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Preview of Fordham/Lehigh

Are we really in November already?

It feels like just weeks ago that Lehigh had lost to Yale, losing 26-20 in OT, giving the Mountain Hawks their fourth regular-season loss on the year (the first time that's happened since 1997). Frustration had built up to a boiling level - we were beat every which way statistically in that game, and for the fourth time we fell-from-ahead to lose. It was an open question as to whether this Lehigh team had what it took to win the league.

Since then, with two weeks to go in this season, Lehigh has successfully survived every test put before them. Bucknell? Survived. Holy Cross? Survived. Colgate? Survived. Each week we've gotten better and we're feeling the Lehigh pride swelling up again. You can sense this isn't the same team that suited up versus Yale. This is a hard-working team that is coming together.

Right now we're headed to the top of the world. We're in control of our own destiny, and every cliche in the world applies. One game at a time; Two more huge survival games remain. Being a Lehigh fan, it's what we're used to - success. It feels good to be back.

This week what's standing in our way to the Patriot League title is Fordham on what will probably be the last home game for this year's senior class. Like last week's game, it's a must-win. In all our minds, there should be only one big game, and it's being played at Murray Goodman. Win this game, and we'll be in control for the Patriot League title next week.

It won't be easy. Fordham last week proved that they're quite serious about winning their last few games by giving "that school in Easton" quite a scare in a 31-24 game that was close late into the 4th quarter.

In the end, it doesn't matter how, it doesn't matter when, all that matters is that you do it. Lehigh is doing it. Maybe it's in a way we're not used to, but as long as they do it, Lehigh fans should rejoice.

It's time to put any reservations about this year's Mountain Hawks in your back pocket, and hop on the bandwagon. There's plenty of room.

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

Once again, the "official" injury list is pretty much the same it's been all year, though there are rumors of some dinged-up players that aren't listed. There is a chance that some of the seniors - OL Andrew Plummer leaps to mind - may find their way into the lineup today since it is likely the last time the seniors will be suiting up at Murray Goodman. I'd think senior DT Royce Morgan will be playing an awful lot as well, even though sophomore DT Brian Jackson is listed above him on the depth chart.

The forecast is for a cloudy morning, followed by some late showers, but a beautiful 60 degree day and a very warm morning for tailgating before the 12:30PM start. Since Lehigh is honoring veterans this week (Vets get in for half price), I'd say a popular drink from the 1940s seems to be in order. The "Screwdriver" - vodka and orange juice for the uninitiated - has to be this week's choice.

A Word about Fordham
I actually have seen Fordham play already this year. I witnessed their 37-7 drubbing at the hands of Columbia in early September, and last time I saw coach Masella I saw a frustrated man. "We have a bye week next week - thank God" was a typical quote from the postgame press conference. Coach Masella knew he had a lot of work to do, and this year he has been coaching with an eye towards 2007.

Coach Masella has had success building Central Connecticut State of the NEC into a force in that conference. He came there from Wagner College as an assistant coach, where he played for former Lafayette head coach Bill Russo, so his links to the Lafayette side of the Patriot League run pretty deep (as do a lot of Patriot League & Ivy coaches). Coach Coen I don't beleive has ever faced a Masella-coached team, even when Masella coached at Wagner, Boston University (before they dropped football), UMass, UConn and CCSU.

Lehigh has only lost to Fordham once in their history - in 1997, and I was at that game. We had a young team that gave up two late TDs to allow the Rams to tie and then go ahead in OT. Once we lost that game, our season didn't have a chance and we limped to a 4-7 record after some preseason hopes to challenge for the Patriot League title. Since then, three of the past four Lehigh/Fordham games have been close - with the deficit being a touchdown or less - but Lehigh has always prevailed. But they haven't always been easy.

Fordham has, charitably, struggled on offense this season. A team built around the running game, last week was the first week coach Masella had the same group of starters from the week before, and their offense has only scored 10 TDs on the year. Add to that some key injuries and inexperience, and you have a unit that has continued to struggle to find itself.

It starts with the current starting QB, the Texan freshman John Skelton. Anointed the starter after week 6, he is as raw as they come, has struggled with accuracy, but has some mobility and can take off with the ball. He looks a little like Colgate's Alex Relph from last week, and just as green. He was highly recruited out of Texas, however, and he is clearly the best option for them at QB at the moment. I'm actually surprised Masella didn't go with him from the beginning.

A huge loss for Fordham was losing "Mr. Everything" out of their backfield, senior RB James Prydatko, to injury. Their backup, junior RB Jonte Coven, is a 5'7 scatback that hasn't been able to fill the large void left by Prydatko. In reality Fordham will rotate their other back as well, big freshman RB Larry Dortch, in an effort to generate offense. FB Bo Marchand is primary used as a blocker, and all three have "granite hands" - not a good combination. It seems like Masella is still trying to experiment and find out what works.

The receiver doesn't look much better. Sophomore WR Rich Rayborn and junior WR Sylvester Clarke are the key go-to guys. Both have good speed and have 5 TDs between the two of them, but neither are "hands" guys to get that big 3rd down conversion. Freshman WR Asa Lucas is also on the depth chart and is probably their best "hands" guy in this green receiving corps. Senior TE Ty Hogan is mostly used as a blocker.

The "O" line only has one senior: G Anthony Silvestro. The line has been banged up and is very small around the outside - the tackles average 245 lbs! Still, their interior line looks solid and could open up some nice rushing lanes in the middle the same way Colgate did last weekend.

Similar to the offense, this base 3-4 defense has struggled with injuries all year, butthe difference is they have some potential all-league players that have kept the Rams in games this year. Albany, who beat us 17-16 this year, only got a TD against this unit in a surprise 9-7 win for the Rams. If the Rams are going to win, it will come from a smothering performance from this experienced unit.

Three seniors anchor the front "D" line: DE Cory Terzis, NG Eduardo Boza, and DT Jay Edwards. Edwards is probably the best guy on this line with 4 sacks. This line is pretty beefy as well, so interior running might be a challenge.

Senior LB Marcus Taylor is in the running for the Patriot League defensive player of the year, no mean feat on a 2-7 team. A quiet leader, he's a force on almost every play, amassing 97 tackles on the season to go with 4 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions. Last week he returned a fumble for a TD against that school from Easton. He's the type of player that has to be accounted for on every play. The other LBs are not slouches either - juniors Earl Hudnell (a converted safety) and Ryan Kleve leap to mind, though Masella seems to rotate them in and out - but Taylor is the class of the bunch.

6'0 Junior CB Sam Orah is the class of the secondary - you can pencil him in every week. The rest of the secondary are comprised of three freshmen, however, all clocking in at under 6 feet. With that lack of height and lack of experience, these guys have been picked on this year, frequently taking gambles back there - and losing.

Special Teams
Fordham's kicking game is excellent. Senior PK Micah Culkey has a 45 yard FG to his credit this year and is always one of the best kickers in the Patriot League. Joining him this year is junior P Benjamin Dato who is probably the best punter in the Patriot this year with a 44 yard average. You could consider this unit to be the class of the Patriot.

Returning kicks is also a very solid unit. Freshman CB Isiejah Allen and junior RB Jonte Coven have excellent averages returning kicks, and Coven already has a 100 yard kickoff return to his credit for a TD. Keeping these guys under wraps will be important.

Keys To The Game
1.Snappy Nicknames. Our defense is crying out for a snappy nickname. "60 Minutes of Hell?" Not easy, but our "60 Minutes of Hell" defense will have to pressure Skelton into mistakes and frustrate their ability to generate any offense. (Have I really dropped the ball on nicknames this year?)
2.Rollouts and Counter Treys. That interior defensive line, not to mention Taylor, is tough. I'd try to stretch the outside to get those important rushing yards.
3.Penalties. In these last two games, I want to see better execution in the form of fewer penalties. Championship teams do that sort of thing, and we're not a championship team - yet.
4.Big Plays. A significant amount of Fordham's scoring has come from big plays - kickoff returns for TDs, fumble recoveries for TDs. If we can prevent those types of scores, I really like our chances.

Fearless Prediction
I think the seniors come out of this weekend winners in what's likely to be their last home game at Goodman stadium. I think they honestly are focused on beating Fordham this week in order to put themselves in postition to win the Patriot League title next weekend. I really don't see a sloppy effort, especially at home in front of the senior day crowd. I see a good, solid win.

Lehigh 35, Fordham 9


Ngineer said…
Focus is the word. Fordham is very young, though they have some very good athletes that could bite if we get lackadaisical. QB shows talent,but is young and could make mistakes if we get good pressure like we have done recently. We should win by a score you suggest, but then, Lafayette should have also and was hanging on at the end. Focus.
Anonymous said…
im not ready to say this is the last home game for these seniors!

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