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Preview of Lehigh/Princeton

Lehigh travels down to Princeton, NJ this week (a 6PM start) to play a Tiger team to which they lost 14-10 last year in Bethlehem, which snapped a seven-game winning streak against Princeton and featured the Tigers' first win in the series since 1993. In a lot of ways, this loss last year was a real canary in not only Lehigh's coal mine, but the Patriot League's coal mine as well.

Going into last year's game, Lehigh had a huge head of steam after beating Villanova 31-28 in dramatic come-from-behind fashion. QB Sedale Threatt, after having a coming-out party against the Wildcats, was effectively shut down by the Tigers: 13-for-21 passing, 0 TDs, and 2 interceptions. (The only touchdown on the day came from a 3 yard TD run by Sedale in the first half). Even midway through the second half, when Threatt threw an interception and Princeton scored on their second-straight drive to take a 14-10 lead, folks were wondering when the Lehigh offense would show that flash and go ahead for good: but it never happened. K Jason Leo missed a chip-shot, Threatt got intercepted for the second time on the day, and a potentially game-winning drive was stopped on 4th-and-10 after Sedale barely couldn't get it to the first-down marker.

This game last year seems to symbolize the larger Patriot League struggles with the Ivy League last year, where the entire league went 4-14 against their Ivy brethren and lost every single game to the "Big Three" in Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Princeton went 9-1 and ultimately shared an Ivy League co-championship with Yale. That first game was a real warning sign of the Patriot League's future struggles with the Ivy League, and Lehigh's struggles in particular over the next month in losing to Harvard and Yale later in the year.

This week, coach Coen told his team that there was a "sense of urgency this year" in playing the Ivies "because we're representing the league and we're hoping for a better showing". So coach Coen is quite aware that beating the Ivy League teams is very important.

This week, Lehigh finds itself in a very interesting position. Although hard to call it a must-win game, with so much youth that needs to come together on this team it still looms as an important one. Win, and Lehigh gets back on a winning track that will be vital in establishing Lehigh as the Patriot League power they are expected to be every year. Win against Princeton, it establishes some measure of revenge for last year's loss and is unquestionably a quality early win. Win, and it lifts up the entire Patriot League and maybe asserts our place as the Ivy League equals, if not their betters, in football.

That's an awfully tall order for a team that overall is very, very young.

Game Notes & Weather Report
What sticks out in the game notes from this week is the fact that freshman RB Kwesi Kankam will be given his first-ever start this week with junior RB Matt McGowan out with a leg injury and junior RB Josh Pastore questionable with a leg injury. Although Pastore is listed as #2 on the depth chart, don't be surprised to see another freshman possibly playing at RB: freshman RB Jaren Walker could see some time out there too.

With senior OL Brendan Caffery also questionable with a foot injury, we see another freshman in a starting role: freshman OL William Rackley in at right guard. (Can you believe the number of injuries we've had this year already in week two?) Looking at the two deep includes two freshman starters in Kankam and Rackley; another backup lineman in freshman OL Ricky Clerge-Appolon; a backup TE in freshman TE Alex Wodjdowski (who was pressed into duty when senior TE Joe Sutherland went out with an injury), and backup freshman NG Phil Winnett. Add to that the RB Walker, who could see some time, and freshman WR Travis Artim who could see time if senior WR Pete Donchez isn't ready to go, and you have a real chance that seven freshmen could play!

Unfortunately, that's not even all. It looks like our lone senior in the linebacking unit, senior LB Rashaun Gasaway, won't be playing and instead junior LB Bradley Thomas will be getting the start as well, and the fourth member of the "super sophomore linebackers" moves onto the depth chart on sophomore LB Al Pierce. There are freshman and sophomores all over this depth chart. Gah!

Saturday in the Princeton area is calling for AM showers, but clearing later for a high of 79. As gametime is at 6PM, though, by the end of the game it could very well be in the low 50s or high 40s - a clear, cool night. It couldn't be more different than the 95 degree sauna at Murray Goodman last weekend.

Drink Of The Week
This week, I think it's best to try to differentiate yourself from the quiche-eating jet set across the Delaware. For that, there's no better way than to bring Yuengling in the can (preferably Yuengling Traditional, but Black & Tan is also acceptable as well). That will make it frighteningly easy to find Lehigh tailgates along the way. See wine spritzers and hear Pat Boone on the boom box? Move along. See Black & Tan's and hear some White Stripes? Stroll on in!

A Word On Princeton
Last year, Princeton was picked to finish sixth at Ivy League media day, which I mentioned on this blog as being "nuts". I was right on the money: Princeton would go on and finish 9-1 and earn an Ivy League co-championship with Yale last year. How on earth could they be so wrong, and I could be, well, better (I picked them to finish 3rd)?

First of all, Princeton is not your traditional team. Head coach Roger Hughes, now in his 7th year, has an offense that doesn't have any one dominating star, but doesn't have any one glaring weakness either. From week to week, it's wickedly hard to look at the Tigers and see exactly what their gameplan will be against you because they will look at your team and go to your weakness. One week they will pass their first seven plays, the other they'll run it. They don't depend on a marquee player.

Similarly on defense, you have to throw away your preconceptions on "small defensive lines" or "no stars on defense". These guys are a team and could be the most fundamentally sound team in all of Division I football. They hit gaps. They tackle extremely well. Last year, their secondary could have been the best in Division I, and although they have a lot to replace (like CB J.J. Artis), the guys they have there will probably be completely schooled in the fundamentals and will tackle extremely well. Playing Princeton is no longer fun.

The Tigers will be starting a brand-new QB this year, but that's not to say that senior QB Bill Foran has no experience. When last year's starting QB Jeff Terrell came out with an injury last year, I saw Foran engineer a great drive that resulted in an important TD against Harvard last year. This kid can play, and my prediction is that he knows his role and will be very similar to Terrell last year: he knows his role, can loft up many pass attempts if needed, but is more than willing to hand off the ball seven straight times if that's what's necessary. I think he is another Terrell-in-waiting - meaning, a master at the short-passing game and always keeps you guessing.

Moreover, Foran is a speedster, who also runs the 100 yard and 200 yard dash for the Princeton track team. That means you don't want him flushed out of the pocket if you can help it - and you had better not hope to catch him from behind. Our linebacking unit needs to keep him in front of them in order to tackle him - and they also need to guard him getting free on designed runs. Bluntly, Foran scares me.

At RB and FB, we have some familiar names in sophomore RB R.C. Lagomarsino and senior FB Rob Teresco. Last year against Lehigh they didn't have a great day, combining for 73 yards rushing with 1 TD, but both are notable in the fact that they can catch the ball out of the backfield well. You can't key on one rushing or passing - you really have to cover both. Our linebacking unit will be tested in pass coverage.

At receiver, senior WR Brendan Circle is the "star" of the bunch, but Hughes will not hesitate to spread the ball to junior WR Adam Berry, junior WR Will Thanheiser, or sophomore WR Jeb Heavenrich. Don't be surprised to see Princeton to spread it around with these guys, particularly underneath. Berry and Heavenrigh both have excellent speed, so you want to make sure they don't slip past you. And don't forget senior TE Jake Staser, who has impressed the coaching staff and could get his fair share of pass attempts as well.

The common mistake with Princeton is to look at the size or experience of their "O" line and say that they are mismatched. Nothing could be further from the truth. The "O" line doesn't boast anyone beyond 275 lbs (senior OL Brendan Swisher, a converted tight end, is only 255 lbs), but they are all athletic and block extremely well. Although loaded with sophomores, sophomore OL Mark Paski started all 10 games as a freshman, so is very experienced.

The entire front three of the 3-4 Tiger defense from last year returns, led by junior DE Pete Buchignani with 27 tackles and 5 tackles for loss. The Tigers do a lot of rotation on the line to keep everyone fresh for four quarters, and they're pretty big too, averaging 275 lbs across.

At linebacker, senior LBs Jon Stem and Doori Song headline an exceptional unit. No one member is a better tackler than another, while the seniors combined for 79 tackles and 11 tackles for loss last year. As mentioned, all of them hit gaps well and bring enormous pressure, helping cause all those tackles for loss. This will be an awful tough nut to crack.

The secondary featured the graduation of two awesome performers, and the ray of light for us here is that coach Hughes doesn't seem to know what the combination back there is going to be yet. Senior FS Kevin Kelleher will be a part of it, though, and we know he's good: he led the team with four interceptions last year. Sophomore CB Dan Koplovich saw some time last year, but he and sophomore CB Cart Kelly hopefully will be players we can exploit for some advantage.

Special Teams
Junior P Ryan Coyle is largely unproven after the Tigers saw a great P in Colin McDonough graduated last year, while junior K Connor Louden went 9-for-16 on FG last year, none attempted beyond 40 yards. He's accurate in close, while he went only 4 for 9 beyond 30 yards.

Junior WR Pete Ploszek returns kickoffs, while sophomore WR Jeb Heavenrich tries his hand at punt returns. Ploszek did a decent job with kickoffs last year.

Keys to the Game
1. Fundamentals. In order to win this game, we will have to tackle and execute as well or better than Princeton. No receivers slipping behind the coverage. No sloppy tackling. No blown plays. This team will need to be ready to play to have a chance.
2. Turnovers. Yeah, I know, it's an old saw, but remembering last year's turnovers and how they killed us got me thinking how important it will be against this team, who didn't kill themselves last year. Don't turn over the ball, and we have a chance.
3. Multi-Dimensional. This offense needs a running game to keep other teams off balance, which means Kankam hopefully "can can" grind out a significant running game for us and take the pressure off one of two players on offense.
4. Pressure Foran. Keeping Foran out of any sort of groove will be of utmost importance. If we let roll out and pick us apart using many different receivers, we'll be in trouble. Also, you simply have to keep him in front of you and don't let designed QB outside runs develop.

Fearless Prediction
I have to try to look at this objectively. Tale of the tape? Princeton wins: they have loads of experience everywhere. QB? Edge Sedale. RB? Edge: Tigers. WR? Edge: Tigers. Defensive line? Push. LB? Tigers. DB's? Lehigh. Winning this game would be a tall order, and I think that with the amount of injuries we have on this team, we come up short. Not all would be lost with a loss here: we'd know more about the freshmen and sophomores. But it's not easy even with a full set of juniors and seniors to beat Princeton, and with all the injuries, I think it's jsut too tall an order.

Princeton 28, Lehigh 17


Anonymous said…
If Chuck's picking Lehigh to lose by 11 I better take the "over" on that one. This could get really ugly.
Anonymous said…
Chuck - ye of little faith. Even with the young guys playing, I think Lehigh will pull through. I think you are being a bit gun-shy after predicting a Lehigh win over 'Nova. Then again, it might be a little too much pre-tailgate Black Label talking.

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