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Game Preview: Lehigh at Villanova

(Photo Credit: Villanova Athletics)

The No. 3 ranked team in the nation. It promises to be the toughest game on Lehigh's schedule, and the toughest opponent any Patriot League school will face in the regular season this year.

Villanova fans can smell a blowout win. And they don't care who knows it.

The Villanovan, Nova Nation's student newspaper stated this week that there "is a disparity in talent between the two teams." If that weren't enough bulletin board fodder for the Mountain Hawks, the student paper then proceeded to state that the game would "provide Villanova the chance to tune up before their tough upcoming conference games."

It seems like a lifetime ago for both teams that QB Sedale Threatt in 2006 travelled to Villanova and upset the Wildcats 31-28 in their home opener. That year, Lehigh had designs on another Patriot League title run, while Villanova struggled to a 6-5 season and failed to make the FCS playoffs yet again.

Since that upset, Nova Nation is back. They went 9-2 in the regular season last year, only losing to FBS West Virginia and losing on a hail mary to James Madison. They throttled the Patriot League champ, Colgate, 55-28, before losing 31-27 to James Madison again, this time in the playoffs. And now they're No. 3 in the nation, fresh off an upset over an FBS squad.

It's hard to beleive that Villanova at one time was considered a possible leaguemate for Lehigh in the Patriot League. Now, it appears, the games between the two schools have become jokes - tuneups for Villanova, who face more worthy competition in the CAA.

It will be up to Lehigh - win or lose - to change Villanova fans' impression of their team.

Game Notes
Lehigh's game notes show little different from last week. Coen hopes to get back senior LB Heath Brickner and senior LB Troy Taylor - both who had dings in last week's game versus Central Connecticut State. Senior LB Al Pierce and senior DT Phil Winett will be out for the second consecutive week.

One small chage was sophomore DT Andrew Knapp gets the start on a banged-up front line, with sophomore DE Cody Connare getting a fair number of reps as well. Overall, though, not much changes from last week.

Villanova's game notes are listed at this link.

Weather Report
It's going to be a soggy Friday, but there's hope that the downpours will be gone by the time the 7:00 PM kickoff rolls around. From "heavy showers" to "showers possible", here's hoping that the clouds will clear. Right now the forecast calls for a 40% chance of showers and a high of 71 degrees.

If it rains, winds of 10 to 20 mph are expected on Friday. I'm assuming there might be high winds on Saturday, too.

A Word on Villanova
Villanova (6,335 undergraduates: Villanova, PA) has known only one head coach since resuming football in 1985 after a five-year hiatus: Andy Talley, well-known in the Philadelphia area and something of a legend. Ask any reporter about coach Talley and generally speaking they love the guy.

There are a lot of links between Lehigh, Villanova, coach Talley, and coach Coen. In 2002, 2004 and 2005 Coen was Penn's offensive coordinator, and the Quakers gave Villanova some true battles as that "Big 5"-inspired football rivalry was rekindled by the Wildcats. The last two games were nailbiting games going down to the final seconds that Penn barely lost (16-13 in 2004, 28-24 in 2005).

In 2004, Lehigh barely lost to Villanova by a 22-16 score in a game with some controversy. Early in the second half of that game, a Villanova player chop-blocked junior DT Royce Morgan and ended his season. There was also some controversy in the post game press conference when there was mention of stealing Lehigh's offensive signals as well.

In 2006, Lehigh started the year with a 17-16 loss to Albany, and it didn't look like coach Coen's first-ever coaching victory would come against the Wildcats - on the road, no less. But in what was undoubtedly QB Sedale Threatt's greatest moment as a Mountain Hawk, he would lead Lehigh to their best overall game, a 31-28 game that was an entire team effort. Threatt had 300 total yards on the day and 2 TDs. Coach Talley said the following year: “They outplayed us completely. Luck had nothing to do with the game last year. They just knocked us off the field.”

The last two years, Lehigh has struggled against the Wildcats. In 2007 at Murray Goodman, Villanova, down a bunch of starters from the heat and with injuries from their loss to FBS Maryland the week before, prevailed 30-20. In a scenario that would replay itself way too often in 2006 for the Mountain Hawks, Lehigh's mental errors (including missed kicks and not converting in the red zone) would play large in the final result. In 2008, a big fumble return for touchdown would spark a 33-14 romp by the Wildcats.

No wonder why Villanova thinks they're our daddy.

Last Time Out for Villanova
After falling behind 10-0 at halftime, the Wildcats would take advantage of a multitude of Temple turnovers (5) to get back in the game. The final Temple interception - with under two minutes to play - was all the Wildcats needed to pull the upset. They would drive to the Temple 10 yard line and boot through the game-winning FG for a 27-24 victory.

Villanova's FBS win was only one of three on the weekend for FCS school. Two other schools from the CAA: Richmond (24-19 over FBS Duke) and William & Mary (26-14 over FBS Virginia) also provided upsets.

LFN's Drink of the Week
In honor of the Villanovan's reference to Lehigh as a tune-up game, might I suggest a drink - the tune-up - in honor of their assessment. You'll need cranberry, Apple Schnapps, Vodka, Apple Cider, ice cream and a cherry. Perhaps Villanova tailgaters might be under the table after one, but for Lehigh folks such a drink could be considered, well, a tune-up.

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

Breaking Down Villanova
Offense
Villanova runs a spread-style offense and also runs a fair amount of plays in the "Wildcat" formation. (No word if it's Villanova where it was invented, but I beleive it is.) In the "Wildcat", there are different types of splits and formations involving direct snaps to the running back, backfield motion, and sometimes even putting two quarterbacks on the field and sending one in motion. It's the craze right now since it's unpredictable and difficult to key on.

Last time Lehigh played Villanova, senior QB Antawn Young was the statring QB, but it was junior QB Chris Whitney that won the job the following week against Penn and started the Wildcats on their magical run last year. Whitney epitomizes guts and determination as a QB - he's not always the prettiest passer or the fastest runner, but when he needs to get a ball somewhere he gets it there. Young is more athletic, and sometimes he has shown up in the Wildcat with Whitney - something to keep in mind.

Part of the genius of Villanova's offense is their versatility of targets, which includes rushing yardage. Two 5'9 juniors, junior RB Aaron Ball and junior RB Angelo Babbaro are the "running backs", but more accurately Whitney, Ball, Babbaro, junior WR Matt Szczur or freshman WR Dorian Wells might take off with the ball, sometimes off a reverse or misdirection but also from a direct snap. While this crew only got 64 yards rushing against Temple's big "D" line, they are tough and you can't key on one guy.

Similarly, Villanova's passing offense doesn't focus on one player either, though senior WR Brandyn Harvey was the Owl-killer last weekend to the tune of 142 yards and 1 touchdown. Harvey is more their possesion receiver: junior WR Matt Szczur and freshman WR Dorian Wells both get into the act, too - both could be some of the fastest players Lehigh will see this year.

The Wildcat "O" line did a fine job in pass protection against an FBS defense, and have some awfully big boys on it. Senior LT Jonathan Bugli is the leader of this mammoth line that averages 6'3 and nearly 300 lbs across. This line - with 300 lb linemen behind them on the two deep and 6'5 junior TE Chris Farmer on the same line, trust me when I say we will not wear this "O" line down easily.

Defense
Villanova one again brings the 3-3-5 stack defense that is also employed at FBS West Virginia. The stack defense is used to leverage speed and to use it to combat the spread offenses that are springing up around college football these days. They require a boatload of speed and sound tackling, and Villanova has it.

The "D" line has a different role to play in the 3-3-5 stack than on most "D" lines. Senior DE Tim Kukucka gets rotated into the "D" line, but is a scary foce underneath in terms of pass rushing and tackles for loss. Also an important person in this scheme - and is sometimes forgotten - is senior NG Phil Matusz, the prototypical big "D" lineman this scheme calls for. (He's bulked up to 300 lbs.)

The stack defense allows the linebacking unit to use its speed to blitz from, well, all angles. Senior LB Osayi Osunde used that speed to devastating effect against Lehigh last year when he stripped the ball from junior QB J.B. Clark and returned the fumble for a big defensive TD. Junior LB Terrence Thomas is also a devastating force in the middle.

In the stack, the safeties take on special meaning since they tend to take on linebacker responsibilites often, and one Villanova's best athletes on defense is there: senior FS Ross Ventrone, who had the fumble recovery against Temple last Thursday. On the plus side, there are four underclassmen in this key unit, though they've all got a lot of speed to burn. Worthy of note is junior SS John Dempsey intercepted Temple's final drive to set up the late game-winning field goal.

A big part of Villanova's game, as you can see, is turnovers. They are fast, agressive, and create mistakes.

Special Teams
Not a bad way to start your first-ever college football game: freshman PK Nick Yako's 32 and 27 yard boots were the difference in last week's game. Sophomore P Dominic Scarnecchia also performed will in his debut: 5 punts averaging 37 yards per punt..

Junior RB Angelo Babbaro and
junior WR Matt Szczur are very good return men, combining to return 5 kickoffs for 147 yards last week. Senior WR Brandyn Harvey is the punt return man, but he didn't have any returns for yardage last week.

I'll say it again: this could be one of the best units Lehigh faces all year, as well, in the return department.

Keys To The Game
1. Minimizing mistakes. With a Top 25 team like this, keeping mistakes to a minimum will be huge. It's not just turnovers: penalties, missed assignments on defense, even extra points will need to be in mid-season form. IT may not need to be a perfect game, but it may need to be close..
2. Time of possession. The offense needs to play some ball control and keep the chains moving - the best defense against the spread is to make sure it doesn't get on the field. A balanced attack - with junior QB J.B. Clark and junior RB Jay Campbell - will be crucial.
3. Aggressive "D". Villanova is a team that cannot be allowed to get in offensive rhythm. Lehigh's defense will need to be at their disruptive best - with senior LB Matt Cohen patrolling the field - to have a chance.
4.Don't Get Knocked Around. While Villanova has power in the trench, their skill players can be worn down. Don't be afraid to play physical on offense and defense - and bring the pain every single play.

Fearless Prediction
I've seen quite a few Lehigh games in my time, but I haven't seen a challenge like this for the Mountain Hawks in years. Villanova is the real deal: powerful in the trench, speedy with the skill players, and play an offense and defense that is difficult to crack.

I think Lehigh will improve over last week's game, but it won't nearly be enough. They'll fight hard - maybe even impressing some of Nova Nation along the way with some guts and determination - but asking Lehigh to beat the No. 3 team in the nation is too tall an order. Villanova wins handily, and the Mountain Hawks go into the bye week 0-2.

Lehigh 10, Villanova 40

Comments

ngineer said…
Yes, after last week, one is 'up in the air' as to what to expect. We'd all like to think the team is going to use this as a real challenge and the opportunity to make a statement that they can pay with the elite of FCS football.
Anonymous said…
I like the way you predicted 2 scores! I am assuming from reading the blog that the 40-10 score is the real prediction.
rich said…
Is that like an over and under bet?

Over looks good but I will root for us to beat the under
Anonymous said…
its absolute humor the way that Coens people were claiming that Lembo left the cupboard bare. Im thinking he would wish those weak Lembo recruits were there Saturday.
Anonymous said…
Coen went 6 & 5 with Lembo recruits, then again Lembo would have been 9 & 2.
Anonymous said…
Lembo is a great coach. Lehigh people, for the most part, do not understand that fact. Someone said that he wasn't an X and O's coach. He spent more time and effort analyzing opposing teams than the current staff could only imagine. And he got much more out of his players in the process.

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