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Sunday's Word: Learning Experience

As I was driving home from Villanova yesterday - struggling to figure out exactly what the heck I was going to write about this game - I figured out what the Sunday Word would be. I didn't actually see the bumper sticker to my left, but it not only explains a lot about Saturday's game - it also explains how Lehigh fans have to take this game, too.

*****

In 2004, Lehigh beat Liberty 34-16 going into the bye week.

Since then, every year the Mountain Hawks have gone into the bye week with a loss. 2005 saw a heroic effort against Delaware with a missed extra point in OT to lose in a 34-33 heartbreaker. 2006 - the year where Lehigh beat Villanova 31-28 in a huge upset - saw a massive letdown the following week with a 14-10 loss to Princeton going into (you guessed it) the bye week. In 2007, Lehigh had a bye week in the first week of the year but lost to "that school in Easton" the previous year. (For good measure, they lost the season opener to Villanova, 30-20). And last year, of course, Lehigh greeted the bye week with a 33-14 defeat to Villanova. (And that was with senior QB Antwon Young starting for Villanova.)

Nobody likes starting the season at 0-2 - the first time that Lehigh has done so since 1982. But going into the bye week at 0-2 makes Lehigh fans extra cranky. I know I was cranky going home. The fact that we were victims of Villanova for what seems the umpeenth time didn't help, either. (Nor did the shouts of "Nova Nation!" coming from the student section.)

But I wasn't thinking about the game I just saw. I was thinking about Lehigh teams of the past. Not all that long ago Lehigh was terrorizing members of the CAA - and almost always competitive. When Lehigh played Villanova in 2006, I didn't enter that game thinking that Lehigh would have to play basically a perfect game to win - and we won. I knew Lehigh had a shot ot beat Delaware in 2005, and we did. When James Madison came to Lehigh in 2004 in the playoffs, I thought Lehigh would win - and might have, too, if they just could have stopped 7th-and-goal. (The same Dukes, who, oh by the way, came close to causing the complete collapse of ACC football had they managed upset FBS Maryland this weekend - they lost in overtime 38-35.)

It would be too much to claim that Lehigh enjoyed dominance over A-10 (now CAA) teams during that time. But it wasn't too much to ask to be able to give these guys a game. For years, Lehigh did. Folks may forget that CAA teams dreaded seeing Lehigh show up on the schedule or in the playoffs, but I sure don't.

*****

Looking at the game again on TV, Villanova's sloppy play did their best to keep Lehigh in it, too. Lehigh's best drive on the evening was sparked by a pass interference call on 3rd down to keep the drive alive, leading to a nice option play to junior RB Jaren Walker for the touchdown. That touchdown would be the last one the Villanova defense would allow to Lehigh the rest of the game.

Up 10-7, Villanova faced back-to-back holding and clipping penalties on the ensuing drive. But Villanova junior QB Chris Whitney calmly on 2nd and 28 completed a pass to junior RB Angelo Babbaro for 14 yards, broke a 3rd down play pass play for a 13 yard scramble, and then converted 4th-and-1 to keep their drive alive. Babbaro would ultiamtely convert a screen pass into a 13 yard TD catch to take a 17-7 lead.

Later in the game, up 24-10, Villanova learned well from the "learning experiences" in the first half. On one drive, Whitney would read the Lehigh defense and ripped off a 23 yard run off another broken pass play. Then, Villanova senior RB Aaron Ball ran an easy run off left tackle and zipped untouched in the end zone. 31-10. Game over.

*****

No wonder I was cranky: I wanted the season-opener of 2008 (beating Drake 19-0) and the second game of 2006 (beating Villanova 31-28). Instead, I got the season opener of 2006 (losing to Albany 17-16) and the second game of 2008 (losing to Villanova 33-14).

So Lehigh's now 0-2. So what was my "learning experience" this weekend?

I learned that Villanova is a great team. They're big in the trenches, and fast pretty much everywhere. Even when not on their best day, they're hard to beat - and they punish defenders that are out of position.

I learned that Lehigh has some fight in them. The Mountain Hawks battled to try to keep themselves in the game. After a horrible call by the officials - ruling that junior RB Jaren Walker had fumbled the ball when he was clearly down (and to top it off, he only fumbled the ball because he was hurt) - a 24-7 lead could have seemed insurmountable. Yet Lehigh came out after the break and made something happen - with a key pass to junior TE Alex Wojdowski from junior QB J.B. Clark - to at least cut it to two touchdowns. They didn't fold - they made something happen.

I learned that senior LB Matt Cohen is a very good football player that isn't a miracle worker. His touchdown-saving tackle of senior WR Matt Szczur was great, but he was bailing out his teammates that couldn't get in Sczcur's way for the other 75 yards.

I learned that the Mountain Hawk offense wasn't always pretty, but there was creativity there - and a new wrinkle in the Wildcat formation that has the potential to make the next nine games more exciting. Freshman QB Michael Colvin led Lehigh in rushing on the game, averaging 4.3 yards per carry. But Lehigh fans may need to give it time to come together. It's going to be a "learning experience" for them - and us.

I learned that our special teams are looking pretty good. Sophomore P Alex Smith averaged 39 yards per punt, and junior K Tom Randazza coolly kicked a 41 yard FG. Meanwhile, junior CB John "Fear Itself" Kennedy ripped off 5 kickoff returns for 100 yards, and junior WR Craig Zurn also ripped off a nice 10 yard return.

I learned that the Mountain Hawk defense needs to find its footing - and fast. The defense does fly to the football, but there needs to be more improvement. While I appreciate that CCSU and Villanova are teams that run the ball well, but there's no way that the Mountain Hawks can survive giving up 300 rushing yards to our opponents every week.

And I learned that Lehigh still keeps making too many mistakes to win big games. To beat Villanova, Lehigh needed a crisp game with few errors. They didn't get it.

*****

There really is only one possible solution to this game, for fans and players alike: to chalk it up as a "learning experience".

For fans, really, what other answer is there? It's only Week Two. It's too early to doom the season to failure at the hands of one very good team and one unearthly team. And certainly the goals of the season can still be achieved even starting the year at 0-2. With these frustrating games, it's sometimes hard to keep it in perspective.

But for the players and coaching staff, how they react and respond to the "learning experience" of this weekend will determine the course of the rest of the season. They have to know that a similar-looking result against Princeton will not be acceptable to anybody.

Comments

Anonymous said…
If you think Clark with his loopy passes can lead this team against good teams you are dreaming. Lum showed even though against Villanova's second team that he has the arm and poise to win. If Coen can't see that, it is time to go.
Anonymous said…
No doubt Lum's the guy, not even close.
Unknown said…
Love Lum great arm better athlete but Clark earned his spot, 1bad game s/n/b enuf to take it from him. Hell, if it were basedsolely on athletic ability Colvin would be the qb
Anonymous said…
It is so disheartening to watch this team play. I give credit to the players for executing as much as possible, but they are simply not put in a position to win, plain and simple and that comes from the top - the head coach and his staff.
Where is the emotion from Coen towards ANY of his players? Where is the attempt of the establishment of a running game? (I want to see Barket in there - yes he's a freshman, why not? Can't be much worse than who's been back there already.) Why do we call dink-and-dunk passes and screens vs. Nova when their deepest safties are playing 10 yards off the line of scrimmage? (I understand we want to rebuild some of Clark's confidence). At least call for one deep pass, like was called how many times vs. CCSU? Why does the defense not attempt to pressure the Nova QB? How come they don't put a spy on the Nova QB in the second half? Why can't our linebackers tackle small running backs? Why do we "pooch" kick off? So many questions that leave me scratching my head after this Villanova game that I wonder what is going through Coen and his staff's mind! Will we ever make in game adjustments? I know Nova is a great team and we would have probably still lost if we were coached even a little better. Or am I out of my mind wondering why these coaching decisions are not made?
We will certainly "learn" a lot about this team and the coaching staff in the coming weeks.
Anonymous said…
All of this has been going on since this staff has gotten here.

This coach is not a motivator and never wll be. He doesn't have the make up of a firey leader that can get his team to dig down deep and want to win for him.

He makes horrible decsions, starting with keeping the guy who is calling the plays, not to mention what players he relies on to keep his job!

It's a shame the administration, and Alumni are so complacent that they have accepted this downward spiral for 4 years.

In a few weeks when we beat a few "Patsy" Patriot League teams everyone will feel good about things again and we will go on with the acceptance of being mediocre.

I know, we dont have scholorships, we have players hurt etc. etc.

It's time to make a change!
Anonymous said…
Funny! Last year everyone thought Clark had such a great arm. Goes to show you, be carefull for what you wish for!
Anonymous said…
I spent Saturday night fending off the damp weather to watch an even more depressing result at Villanova Stadium. The final score was very deceiving. 'Nova went "vanilla" with backups for much of the second half or that game would have gotten well out of hand. It is disheartening to watch our program decline from annual tournament appearances (with wins over the Villanova, Delaware and Richmond) to being relegated to the status of "warmup opponent". How bad does it need to get before the university ends the Andy Coen Experiment? Back-to-back losing seasons and recurring losses to Lafayette were apparently not enough. Now we are forced to sit through another year without progress or purpose. Here's hoping that the weather improves.

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