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Preview of Bucknell at Lehigh: Senior Day

(Photo Credit: Bucknell Athletics)

For the second year in a row, Lehigh plays this game against Bucknell out of the playoff hunt. Yet this year on "Senior Day" the Bucknell game takes on more significance than last year: it's Lehigh's "Senior Day", and the seniors will be looking to play at Murray Goodman stadium one last time and leave the stadium as winners.

There are twenty members of the senior class that will be honored this weekend, fourteen of which are starters. While this weekend has been deemed "Military Appreciation Weekend" (and two of our nation's bravest, U.S. Army Specialist Angel (Manny) Pina of Mifflinburg and U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Jonathan Berceli of Pittsburgh, will be honorary Lehigh captains this weekend), it's also a good time to list the seniors who have given four years (or more) of their lives to the Lehigh football program. They deserve to go out as winners.

I'm not going to mention numbers; they've all sacrificed to be here, whether starters or not. This Saturday is their day - their day to be honored.

Let's hope they leave on this day as resounding winners.

The graduating football class of 2009 are:

Senior OL Kevin Bayani
Senior DL Paul Bode
Senior DB Quadir Carter
Senior LB Tim Diamond
Senior WR Jason Figura
Senior WR Mike "Cris Carter" Fitzgerald
Senior TE Troy Healion
Senior DL Brian Jackson
Senior DL Keith Johnson
Senior WR Nick Johnson
Senior OL Alex Kuziel
Senior P/K Jason Leo
Senior RB Matt McGowan
Senior LB Ben Pravata
Senior DB Steve Santora
Senior OL Chris Tiefenthal
Senior DB Brendan VanAckeren
Senior DL Jon Warren
Senior FB/RB Adam Watson
Senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane

Game Notes
Lehigh's game notes have become an exercise in frustration when it comes to reporting injuries. The lineups change little week to week, even when the Morning Call reports that senior WR Sekou "Stunt Man" Yansane has a concussion and will not play, or that senior RB Matt McGowan is too hurt to play on Saturday.

This week, the depth chart says at tailback it will be senior FB/RB Adam Watson or McGowan at running back - but the Morning Call reports the inconvenient truth that McGowan will be held out another week. That means sophomore RB Jay Campbell can - and probably should - get some more opportunities to run the ball behind Watson.

For those who thought that senior P/K Jason Leo might get benched against Bucknell, think again: on the depth chart, Leo is atop the depth chart again. Should he struggle, it looks like sophomore PK Tom Randazza might get another opportunity to kick. Come what may, Leo will still be punting.

Weather Report
The terrible luck at Murray Goodman when it comes to weather continues. The weather report calls for an 80% chance of rain, including thundershowers and rainfall of nearly half an inch. Bring your galoshes.

A Word on Bucknell
The Bison have not beaten Lehigh since 1997. In fact, Lehigh has played Bucknell every year since 1950, and the Mountain Hawks enjoy a 39-29-3 series lead on the Bison.

1950 was a special year for Lehigh, as under head football coach "Bill" Leckonby and runningback Dick Doyne, they were undefeated and "Middle Three" Conference champions. That year they beat Bucknell 27-6 en route to the Engineer's first-ever perfect season at 9-0. The following year, though, Bucknell unleashed their savage attack on Lehigh with runningback Burt Talmadge, and beat Lehigh 47-7 en route to their first-ever perfect season. A rivalry was born.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, these games had Patriot League championship connotations seemingly every year. Although difficult to fathom now with Lehigh being so dominant in the league over the last ten years, the games against Bucknell were more highly regarded that the games against "weak sister" Colgate.

Lehigh has won ten straight against the Bison, and Bucknell head coach Tim Landis has never beaten the Mountain Hawks. To beat Lehigh would be a great accomplishment for Landis and his seniors, and he'll be emptying out the playbook to do so tomorrow.

It's not LFN if I don't put in a little dig against Bucknell fans, and with Bucknell's men's basketball team heading down to Maryland on Friday to play the Terps in their opener, it's an open question if Bucknell students are aware that there going to be a game going on at Lehigh on Saturday. (Rimshot.) With the weather so shady on Saturday, the only thing I do know for sure is that the Bison will bring more fans to Maryland than Bethlehem.

LFN's Drink of the Week
What sort of drink is appropriate on a warm, wet, November day with thundershowers? You could say that *any* drink would probably do to warm the toes, but I'm going to go with Irish Coffee. Hot coffee, Irish whiskey, cream and sugar - for a religious hot coffee drinker like me, that's just the sort of drink I would happily drink into Murray Goodman stadium.

Breaking down Bucknell
Landis runs the spread option offense, which is similar to the type of offense run by Wofford and the classic Georgia Southern teams in their championship years. It is very difficult to prepare for in one week's time, but since we have Bucknell as a league opponent every year, Lehigh's staff is very familiar with their offense. The spread option is a predominantly a running set using two wideouts, one fullback, two "slotbacks" that play RB or TE, and the QB as a rushing threat. A lot of different athletes touch the ball in this system, and it requires the running game to be working to function effectively.

From Lehigh's perspective, this is an offense that has a tendency to beat up the skill players since they take so much hard contact. That means when we play Bucknell late in the year, we tend to get a team that has been smacked a little with injuries. This year is no exception.

Junior QB Marcelo Trigg, last year's starter, is hurt, so senior QB Andrew Lair will be getting the starting nod for the second straight week. That's a break for Lehigh, since Trigg is by far the better passer. Lair, however, is a strong runner - he's the second-leading rusher on the team (62 carries, 287 yards, 4 TDs) and he has ripped off a 58 yard run this year, so he's got some good speed to the corner.

The duo of slotbacks also feature two juniors in junior A.J. Kizekai and junior RB Josh Lee. Kizekai is 5'9 and Bumpers is 5'1, and are the same mold of small-speedy backs that Bucknell has churned out in recent years. Kizekai could very well be a first team all-Patriot League running back when all is said and done (96 carries, 456 yards, 1 TD), while Lee is averaging 7.7 yards per carry. Both can also catch the ball out of the backfield, with Kizekai second on the team in receiving (364 yards, 1 TD). At fulback, senior FB Kevin Mullan occasionally gets the ball (46 carries, 110 yards, 1 TD), but he's more of a blocking fullback. He's the "giant" in this backfield: 5'10, 205 lbs.

This year has shown an emergence at wideout: sophomore WR Shaun Pasternak is having a season that could be considered for first-team all Patriot League (54 receptions, 834 yards, 10 TDs). He's a receiver that deserves double-teams. On the other side, junior WR Cale Cadman doesn't get nearly as many looks (7 receptions, 56 yards). Both have an important job in blocking downfield as well in the spread option - and they're trees, comparatively, at 6'2.

6'6 senior OL Stephen Edwards is the anchor of a line that is inexperienced and smallish, averaging 6'2 and 264 pounds across. Edwards started his first game against Robert Morris, the second game of the year. The "old man" on the "O" line, junior C James Phelan, has only 15 starts on the "O" line to his credit.

Landis continues to tinker with his defense. Two years ago, he abandoned his base 4-3 defense to install a 3-4 to take advantage of his talent and depth at linebacker. Now Landis has installed a multiple 3-4 defense with a linebacker that does a lot of blitzing... looking, often, like a 4-3 defense. Like on the offense, injuries have wrecked some havoc on this unit, too.

With the departure of DE Josh Eden on his two-year Mormon mission (when he returns he'll be a junior), the anchor on this defense has been freshman NG Robert De La Rosa, adds 34 tackles and 5 tackles for loss (including 1 1/2 sacks). Senior LB Marques Morgan (39 tackles, 5 tackles for loss including 2 sacks) also features on this "D" line and regularly gets good push on the quarterback.

When sophomore LB Sam Nana-Sinkam is in there, Bucknell has a ferocious defense. For the second straight year, he is out with an injury. That means the leadership duties lie with junior LB Greg Jones (66 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception) and senior LB Todd Manjuck (49 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries). While this front seven does get good push on the quarterback in passing situations, they have let up decent chunks of rushing yardage to the tune of 196.9 yards per game.

The "old man" of the secondary is junior SS Brigham Farrand (39 tackles), who anchors a young secondary who only boasts two of Bucknell's six interceptions on the year. Starting at corner for the first time is sophomore CB Ahkiel White (39 tackles, 2 interceptions), showing some of the Bison's troubles back there.

Special Teams
Sennior K Will Carney is a fantastic kicker, boasting a 23/37 career record on field goals (including a 47-yarder this year), and 80/84 on extra points. Senior P Phil Azarik is a very solid punter as well, averaging more than 40 yards per punt for his career.

Adding to the headaches that Bucknell poses on special teams is junior RB A.J. Kizekai - who just had a 100 yard kickoff return for a touchdown vs. Lafayette last week and has 922 return yards this year, putting him 15th nationally in that category. (Kick away from him!). Sophomore WR Shaun Pasternak hasn't returned many punts, but he is a speedy, sure-handed return man. It will be important to keep these guys under wraps.

Keys To The Game
1. Special teams shutdown. This unit is bar none the best special teams unit in the Patriot League, and they will need to be shut down in order to preserve a "W". Kicking away from Kizekai, and punishing their return men with strong (clean) hits will be essential.
2. Spy Pasternak. Don't let Pasternak beat us. While Lair is not as accurate as Trigg is passing the ball, Pasternak is the type of big-play receiver that could have a big day against us the same way that Colgate WR Pat Simonds did last week. Shut down that threat on the outside.
3. Tackling. If it's a close, bad-weather game, solid tackling will be crucial That means wrapping up ballcarriers on defense, and limiting the yards after carry to a minimum. Good tackling will give Lehigh their best chance to win.
4. Play within yourself on offense. This Lehigh offense is a very good unit. They can play solid, error-free football. Commitment to perfect execution on offense will be key for this week and next - playing within yourself. No penalties, and better execution. Only that way can Lehigh win football games.

Fearless Prediction
Last year, I said that whether Lehigh can get back in sync after a big loss is the key to this game. This year, I'm saying the same thing. Can Lehigh get back in sync?

I think the weather will be a factor, but I see no reason to believe that they won't get back in sync - as long as they take this game seriously. It would be a huge mistake to go into this game and assume that 3-6 Lehigh is better than 4-5 Bucknell. This team needs to be mad, and be ready to punish a team.

But if Lehigh plays within themselves and focuses on perfect execution and a cleaner game, I think Lehigh will deliver the big win that the program desperately needs seven days before Lafayette.

Bucknell won't make it easy, but Lehigh delivers the win they need to have a chance versus "that school in Easton".

Lehigh 34, Bucknell 17


Anonymous said…
Go Engineers!
Anonymous said…
God I hope the play calling is vastly improved. I can't take another game of 10 screens, poor time mgt, missed field goals, miscues on special teams, last minute drives capped by game losing completions. Santa - all I want is two more wins!
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said…
Clark will deliver the ball on a rope throughout the game to a blowout in Lehigh's favor.
Anonymous said…
Someone feels the need to defend the QB's inconsistent play on a consistent basis.

I would be very careful making statements like that with a young QB who hasn't seen the field very well. Hopefully the weather will not be an excuse!

Go LU!
Anonymous said…
I hope none of our recievers jammed a finger on all of those "ropes" thrown today!
Anonymous said…
Always so shrewdly negative on this blog. The TEAM won.Keyword- TEAM. Is the previous comment's sarcasm necessary? Great game Matt Cohen!!!

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