Change of plans. I decided it would be cruel to start a preview and, well, not finish it. So I decided to finish that first before finishing up the Patriot League offseason with Lehigh.
Normally, I'll put the Press Links on Friday, but I'll put them after my prediction this week so tomorrow will be dedicated to my "Patriot League Offseason" special on Lehigh.
It's looking more and more like it's going to be a wet home opener. Yahoo! Weather right now reports it like this: "Rain showers early with a wind driven heavy rain developing later in the day. Chance of rain 80%." Looks like Goodman's new turf and drainage system will be tested right off the bat.
Breaking Down Drake
Only four starters return from last year's offense from a team that went 6-5. Head coach Chris Creighton has instituted a multiple spread offense in place that the Bulldogs are still trying to click into, but he has two important veteran players to lean on. He'll aim for a variety of passing targets to make his offense go.
Senior QB Cole Ingle will be the triggerman, a nearly pure dropback passer who tossed for 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. While he has experience, his role in the offense has changed: before, he was a passer that was a second option compared to the run. This year, he will be expected to be the focal point for opposing defenses. Against D-II Upper Iowa, he had a good day: 18-for-31 passing for 149 yards and a TD.
The rushing game saw the departure of four-year starter RB Scott Phaydavong to graduation. The Bulldogs will line up a slew of different running backs and use them extensively as rushing and receiving threats out of the backfield. Last week, sophomore RB Michael Lahart seemed to be the one to grind the rushing yards - he had 58 yards rushing last week. Junior RB Steve Platek is a receiving threat out of the backfield (2 receptions for 29 yards last week) as is junior RB Gus Olofsson (2 receptions, 25 yards).
His big receiving targets will be two 6'2 seniors: senior WR Zach Brower (5 receptions, 25 yards, 1 TD) and senior WR Spencer Cady (4 receptions, 47 yards). Brower seems to be the possession guy, while Cady is the guy that will stretch the defense.
The "O" line, who is led by senior C Quinn McVey, is larger than you might think, averaging 6'4 and 281 across the main line. The tight end spot, manned by senior TE Travis Klatt, appears to be primary blocker as well.
Drake is implementing a new 4-2-5 defensive scheme, what I like to call a "big nickel" scheme that (happily) is similar to the defense Villanova has liked to play in the past. The fifth defensive back is called a "rover" and slides seamlessly between the defensive backfield and the linebackers area, and is generally a hard-hitter, half free safety, half linebacker.
The Bulldog "D" line is small compared to Patriot League standards, and it doesn't boast a lot of experience. Junior DE Josh Walkup, a converted LB at 6'1, 235, had a solid day last week with 4 tackles, 1/2 a sack and a forced fumble.
At linebacker, last week's star was senior LB Cale Hunt with 13 tackles and 1/2 a sack. When healthy, he's a star: against Illinois State last year he had 10 tackles and an interception return for a touchdown. Tellingly, when he was lost for the season with a broken hand, Drake struggled the rest of the way.
The star on the defense is definitely senior S Andy Green, an all-American and the hero that saved the season-opening win for Drake last week with his last-second interception. Tall and fast, you don't want to test him too often.
Senior K Logan Rees takes up placekicking duties for the Bulldogs. In 2007 he converted 9 of 12 field goals, and he has quite a leg too: he converted 40 and 45 yard field goals and also converted 11 touchbacks on kickoffs. Senior P Brandon Wubs, on the other hand, struggled in 2007: he only had a 33.8 punting average.
Senior WR Zach Brower handles kickoff returns and punt returns, while sophomore DB Richard Courtney joins him on kickoffs. Courtney (2 returns, 31 yards) did slightly better than Brower (4 returns, 32 yards) last week in returns.
Keys To The Game
1. Relax. It's the first game of the year. It counts, but if mistakes do happen, put it behind you and work hard for the next play.
2. Establishing that running game.With possible bad weather, we'll need to count on our "O" line to dominate Drake's smallish defensive front. It may be the sort of day when we'll need to run it an awful lot, so establishing this to get everything else set up will be critical.
3. Spy those running backs. Drake spreads the field and uses a lot of backs, so it will be important for teh linebacking crew to shut down that part of the Drake offense. If the backs can't get anything going - rushing or receiving - Ingle could be a sitting duck for pressure.
It's a new season. A new quarterback, a new offense, and some new, young faces all along this team. And I like how these guys have sounded - in the preseason. Keith Groller of the Morning Call called it "quiet confidence", and I agree with him.
In other years, the threat of rain would have been a problem for Lehigh grounding the powerful Mountain Hawk passing attack. This year? I think the rain might work to our advantage in establishing the running game. The rain might slow down a Drake passing attack and give our defense a chance to show the world what it can be.
Lehigh also needs to bring along a young starting QB, and nurture wht is basically a brand-new offense from last year. But most importantly, Lehigh has to make a statement that they are better than the fifth-place team in the Patriot League. I think they do, and give coach Coen his first-ever win in a Lehigh home opener.
Lehigh 37, Drake 6
Morning Call: Lehigh wants to avoid stormy start
''In their first game, [Drake] threw the ball a lot more than they ran it [31 passes to 25 carries] and when [Creighton] was at Wabash, they had a 60-40, pass-to-run ratio,'' Coen said. ''They have an experienced quarterback, Cole Ingle, and they'll look to spread the field and throw it.''Groller's Corner: Five Things To Take From Lehigh's Football Luncheon
''I'm sure J.B. is going to be very excited and probably a little nervous,'' Coen said. ''Quarterback is the hardest position in all of sports, especially in this era when you do so many different things defensively and give the quarterback so many different looks. There are going to be some mistakes, but it's going to be important for us to keep him from feeling he has to win the game by himself.''
Other than injuries to fullback Adam Watson and a season-ending shoulder injury to huge defensive tackle Phil Winnett, the Mountain Hawks are much healthier starting this season than they were a year ago. At the same time, they are still relying on more sophomores and more inexperienced players than at any time I can remember and this is my eighth season covering the team.Easton Express-Times: Michael Lore Talks With Coach Coen (audio)
"For the first game, the biggest thing for us is to take care of ourselves. We have to execute what we're doing, we have to react, adjust on the fly in the first football game.Brown & White: Football Team To Take On Bulldogs In Opener
"I think it's always an advantage to have a game under your belt. You make a lot of mistakes in any first game. Those things tend to get corrected in your second game."
"Every year really is a new year so you always have to adjust too many things. We have had the best off season in three years," Coen said. "Our kids were dedicated and did a very good job in the weight room and with our summer program."
Senior receiver Nick Johnson said Lehigh's offense will need to avoid season opening jitters and perform against a physical Drake defense. "During the off-season and preseason camp, our coaches have really stressed execution and consistency with making plays," Johnson said. "Drake will already have played a game and gotten a chance to get their first game jitters and mistakes out of the way. But we're preparing and working hard to be ready on Saturday to come out and execute with consistency right from kick-off."