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Preview of Lehigh vs. Princeton

(Photo Credit: Princeton Athletics)

Aaaah, Princeton. For me, this game means a lot personally. Not only because it's the game that geographically the closest to my house, but I actually met my future wife at a Lehigh game at Princeton exactly nine years ago on this very day.

I'm also used to Lehigh beating Princeton. I admit it; I've been spoiled over the years. Lehigh has an 7-1 record against the Tigers in the last 10 years, including a 32-21 victory I witnessed last year. The only time Princeton beat Lehigh during that stretch they were Ivy League co-champions, and had a bonfire in Princeton for the first time in a long time. (Every year, the school with the best record in the Harvard/Yale/Princeton football games celebrate with a huge bonfire on campus.)

In past years, Lehigh entered the Princeton game picked to win the Patriot League, or at least to contend for the title. This year, Lehigh was picked in the preseason to finish fifth in the league - an indicator of a Mountain Hawk team with questions that need answering.

This year so far, Lehigh has beaten Drake out of the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League 19-0, and has lost to nationally-ranked Villanova 33-17. Let's face facts: Drake was a team we were pretty much expected to beat, and Villanova was a challenge that we weren't expected to be ready for at this point. Coming out of that stretch 1-1 really was to be expected.

In the past, Princeton may have been viewed as a tune-up game - an expected win, while fans study Lehigh's style points to see if the Mountain Hawks have what it takes to dominate the Patriot League in the games ahead.

Now? This weekend, we have a game which can't be seen in any other way than a litmus test to see if Lehigh fans deserve to be excited about this football team.

Game Notes
I almost fell out of my chair when I saw in the game notes that sophomore QB Trace Cisneros was the backup QB for the game this week and that junior QB Chris Bokosky not only wasn't on the two-deep, he's no longer on the team roster either.

It's not a condemnation of Trace's ability - not at all. It's just that Bokosky's departure from the team was so sudden and came on the heels on what was portrayed as a QB battle against two competitors that "brought out the best in each other." If Bokosky has left the team due to playing time, now all of a sudden that doesn't seem like that was true.

Furthermore, with Bokosky behind Clark had Clark been injured fans would have been comforted in the fact that Chris had some reps under his belt and experience in the offense. Trace is more of an unknown quantity. They say that anybody is one ding away from the starting job - let's hope Trace is ready should that occur.

In addition, sophomore RB Jaren Walker is still recovering from his ankle injury suffered at the end of the Drake game, meaning sophomore RB Jay Campbell will be the change-of-pace runningback when senior RB Matt McGowan is taking a breather. It also means that the depth at arguably the two most important offensive positions is thinner than any Lehigh fan might like.

On defense, some happy news: senior DL Paul Bode seems recovered from his injuries and has cemented the starting "D" line spot, which is the only change on the defensive side of the ball.

Princeton's game notes - IMO, some of the best in the business - are here.

Weather Report
A 6:00 PM game time may mean that folks making the trip from Bethlehem to Princeton, NJ may miss out on the bulk of the showers on Saturday, but with a 90% chance of precipitation, I doubt it. Let's hope that it's only a drizzle by then. Of course, Lehigh will be playing on artificial turf for the second straight week, so if it is a drizzle with a high of 72 and a mild 8 mph wind as the Weather Channel is currently predicting, it shouldn't be too great a factor on gameplay. Just bring a jacket!

A Word On Princeton
The Tigers looked poised to become a permanent member of the football elite of the Ivy League going into 2007. Even though Princeton lost two great players in QB Jeff Terrell and CB J.J. Artis (both now playing professionally), they looked to be able to reload at those positions and coalesce behind the linemen and linebackers that would keep them successful and give Yale a run for its money for the title.

But it didn't quite work out that way. The team Lehigh beat in 2007 was night-and-day from the Princeton team they saw (and lost to) in 2006. In that year, the Tigers were ridiculously good at holding onto the football and doing the "little things" like hitting gaps and blocking downfield. That team did play 60 minutes every week in tune to an 9-1 record, their only blemish being a tough loss at Cornell that year.

In 2007, this Tiger team missed the left-handed Jeff Terrell badly, as Artis' leadership in what was one of the best secondaries in FCS. Princeton did jump out to a 2-1 start (their only loss being a 32-21 loss to Lehigh, where the Tigers committed five turnovers in the first half). But after a fall-from-ahead loss to Hampton in Week Four, Princeton never really recovered, ending the season 4-6. The Hampton loss became the defining point of their season: a team that starts strong, but doesn't have the gusto to last 60 minutes.

Yet still, much of that 2006 championship team remains. As Lehigh has questions to answer, so does Princeton. Will this team approach the level of play-to-play execution excellence that they enjoyed in 2006? And can they rally behind another left-handed quarterback to beat their traditional rivals and enjoy another bonfire?

Last Time Out
The Tigers had to be feeling good about themselves going into halftime against a former Lehigh head coach. Up 17-7 against The Citadel, Princeton once again lost the momentum after a blocked punt was returned 35 yards for a touchdown. The Bulldogs would ride the momentum of that play to a 37-26 victory over the Tigers and gave coach Hughes a rallying cry for the rest of the year: "play full out the entire time".

To add injury to insult, the football team weren't the only unit that was banged up: Princeton's scramble band (PUB) was reportedly harassed by members of The Citadel as they were marching onto the Charleston campus. There was a "brief but heated altercation" between the cadets and band members, while some locals complained that the band was "disrupting military exercises... and mocking the military school with swearing and disgusting gestures and salutes."

(There is a lot of fertile ground for jokes here, most involving the year 1968. But what really leaps out is: Hey cadets, you're going to bravely defend your country but you get your feelings hurt by Princeton's Band? Hey Princetonians, marching through a military college to pump the opposing fans up for the game - when did that ever sound like a good idea?)

LFN's Drink Of The Week
Last year, I mentioned that I thought it was best to try to differentiate yourself from the quiche-eating jet set across the Delaware, and I suggested Yuengling Black and Tan's. I don't know if it's because it's supposed to be colder, or wetter, or both - but this week it's clearly an evening for Yuengling Traditional and - if you go to their website - is popular due to its "thirst-quenching taste". To the local fans, let them drink Chardonnay; give me "thirst-quenching taste" anytime.

As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in tailgates, but please drink responsibly and please be of legal drinking age.

Breaking Down Princeton
Offense
Head coach Roger Hughes, now in his 8th year, has an offense that doesn't have any one dominating star but doesn't have any one glaring weakness either. From week to week, it's wickedly hard to look at the Tigers and see exactly what their gameplan will be against you because they will look at your team and go to your weakness. One week they will pass their first seven plays, the other they'll run it, and they don't depend on a marquee player.

The style should look familiar, though : it's extremely similar to the formation and style that Fordham has on offense, with X and Z receivers and speed all over the field.

At the end of last year, Princeton benched former quarterback Bill Foran and instead started senior QB Brian Anderson for their rivalry game against Dartmouth, the "Battle for the 1865 Sawhorse Dollar". The lefty QB then proceeded to complete his first 11 passes for Princeton, proceeded to break his thumb - yet still managed to lead the troops to a 17-14 victory.

Anderson has the tools to be Hughes' favorite type of quarterback: one that doesn't make many mistakes, one that can tuck the ball and run, and one that is elusively quick - basically, another Jeff Terrell. Against the Bulldogs Anderson was 20-for-41 with 2 touchdown passes and 1 interception, but equally as important was Anderson's ability to take off - 16 rushes for 56 yards may not sound like much, but when you factor in 25 yards in losses due to sacks, that's almost 80 yards of rushing.

At runningback we're missing a familiar name in senior RB R.C. Lagomarsino: not listed on the two-deep this week, presumably with an injury. Instead, Lehigh will face junior RB Jordan Culbreath (pictured), who rushed for 74 yards and a touchdown last week and added 3 catches for 16 yards as well. He's a versatile back that isn't the biggest speedster in the world but can get tough interior yards and also catches the ball out of the backfield. Replacing all-Ivy fullback Rob Teresco is sophomore FB Matt Zimmerman, who once again is the type of pass-catching threat that gives secondary coaches fits. Last week he had 4 receptions and a touchdown.

The receivers in Princeton's offense also get their fair share of rushes, so they're called the "X" and "Z" positions rather than wide receiver. And Princeton has two really good ones in senior WR Wil Thanheiser (27 receptions in 2007) and senior WR Adam Berry (caught two touchdown passes against Lehigh last year). Not only are they tall (both are over 6 feet), they have to be respected on reverses too. Senior TE Joe Magro didn't get any receptions last year - but don't be surprised if Hughes goes to him in the precision, short passing game the Tigers like to execute.

On first glance, Princeton's line is extremely small and would seem to be a liability, but don't be fooled one second. This unit, led by junior OL Andrew Hauser, is athletic and have good footwork when everything's clicking. Having said that, they did let up 3 sacks to a nationally-ranked team last week.

Defense
The entire front three of the 3-4 Tiger defense from last year returns, led by senior DE Pete Buchignani with 91 tackles in his 3+ year career so far. The Tigers do a lot of rotation on the line to keep everyone fresh for four quarters, and they average 260 lbs across.

At linebacker, senior LB Tom Methvin is the leader of a young, inexperienced (and smallish) unit. Sophomore LB Stephen Cody led the team last week with 11 tackles.

It always seems like Princeton has a great secondary year in and year out. They lose safety Kevin Kelleher from last year, but return two starters in senior CB Dan Koplovich (second in the Ivy League in passes defensed last year) and junior CB Cart Kelly (seven pass breakups last year after starting all 11 games). Junior SS Wilson Cates also has interceptions in back-to-back games dating from last year: this is an exceptional unit.

Special Teams
Senior P Ryan Coyle is a really solid punter, averaging 43.1 yards per punt last year, while senior K Connor Louden is "Mr. Automatic" in extra points, having made 52 straight. Louden is great close in, but his range outside of 40 yards is shaky: as a matter of fact, junior K Ben Bologna handles kickoffs and probably would take the longer field goals, too.

Senior WR Pete Ploszek returns kickoffs and had a productive day last week with 4 for 60 yards, while sophomore WR Matt Ransom had a good day as well with punt returns last week, running back 3 for 32 yards.

Keys to the Game
1. "O" Trenches. Controlling the line of scrimmage in a football game is what the "O" line normally tries to do against every team, but in this game it will be essential. Not only to give McGowan lanes to run through, but to give Clark time to make stuff happen.
2. Containment. You can't contain every threat this offense can throw at you - but you can contain the quarterback's running lanes and reduce his options. Cohen should close the outside - and also hit Anderson's blind side, too. The key to winning this gmae is keeping Anderson out of his comfort zone.
3. Special teams. Last year, Lehigh got fantastic momentum on special teams in the form of a blocked punt. Reversing a special teams performance from two weeks ago - where nobody really stood out in terms of game balls - will also play a huge role.

Fearless Prediction
You want to win every game, but this one really feels like one that is extremely important for Lehigh to win simply because they still have a lot to prove. It's the most level playing field that the Mountain Hawks have played on this year, and they need to start proving things right now.

And I think they do just that. Clark is a better quarterback than the game against Villanova; we'll should see that Saturday. Lehigh's defense is very good, and they'll show it against this quarterback and this offensive line. It won't be easy by any stretch, but I think I'll be spoiled one more time in Princeton this week.

Lehigh 31, Princeton 24

Comments

Doug H said…
This game will be televised live not only in Lehigh Valley but on Fox College Sports so it will be available on TV around the country to those who have those networks....

Includes me!!!

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