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Preview of Cornell vs. Lehigh

(Photo Credit: Cornell Athletics)

This weekend, Lehigh is celebrating Young Alumni Reunion weekend. Starting at the Bethlehem Brew Works at Friday at 9 p.m., it continues on Saturday with a pre-game tailgate starting at 11 a.m and going until kickoff (and probably beyond) at 12:30 p.m, followed by dinner in the Gander room at the Goosey Gander and the Brown & White bash on campus at 9:30 p.m.

If you check out the website, though, nowhere does it say some key elements for Saturday. Namely: who we're playing.

Maybe that's a function of our record, 1-2. Maybe that's the function of our offense, who haven't scored more than three touchdowns in a game since Bucknell last year. Maybe it's because Cornell is looking a lot stronger at 2-0 this year.

On paper, this game isn't a must-win. Although wins against the Ivy League are good for the league and good for Lehigh, the game the following week vs. Fordham is much more significant in terms of our chances for the Patriot League title - and, importantly, revenge for last year.

But this Lehigh team desperately needs to generate excitement this weekend on the gridiron.

It may be unfair to expect a flurry of offense like in the heyday of "Air Lehigh". And excitement doesn't always have to come from putting up 42 points. But Lehigh fans, after seeing victory slip away on 4th down versus Princeton last week, are starving for a victory.

This is one that Lehigh needs to have. Make no bones about it.

Game Notes
This week's game notes show a new face on the "O" line: senior OL Alex Kuziel, playing for (presumably injured) sophomore OL Ricky Clerge. Sophomore RB Jaren Walker is not on the two-deep either - senior RB Matt McGowan and sophomore RB Jay Campbell are - but he did show up for a play at Princeton, so he may see some time.

Other than that, there are no other changes on the two deep. Thankfully, Lehigh seems realtively healthy - something they were not at this point last year.

Cornell's game notes are available here.

Weather Report
For the first time all year, Lehigh will get a break with the weather. After one tropical storm and two games with sticky humidity, the Young Alumni Reunion should have a picture-perfect day on 12:30 pm at Murray Goodman with mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the low 60s.

A Word On Cornell
Cornell historically has been a hard-luck unit in the Ivy League. Their last Ivy League championship came in 1990, and while they've come awfully close under head coaches Jim Hofner, Pete Mangurian, Tim Pendergast and now Jim Knowles, they've come up short a handful of times. More often than not, though, they're usually hovering around .500.

The Big Red under Knowles have a reputation of being world-beaters at home, but duds on the road. Knowles has a 22-20 career record as Cornell's head coach: an incredible 16 of those have been at home.

But there is reason to beleive that this squad, with two key players returning for injury redshirt years, is different than those teams. Maybe it was the 21-20 victory over Bucknell at Mathewson Stadium, with the margin of victory being sealed by a blocked extra point. Maybe it was the great win last week. This team, with a big veteran presence, doesn't feel like those other teams. After beating Bucknell, one player said that they "responded to adversity this time instead of folding under it.” That's the quote of a team with a lot of confidence.

Last Time Out
Cornell hadn't beaten Yale since 2004, and only won twice against the Bulldogs in the ten prior years - and that was before Yale was in the Ivy League penthouse. But the Big Red's 17-10 victory over the Bulldogs could be for this team a watershed moment. Sure, it was a big win over a team that was basically co-picked to win the Ivy League this year. But also, the win put Cornell at 2-0 to open the season for the first time since 1999. The prospect of a winning season - and maybe a shot at the Ivy League title - looms for this team that hasn't tasted one in a very long time.

LFN's Drink Of The Week
In order to beat it, you have to to drink it. No, no, not Red Death - we don't want to lose! - I mean Big Red, the soft drink formerly known as "Sun Tang Red Cream Soda". Sweet and delicious - rumored to be John Cougar Mellencamp's favorite drink - and if you, say, want to slip a little but of vodka or Vermouth in there for some zing, go right ahead. (Just stay away from the Grenadine.)

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

Breaking Down Cornell
In the game notes, Cornell is shown as being a "multiple offense" - meaning, occasionally they do some things to spread the field, but the engine that makes their offense go is the running game. It's not quite as conservative as Colgate's recent complete and utter embrace of the running game, but it's not incredibly far off.

What Cornell does have, however, is a veteran presence under center. Senior QB Nathan Ford isn't only a star baseball player for the Big Red, he's also the star quarterback. He's a tough kid who isn't afraid to run with the ball (10 career rushing touchdowns) but with 25 interceptions in his career he also hasn't been the most accurate passer in the world either. This year so far, even at 2-0, he has as many touchdowns (3) as he does interceptions (3).

At runningback is an interesting two-headed backfield: usually, it's the fifth-year senior getting the bulk of the carries, but that's not the case here. Junior RB Randy Barbour is the slashing, speedy back that gets the bulk of the carries these days (46 attempts, 181 yards) that can also catch the ball out of the backfield (3 catches, 37 yards). And senior RB Luke Siwula is the power rusher that is the change-of-pace guy (28 rushes, 95 yards).

At receiver, with senior WR Jesse Baker not on the two-deep, Lehigh may have gotten a break - he's caught both of Ford's two touchdowns on the year. Cornell does, however, boast an experienced receiving corps. Senior WR Zac Canty (5 catches, 35 yards) is the speedster and senior WR Horation Blackmon (1 catch, 12 yards) and junior WR Bryan Walters (8 catches, 85 yards). Cornell spreads the field occasionally with these guys, and like (it seems) all the teams of the Ivy Legaue, these guys also do a good job blocking downfield.

Cornell's "O" line is built for running. They boast two 300 lb hogs, senior C Barek Motamedi (6'4, 331 lbs) and senior OL Steve Valenta (6'6, 309). One or both might find themselves on NFL rosters this summer. Senior TE Alex Spooner adds 251 lbs to the line and has been known to get loose and catch a pass or two, so he has to be respected.

The game notes say the Big Red play a "multiple" defense, but it's really a base 3-3-5 defense with the 5th defensive back as a "rover" that can switch between the linebacking unit and secondary. Like Princeton, they are aggressive blitzers, ballhawks and last week held one of last year's best rushers, Yale RB Mike McLeod, to zero yards rushing. They don't give up much, especially running the ball.

Crucial to making a 3-3-5 work is a great nose guard, and senior NG Frank Kunis (5 tackles, 1 sack) is a good one. He's small, but he makes the defense work. Senior DE Jonathan Ruch is getting his first career start, who was a star at Allentown Central Catholic, assistant head coach Donnie Roberts' former school.

Senior LB Graham Rihn is the captain of the linebacking unit (4 tackles, 2 1/2 tackles for loss), but it's junior LB Chris Costello (14 tackles, 2 forced fumbles) who has emerged early as one of the stars of the defense. This linebacking unit is aggressive and, as noted before, will blitz every way on Saturday.

Ironman senior SS Tim Bax has started in 32 straight games for the Big Red, and leads the team in tackles. Senior FS Anthony Sabo is another standout on this defensive eleven, with 11 tackles (including 9 against Yale last week).

Special Teams
Senior P Nick Maxwell is a decent punter, averaging 38.4 yards per punt in his career, while sophomore K Brad Greenway is largely unproven but perfect on extra points (5-for-5). He's 1-3 on field goals, however, with 21 as his career long.

Senior WR Bryan Walter returns kickoffs and and punts yards, while junior RB Randy Barbour is also on the kickoff return unit as well. They are an OK unit, averaging 18.1 yards per kickoff return and a paltry 3.6 per punt return.

Worthy of mention here is also the emphasis that Cornell places on blocked kicks. Senior LB Graham Rihn has already blocked two of them - one of which was the blocked extra point that gave them the win over Bucknell.

Keys to the Game
1. Precision passing. Cornell runs and stops the run very well, so in order to get the rushing game going you need to use the passing game to soften up the defense for the run. That means some home run balls, but it will mean more often using dinks and dunks. If sophomore QB J.B. Clark can establish this, it will go a long way towards getting our offense on track.
2. Perfect containment on kicks. With Cornell's emphasis on the kicking game, it will be important not to give the Big Red and freebies with blocked punts, field goals or extra points. More than against other opponents, a sheet full of zeroes in the "blocked" column will help Lehigh immensely.
3. Double-team Walters. Clamping down on Ford's favorite target can make Cornell into a one-dimensional team - and into a team where eight or nine in the box can grind the Big Red offense to a halt. If Walters doesn't get a reception, we'll have had a great day.

Fearless Prediction
There is one more week before the Patriot League season really starts in earnest. And Lehigh needs to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. No matter how they do it, a win here is what is needed, and I think Lehigh can deliver.

I think J.B. Clark is a better quarterback than he's shown. I think this offense is better than it's shown. I think this team hasn't had a chance to see what it really can do. And in the freindly confines of Murray Goodman stadium - and their last real chance to do so before league play starts - they do. Lehigh does better than score 21 points, and they win the game.

Lehigh 24, Cornell 14


Anonymous said…
The offence provided...but not the D-fence

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