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Preview Of Lehigh/Colgate

Rivalries. It's what college football is really all about, and Lehigh will be facing one of its biggest league rivals as the Mountain Hawks travel to Hamilton, NY to face Colgate in their annual brawl.

Giving credit where credit is due, last year linebacker Matt Mohler crowned the week before the Colgate game as "Hate The 'Gate" week, and it has stuck. All week, Lehigh fans have been "hating the 'Gate", showing exactly how far this rivalry has come since 1922.

And this Lehigh football team has gotten into it.

At the press luncheon this week, senior Rashaun Gasaway ("Our goal is to win football games, not to lay down so teams can win championships.") and senior TE Joe Sutherland ("We don't like Colgate very much. I know we hate going up there because it’s in the middle of nowhere. Every year, it's a big game." ) talked about it.

This rivalry has come a long way from that first game in 1922, which was played in Johnson City near Binghamton, NY. It was set up by William Fisher, the athletics director of the Endicott-Johnson corporation, and Lehigh's athletics director at the time, H.R. Reiter. The New York Times reported that the game "will be of great interest to all Central New York and Pennsylvania, and will probably result in an annual contest in Johnson City."

Although the yearly meeting in Johnson City wasn't meant to be, both national powers at that time battled fiercely, by account of the New York Times. Lehigh center "Wild Bill" Springsteen recovered a fumble for a touchdown to go up 6-0, but the Maroons (as they were then called) piled up 35 unanswered points to win that inaugural game 35-6.

Instrumental in setting up the annual rivalry between Colgate and Lehigh was former head football coach Fred Dunlap, who was a star football player at Colgate. He saw how similar Colgate and Lehigh were in terms of academics and athletics. And when the Patriot League formed in 1987, it was natural that Lehigh's northern rival be included along with Holy Cross, Lafayette, Bucknell, Lehigh and Davidson.

More recently, this game has generally featured prominently in the battle for the Patriot League title, which has brought this historic rivalry into sharper focus. Since 1997, Lehigh or Colgate have been either outright or co-champions in every Patriot League title. One of those games featured senior QB Sedale Threatt, in his second start in relief of injured starter Mark Borda, who helped drop 50 on the Raiders in a wild 50-34 victory in 2005.

This year, Colgate needs help this weekend from Holy Cross if they realistically hope to win a Patriot League championship, and they need to win this weekend versus Lehigh as well. Lehigh's extremely slim shot at a co-championship involves beating Colgate this weekend, and getting a whole lot of help.

In any event, it would be a great source of pride for the Lehigh seniors to have gone 4-0 against Colgate. And a win here would provide a great boost of wind in Lehigh's sails going into the final weeks of the season and "The Rivalry".

Last week, Lehigh picked itself up off the ground. This week, we see if we can continue our forward march to our fourth straight won over the 'Gate, a winning record, and possibly even a Patriot League co-championship.

Hate the 'Gate, indeed.

Game Notes & Weather Report
The big question is invariably about the quarterback. Will senior QB Sedale Threatt start the game? Will sophomore QB Chris Bokosky? Will they split time? Coach Coen isn't saying, and all indications are that it will be a gametime decision. It would not be surprising at all to see them both split time.

Junior RB Matt McGowan has firmly placed himself atop the depth chart at running back, while the freshman "dynamic duo" of freshman RB Jaren Walker and freshman RB Kwesi Kankam backing him up. Junior RB Josh Pastore seems dinged up and doesn't look like he'll make the trip - hopefully that won't come into play this week.

One more interesting note is that sophomore LB Heath Brickner is off the depth chart and senior LB Rusty Campion has moved to the No. 1 spot at outside linebacker. I think Brickner is hurt. In any event, Lehigh has depth at LB so it shouldn't be an issue.

Weather-wise, it's going to be yet another clear day for Lehigh football. As November days in Hamilton go, a high of 54 is downright balmy - look for short-sleeved shirts and tank tops from the Colgate crowd, who might not be used to this "global warming stuff." (With a low of 34 at night, the Raiders may be feeling a bit more comfortable.)

A Word On Colgate
If you're going against Colgate, you're also facing the experience that head football coach Dick Biddle has in this rivalry. Now in his eleventh year, you're not likely to surprise him.

In years past, Colgate's smash-mouth team was very much a contrast to Lehigh's spread, pass-happy offense. We could very well this year see two teams who are trying to win in the same way now with a smash-mouth style, making this more of a "mirror match" than in the classic Lehigh/Colgate battles of the past.

The Raiders can legitimately say that they are one of the best teams in the Patriot League this year. If you take away two interceptions, Colgate could very well be 10-1 going into this game.

Against Fordham, Colgate's only interception of the game led to a 21-point Ram outburst that allowed Fordham to outlast Colgate 34-31. And a 71 yard interception return for a touchdown ended up being the difference for Cornell in a 17-14 defeat over the Raiders.

Since then, the Raiders have made a habit of coming from behind to squash their next two opponents, Towson and Lafayette. Trailing 10-7 to Towson at halftime, they outscored Towson of the CAA 20-7 in the final half to gut out a 27-17 victory. Trailing 21-3 to the Leopards, they effectively came together in the second half to squeak out a 36-27 victory.

This is a team that has a lot of fight in it, has a lot to play for, and has a tendency to wear teams down. It is Lehigh's challenge to not be worn down like Lafayette and Towson were.

Colgate's offense, like Yale's, is centered around the running game. Their style is a smashmouth running game, funneled primarily through the star running back, and then using the runnign game as a decoy to get off some short passes. It's not as extreme as Yale's version of the game, but it's been very effective. Like Yale, the running game wears you down over time, meaning a lot of their scoring comes in the second half and in the fourth quarter.

Lehigh is "blessed" with having to face the No. 1 and No. 2 rushing leaders in all of FCS this year. No. 2 is junior RB Jordan Scott (pictured), Colgate's star running back. His totals speak for themselves (1,375 yards rushing and 15 TDs), but what's most interesting is the number of carries: 310! To compare, the rusher with the second-most carries in FCS is Yale's Mike McLeod with 239. That means he's averaging 4.44 yards per carry (almost a full yard below McLeod's), and you wonder what this type of toll will take on him going into November.

That's not to take away from his skill as a runner. Biddle said: "Jordan gets his yards in 5- or 6-yard clips here, a 15-run yard run there. And a lot of his yards come in the fourth quarter. His yardage is tough yardage. He’s carrying the ball and he’s getting pounded. That’s what is unique about him. He’s very strong, deceptively strong.”

He's not the fastest back we'll face, or the quickest. But he's undoubtedly the toughest. And he does so either between the tackles, catching screen passes, or running on sweeps. Freshman FB Gigi Cadet is first and foremost a blocker for him as well - there's not much of a change-of-pace back here to take pressure off of him.

Trying to take pressure off of Scott's running will by junior QB Alex Relph, who has been very inconsistent this year. Last week versus Lafayette, however, he had one of his better days: 16-for-26 with 220 yards (but 0 TDs and 1 INT). He's not as effective as Yale's quarterback in exploiting the fake of the running game to create scrambling yardage and completing 3rd down passes (but then again, who is?). When Colgate is at their best, Relph is an effective counterpoint to Scott, and he has getting better every week. If he's having a good day, we could be in trouble.

When the ball has been put up, Colgate has a pair of starting wide receivers that are extremely solid in 6'6 sophomore WR Pat Simonds and 6'1 senior WR Erik Burke. They are tall, can stretch the field extremely well (both are averaging more than 15 yards per catch) and effective (both have combined for 1,125 yards and 9 TDs). The positive thing is that they don't really have any other consistent threats receiving outside of the wideouts and Scott, so they should be easy to key on by the defensive backs.

In height and weight, Colgate's offensive line is comparable to ours, but obviously the Raider line has done a much better job grinding out rushing yardage. The leader on the line is clearly 6'4, 300 lb senior C Matt Sullivan, who should be a runaway 1st-team all-Patriot team player this year.

Where Lehigh and Colgate does have some contrast in defensively. Unlike Lehigh's 3-4, Colgate boasts a 4-3 centered by exceptional linebacker play. This unit is a tough-tackling unit that could be considered one of the best in the Patriot League.

Weight-wise, again, the Raider "D" line is close to Lehigh's, but their front four, with a fair amount of bodies getting rotated in, don't have a real standout player. The closest thing they have to one is sophomore DT Paul Mancuso, who has 8 1/2 tackles for loss in his young career. Their line has gotten decent pressure on the quarterback in general, getting 2 1/4 sacks, on overage, per game.

A big part of that is due to the pressure that the linebacking unit applies. Senior LB Mike Gallihugh is the heart and soul of this defense - he is seemingly in on every tackle (he has 92 on the year), is equally effective in pass coverage (3 interceptions) and is around the ball constantly. He is quick and is a hard hitter. Right behind him is his heir apparent in sophomore LB Greg Hadley with 44 tackles. Overall, the front seven are big, fast, and solid tacklers.

The secondary could be this team's achilles' heel. Although senior CB Cody Williams has proven to be a tough defensive back, the three other starters are freshmen and sophomores. Sophomore CB Wayne Moten has gotten better, however, week to week and has 3 interceptions on the year.

Special Teams
Junior P Jacob Stein is a pretty good punter, averaging 38.1 yards per punt with a long of 51 yards. Senior K Mike Buck has been solid, kicking 21/21 on extra points and 8/11 on field goals.

Senior CB Cody Williams and junior RB J.J. Bennett have formed an effective return unit on punts and kicks, averaging more than 20 yards per kickoff. Although neither have returned one back, they certainly have that capability.

Keys To The Game
1. Find A Passing Game. Colgate's biggest weakness is in the deep passing game. Our best chance to exploit their defense is to soften up their weak spot, and have the running game act as a counterpoint to that. It's our best chance at winning.
2. Punishment. Scott may get his yards, but Lehigh needs to dole out punishment to him if that's what he tries to do. Tellingly, Lehigh has been one of the few teams that has bottled up Scott effectively, and we cruised to relatively easy victories when we've done so. Limit him to 100-125 yards - and no TDs - and we should be in good shape.
3. Field Position. Punting could be important in this game. Lehigh should be able to play a field position game if the Hawks can stop Scott on the ground. I'll gladly take that 5-10 yards every time we exchange punts.
4. Ball Control. of course, to do that, we need to control the ball and move the sticks, even if it doesn't result in touchdowns. If we can control the time of possession, and keep Scott off the field, that would help immensely.

Fearless Prediction
Colgate is a tough team that happens to be strong where we would like to be strong, and weak where we will have a hard time exploiting the weakness. Although we've won the last three in this rivalry, it will be a tough order to manage a fourth here.

The feeling on Lehigh in this game depends mostly on how far you think the offense has come. Are we ready to smash a "smash" team in the mouth? Can our two-headed quarterback exploit the weaknesses in the offense? Can we stop one of the toughest backs in all of FCS?

Although I think we'll slow him down, I don't think we'll keep him out of the end zone twice. And I think that will be enough.

Colgate 20, Lehigh 13


Anonymous said…
There are a lot of open questions in this game on the Lehigh side. Which team will show up? The one that killed or the one that got killed. I'd love to see a tight game and have no fear being a homer when saying it will come down to 26-20 in OT, Lehigh on top.

Anonymous said…
Good analysis..Lehigh will certainly have to have its "A" game to win. The weather should help in mixing in the possession passing game. I think Brickner off the depth is due to his injury sustained at Yale. He's been on crutches ever since. But LB is one area we have good depth. Whichever way it goes, I think it will be close in the low 20's.

Anonymous said…
Colgate 28
Lehigh 14

Lehigh cannot stop the run.

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