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Preview of Lehigh/Yale

It's been quite a while since Yale has had a team like the team we're facing Saturday.

Sure, we did play this team last year in a 26-20 defeat at the Yale Bowl comprised of many of the same cast of characters. But that team wasn't favored to win the Ivy League running away like this 2007 version. And that team didn't have the same confidence that they could dominate the line of scrimmage that this team has.

This year's version of the Eli are more frightening if you look at the statistics. They average 303 rushing yards per game - which is astounding for a team that doesn't run the option. They're getting +2 turnovers on average per game. They're outscoring teams in the first quarter 46-0 this season. They've built on their Ivy co-championship team from last year - and just gotten more and more confident.

The last time Lehigh faced a nationally-ranked Ivy League opponent on the road was at Harvard in 2005, and that Lehigh team cruised to a 49-26 victory over a Crimson team whose phenomenon at tailback, then-junior Clifton Dawson, was hurting with a nagging injury. We're obviously hoping that history will repeat itself here - but by no means will it be easy.

A win here for Lehigh would unquestionably be a huge shot in the arm for this team at the right time. Beating a team like this, who is playing right now at the top of their game, could be a defining moment for this Lehigh team filled with underclassmen. And it would undoubtedly give this team a huge measure of confidence going into the rest of their league schedule.

It's not a must-win game, but boy, if you could get the win, it could be one of those things that carry you through the rest of the year.

Game Notes & Weather Report
The most curious thing of all about the game notes this week is not a single name is different from the two-deep from last week's loss at Fordham - even after coach Coen promised changes after last week's performance. I was kind of surprised to see freshman long snapper Brad Walter and junior holder Ben Ivester still listed in their respective positions on the depth chart. The only change is listing junior RB Josh Pastore as the starter at running back over freshman RB Kwesi Kankam. We shall see if Josh is ready to go: reportedly he's questionable.

No word if senior WR Pete Donchez is fully back from injury, nor is there word if junior WR Nick Johnson is 100% after getting banged up last week. If we have both of these guys back, that would be a huge boost to the offense. Both are listed on the depth chart, as they were last week. [UPDATE: Nick Johnson has a separated shoulder and is out this week, which opens up a spot for freshman WR Travis Artim on the travel team.]

The weather report for New Haven, CT on Saturday is scheduled to be yet another great day to watch a football game: 62 degrees and sunny at the historic Yale Bowl.

Drink of the Week
Yale cocktails just simply don't seem appropriate on a day like today - besides, where can you get Creme d'Yvette anyway? Instead I'd opt for the "old reliable": nice, cold bottled beer. Probably Michelob, or perhaps a Harpoon specialty brew, might be the answer here - just the right blend of class and quality.

My question is: does George W. Bush still drink Yale cocktails?

A Word On Yale
One of the neat traditions of this game, just started last year, is something called the "Yank Townsend Trophy" given to the winner of the Lehigh/Yale game. Named after the only Yankee (i.e., student from Connecticut) who was in the Lehigh class of 1895. After graduating, he would relocate to New Haven to be close to the rest of his family, where he would design many buildings and residences in the area. Yank's descendants sponsored the trophy to be presented to the winner of this game. It's a constant reminder to the history and football traditions of both schools.

Offense
Yale "does what they do". Head coach Jack Sidlecki doesn't run anything really fancy on offense: they will simply beat you up physically every play and run a lot of different running plays every which way: through the middle, with the fullback leading, through misdirection, with sweeps, and end runs, and others. Cheat too much and take away the run, and the quarterback will pick you up with the passing game. This year, the Eli offense is averaging 40 points a game and has been running this strategy near flawlessly.

The reason for this is junior RB Mike McLeod, who represents almost half of Yale's offense and is responsible for 13 of Yale's 21 touchdowns. At 5'11 and 200 lbs, he is the type of back Clifton Dawson was in terms of speed and versatility, but he's much harder to bring down. He knows this offensive system well and has terrific acceleration to the outside. He does catch the occasional ball out of the backfield, but for the most part he just runs you over physically. Coach Sidlecki already has called him "one of the best football players I've ever coached". Contain him, and you contain Yale - but nobody has yet.

McLeod's not alone in the backfield. Senior FB Joe Fuccillo doesn't get carries, but is a powerful blocker out of the backfield who does a great job at busting holes in a defensive front seven. When McLeod does need to take a breather, sophomore RB Ricardo Galvez has been the guy to spell him. At 5'7 171 lbs, he's a speedy scatback whose strength would be running to the outside. Neither back has any receptions out of the backfield yet. Sophomore FB John Sheffield, surprisingly, is the leading receiver with 14 receptions for 164 yards and a TD, and a 6'2, 235, you've got to think he's a pretty good blocker too.

It may seem like senior QB Matt Polhemus' only job is not to fumble the snap as he puts the ball in McLeod's hands. But although his passing numbers are not gaudy (35 for 67, 467 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception), they don't need to be - and he makes up for it with his feet. He adds 160 yards rushing and 1 TD to the offensive punch. Still, he hasn't been asked to win a game all by himself, nor has he needed to come from behind to win a game.

Likewise, the receivers also haven't been asked to win games by themselves either, and neither one strikes fear in one's heart. Junior WR Jarrett Drake and senior WR Chris Denny-Brown only have 10 combined receptions for 164 yards and no TDs. Senior TE Langston Johnson, on the other hand, is a very good blocker and also has been known to slip into coverage to catch passes: he has 6 on the year for 98 yards and a TD. It's worth covering him when they're in the red zone.

As good as McLeod is, it all starts with the hogs on the "O" line, and Yale's is frighteningly good. They're not the biggest you'll see, but they could very well be the strongest. Junior C Ty Davis and senior OL Stephen Morse (pictured) are two of these guys that will wear defenses down until they break. Their technique is outstanding, and they are physical and will beat you up repeatedly. They've only given up 2 sacks and 15 tackles for loss all year. These are the guys our "D" line will need to outplay to win this game.

Defense
Yale plays an unusual 5-2-4 defense that asks its linebackers to do an awful lot in pass coverage underneath. Of course, the linemen will shift back and help out there as well, but I've always felt that there should be a lot of room in the middle in a 5-2-4 for a good, pinpoint passer to make hay inside the 20's.

Senior DL Brandt Hollander has historically been the leader on this "D" line, but he has seemed slow to recover from a nagging injury to be really effective. In his absence, senior DT Jared Hamilton has really stepped up his game with 13 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 3 1/2 tackles for loss, including 2 1/2 sacks. Junior DE Brady Hart is also a solid player with 25 tackles and four pass knockdowns.

The player in this front seven that has really impressed me ever since last year's Lehigh/Yale game, though, is junior LB Bobby Abare. He had a key interception last year in that game which demonstrates his exceptional range in rushing the passer and dropping in pass coverage. This year though four games he has 33 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 forced fumble, and 5 tackles for loss including 1 sack. He's the heart and soul of this defense, and is just as exceptional a player as McLeod is on offense in my opinion.

Junior LB Jay Pilkerton is also a monster in pass protection, with 3 interceptions already to go with his 23 tackles. Although there are only two linebackers, both are very good in this system.

A possible method of attack is at the corner position, where junior CB Casey Gerald and sophomore CB Paul Rice don't have any interceptions. Gerald is the more solid of the two but smaller, while Rice is taller but greener. Junior FS Steve Santoro, though, is yet another very good Yale defender: he has 16 tackles and 2 interceptions.

Special Teams
Senior K Alan Kimball isn't only a Draddy trophy semifinalist (given to the most outstanding college football scholar/athlete of the year), he's also an extremely accurate kicker with a decent leg. He's a perfect 21/21 on extra points and 6/7 on FGs, all from within 38 yards. Sophomore P Tom Mante is yet another good Yale athlete in the punt game with a 44.0 punting average, including 6 punts within the 20 yard line.

Kick returns and punt returns haven't OK but not spectacular. Sophomore PR/KR Reid Lathan is their best returner, averaging 28 return yards per kickoff and 8 yards per punt return. Junior FS Steve Santoro also joins in the return duties on kickoffs as well with a 14.4 average.

Keys To The Game
1.Early scoring. Breaking that first-quarter shutout that Yale has would go a very long way towards beating them. Getting up early, even by 3 points, could make it a day where Yale has to play catch-up. If we have them playing catch-up, we have a chance.
2.Flying and Tackling. McLeod is going to get some yards, but closing gaps and throwing the body into tackling will be imperative. You can't bring McLeod down with an arm tackle - you'll need to really wrap him up to do it right. Flying in the gaps and sound tackling will be a huge key.
3.Red Zone Conversions. 2-for-6 in the red zone ain't going to hack it. When Lehigh gets in the red zone, we need to get points, even field goals. In a game where every point could be precious, you can't giv away opportunities.
4.Turnovers. If you turn over the ball on Yale and give them a short field, you're asking for trouble. Holding onto the ball and making them drive the length of the field to get points will be crucial.

Fearless Prediction
The temptation here is to look at Lehigh, and say: “Any Given Saturday, sure Lehigh could do it, they have quarterback Sedale Threatt and a tough defense”. But this Yale team is a very special team. They are averaging 41 points a game, and are playing with so much confidence on offense that their quarterback Matt Polhemus and runningback Mike McLeod were giving touchdowns away to their teammates last week.

Even though my heart says Lehigh can compete and win, my head is going to win here. Lehigh is a talented team, and I think they will play better this week than they did last week. But I'm still not sure they have everything they need to be able to win a big game like this one. I hope I'm wrong, but my head says Yale will be on the winning end.

Lehigh 24, Yale 28

Comments

Lehigh 74 said…
Chuck you need to listen to the Podcast of the pregame interview with Coen before you post your weekly preview. The pregame interview seems to occur on Wednesday and is then posted on the podcast site. In the pregame interview, Coen answers some of the questions you raise in your weekly preview, such as the injury status of Nick Johnson.
Anonymous said…
Chuck, thanks for the reference to the Yank Townsend 1895 Trophy. If you would like some history for your blog readers:

Asa Packer established Lehigh as a "land grant" college, and tuition was free through 1895 and some time thereafter. Charles Townsend could not afford college, but when accepted at Lehigh he became the only CT student (Yankee) in his class.

After graduation, he settled in New Haven and was in architecture for 65 years, designing many prominent landmarks in New Haven, and the Phi Delta Theta house at LU. For those 65 years, he attended virtually every Yale home game (and many Lehigh games) in both football and wrestling, but was truly miffed that he never saw Lehigh beat Yale in football (living to age 90).

In fact, the series was discontinued after the 1916 game (for 26 years) because (according to Yank) Yale complained that Lehigh played too rough. (I will have to look that up in the 1916 newspapers to see what happened at that game.)

99 years after Yank graduated from Lehigh, Rob Aylsworth set a Yale Bowl passing record to beat Yale 36-32. Lehigh then compiled a five game winning streak over Yale.

Alas, our family decided to honor his interest in Lehigh & Yale football with the new rotating trophy. Since then, Yale has won two straight over LU. Is this the Yank Townsend curse?

As I told the Yale players in the post-game presentation, "you were so dominating, you can keep the trophy for two years instead of one year." Of course, we do not play Yale in 2008 (when McLeod is a senior).

It would be nice to win the 2009 game, which is at Lehigh. That would be a very emotional moment for our family.

In 2008, my father, Fred Sr., who walks livelier than I do, may come to Bethlehem for his 75th reunion, and I will be there for my 50th reunion, with my daughter Carolyn (LU '90), and four grandsons (one of whom may become a fifth generation LU student). There seem to be numerous families with Lehigh traditions. I love it.

Fred Townsend, '58

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