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Game Preview: Harvard at Lehigh

"The game was lost in the first half; we made too many mistakes and didn't make the big play."

While this might seem like a quote from last week's postgame press conference, it wasn't: it was coach Coen's comments following a tough 27-24 loss to Harvard last year in Cambridge. Looking back on that game, it sounds eerily similar to last week's loss at Princeton.

Like last week, Lehigh dug themselves in a hole early in that game with an interception returned for a touchdown that was a great individual play by a linebacker. Two turnovers directly resulted in points. Those errors - along with key defensive injuries - didn't keep Lehigh down forever, however: the Mountain Hawks came roaring back with some offensive momentum, while the defense made some huge stops. Yet during their final offensive drive, Lehigh simply couldn't make a big play to come away with the victory.

It's a script that has played out too many times in the last few years - and it's happened twice already in the first three games this year.

But this weekend provides a chance for Lehigh to rewrite the script against one of the teams that handed them a bitter three point loss last year. It would undo some of the bad vibes generated by a forgettable September, and maybe even be some revenge for last year's game against Harvard, too.

Technically, this isn't a "must-win" game. Harvard isn't (right now, anyway) a Top 25 team; many folks are picking the Crimson to trounce the Mountain Hawks; and it's not an important game to Lehigh's ultimate goal, which is a Patriot League championship.

But this game could be a huge one in terms of "rewriting the script". If Lehigh can win this game, it would be a huge boost of confidence going into league play that all their hard work is paying off. It would be an affirmation that they can still go toe-to-toe with anybody.

Game Notes
This week's game notes holds the worst-kept secret of the year: sophomore QB Chris Lum will get the start in front of junior QB J.B. Clark. Will Lum be on a short leash? Will Clark get into the game, either as a Wildcat quarterback or if Lum struggles early? It's difficult to say; the only way to find out will be to wait until 12:30 this Saturday.

Aside from the huge news at quarterback, what once seemed like a huge strength for the Mountain Hawks going into the season is slowly turning into a M*A*S*H unit. Senior LB Heath Brickner is out this week with a shoulder injury, so junior LB Ben Fliszak, who himself just came off the injured list last week, stars in his place with sophomore LB/DB Colin Newton backing him up. Senior LB Al Pierce, who recovered from his preseason injury and played limited time last week, is now back in his expected position starting in the middle, and senior LB Tobi Showunmi is still listed behind senior LB Matt Cohen on the depth chart, though Tobi's status for Saturday is uncertain as well. Senior LB Troy Taylor, another linebacker who has lost time with injury, is back this week as well.

Senior DT Phil Winett is still out this week - he hasn't gotten into a game all year - while senior FB Anthony Fossati is once again listed as the primary fullback though he went out of the Princeton game with an injury, being replaced by sophomore FB Bryce Arruda. It's worth seeing if Arruda gets the start on defense over Fossati, though Fossati, one of the strongest members of the team, will most certainly get the start if he's healthy.

Harvard's game notes can be found here.

Weather Report
Not the best possible forecast for a sophomore in his first start at quarterback: the weather report today is calling for isolated thunderstorms and a high in the low 70s. Lehigh fans have to be hoping that game time will be dry so he will put his best foot forward. Stay tuned.

A Word on Harvard
Two weeks ago Harvard's student newspaper tried to pull a fast one on the rest of the nation. (For some reason this reminds me of the economic mess we're still sort-of in, but I digress).

In that article that could have come out of The Onion, a certain Ms. Amor of the Harvard Crimson tried to paint Harvard as some sort of David to Holy Cross' Goliath in the Crusaders' thrilling 27-20 win over the Crimson. This is abjectly ridiculous; by any measure on this planet, Harvard is always by definition the Goliath, and especially so in football.

You can start with Harvard's endowment - measured in the billions, and the largest endowment of any school on the planet. As a result, Harvard can offer "full scholarships" to any student - which happens to include athletes - whose combined income is under $180,000 a year. No other school can come even close to offering this - certainly not Holy Cross.

Furthermore, it's not like Harvard has been a sister of the poor in Ivy League football under Tim Murphy. In the last seven years, Harvard has won at least seven games every single year, including one co-championship (last year) and three outright Ivy League championships including two undefeated seasons. Murphy's record as head coach is one anyone would drool over - 97-52, or a 62% winning percentage (with many of those losses coming in the 1990s).

Harvard's athletes are from all over the country, and frequently Murphy has out-recruited FBS schools to get them. His starting quarterback is from Oklahoma. In recent memory one of his quarterbacks transferred to LSU (yes, that LSU) where he would have a legitimate shot at becoming the starting QB.

What's next? A headline stating Massive Economic Screw-Up Not Caused by Harvard Grad? (Onion: Take note.)

Last Time Out for Harvard
In stark contrast to Lehigh's problems at quarterback, Harvard's signalcaller achieved the New England Football Writer’s Gold Helmet Award last week after Harvard held on to beat Brown 27-24. Under the lights at Harvard stadium, he accounted for all three Harvard touchdowns, completing 18 of 27 passes for 223 yards while also averaging 5.1 yards per carry rushing.

While their quarterback was getting all the accolades, worthy of mention is the defense who nabbed the game-winning interception, held Brown to 117 yards rushing, and sacked Brown junior QB Kyle Newhall three times. Harvard shows clear signs that they are still the team to beat in the Ivy League - as they seem to be every year.

LFN's Drink of the Week
It's come to this: in a completely misguided effort to try to break Lehigh's losing streak, I actually took the effort to look up the "Drink of the Week" that I wrote up prior to Lehigh's last faceoff against Harvard in 2007. And - just to pre-emptively answer the question that will arise as a result - yes, I believe that this actually can work. Otherwise I wouldn't have done it.

"I think the best possible drink for this day has to be something ... that shows the average Lehigh fan that they can show these stiff Ivy Leaguers how to host a party. The answer? Bloody Mary Lobster Shooters. The easy way is to mix 1 inch of poached lobster pieces in your portable blender, add Bloody Mary Mix and vodka, blend and enjoy on the rocks with a celery stick as a stirrer, but if you're more ambitious you can try to make a real one following these guidelines. My preference, of course, would be one not from mix, but instead heavy on the celery, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice."

As always, drinks of the week have a place in responsible tailgates: that means being over 21 and drinking responsibly. Please do that. And for God's sakes kill the lobsters before you get to Murray Goodman.

Breaking Down Harvard
Offense
Coach Tim Murphy, 3-5 lifetime vs. Lehigh, kills you on offense with all the options that he has available. The offense hasn't changed that much since the days that Dave Cecchini (Lehigh '91) was assistant coach here, with a balanced rushing and passing attack and a dizzying array of targets to throw to on offense. In the first two weeks of Harvard's season, the Crimson have discovered a brand-new way to move the ball down the field: with an extremely athletic, speedy quarterback that will pose problems for Lehigh on defense.

Junior QB Collier Winters, the 5'11 Oklahoman golden boy for the Crimson, gave no doubt that he's the heir apparent to last year's Ivy League player of the year QB Chris Pizzotti on the offense. He's acheived it as much with his feet (106 yards, to lead the Crimson) as with his arm (40 of 64, 448 yards passing, 4 TD, 0 INTs). He resembles Colgate junior QB Matt Sullivan in that he's fast, athletic, a great decision maker, and will unhesitatingly turn into a speedy running back at a moment's notice. Uncommonly for a quarterback in his first two games, he hasn't thrown an interception and has only turned over the ball once - fumbling after a sack in the Holy Cross game. He will be difficult to fool - and will need a spy at all times.

When Winters isn't running the ball, the Harvard rushing attack has two change of pace backs: junior RB Geno Gordon and senior RB Cheng Ho. Both are smallish, speedy backs that the Crimson seem to grow on trees: if a situation arises where "tough yards" are needed, Murphy will probably go to the senior. Like Winters, all are under six feet and rely on the ability to "disappear" behind a large offensive line to get yards.

Harvard has at their base offense a three-wideout set, and already seven different players have caught passes from Winters. The premier receiver is 6'6 senior WR Matt Luft, who despite his modst numbers so far this year (4 receptions, 50 yards, 1 TD) he poses all sorts of matchup problems for all of Harvard's opponents on defense due to his size and speed. 6'4 junior WR Chris Lorditch (14 receptions, 164 yards, 1 TD) has emerged as Winter's possession guy, and the General's son, 6'4 junior TE Nicolai Schwartzkopf (2 receptions, 38 yards, 1 TD) and 6'2 sophomore WR Adam Chrissis (8 catches, 65 yards) complete the receiving corps. Year in and year out, the Crimson have one of the best, deepest receiving corps in all of FCS.

The bad news doesn't stop there. A big, talented "O" line, led by NFL prospect senior OL James Williams and senior C Alex Spisak, both all-Ivy League picks last year, have only allowed 2 sacks and given Winters plenty of time to settle in and be a good decision maker.

Defense
As good as Harvard is offensively, on defense they are equally challenging to play against. The Crimson play a basic 4-3 defense, but then again they don't need to be fancy with the sort of athletes they have.

Senior DT Carl Elrich and junior DT Chucks Obi (pictured) have already combined for 13 tackles on the year, are a mammoth defensive tackle tandem that stuffs the middle well - it will be difficult to get tough, interior rushing yards against this tandem. Something to watch for as well are tipped passes on the "D" line - this front four gets their hands up and tip and bat down balls often.

When a back gets through the line, the linebacking unit traditionally has been outstanding hitting the gaps and getting tackles. This year, however, Harvard doesn't have the punishers they've had here in the past. So far this year, senior LB Nick Hassleberg (9 tackles) has been the best linebacker on this unit.

Harvard does have an ace in the hole, however, junior FS Colin Zych, who is the enforcer in the run game and leads the Crimson in tackles (with 14). The rest of the secondary, however, is fairly green - and hasn't nabbed an interception yet this year. Matter of fact, the whole defense has only forced one turnover in two games.

Special Teams
Senior K Patrick Long had a terrific leg last year, but hasn't been asked to do that much yet this year - he's made one field goal, a 29 yarder, so far. Freshman P Jacob Dombrowski so far has been a below-average punter, averaging 35.2 yards per punt.

Murphy has speedy junior CB/RS Matthew Hanson and junior WR/RS Marco Iannuzzi return kicks. While Harvard's punt returns have been nothing to write home about, their return game has been solid on kickoffs, averaging 20 yard per return and holding opponents to 15 yards per return.

Keys to the Game
1. Two hands on the football. The emphasis has to be this week to minimize mistakes. In order to stay in this game, Lehigh will need to hold onto the football and not kill drives with unforced errors from any position on the field. If they don't, Harvard has more than enough talent to make Lehigh pay for their mistakes.
2. Make a big play - or three. Having said that, it would be a huge plus if the Mountain Hawks could get a big play - from any unit, offense, defense or special teams - to get kick-started in the early going. In 2007, Lehigh won the game with a big strip-and-scoop for the game-winning touchdown - such big plays have been lacking for Lehigh since that game, and will need to return if Lehigh's going to make a run at a win here.
3. Spy Winters. Winters is too much of a weapon to run to give him space to take off. Senior LB Al Pierce and senior LB Troy Taylor will need to have their eye on him always, and will need to punish him if he does run with the football.
4. Field position game. One area where Lehigh may have an advantage over the Crimson is special teams. If Lehigh gets locked in a defensive battle, the return game of junior RS/DB Jarard Cribbs and junior DB/RS John "Fear Itself" Kennedy may play a huge role in giving Lehigh a great chance to win.

Fearless Prediction
If I'm pulling out my "LFN Drink of the Week" from 2007 for good luck, you know two things: 1) that I think Lehigh has had more than their share of bad luck in this early going, and 2) I think this is a really tough spot for Lehigh this week. (And 3) I'm crazy, of course.)

There are so many questions that Lehigh needs to answer this week. Will the quarterback change make a difference in the ability of the offense to make plays? Is Harvard, with their always-tough team, the best spot for an essentially brand-new quarterback to get his first start? Can Lehigh play a clean game with fewer errors? Most importantly, can Lehigh finally break the familiar script where they dig themselves in a hole early, battle back to almost retake the lead by the end of the game but just fall short?

The Mountain Hawks may be better, but there are too many questions to pick them to win this game. They'll be better - just not better enough to beat Harvard.

Lehigh 17, Harvard 23

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