has been cited by Colgate fans as the source of their disappointment this year. Especially in the Lafayette game, where Scott was unable to convert a key early 4th down, this smallish and young unit has struggled getting holes for Scott and keeping hands out of Saraceno's face. The leader of the line is senior C Jake Suvloski, and to be fair they have only let up seven sacks on the year.

Defense
It seemed like Colgate was simply able to reload their front seven every year in their 4-3 base defense, where Jared Nepa-s or Tem Lukabu-s would seem to sprout up every year and provide a dominating front seven. Not this year, even though the Raiders have an extremely solid defense as they do every year. They are opportunistic, causing turnovers and giving some teams fits, so protecting the ball will be vital.

Senior defensive linemen Nick Sabo and Pat Nolan anchor the 4-3, but only have two sacks on the year to show for themselves. For a 4-3, they have a smallish line across and have been dominated at times. Lafayette's Jonathan Hurt torched them last week to the tune of 195 yards in a game where you had to suspect the Leopards were going to run early and often.

Colgate's strength is in the linebacking corps, where junior LB Mike Gallihugh has been one of the class of the Patriot League. With an amazing 97 tackles, he averages over 10 tackles a game. Senior LB's Nate Wesley and Nate Johnson round out this solid, experienced staff of hard hitters.

Colgate's secondary has also been stellar in 2005 with 5 interceptions on the year and countless broken-up pass plays. Senior SS Geoff Bean is having his expected, fantastic season where he sometimes sneaks up as a linebacker and gets into the QB's face as well as breaking up pass routes. He's the best "pass disruptor" in the Patriot League this year. Junior CB Cody Williams is also an excellent cover corner, with 2 interceptions on the year. Senior FS Andrew Moore and sophomore CB Chris Ekpo also are no slouches either, and if you get down and need to pass against this talented secondary, you could be in trouble.

Special Teams
In addition to playing safety, Bean also returns punts and kicks and is dangerously fast and tough. Kick away from Bean on kickoffs and you'll then kick to sophomore WR David Morgan who also is fast and talented. Return units are one area where Lehigh is going to have to be punishing and tackle extremely well.

Senior P Jason Sutton is the best punter in the Patriot League so far, with an eye-popping 41.1 average while not getting a single punt blocked this year. Kicking FGs will be sophomore PK Jacob Stein for the short ones and junior PK Mike Buck for the long ones (his longest is 33 yards). Placekicking is the single weak area in an otherwise fantastic special teams unit.

Keys To The Game
1. Keeping the Ball Rolling. The momentum from the Holy Cross and Bucknell games have been great for this Lehigh team. Vital to their chances will be to keep doing the things they did in those games to keep the momentum going - dominating the line of scrimmage, keeping mistakes to a minimum, and dominating time of possession.
2. The "Mud" Show. RB Marques "Mud" Thompson and Lehigh's "hogs" need to get it going against this tough Colgate defense in the running game. If Thompson can get his third 100 yard rushing game, we are going to be in excellent shape.
3. Jordan Doesn't Rule. We're going to have to spy RB Jordan Scott and make sure we do what other successful teams have done - keep him to under 100 yards rushing. If we do that, we also have an excellent chance here. If the postgame leader reads: "Jordan Scott rushed for 120 yards today", it will probably mean we lost the game.
4. Laquan-and-Done. Special teams hawks like Laquan Gasaway will increase Lehigh's chances to win by wrapping up and stopping these daunting return men on special teams. Keep these guys under wraps, and we have a chance.

Fearless Prediction
It's always tough. It's always for Patriot League title chances. And despite Colgate's weaknesses, I see a tough fingernail-pulling nailbiting sort of game as Colgate empties the playbook and tries to get back into this race (and, in the process, keep coach Biddle's streak of consecutive winning seasons intact). But I think this Lehigh team is playing with confidence and a level of execution that will enable them to win this game. Make no mistake; it will require the same level of hard hitting, mistake-free ball that Lehigh played to win their last two games. Any slip-up, and we could be in trouble. But I think the ball keeps rolling here. We survive. And move on.

Lehigh 27, Colgate 24

Comments

Ngineer said…
It will be very important to come out and get the lead as we did at Holy Cross. A several score lead at the half could be significantly demoralizing to the already reeling Raiders so as to finish them off. It seems Lehigh has shed the 'third quarter doldrums' as they moved the ball quite well in slop after the half. Colgate will come in like a wounded dog, it would be great to put it out of its misery early...
LU in NJ said…
>>>>>>>>>Well, if a 0-0 score in the 3rd period is shedding the 3rd period doldrums, then yes, Lehigh was successful.

I was hoping the team would put the hammer down and score in the 2nd half with our new and improved running game, but I'll take a win any way we can get one.

If we don't get a permanent fix to the problem, however, the 3rd period malaise against good teams will rise up and hurt us again as it did against Princeton and Harvard.

Lehigh won the first half by a large enough margin to offset HC winning the second half.

I believe we'll need full performance in all four quarters to win the conf title.
the last indian said…
This should be a Lehigh year. I will root for the 'Gate and love the rivalry, but this team will have difficulty scoring 24 points unless your defense is worse than I think it is. We are too young up front and too banged up. But upsets are possible and that's why they play the game.
Next year!

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