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Sunday's Word: Shots

Originally I was going to go with the word "momentum" here, but after reading the fan reaction to the loss over the past 24 hours, I'm going with a different word.

Folks out there are mad. Exasperated at a 3-6 team that looks like they should be better than their record. Frustrated at seeing so many "shots" at close wins not pan out - not only this season, but stretching into last season as well. Remember the fourth-quarter interception at Fordham, down 21-18? Remember "that school in Easton" converting a 4th-and goal late in the 4th quarter to win "The Rivalry" last year?

All this frustration seems to be concentrated on the latest set of play calls at midfield. Fans are taking "shots" at the last offensive play call be Lehigh on Saturday - a fade pattern on 4th down and 2 to senior WR Sekou Yansane which ended up being an incomplete pass. Colgate gets the ball on downs; they run out the clock, and escape Lehigh with a "W".

Let me be on the record as saying that I was not against that particular call at all. I think it's very unfair to blast the call - mostly because the play call pretty much worked. Our QB went to our go-to receiver - and he came very close to making the play. In my book, fault the play call if it's - say - a 4rd and 3, Lehigh calls a power sweep, and gets tackled for a 2 yard loss. Not if the play basically worked.

The problem on Saturday was not that particular play. The problem was that it should never have come down to one "shot" to win the game at the very end.

Football on offense, in a lot of ways, is about momentum. One good play sets up another good play, and another, when finally it seems like everything that's getting called just ends up working. Yardage comes in chunks, and scoring simply happens. The momentum then carries to the special teams and defense, who bring up their level of play, take their "shots" to disrupt the opponent, and then the offense gets the ball back. Rinse, lather, repeat.

Teams that win big games and win championships know this. Nobody's perfect - sometimes teams make mistakes. But they don't make as many that this Lehigh team has made over the course of this year.

Good teams don't let mistakes get in their heads and affect them the entire game. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get back out there and do what needs to be done to fix the problem. Sophomore QB J.B. Clark epitomizes this - he's made some mistakes, but for the most part he's shown a remarkable ability to rebound from them and lead the offense to a score on the next drive.

Missed extra points, though, are momentum-killers. When blocked, they give a surge of confidence to the opposing special teams - when shanked, they allow teams to keep the lead rather than, say, tie the game. It's easy to point at 7-6 early score and say it doesn't matter, but the fact that it wasn't tied at that point really does matter. These missed "shots" at scoring also have the problem of making a coach have to chase those extra points all game. Every subsequent PAT becomes a game of "should he go for 2?"

All year this team seems to get some positive motion forward, then losing it on the next play. The missed extra points after big touchdowns are but one example. Against Colgate, it's easy to find other examples. Completing a 20 yard pass to junior RB/LB Al Pierce one play, then getting called for a false start the next. Getting a huge stop to close the first half to force a punt, potentially getting the ball back and maybe score at the end of the half - instead, a special teamer doesn't get away from a bouncing ball, it hits his foot and Colgate pounces on it.

Offensively, we have the ability to convert on quick strikes - on five of our scoring drives against Colgate, four of them came on drives of six plays or fewer. Yet we've also had 21 fumbles (losing 10 of them) over the course of nine games - an astounding average of more than 2 fumbles per game. That's not a statistic of a winning team.

Defensively, we showed that we can disrupt the power running game of a team like Colgate - holding them to 175 yards rushing, nearly 100 yards below their average. Yet when it comes to a 3rd down and 5 near the goal line, up by five points, we can't stop their best offensive player on the field this afternoon- Colgate WR Pat Simonds, who got the final 7 yards receiving of his 148 yard day with the decisive TD catch with 2:30 to play. (His third TD grab on the afternoon, by the way.)

And that's not only the story of this particular game. It's the story of four other losses this season. Mistakes which allowed Harvard to get a big lead, roaring back and ending up just short. Getting only a handful of "shots" to score offensively against Princeton - and not converting enough of them, while giving up the big pass play to allow the Tigers to escape with a "W". A missed extra point ended up dooming us in the Cornell game. The defense started off on the wrong foot versus Holy Cross, then the Mountain Hawks roared back to tie the game, and ultimately fell behind a big offensive surge in the 4th quarter.

Give credit to all these teams - they beat Lehigh fair and square. But the Mountain Hawks had their "shots" in all four games, and Lehigh made critical mistakes in all phases in all four losses.

In order to win the last two games - and to be able to say to the fans that in 2008, there was real progress over 2007 - this Lehigh team doesn't need to learn how to convert on opportunities in the 4th quarter. It needs to learn how to make their opportunities count in the 1st and 2nd quarters, while minimizing their mistakes.

The season still can be one of improvement over last year - one that will allow the seniors to leave Lehigh with heads held high and make them feel they're part of a resurgent Mountain Hawk program, while giving the underclassmen confidence going into next year.

But it will require two wins. No less than that will do.


Anonymous said…
Still waiting for the Sunday word to be "Change" Our Country needs change, and the LU football program needs change! Dont hold your breath though! Coen is a beaten down man, and the AD refuses to see it.

Anyone who listens to the post game interview will clearly hear a coach who has lost his enthusiasim, if not his confidence.

Besides the typical excuses, we are young, we made to many mistakes, the other team had a 6'6" reciever, our injuries (doesn't he know the opposing teams, and the best RB in the League was out on Saturday?) etc. etc.

Does the AD not see how this affects a team?
Besides loosing his own confidence,
Anonymous said…
I am afraid in these days of financial challege for all universities, I doubt Lehigh will want to waste a year and pay off Coen... A key indicator was the crowd on Saturday.... the largest crowd of the season was only just over 10K??? Lehigh isn't a big time football program that can fire a coach with time left in a contract.. we can certainly go in another direction when the time comes and his contract expires...
Anonymous said…
It's not the 4th and 2's the successive 3rd and 2 / 4th and 2 play calling. We had two downs to make 2 yards keeping the momentum and the clock. This was the lousy play calling that should cost someone a job. Bet on this O line to gain yardage...not hang it on a fade.
Anonymous said…
I think you have to realize that these missed opportunities go both ways. The interference penalty against our linebacker was not a good call. The sliding catch that was ruled out of bounds stopped a Colgate drive- he was clearly in on the TV close up- the point being that these are part of the game and 'Gate fans can bitch that some of the breaks might have put the game out of reach earlier. But that is the way the games goes for better or worse.
At least you guys do keep insisting, as Pards do, that even after a loss they are clearly the much superior team.
I do, as I have said, think you have a fine team that is perhaps under tutored.
Anonymous said…
been watching Lehigh football for just over 50 years....never saw a coaching job like this! If the kicker has lost confidence on PAT's, why not go for TWO. Even if you bat .500, you're still even with the kicked PAT's. The play calling on the last series was incomprehensible. Was it Woody Hays who said "if you pass, three things can happen, and two of them are bad!" And how about those screen passes that were called 6, 7, 8 times....maybe one worked. Will someone please tell Coen that screens and draws are used to neutralize blitzes on passing downs. I could go on...........
Anonymous said…
Doug, I think Coen had a three, not four year contract. Three is the norm for Lehigh. If it is three, then there is no buyout.
Anonymous said…
Are we unfairly critical of Andy Coen? Maybe he does not call the plays. Maybe it is the Offensive Co-ordinator. Then Coen should be fired for NOT FIRING HIM!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous said…
The problem under Coen has always been the defense. He uses a 3 man D-Line which relies on the linebackers to make the plays, which they do, eight yards down field. Opposing coaches know they can beat Lehigh if they stay in the game till the 4th. Coen's first year lost late to Yale, Princeton, Harvard. As mentioned above last year & this year the same. Why? Just watch the game, Lehigh plays the same 3 down lineman, with 1 occasional sub the entire game. Colgate rotated 7 lineman throughout the game. By the 4th Lehigh's line is beat & Colgate's is still fresh. You can't expect 3 players, who are getting blocked by 5 guys for 60 or 70 plays to have much left by the 4th. Since Coen arrived depth has never been developed at any position. Dick Biddle understands that when you use seven players you develop competition, when you use three you develop complacency.
Anonymous said…
We had second down and 2 at mid-field...We had THREE chances to make two yards for another set of downs and stopping the clock (oh yes, two blown timeouts earlier in the half). It wasn't the fourth play, it was the entire series. And on defense, why is a linebacker on Colgate's best receiver? This team is no 'younger' than any other..and it's NOVEMBER..No one is young this time of year. Only winning the last two games will show that 'change' is possible..
Anonymous said…
Fact is, plenty of fans wanted a change (from Lembo) and they got it. All Lembo did was win an average of 8 - 9 games a year. Andy Coen has taken a ten year streak of winning, a program that always had eight wins per year, and has produced 6-5, 5-6 and this crap. He's like the second coming of Hank Small, for God's sake!

Watching this team is painful and it looks like a combination of inferior recruiting and poor coaching. As far as coaching goes, how else can you explain # 13 constantly losing sight of his man on deep pass plays? Or how about a kid on the punt return team not being aware of where he is and where the ball is? A QB who hands the ball to the opponent inside the twenty? Stupid penalties, questionable play calling throughout, misused goes on and on. Recruiting-wise, is it just me or does it look like we are outsized by every team, including Ivies and especially Lafayette? I swear Lafayette's backs seem as big as LU's linemen. Lafayette goes at least 5 deep at tailback, meanwhile McGowan gets hurt and we are down to a LB at the position.

I don't know how long Coen's contract is for, but I would give him one more year and that's it. If there is not marked improvement, outta here!
Anonymous said…
all i want to say is. coen is NOT the problem. the offense was in sync all game long and what let the team down was the special teams and the kicking game. for example... cribbs fielding a punt in the endzone? 2 botched extra points? 1 missed field goal? come on now, we are 8 points away from being 7-2. you know what that comes down to? that comes down to how the special teams and kicking game play. we need to go out this year and bring in some big time kicker to let up some pressure on the offense. they are forced to score 25 or more points per game to get the win and they cant fall back on the defense but only 2 games(drake and princeton were the only quality defensive performances.) im just trying to say that the quarterback and other offensive spots are fine...we a need better "D" and kicker
Anonymous said…
Dream on....... If you continue to rely on what you hear, just look at the number of Seniors graduating this year and who the playmakers are!

guess what..... the cabinet is bare next year, or at least a lot emptier than it was this year!

This staff had the opportunity to get a RB in the game who will have to contribute big time next year. How many downs did he play "0".

There is NO confidence in this coach to develop a cohesive team.

If you give him another year he will definitley have the excuse of "WE ARE YOUNG" he hasn't developed a team in three years, next year he will start all over again.

This cant continue..........
Anonymous said…
Dream on. If you are going to put someone down make sure you know what you are talking about. We have someone from FSU transferring to Lehigh for the education and our O-Line is still young. Not too mention we have J.B. Clark for 2 more years. We have the kid from Vegas coming back next year and we should have a solid year...
Anonymous said…
LehiNut is absolutely right
"never saw a coaching job like this" Player will make mistakes, they are human. Coaches must put the players in a situstion where theybhae the opportunity to win. Defensive timeout with over 12 minutes to play. Even if they make the two point conversion they need a touchdown and PAT. WHY CALL A TIMEOUT? YOU MAY NEED IT LATE IN THE GAME!!!!
Anonymous said…
they called the TO because they were trying to get a better defensive package and go for the win if they had the chance instead of the tie.

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