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Preview of Lehigh at Harvard

When a college football team comes off a huge, emotional victory in their League, and then plays a non-league game right after that, there is the risk of a letdown.

Add to that the fact that a college football team is on the road against another League Champion, and risk gets bigger.

Multiply that by the fact, however, that Lehigh beat the Crimson 20-13 on a last-second play - a strip from senior LB Tim Diamond which was scooped and scored by senior DL Paul Bode - and that Lehigh didn't score an offensive touchdown that afternoon at Murray Goodman - and the risk seems even larger.

You know Harvard has circled this one on the calendar since March. The second vengeance game. They already started their season by avenging their other last-minute loss to Holy Cross last year, a 25-24 thriller that saw Harvard rally from 12 points down in the fourth quarter. This is the other game that must stick in their craw the most - a game where they ran 97 offensive plays, racked up 465 yards, went 13-for-26 on 3rd down, yet still lost on the strength of a punt return for touchdown by CB Brannan Thomas, the strip-and-scoop, and two field goals by senior P/K Jason Leo.

Furthermore, it appears sandwiched in-between two important Lehigh games: the Fordham game which Lehigh absolutely had to win, and the Holy Cross game, a hugely important Patriot League contest as well. There's that risk that Lehigh makes the trip up to Harvard, and coasts after the big win.

If that happens, Lehigh has the capability of getting pounded plenty good.

This Harvard team already went into Fisher Field and pounded the boys from Easton pretty good to the tune of a 27-13 victory. The 27 points were the most that the Leopards have given up to any opponent all year.

This will be a huge test against a team that probably should be in the Top 25.

Game Notes
This week's game notes show only one player different, but it's a big one: sophomore RB Jaren Walker is out indefinitely after a serious injury suffered at the end of the Fordham game. The snake-bit running back will be replaced once again by untested sophomore RB Jay Campbell as the change-of-pace back to senior RB Matt McGowan.

With Walker's injury, it will be interesting to look on the sidelines for a couple other numbers: #31 and #5. Should anyone else go down, it will be up to some promising youg freshmen: freshman RB Matt Fitz (#31) or freshman RB Jonathan Littlejohn (#5) to get carries. It will be interesting to see if one, or both, make the trip to Cambridge.

Harvard's game notes are available here.

Weather Report
Up in Cambridge, the Lehigh game and the Head of the Charles event promises to have crisp, cold weather. Currently, the weather calls for sun and clouds, with highs in the mid-50s. If the game goes into overtime, the hot weather for the last two games in Bethlehem will seem far, far away: the lows overnight are supposed to hit the 30s. Fall, officially, is here.

A Word on Harvard
Everyone hates Harvard. Not only on the football field - though for Lehigh fans, it certainly applies. But everyone really just hates Harvard in general.

Admit it. It doesn't matter if you were Democrat or Republican - when you saw Eliot Spitzer (Law School '84) have to clench his mouth after it was revealed that he had a taste for ladies of the night, if you weren't a Harvard person something inside of you stirred. Maybe Harvard isn't this place where the best and brightest go to school. Maybe Harvard has just as many screw-ups here as everywhere - only when they screw up after leaving Harvard, it (like in the Spitzer case) it makes front-page news internationally.

And these days, there's plenty to hate. Take current Fed chairman Ben Bernake ('75). Or take president Bush's economic team: Dr. Eddie Lazear (Economics Ph. D, '74), senior economic adviser (and hedge fund founder) Donald Marron (Mathematics, 1950s), and assistant Keith Hennessey (Law School, '90), who replaced Al Hubbard (Business School, '75). Add to that longtime unofficial economic adviser to Presidents over the last twenty years, former Fed chairman Robert Zoellnick (Law School, '81). Or take Bush treasury secretary Henry Paulson (Business School, '70, though we'll conveniently forget that he spent his undergrad days at Dartmouth). Or take the CEO's of one of the biggest American companies to get slammed in this crisis, GE's Jeffrey Immelt (Business School, '82).

Senators (Chuck Schumer, '71, Law School '74). Supreme court justices (Antonin Scalia, Law School '60). There's even room for hate if you hate the Bourne series of movies (Matt Damon, '92). They're all from Harvard.

To top in all off, Harvard boasts a former Yalie (George W. Bush, Business School '75) as its notable alumni.

Especially at this time in history, it looks like there are a lot of (formerly considered as smart) people who had a huge part in royally screwing up our economy. And a significant portion of those folks came through - you guessed it - Harvard.

Maybe the next president might pick more Lehigh folks on his economic team rather than Crimson.

(Trouble is, it looks like it's going to be Barack Obama (Law School, '91).)

Last Time Out
Cornell - you know, the Big Red team that broke Lehigh's heart's two weeks ago - was manhandled by Harvard 38-17. The Crimson sacked the hithertofore sack-free Nathan Ford twice and also intercepted him twice, and also ground out 423 yards of balanced offense. After a 67 yard screen pass zipped into the end zone from Harvard's third play from scrimmiage, the Crimson never looked back in this blowout win.

Harvard also kept their streak intact of not allowing a back to gain more than 100 yards against them. The streak is now 32 games: the last time they allowed one was against Brown's Nick Hartigan in a 38-35 win. The Crimson lost the following week to Lehigh 49-24, and Lehigh barely got 100 yards total rushing in the game, led by Eric Rath's 76 yards.

LFN's Drink of the Week
In honor of the football fans and crew crazies heading up to Cambridge to see a Lehigh football game and the Head of the Charles event (with official Lehigh reception), there is a breakfast, lunch buffet and unlimited non-alcoholic drinks - but there is a cash bar close by. One of the shells for the race is getting christened "The Bus" - and there's definitely a drink that can be raised to the occasion. The "School Bus" - a shot of Amaretto in a mixture of half-beer, half-Orange juice - seems like the perfect drink for a brunch on a cold morning in Cambridge.

As always, Drinks of the week have a place in responsible tailgates: that means being over 21 and drinking responsibly. Please do that.

Breaking Down Harvard
Coach Tim Murphy, 2-5 lifetime vs. Lehigh, kills you on offense with all the options that he has available. The offense hasn't changed that much since the days that Dave Cecchini (Lehigh '91) was assistant coach here, with a balanced rushing and passing attack and a dizzying array of targets to throw to on offense. Last week, Cornell head coach Jim Knowles said that Harvard was "pretty much doing what they wanted" on Cornell's defense.

Senior QB Chris Pizzotti came in last year once last year's opening-day starter, senior QB Liam O'Hagan, went down with a first-quarter injury. Since then, Pizzotti has gone 9-1 as a starter and guided the Crimson to the Ivy League championship last year. He's become a dangerous passer (61 % completion percentage, 7 TDs) and can also take off with the ball (44 yards rushing, 2 TDs). He's one of the best in FCS at picking a defense apart if he's given the time, and if you don't close rushing lanes he can also kill you that way, too.

The Harvard rushing attack has been a two-headed attack thus far. Sophomore RB Geno Gordon leads all rushers with 201 yards and 2 TDs, while junior RB Cheng Ho is close behind with 153 yards and 2 TDs. Neither are what you'd consider power backs nor are they feature backs. Notably, Gordon can a bit of a threat catching the ball (6 receptions, 34 yards, 1 TD). There is no fullback in Harvard's base offense this year.

Harvard has at their base offense a three-wideout set, and eleven different players have caught passes from Pizzotti. The premier receiver is 6'6 junior WR Matt Luft (460 yards, 2 TDs) that poses all sorts of matchup problems for all of Harvard's opponents on defense. 6'4 sophomore WR Chris Lorditch (234 yards, 1 TD), 6'4 senior TE Jason Miller (60 yards, 1 TD) and 6'2 sophomore WR Levi Richards (67 yards, 1 TD) complete the receiving corps that gave the Leopards problems, and could very well be the best recveiving corps in all of FCS.

The bad news doesn't stop there for Harvard opponents. A big, talented "O" line, led by junior OL James Williams and senior OL Zach Copple (pictured) have only allowed 5 sacks in 4 games and have given Pizzotti the time he's needed to pick apart defenses.

As good as Harvard is offensively, on defense they are equally challenging to play against. The Crimson play a basic 4-3 defense, but then again they don't need to be fancy with the sort of athletes they have.

Senior DT Matt Curtis (23 tackles, 7 tackles for loss including 2 sacks) is the leader on the "D" line that hasn't allowed a 100 yard rusher since 2005. Curtis and 280 lb senior DT Carl Elrich (5 tackles) do a great job plugging the middle. Something to watch for as well are tipped passes on the "D" line - these guys get their hands up and tip and bat down balls often.

When a back gets through the line, the linebacking unit traditionally has been outstanding hitting the gaps and getting tackles. Senior LB Eric Shultz and senior LB Glenn Dorris have combined for 42 tackles. You'll notice that this front seven also does a great job prying the ball loose and going after the loose ball if they're given the opportunity.

As if that's not enough, Harvard also returns an all-Ivy cornerback that may be playing on Sundays. Senior DB Drew Berry (24 tackes, 2 interceptions, 5 pass breakups) is one of the best at our level, and a danger in the defensive backfield.

Special Teams
Junior K Patrick Long has a terrific leg - he has gone 6-for-7 on field goals, including a 45 yarder - and is no slouch on kickoffs, averaging 62 yards per kickoff. Junior P Thomas Hull is a below-average punter, averaging 34.1 yards per punt.

Murphy beleives in putting his best players on the return units, which means speedy junior RB Cheng Ho and senior DB Drew Berry return kicks. Both need some serious respect in the return game; having said that, neither has been able to break one for a touchdown yet (Ho averages 19.7 yards per return, and Berry averages 19.8).

Keys to the Game
1. Pin the ears back. If Pizzotti gets the time to throw, it probably won't be much of a contest. Vital to Lehigh's chances will be to get pressure on the quarterback and keep Pizzotti out of rhythm.
2. Linebackers in pass coverage. Harvard will test you deep, but most of their damage is done on the small stuff with screens and flares in coverage gaps. How the linebackers play in pass coverage will be vital - as will be their ability to wrap up the receivers after the catch, too.
3. Use the pass to set up the run. Interior runs are not likely to make a lot of hay, so I'd probably start firing the ball early. Emphasizing the pass early - then the run later - may help get the offense going against a tough defense.
4. Field position and getting 3s. If this is a low-scoring game like last time, trading punts may not be bad for our offense. Trading punts - and coming out with opportunities in the red zone when we do, including field goals when necessary - may really make a difference.

Fearless Prediction
Harvard is a very good football team. Lehigh is playing them on the road, and they should be facng a crimson-faced Crimson team after last year's defeat. Beating them is very possible, but it won't be easy.

These games seem to always be close, whether at Murray Goodman or at Harvard Stadium. If Lehigh can put up more than 24 points on this defense, the Mountain Hawks have a chance. If senior RB Matt McGowan can get 100 yards against this defense, I will right now guarantee a Lehigh victory. Unfortunately I don't see either happening. In a classic "tweener" game and a huge game against Holy Cross looming the following week, Lehigh fights valiantly and loses.

Harvard 27, Lehigh 22


Anonymous said…
Harvard 45
Lehigh 6 (Leo misses again)
Anonymous said…
That's a very thorough and well-written breakdown of our Crimson. But as for all the boneheads running the country in the ground that are reputedly from Harvard, I'm not so sure you gave the old alma mater a fair shift.

Looking for a good game tomorrow, and as always impressed with you work, LFN.
Anonymous said…
Chuck, can you at least be a little more accurate in your predictions. Two points is not acceptable! Just kidding. Great call, another heartbreaker, but for all of us who watched it, it seemed not as painful this time because we KNOW what this team is capable of. Its a quality outfit. The receivers are the difference this year and we hope Yansane isn't banged up too bad. A Patriot League championship is a very reachable goal.

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