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Game Preview: Yale at Lehigh

(Photo courtesy the New Haven Register)

Forget, for a moment, that Lehigh is 1-3 going into this game. Forget, too, that the Mountain Hawks' only win so far is against Georgetown. Also, forget that 2-2 Yale is very similar to Lehigh in a lot of ways - they've beaten a common opponent (the Hoyas) and struggled against decent Patriot League and Ivy competition.

There's a key bit of pride that Lehigh needs to play for. It's something you're probably not even aware of: a trophy.

In 2006, the Lehigh/Yale series got a trophy. Called the "Yank Townsend Trophy", named after the only Yankee (i.e., student from Connecticut) who was in the Lehigh class of 1895. After graduating, he would relocate to New Haven to be close to the rest of his family, where he would design many buildings and residences and cement his legacy for generations.

Yank's descendants sponsored the trophy to be presented to the winner of this game. It's a cool way to link these two historic schools, linked by academics and tradititon, a constant reminder to the history and football traditions of both schools - and in the first two meetings since the trophy was established, Yale won both times. Easily.

It's now 2009, and the trophy is back. It may not be the most well-known trophy - but to the Mountain Hawks, it should signify much more than Lehigh/Yale series, too.

It was started the year after Lehigh's last playoff appearance in 2005. It was the beginning of not playing in the playoffs; losing championships to "that school in Easton", and two years of games where the second weekend of November was just a tune-up to the Big Game, not key clashes en route to the Patriot League championship and a trip to Delaware in the playoffs.

Would winning the trophy usher in these days once again? Not by itself. But the trophy could be a symbol of what Lehigh needs to be in order to be Patriot League champions. The teams that won Patriot League championships and made runs in the playoffs won games like this.

A win here would help put the tough start to the season even further in the past. Next week's game against Bucknell - technically - is vital to the Mountain Hawks' chances to win the Patriot League, and this game, against Yale for the Yank Townsend trophy, is not. But having the trophy here after this weekend could mean a lot, lot more for this Lehigh squad than outsiders might think - something that can be seen, a tangible token that Lehigh is winning and getting better.

Game Notes
The game notes show some interesting reshuffles on defense. Senior DT B.J. Benning is now listed as the starter at nose guard, while sophomore DE Cody Connare and sophomore DE Andrew Knapp are listed as starters on the "D" line. Sophomore LB Colin Newton has been moved from the nickel-back role to outside linebacker, opposite senior LB Matt Cohen. Clearly Newton has impressed in the first half of the season, and to me it seems like a good move. Sliding into Newton's nickel role is freshman DB Bryan Andrews, who has impressed coach Coen since the beginning (and, for good measure, blocked a punt last weekend.)

Junior RB Jaren Walker has displaced sophomore RB Matt Fitz as the backup to junior RB Jay Campbell. Walker is rumored to not be 100%, so again it would not be a surprise to see Fitz or freshman RB Zach Barket to get some touches as well.

Yale's game notes can be found here.

Weather Report
A chance of snow? Believe it: though the forecast calls for rain on Saturday, it's not difficult to picture snow happening on a day that will probably feel a lot more like the third weekend in November rather than homecoming. The only thing for sure is that there will be rain - a lot of it - with accumulations near 1/2 an inch and 10 to 20 mph wins. Bring your umbrellas.

This could be Lehigh's first bad weather game of the year, and it's worth pondering what that might mean.

A Word on Yale
Yale has a pretty high bar for first-time coaches - try Walter Camp, grandfather of college football, owner of a 13-0 record and a paper national championship in 1888. While first-time head coach Tom Williams already fell short of that (admittedly ridiculous) bar - at 2-2, Williams isn't exactly satisfied yet, wither with his team. Coming as an assistant for the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars, Williams got the nod after Holy Cross head coach Tom Gilmore and (then) UMass head coach Don Brown turned it down.

Last Time Out
“It feels good to win, but it really feels good when the guys earn it," Williams told the media after their 38-7 shellacking of winless Dartmouth. "The last couple weeks we haven’t earned victories because we’ve done things that have caused us to not win. To go out and play a fairly complete game was something I think our team needed for our confidence, but also to show what we’re capable of doing when we play the way we’re capable of playing.”

LFN's Drink of the Week
It's cold, it's wet, and it's Yale. Only one drink can keep you warm and get your ready for the game: that's peppermint Schnapps and hot chocolate, one thing that my friends Greg and Ginny make that has kept me alive through many a "Rivalry". Seeing as this weekend is promising to be Rivalry-like weather, it's worth pulling out the Schnapps a month early in this special case.

As always, "Drinks of the week" have a place in responsible tailgates. Please drink responsibly. Don't make me come out there and beat you up myself.

Breaking Down Yale
This team couldn't be more different than the run-happy, senior-"O" Lined team that beat Lehigh in 2006 and 2007. That team had a dominating RB, Mike McLeod, and a team geared towards giving him as many yards as possible. This year's top running back has as fewer yards in four games that McLeod had in some games, meaning that the Eli have become much more of a passing team.

Coach Williams started the year trying to find a way to play both his quarterbacks, Nebraska transfer sophomore QB Patrick Witt and junior QB Brook Hart, but it was Hart that played the entire way against the Big Green and appears to have locked up the starting position right now. Both are not going to set the world on fire with their mobility, but Hart's numbers against Dartmouth - 28 of 40, with 3 touchdowns - are enough to deserve Lehigh's respect. Of particular note is the deep passing game, which is what killed Dartmouth - 14 pass plays of 10 yards or more, including a 73 yard strike.

On the other end of these passes are senior TE John Sheffield (248 yards, 1 TD) and junior WR Jordan Forney (173, 3 TD). Add to this speedy freshman WR Chris Smith (168 yards, 1 TD) and you have a dangerous trio of receivers that Hart can target. Covering Sheffield underneath, who is more of an H-back than a tight end, would seem to be a priority to disrupt Hart. Senior TE A.J. Haase has also been a target in goalline situations, too.

When they do run the ball, Williams has split the carries between senior RB Jordan Farrell (219 yards, 3 touchdowns) and freshman RB Mordecai Cargill (120 yards). Freshman FB Jordan Capellino has thus far only been a blocking fullback.

Yale's "O" line may not be the same unit as 2008, but they are still an awfully tough bunch. Senior OL Cory Palmer is 6'6, 305 lbs and most certainly will get NFL looks, and sophomore C Gabriel Fernandez hails from Hawai'i and transferred from UCLA to play for Willaims. Like in 2007, this "O" line will be a big physical test for our front seven.

Like Lehigh, Williams plays a 3-4 defense that is aggressive. They scrapped the 4-2-5 that the Bulldogs used to play under Jack Sidlecki, so they are still adjusting to the new realities. They have responded extremely well, however, holding teams to 261 yards per game.

6'6 senior DT Tom McCarthy headlines a very large Yale "D" line. Interior rushing won't be easy: this line only is allowing 70 rushing yards per game, and with the huge line it's no surprise.

Three seniors headline the linebacking unit: senior LB Paul Rice (24 tackles, 3 tackles for loss), senior LB Tim Handlon (22 tackles, 2 interceptions) and senior LB Travis Henry, who has been injured in the early going. This is a deep, senior laden unit that will keep the Bulldogs in games.

Senior FS Larry Abare fills out the defense (29 tackles), the twin brother of LB Bobby Abare who graduated last year. In the first four games of the year, Yale has had five interceptions, two from junior CB Adam Money, one against Lafayette and another versus Georgetown. Overall this is a solid defense that isn't easy to score against.

Special Teams
Senior P/K Tom Mante was first-team all-Ivy last year, and he's shown flashes of that this year too: hitting 11/11 extra points, with 4-6 on FGs and two 50 yarders to his credit already, there's no doubt that he will get in a NFL free agent camp next year. He's not a bad punter either, with a 39.5 average in four games this year.

Freshman WR Chris Smith is a fixture on both the punt and kickoff return units, where he has a 3.4 and 23.1 yard average, respectively. Unproven senior RB Ricky Galvez will join him on the other side returning kickoffs this week.

Keys to the Game
1.Ground Lehigh. In bad weather, the key will be running the ball. Junior RB Jay Campbell will need the "O" line to win the battle in the trench and spring him free for some big gains. If Campbell has another 100 yard day, and junior RB Jaren Walker, freshman QB Michael Colvin and freshman RB Zach Barket combine for a nice 200 yards rushing, we're going to win this game.
2.Getting rid of the safety valve. Senior LB Al Pierce and senior LB Troy Taylor will have to be on the lookout for Sheffield in the middle. Get rid of Hart's safety valve when he does pass, and we should be well on our way to disrupting the flow of Yale's offense.
3.Momentum. So far, Lehigh has had a bad habit of going one step bacckwards after one step forward on offense: a big penalty after a big 20 yard gain, or an interception right after a big play to get into the red zone. Starting now, it has to be all forward. Mistakes will happen, but the momentum needs to be forward. Always.

Fearless Prediction
What an enigma. You could make a case that Lehigh could have a 2-2 record (at least) if they had Yale's schedule, while Yale would be no better than 2-2 with Lehigh's schedule as well. How much has Lehigh improved? How far along is Yale in Year One of the Williams era? So many questions...

On a perfect day, it would be tempting to take Yale, but Lehigh's ability to establish the ground game may be what pays dividends this weekend. In rain and wind, Lehigh's backs are in a better position to make hay than Yale's at this point - provided, of course, that Lehigh can keep the mistakes down and play with emotion and unity of purpose? Will they?

Lehigh 12, Yale 9


Anonymous said…
Let's Find another QB to throw in there! this guy keeps grasping for straws.

It amazes me when we try to throw down field and have no success, but these guys keep going back to it, instead of the short pick plays and quick hitters.

When is someone gong to get rid of this guy and put us out of our misery?
Anonymous said…
I think they want him to put some more negative records on the books, so the next guy cant possibly look as bad.
allen said…
this game was a joke. no offence
lehigh absolutely should have won, defense played their hearts out
it was criminal to go for the field goal, should have gone for the touchdown. if that failed, yale would have been on the 10 yard line instead of the 20
Anonymous said…
I think the natives are finally getting restless and calling for Andy's head.

I feel sorry for the kids that have had to spend the best 4 years of their lives playing for this guy.

I think LU should give all these kids a full ride for the last few years. It wont give them their last 4 years back, but at least it will make up for all of their hard work after this coaching staff and the administration let them down.
Anonymous said…
Before the season, I said they would go 3-8.

I stand corrected.

Unless they catch Bucknell on an off-day, Lehigh will not win another game this year.

We have retreated back to the days of the mid-60s when Fred Dunlap inherited a bare cupboard.

Major overhaul is needed. And we will hear calls for more patience with a new coach.

Anonymous said…
Next week's drink of the week: hemlock
Anonymous said…
well the cupboard is seriously bar for the next coach, so hope you let him have the same amount of time this guy got and please dont bring back guys that have left for more of the same. How about new blood with absolutely no previous ties to the university.
Anonymous said…
Andy Coen is the Mike Cooley of his day. For those of you too young to remember, Mike Cooley came in back in the sixties to take over as head coach and he followed a lendary winner, Bill Leconby. Cooley immediately managed to bring the program down to new lows. The got rid of him and brought in Fred Dunlap, who inherited a dispirited program; he slowly built it up froma winless team in the mid sixties to the point where he had them winning Lambert Cups, dominating Lafayette, producing All Amricans and pro football talent and oh yes - a strong enough platform that the program won a National Championship in DII in 1977. In short, the right guy can rehab a program and set it on a course for great things. Since Fred left (BTW, Joe Sterrett played for him) Lehigh has had great quarterbacks, terrific, imaginitive offense and a winning tradition others envied.

Right now, we are back to 1963-64. As was the case back then, it is time to shoe this coach the door and rebuild. It's never too late, if you find the right coach. Holy Cross, Colgate and Lafayette have done it, and LU can too.

Joe? Are you listening?
Anonymous said…
This is 10:41 - - -ans I apologize for spelling errors. I am so ***king pissed off right no, I cannot see straight!\
Anonymous said…
Does anybody know how the head coach's salary compares to the rest of the PL?

It used to be the lowest (before Georgetown entered).

If Lehigh is still paying bargain-basement salary for the HC, that is what talent level they will get.

Food for thought......

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