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Preview of Lehigh/Bucknell

(Photo Credit: Michael Bavero, Daily Item)

Momentum.

It's an old chestnut in football, how you want your team to get some wins in a row - even at the end of a season when you're out of the championship hunt - to get something established for next year.

And Lehigh and Bucknell, both young teams who have struggled offensively, are looking for it this weekend.

For Lehigh, a week before "The Rivalry" against that school in Easton, the objective is clear: the offense must be more effective, execute better and score more points, because we'll need it next week.

Lehigh, due to injuries all across the board, is starting more freshmen and sophomores across the board as well, giving Lehigh fans an intriguing glimpse at 2008 to see what could be in store. Despite the troubles Lehigh had last week versus Colgate, the underclassmen have been a considerable bright spot, and fans will be looking for improvement from last week from those players who will be the ones to carry the flag in 2008.

If Lehigh is to challenge for a title in 2008, it's going to be due to actions done this Saturday and next. The future of Lehigh football will be on display.

Game Notes & Weather Report
It's not in the game notes, but the big bombshell instead came from the Morning Call: senior QB Sedale Threatt won't be throwing any more passes this year due to a rotator cuff injury suffered in the Holy Cross game. This answers many questions in regards to the coaching decisions in the past two weeks regarding the quarterback situation, where sophomore QB Chris Bokosky will be the passing quarterback. Threatt will still get in there as a rushing threat (where he has been pretty effective) and as a wide receiver (where he caught a pass last week).

Worthy of mention is the third string QB, freshman QB J.B. Clark, who might get time if something happens to Bokosky. Freshman QB Trace Cisneros is another possibility. Just in case we didn't have enough freshmen in the equation already...

Freshman RB Jaren Walker, last week's Blog Player of the Week, starts again at runningback with freshman RB Kwesi Kankam backing him up. Freshman OL William Rackley is also starting at guard. On defense, the linebacking unit could very well get a boost with the return of sophomore LB Heath Brickner who hasn't been available the past few weeks.

All of these underclassmen will be counted on next year, so it will be interesting to see their progress this week - especially Walker.

The worst possible weather will be on the offing this week in "balmy" Lewisburg, with possible snow showers at gametime with a high of around 40. Bundle up if you're going.

A Word on Bucknell
The Bison have not beaten Lehigh since 1997, which, not coincidentally, was the last time Lehigh had a losing record in football. In fact, Lehigh has played Bucknell every year since 1950, and the Mountain Hawks enjoy a 38-29-3 series lead on the Bison.

1950 was a special year for Lehigh, as under head football coach "Bill" Leckonby and runningback Dick Doyne, they were undefeated and "Middle Three" Conference champions. That year they beat Bucknell 27-6 en route to the Engineer's first-ever perfect season at 9-0. The following year, though, Bucknell unleashed their savage attack on Lehigh with runningback Burt Talmadge, and beat Lehigh 47-7 en route to their first-ever perfect season. A rivalry was born.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, these games had Patriot League championship connotations seemingly every year. Although difficult to fathom now with Lehigh being so dominant in the league over the last ten years, the games against Bucknell were more highly regarded that the games against "weak sister" Colgate.

Lehigh has won nine straight against the Bison, and Bucknell head coach Tim Landis has never beaten the Mountain Hawks. In the four games he's played against Lehigh, the average score would be: Lehigh 41, Bucknell 10. To beat Lehigh would be a great accomplishment for Landis and his seniors, and he'll be emptying out the playbook to do so tomorrow.

Offense
Landis runs the spread option offense, which is similar to the type of offense run by Wofford and the classic Georgia Southern teams in their championship years. It is very difficult to prepare for in one week's time, but since we have Bucknell as a league opponent every year, Lehigh should be able to prepare for it will. The spread , it is a predominantly a running set using 2 wideouts, 1 fullback, 2 "slotbacks" that play RB or TE, and the QB as a rushing threat. A lot of different athletes touch the ball in this system, and it requires the running game to be working to function effectively.

Bucknell has had different names looking to be the starting quarterback, but just like last year sophomore QB Marcelo Trigg will be getting the nod. He's the most accomplished of the passers on the team, but he won't confuse anyone with Tom Brady with a 47.1 completion percentage, 890 yards passing, and 6 touchdown passes. He's only 5'11 and is speedy, though he's been contained pretty well by defenses in the rushing game (only 110 yards and 4 TDs). Still, he's a speedster and can't be allowed to get to the open field. If we make him look like Georgia Southern QB Jayson Foster, we'll be in trouble.

The duo of slotbacks also feature two sophomores in sophomore A.J. Kizekai and sophomore RB Rashod Bumpers. Kizekai is 5'9 and Bumpers is 5'8 and are the same mold of small-speedy backs that Trigg is, though Kizekai has shown more promise of the two (363 yards rushing, 2 TDs). Both can also catch the ball out of the backfield, with Kizekai leading the team in receiving (263 yards, 3 TDs). At the fulback, senior FB Corin Erby (pictured) has turned it up in recent weeks with 171 yards and 3 TDs. He's the "giant" in this backfield: 5'9, 207 lbs.

More underclassmen feature for the Bison at wideout with freshman WR Shaun Pasternak and sophomore WR Cale Cadman. Combined for the year they have 380 yards and 2 TDs, but they have an important job in blocking downfield as well - and they're trees, comparatively, at 6'2.

The "O" line is led by senior OL Jonathan Grainger that is smallish, averaging 6'2 and 267 pounds across. Lafayette, who has one of the best defenses in the nation, made mincemeat of this unit last week.

Defense
This year Landis abandoned his base 4-3 defense to install a 3-4 to take advantage of his talent and depth at linebacker. With a rash of injuries, however, this strategy may have backfired in 2007, where the Bison find themselves with a player starting his fourth game and a converted quarterback manning the trenches.

Sophomore DE Josh Eden highlights a pretty good defensive line, with 8 tackles for loss including 3 1/2 sacks. Senior NG Ryan Walsh adds 36 tackles and 5 tackles for loss (including 2 sacks), so this "D" line gets good push on the quarterback.

On the inside, senior LB Ryan Slater leads the defensive front, with junior LB Todd Manjuck emerging as a force inside as well (65 tackles). The linebackers have the luxury of sitting more in pass coverage since the "D" line gets good push on the ball. Overall, a pretty solid front seven.

Where the Bison have been devastated by injuries is the secondary. Sophomore SS Brigham Farrand is their best player, with 61 tackles and 4 pass break-ups. But the tallest member of their secondary is 6'1, which would seem to dictate some mismatches.

Special Teams
Junior K Will Carney is a perfect 24/24 on extra points, but is only 5/9 on FG and hasn't made a single kick over 40 yards. Junior P Phil Azarik is a very solid punter, averaging 41.6 yards per punt and downing 14 inside the 20.

Sophomore RB A.J. Kizekai is a dangerous return man, who has 960 yards returning kicks and 1 touchdown - a very dangerous player. Junior RB Nolan Applegate hasn't had to return many punts, but when he has he's been dangerous with an 11 yard average. It will be important to keep these guys under wraps.

Keys To The Game
1. Hitting. With the small runners on this team, giving them the same punishment we might give Jordan Scott of Mike McLeod will go a long way in ensuring a win. Hard hitting will shut down their running game, and give us opportunities.
2. Running. With possible bad weather, we'll need to count on our "O" line to dominate Bucknell's defensive front in order to get good rushing yardage. Running hard - and intelligently - could be the key to getting the Lehigh offense on track.
3. Tackling. If it's a close, bad-weather game, special teams play will be important. That means tackling well to contain the return men, and wrapping up the runners on defense too. Better tackling will give Lehigh a good chance to win.
4. Working. The theme for Lehigh this year has been "mental errors". One way to overcome mental errors is to work hard and move forward. It will take hard work to make fewer mistakes - and we'll need it to win this game.

Fearless Prediction
You've got to believe Tim Landis and Bucknell have a tape of the Colgate team and are saying to themselves, "We can beat them." Other teams just salivate seeing a team that is hurting itself with multiple errors and is out-of-sync. Whether Lehigh can get back in sync is the key to this game.

If Lehigh goes out and assumes that they will beat Bucknell the same way they did in years past, expecting to show up and get a 41-10 win, that would be a huge mistake. The Bison will be determined to get their seniors a win this weekend at home, and will pull out every stop to do so.
No matter what happened this year in regards to injuries, personalities, or anything, I've got to believe that Lehigh knows the importance of getting things together before "The Rivalry" next weekend to be going in there with some sort of momentum. I don't think it's fair to expect a blowout win, but Lehigh gets the job done going into the biggest game of the year.

Lehigh 28, Bucknell 17

Comments

LehighWrestling said…
Hello, Once agian GREAT article. Will you be attending the Lehigh game at bucknell tomorrow? If so take alot of pics. I forgot, will you be attending the Lehigh vs that school in easton game on November 17 2007? If so take a bunch of Photos at that game as well. Email me at alianna_hodiya@yahoo.com
Thank you

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