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2007 Season In Review

What Went Right
When Lehigh won in 2006 against our tougher opponents, it involved our defense getting turnovers. Our 20-13 win versus Ivy League Champion Harvard was won after junior LB Tim Diamond stripped the ball from Harvard quarterback Chris Pizzotti and junior DL Paul Bode rumbled the ball into the end zone for the win. Similarly, senior DB Brannan Thomas' two interceptions were the difference in Lehigh's early 32-21 victory over last year's Ivy League co-Champions Princeton.

On defense, we found our biggest playmaker on defense in Diamond. He would finish the year with 107 tackles. 2 1/2 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 3 recovered fumbles, and that aforementioned game-winning strip. Junior DL Brian Jackson also had a great year with 63 tackles and 5 1/2 sacks, and another standout was sophomore LB Matt Cohen with a team-leading 13 tackles for loss including three sacks.

Another part of the team that really shined was special teams. Thomas' 54 yard punt return for a touchdown was a big part of the Harvard win, while a big question mark going into the year at kick returner was answered by true freshman KR John Kennedy, who ended the year with 1,087 return yards. Junior P Jason Leo shined on the punt team, averaging 42.1 yards per punt with an amazing 19 of them inside the 20, while the punt and kickoff return units were incredibly solid, allowing no punt or kick blocks all year.

Finally, this year allowed many underclassmen to get valuable game experience as well.
Although all the true freshmen that had playing time did have struggles at times, all of them showed real flashes that these are the kids that should be in the starting lineup. Freshman OL William Rackley, freshman OL Ricky Clerge, freshman WR Travis Artim, freshman RB Kwesi Kankam, freshman RB Jaren Walker, freshman TE Alex Wojdowski, and freshman DT Phil Winnett are only the freshmen I've listed that look like they could find themselves starting next year as sophomores, alongside a slew of rising juniors. *All* of these guys proved they can dominate the lesser teams of the league and also play against Colgate and Lafayette. That's great promise for 2008.

What Went Wrong
Start with strength and conditioning. A never-before-seen string of injuries to the running backs, quarterback, and receivers meant all year Lehigh struggled offensively, which is highly uncharacteristic of Lehigh football teams.

Before the season had a single snap, both junior RB Matt McGowan and junior RB Josh Pastore were battling leg injuries, and every week of the 2007 season it was a guessing game to find out which backs were going to be healthy enough to suit up. The inconsistency back there infected the entire offense and caused the offense to constantly out of rhythm. Although the freshmen Kankam and Walker did start and played well in flashes, one week a freshman would be the leading rusher, and the other week he wouldn't get a single carry. I wonder if we would have had more consistency running if we had stuck with one guy - even if that guy was a freshman - for a longer period.

Similarly, senior QB Sedale Threatt struggled with injuries to his shoulder and ribs, and by the end of the year he was a "run-first, pass-third" quarterback. His heart and competitiveness never were in question: in each and every game you'd see him forging forward for those extra yards on the ground even when he really didn't have an arm, and in the latter half of the year, splitting time with sophomore QB Chris Bokosky, he actually also lined up as a receiver.

The QB situation, in this reporters opinion, should have been handled differently. By not spelling out that Threatt had any injuries, more grist was given to his detractors who demanded that he needed to be benched. When it became clear that he was playing hurt and it was affecting the team, they still went with Threatt until we suffered the humiliating defeat to Holy Cross. Then, by making Threatt a part-time quarterback and still not being upfront about his injury problems, it made it seem like the team was caving to public opinion rather than giving Bokosky a vote of confidence. As it stood, we ended the year with a two-headed quarterback with no consistent rhythm or confidence from either quarterback. If the coyness about the QB situation was done to gain some sort of advantage, it didn't work.

As a result of the inconsistency at QB, the receiving corps never was able to really gel very well as a unit, although the injury to senior WR Pete Donchez didn't help one iota. The lack of a go-to playmaker emerging from this bunch was another big factor of the offensive struggles.

Another was the struggle the freshmen faced in pass and run protection on the "O" line. Basically, every phase of the offense showed flashes of good play, and also showed real struggles.

We'll never know how good this offense might have been with a healthy unit. But with a unit filled with freshmen and sophmores, it's hard to judge an "Andy Coen" offense since we really didn't have one all year. Next year we should have a much better idea of what this offense is capable of.

On defense injuries also played a major factor in limiting senior DB Brannan Thomas, our go-to cornerback. What was supposed to be our biggest strength ended up being a weakness, ending up with only 3 interceptions from our defensive backfield all year (all by Thomas) and giving up almost 200 yards passing a game.

Our kicking game also featured frustrating inconsistency, with junior K Jason Leo only hitting 11 of 18 kicks on the year, including some big misses.

Questions Going Into The Spring
1. QB. Three quarterbacks remain on the roster in 2008: Bokosky, who will be a junior, and freshmen Trace Cisneros and J.B. Clark who will be sophomores. Who will get the vote of confidence from the coaching staff? It will be a very interesting spring to see who emerges as the starter.
2. DB. The entire starting defensive backfield graduates, which leaves junior FS Brendan VanAckeren, junior SS Quadir Carter, and sophomore CB Jesse Sanchez to be likely candidates to step up to starting positions. But there will undoubtedly be spots in this unit that will be up for grabs. Who will step up?
3. "O" line. C John Reese and T Jimmy Kehs graduate. Who steps up to grab these line spots? Might we se even more freshmen in these key spots as well in 2008, just like in 2007?
4. Playmakers. We have a few guys on this team that simply make plays, but I want to see more of those guys that will be making plays in 2008 in this spring game. I don't care if you're too small, to slow, whatever: if you can make plays, you'd be on my team.

It was not an easy 5-6 year for Lehigh. The humiliating 59-10 loss to Holy Cross made me question everything about the direction of the program and the quality of the athletes on the field. But the lack of fight shown in that game never reared its ugly head again. Even with the loss to Lafayette, Lehigh showed a lot of fight and emotion the rest of the way and very nearly pulled off the victory. It's hard to talk about a loss to Lafayette as a "moral victory", but it did show enough to convince me that things are still on the right track for 2008.

There are some very hopeful signs of life for 2008 with a young, feisty unit (and coaching staff) that clearly learned from the Holy Cross loss and (I feel) will also learn from the Lafayette loss as well. The transitions on this team to a different defense and a different offense were never going to be seamless, while the special teams units have already has produced real benefits.

In 2008, the hope is that a new quarterback will be able to step in with (finally) a healthy backfield in a completely injury-free preseason. From there, they will build on the strength of the team - a very good, young defense and a very good special teams unit and challenge for another Patriot League title.


Stay tuned this coming month for: Lehigh Football Nation's Hawks Of The Year; The Challenge To Donate To The Athletics Partnership; And The Weekly report on Lehigh's Winter Sports, including Men's and Women's basketball


Anonymous said…
Where does John Kennedy fit in?

With his speed, he needs to find a place on the field.
Anonymous said…
Great summary Chuck. I agree with the comment about not letting one running back carry the ball enough to get into a rhythm. From the first time I saw him in the Princeton game, I thought Walker should be the featured back. Since he is such a dynamic open field runner, the coaches need to find a way to ball into the hands of John Kennedy more often. Lastly, I am still not a believer in the 3-4. All year long, our defense gave the opposing quarterback too much time to throw the ball.
Anonymous said…
Chuck, Again you find it very easy to find fault with individual player performances, but nothing about individual coaching performances.

It was good to see your accolades for the kids that did some what stand out, and you did point out the way the coach mishandled the Sedale situation. (even though Sedale struggled before any of the injuries)

The facts are we did not make plays when we needed to but, we didn't always put the Threat's, Bokosky's, Walker's, Kennedy's, Seiko's, Kewesi's in a position to do so.

*Three consecutive runs in LC territory
* Blown time outs
* Not letting any QB get in a rythem
* The right players not being on the field when their supposed to be
* The lack of pressure on the QB
* Playing players with injuries that hurt the team
* Never taking any of the responsibility for lackluster performances
* Not adjusting to what the other team is doing, or what they are giving you
* Poor secondary technique
* Unmotivated/flat performances at times.

It is this fans opinion that you need to stop being a "homer" and report 100% of the facts.
Anonymous said…
Not sure what is alluded to as the coaches not taking responsibility for some of the problems that occured. Coen specifically accepted blame for the lackluster performance in the first half at Fordham,as well as the Holy Cross debacle. The weeks that followed that game did show in increased intensity and focus by the team. A number of these losses were winnable but for executing on several key plays.
Yes, 2007 was a disappointing year and there are a myriad of reasons, not just one. As pointed out, there is a very good core of athletes coming back with a lot of good experience. In addition to those freshmen mentioned, I think there are several others who could well be significant players next year with a year under their belt.
I fully agree that the coaching staff has to do some internal evaluation as well. Most definitely, our lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks killed us in several games. At the same time, the secondary seemed to have an inability to play 'tight'--perhaps a combination of fear that we weren't getting pressure. No DB can be asked to play tight man if the QB has all day to throw. So there must be some kind of adjustment on the defensive schemes. We certainly appear to have some excellent returning players on defense, and Van Ackeran's 'hits' he laid out in the Lafayette game gives hope to the new leader back there.
On offense, we might get Pete Donchez back for a medical redshirt, if he want to apply. He was rarely healthy this year, and his absence had a big impact. Yansane, needs to be place in situations to take advantage of his speed--only one such reception against Lafayette, but never heard from afer that.
Kennedy is the return man for years. Very exciting, but does he have the hands for WR. Or maybe he can play CB..a speedy corner who can stay with the top WR's of an opponent would be nice..he is listed as a DB in the media guide.
Next year the PL will be wide open again. Holy Cross will have the OPY returning, Fordham will return a good nucleus as well Lafayette and Colgate. This year's losses should certainly provide a message to the players and coaches as to what needs to be improved. Here's to 2008 with, hopefully, "Lessons Learned".
Anonymous said…
Are there any other medical redshirt or 5th year possibilities on the team? I noticed that there were alot of guys hurt this year. Bringing back some veterans can never hurt. Any info on that?
Anonymous said…
Caffrey may have a red shirt. He's battled injuries to his knees, ankles, and back since he arrived and missed most of the 2006 season. Might not be a bad thing to have him back this long as he can stay healthy, he can be great.

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