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Game Preview: Princeton at Lehigh

Before last year's Princeton game, I said that contest would be a " litmus test to see if Lehigh fans deserve to be excited about this football team."

A year later, nothing has changed, except maybe the urgency. The Mountain Hawks need to avoid an 0-3 start in the worst way possible.

It might be too early to call this a must-win game - after all, the schedule has been brutal (with a visit to the No. 2 ranked team in the nation, Villanova), and key players have been out with injury. There's historic precedence: "that school in Easton" dropped five tough games in the middle of 2007, yet roared into league play and took the Patriot League title, so it certainly is possible to recover from an 0-3 start.

But it feels like this team needs a win - any win will do - to open up this four-game homestand and to send the fans home happy. Something to show for the hard work the team has put in.

The big win - and the "big things" that DL Brian Jackson alluded to in the post-game press conference after the big win in "The Rivalry" - seem so far away now. It's not just that Lehigh lost their first two games. It's that they were dominated statistically. CCSU held the ball for nearly three quarters. Villanova had two 100 yard rushers against us. CCSU shut down our passing offense. We made some improvement on offense against Villanova, but not enough to score more than one touchdown when the game's outcome was in doubt. Lehigh has allowed on average 269 yards rushing per game - last in the Patriot League.

These stats cannot stand, or it's going to be a long year.

The coaching staff mentioned multiple times this week that the team went "back to basics" to improve during the bye. They'll need to execute the basics better - like tackling and positioning - if they hope to beat Princeton, who beat them 10-7 last year in a game where Lehigh failed to score an offensive touchdown.

The good part about football season is that an awful lot is forgotten after a "W". And that's what's most important about this week's game: Lehigh needs the fans to forget the performance from the first two games and to focus on some positives after a win.

While it's not technically a "must win", a win certainly would take a lot of pressure off - and start some home-field advantage and re-establish some dominace over Princeton, who have now split their last four games against the Mountain Hawks. Lehigh really needs the salve a win can provide.

Game Notes
The game notes show Lehigh's leading rusher, junior RB Jaren Walker, is off the depth chart as his ankle injury from the Villanova game hasn't healed yet. In his place is sophomore RB Matt Fitz, who carried the ball a handful of times against Villanova. You wonder if maybe one or more of the freshmen - freshman RB Zach Barket or freshman RB Tony Kablan - also might get some time to try to prove themselves.

Happily, the bye week sees a host of important defenders return: junior NG David Brown, senior LB Troy Taylor, senior LB Al Pierce and senior LB Heath Brickner - who was also moved from an inside to an outside linebacker position. Pierce is second on the depth chart: sophomore LB Devin Greene, who saw action in the first two games this year, starts in his place. Unfortunately senior DL Phil Winett still is out with a foot injury.

Princeton's game notes, some of the best in the business, can be found here.

Weather Report
It looks like a picture perfect day - in the early afternoon, anyway. The weather report currently is calling for a partly cloudy day with a high of 65, there is a 30% chance that showers might come in late. Stay tuned.

A Word on Princeton
Last year, Princeton fans wondered if their team had the ability to close out games. While they did manage to close out Lehigh last year after Lehigh couldn't convert a 4th-and-1 at the Princeton 45 yard line, they didn't close out many more in 2008, ending with a 4-6 record.

Princeton's record in 2007 and 2008, hovering close to .500, is more of head coach Roger Hughes' legacy as head coach of the Tigers, though it hasn't always seemed that way. Led by speedy and accurate QB Jeff Terrell and lockdown corner CB J.J. Artis in 2006 the Tigers were Ivy League co-champions basking in a 9-1 record.

That year, the Tigers were ridiculously good at holding onto the football and doing the "little things" like hitting gaps and blocking downfield. That team did play 60 minutes every week in tune to an 9-1 record, their only blemish being a tough loss at Cornell. I saw them up close: they were a tough team that did all the little things right. Their level of execution was remarkable.

But since then, Princeton has gone through several quarterbacks looking for Terrell's replacement, none who were able to deliver the Tigers a title run. And while Princeton has had some standout defenders, they haven't had the same type of athlete Artis was either. Sometimes that's the difference between 9-1 and 4-6.

Last Time Out for Princeton
Look at the scoreboard, and you'd think Princeton might have gotten humiliated by The Citadel in a 38-7 defeat. Look closer, though, and you see a team that was only down 10-7 at the half and still in it in the 3rd quarter. Only two disastrous interceptions, and two missed field goals, made the scoreline look worse. There's plenty of indication that Princeton's offense and defense will be tough this year.

LFN's Drink of the Week
Lehigh fans don't really need an excuse to drink a refreshing beverage, but it's time to really enjoy oneself with something extra-refreshing to help dull the memory of the 0-2 start. No, no, not Zima - I'm thinking of a Biermischgetränke. You heard right: a German-style lemonade drink (my suggestion: half Sprite, half soda water) and a medium-hop beer (my suggestion: Yuengling Lager) and perhaps a dash of Vodka to give it extra "kick". Extra-refreshing: and should prepare you for a warm afternoon at Goodman.

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

Breaking Down Princeton
Offense
Head coach Roger Hughes, now in his 9th year, has an offense that doesn't have any one dominating star but doesn't have any one glaring weakness either. From week to week, it's wickedly hard to look at the Tigers and see exactly what their gameplan will be against you because they will look at your team and go to your weakness. One week they will pass their first seven plays, the other they'll run it, and - despite what people might claim - they don't depend on a marquee player.

Having said that, their offense is very similar to Fordham's with multi-purpose "X" and "Z" receivers that are a threat to run as well as catch the ball.

Last week saw sophomore QB Tommy Wornham take the reins of the offense for the first time, and after a crisp opening drive (where he went 5-for-5) he came apart a little, throwing two interceptions to let the game get away from him. He's got speed he can use to take off with the ball, but it's clear that the Citadel tried to see if he could beat them through the air, and he couldn't last week.

The reason the Bulldogs did that was that junior RB Jordan Culbreath was the Ivy League's leading rusher last year, and he ran for 276 yards in the final game of 2008 vs. Dartmouth. He's a tough runner but also has that second gear to the outside as well, which makes him a dangerous back. If unchecked, he could be a huge problem for the Mountain Hawks.

When Wornham throws the ball, it will be to a bevy of different receivers that can do a lot more than receive. Junior FB Matt Zimmerman was a frequent target for him last week, with 5 receptions for 42 yards, and so was junior WR Jeb Heavenrich (3 receptions, 13 yards, 1 TD) and junior WR Trey Peacock. Even junior TE Harry Flaherty will get in the act - Princeton has a lot of passing targets, and Hughes will use them all.

Princeton's "O" line is loaded with senior talent - and boasts a pair of 300 pound linemen, senior C Hauser and senior OL D.P. Makrai. Unlike previous Tiger linemen, who were undersized but hit the gaps well, these guys could be bigger and better than that group.

Defense
Like Lehigh, Princeton plays a 3-4 defense with a lot of rotation in the lines to keep guys healthy. Like Lehigh, their strength is in the linebacking unit.

On the "D" line, senior DE Joel Karacozoff is the only returning starter from last year. Last week he had 4 tackles and 1/2 a tackle for loss. Princeton's "D" line is comparable size-wise to Lehigh's, averaging 270 lbs across.

At linebacker, there are a multitude of all-Ivy performers, headlined by senior LB Scott Britton (9 tackles 1/2 tackle for loss). On this week's depth chart are junior LB Steve Cody, an all-Ivy League member last year, and senior LB John Callahan, who returns after mising all last year with a torn ACL. Add to this senior LB Brad Settler, and you may have a very daunting linebacking unit. The Tigers are strong tacklers, and will definitely play physical as well.

Princeton also boasts a lot of experience in the secondary, too. Senior FS Dan Koplovich returns to the defense in 2009 after a brief stint on offense last year, returning to the position where he was an all-Ivy player in the secondary. Add to this 6'0 senior CB Cart Kelly and there's a talented unit back there with a tall shutdown corner and a talented punisher on run defense.

Special Teams
Sophomore P Otavio Fleury averaged an amazing 47.3 yards per punt last week, making his punting debut one to remember for the Tigers. Also memorable - but for all the wrong reasons was senior PK Ben Bologna's afternoon, with two missed field goals, including one blocked 32 yard attempt.

Senior CB Cart Kelly returned punts last week, but didn't get much in terms of yardage, while junior WR Jeb Heavenrich and junior DB Meko McCray share kick return duties. Nother returned kickoffs last weekend.

Keys to the Game
1.Stuff the run. No matter what league you're in, you need to stop the run in order to win games. Whatever it takes - eight men in the box to stop Culbreath, sounder tackling, whatever, find a way to stop the run this weekend.
2.Small Gains, Big Results. Picking Princeton's defense apart - and keeping their offense out-of-sync and on the sidelines - will be crucial. I'd try to establish a short passing game and then establish some mixed running, perhaps working one or more of the freshmen in.
3.Set Your Identity. How do you want to be remembered? That's the challenge I'd bring to this team, to give them an identity on offense and defense. What does the team want to accomplish? What do I want to accomplish? How do I want to be known on this team the rest of this year?
4.Don't Lose the Battle of Special Teams. If Fleury is a dominating punting force, he could pose a problem for the Mountain Hawks getting pinned deep in their own territory if this becomes a game of field position. Junior PR Jarard Cribbs will need to keep Fleury's net down - and the coverage units cannot be flagged with senseless penalties - in order to keep the game of field position even in this game.

Fearless Prediction
I don't know who came up with the cliche that "there are no gimmes on the schedule", but that person could have been looking at Lehigh's schedule this year. Princeton is no pushover, nor is Harvard the following week. Lehigh could go 2-2 - or 0-4 - way too easily for my taste.

Having said that, I don't think we've seen the team that Lehigh can be so far, and I think this week is the week where we might start to see that team emerge. A defensive battle seems certain - with, perhaps, field position playing a big part - but I think Lehigh, who needs this game just a little bit more, will find a way to win this game and finally start cleansing some of the bad vibes from the first two games.

Lehigh 17, Princeton 14

Comments

Engineer'82 said…
Wow, no comments the Friday before and important game for the Mountain Hawks. There seeems to be almost zero interest in the football program anymore. Anyone agree or am I missing something
Michael said…
Lehigh did score an offensive last year against Princeton....
Anonymous said…
Lehigh is expected to beat teams like Princeton. Until they change this coaching staff, we will be a team without the motivation to do "Bigger Things" then beating Princeton and the team down the road!

Wake up Administration! Wake up Alum!
Gluhwein said…
Princeton 35
Lehigh 20

This defence can't stop anybody.
Anonymous said…
Chuck, first of all, congratulations on your 10 year "anniversary." A truly great story.

After today's loss, why would anyone assume Lehigh has the ability to beat anyone on its schedule? Getting 2 wins will be a good result the rest of the way. As we could clearly see today, even superior talent isn't winning games. Lets see..so far this year we've tried different ways to win: coaching (CCS), heart (Nova) and now talent. What's left?

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