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Game Preview: Lehigh at Fordham

(Photo courtesy Five Boro Sports)

Winning against sub-.500 teams. A blowout loss to a CAA opponent. Coming up oh-so-close to Holy Cross and Colgate, but falling just short. A description of Lehigh's football season? It could just as easily been a description of Fordham's as well.

Before the season started, Fordham looked like a team that could put things together and make a run at the Patriot League title. They had a QB that was getting NFL looks. Their defensive captain was only two years removed from his pick of Holy Cross senior QB Dominic Randolph to preserve their (near) worst-to-first Patriot League championship in 2007. Like Lehigh, they had horses. They just needed to have them all working together.

The Rams started out the year in disarray, with a 41-28 loss to Rhode Island and a 40-28 loss to their "Liberty Cup" rival Columbia. Turnovers were the name of those games, and seemed to portend a season on struggle rather than a run at the title.

After a tough 20-12 loss to Colgate in a rainstorm, the Rams pulled off three straight wins against Old Dominion, Bryant and Cornell - quite frankly, expected wins against not exactly a murderer's row. Then, two more "moral victory/losses" against Lafayette and Holy Cross - nearly knocking off "that school in Easton", falling 26-21, and hanging tough against the Crusaders 41-27. Only a 21-7 win against Bucknell last week stopped the skid and gave the Rams their first Patriot League win of the year.

Like Lehigh, Fordham is playing for pride at this point - and more NFL interest with their starting quarterback. It's senior day in the Bronx, and they'll be quite interested in avenging their 45-23 loss in last year's game at Murray Goodman.

In a couple weeks, the thoughts on Fordham, football scholarships and graduation of what may be considered Fordham's last football class using the old Patriot League grant-in-aid model will certainly be the topic of conversation. But for now, it's about finishing the year on a winning note, beating an old rival and going into the offseason on a positive note.

That could apply to Lehigh, too.

Game Notes
This week's game notes don't show much change from last week on offense, but of concern is the defensive side of the house. Sophomore LB Colin Newton and senior LB Al Pierce won't make the trip to the Bronx, which means - surprise - more time for the underclasmen. Taking Newton's place on the outside will be sophomore LB Tanner Rivas and junior DB/LB Casey Eldemire, while sophomore LB Devin Greene will plug in for Pierce inside. Lehigh's depth at LB has been amazing this year - even though it's been a M*A*S*H unit, we've been basically intact in the front seven.

Fordham's game notes are available here.

Weather Report
In the Bronx this weekend, prepare for rain. Lots of it. Right now it looks like a high of 56 with rainfall of a quarter inch is in the offing. Pack a poncho.

A Word on Fordham
You would think that playing in the unofficial Media Capital of the World would mean that the Rams would have tons of media coverage. You might think there would be dozens of reporters at their practices, and (like in Philadelphia) there would be a weekly press conference covering all the Division I football teams in the area, perhaps occurring at Dominc's down the street. (no relation to Mr. Randolph, who hails from Ohio.)

If you thought that, though, you'd be wrong. In a media market dominated by two pro baseball teams, two pro football teams, two pro hockey teams and one pro basketball team, Fordham struggles for any sort of coverage even from their own school newspaper. Normally, with a genuine NFL prospect on the team, it would make sense to bring him to Patriot League media day; knowing that none of the NYC media would attend, he didn't show.

Aside from the annual Liberty Cup game versus Columbia (which, admittedly, gets covered by the New York Times and is covered generally by at least one of the bigger daily newspapers in New York), Fordham games generally escape strong media scrutiny. With an NFL prospect in the fold this year it has been only slightly more of an exception. This may work to Fordham's disadvantage at times.

LFN's Drink of the Week
A wet day in the Bronx calls for a "Bronx Iced Tea": rum, cointreau, vodka, tequila, gin, lemon juice & cola. One will make you forget the rain; two, well, I don't know anyone who's been able to polish off two.

As always with LFN's "Drinks of the Week", they're meant to be consumed responsibly, which means be over 21 and don't die drinking them.

Breaking Down Fordham
Fordham's offense has described as a "run-and-shoot" sort of offense, but I'd call it more of a multiple/spread offense. Strictly speaking, there is no tight end (instead there are "W", "X", "Y" and "Z" receivers), but each have different, multiple functions. The "Y" functions mainly as a tight end, but also doubles up as a running fullback in certain situations. The "W", "X", and "Z" slots can be considered recievers, and ones that spread the field - but, again, they can also be brought back on reverses as well. Generally speaking, this offense won't be afraid to go right at your weakness - and it has the flexibility to attack it either way.

It's a complicated offense, but NFL pro prospect senior QB Josh Skelton (pictured) has been running it for quite some time now. The Texan is mobile in the pocket - making him an effective weapon running out of the spread, with 180 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground. He's also been an accurate passer out of this offense, too, throwing at a 64% completion rate - many of which are of the short "bubble screen" variety to good old W, X, and Z. This year Skelton has also been showcasing his incredible physical abilities too, stretching the field with passes. The Fordham offense goes through him.

Junior RB Xavier Martin has been the #1 rushing threat out of the backfield again (664 yards rushing, 6 TDs). At 5'9 180 he's built for speed, and if he gets past the front seven he can be a threat to break one. Sophomore RB Darryl Whiting is the change-of-pace physical back (6'3, 221) that comes in to spell Martin (439 yards, 4 TD). Both have a few receptions out of the backfield, but are mostly asked to run rather than catch.

The go-to guy in this receiving corps is Mr. S, junior WR Jason Caldwell (61 catches, 938 yards, 8 TDs). The "Y/Tight End" is played by the quarterback's brother, junior WR Stephen Skelton, who has really come into his own this year (601 yards, 5 TDs). Skelton at 6'5 causes particular nightmares underneath for defensive coordinators, and any one of the other lettered backs, like senior WR Asa Lucas (521 yards, 2 TDs) and junior WR David Moore (415 yards, 2 TDs) also can pose problems.

The "O" line is way bigger than last year, with three 300 lb big boys on the line: Senior OL Frank Rizzo, senior OL Andrew Tyshovnytsky and freshman OL Robert Kubacki.

Fordham plays a base 3-4 defense like Lehigh's, but their fronts do a lot more blitzing than our units have done traditionally. This is reflected in their sack totals (10 sacks in 4 games), and their tackles for loss totals (34 for 154 yards lost). They come after you.

In some defensive lines the nose tackle is unsung, but not so Fordham's. Senior NG Darzell Wright is a strong 310 lb behemoth that is a good run stuffer - think William "The Refrigerator" Perry, a player that plugs one and a half gaps. He has 29 tackles on the year - but 5 1/2 of them are tackles for loss.

Fordham's linebacking unit remains formidable, as long as senior LB James Crockett (58 tackles) is patrolling to outside. In the inside, junior LB Clifton Stuckey (51 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery) has emerged as a good inside backer as well. Junior LB Nicholas Mageria (57 tackles) is also a face to watch as well.

The secondary also has some real great athletes.: junior CB Jamal Haruna, senior FS Isiejah Allen (2 pass breakups), and junior Isa Abdul El-Quddus (3 interceptions). It's worthy of note that these defensive backs, with the exception of El-Quddus, are all 6 feet tall or under.

Special Teams
For the second straight yeat, Masella is going with a freshman at punter. Freshman P Patrick Murray has done a simply awesome job far, averaging an eye-popping 45.5 yards per punt on the year. He's a definite weapon for the Rams in the battle of field position.

In contrast, freshman K Kevin Heinowicz has a terrific leg - but is only 5/11 on the year, and is 25/30 on extra points. He's got the sort of leg to stick around a while, but in a close game you have to wonder if he can get that big FG to win the game.

Freshman RS Zach Crosby and junior RS Daryl Hamilton are a solid tandem returning kicks, and senior WR Asa Lucas is a very good punt returner too, though none have broken one for a touchdown yet this year.

Keys to the Game
1.Give Clark time. This Ram defense defines itself by being a disruptive force, so the ability of our "O" line to give Clark the time he needs to make things happen will be crucial. That extra second, I think, will really do wonders.
2.Don't give Skelton time. You can't cover all the offensive receivers every down - but you can pressure Skelton to make tougher throws. If Skelton has time to pick apart the linebackers and secondary in pass coverage, that won't be a good sign.
3.Momentum. A win here for Lehigh shifts the momentum going into "The Rivalry" - erasing the tough stretch of losses that has so far defined the season. Lehigh fans don't care if it's 6-3 or 36-33 - as long as Lehigh puts it in the win column. Style points don't count. Just Win, Baby.

Fearless Prediction
Say what you want about Lehigh, but the Mountain Hawks know the importance of winning the game before "that school in Easton". They've won eleven straight games the second weekend in November (and the game they lost in 1997 wasn't exactly a cakewalk - a 24-19 defeat to Delaware).

Some teams quit after being out of the Patriot League race, but this team doesn't strike me in that way. This team has fought hard through the losses, trying to find answers to questions. And with the biggest game yet to play for, the players know they need to win this one to get to next weekend.

They don't know what they'll get next weekend: either the Leopards will be Patriot League champs, or they'll be 8-2 and will need to beat Lehigh to have a prayer at making the playoffs as an at-large team. But they do know they need to win this weekend to have a chance, and I think the hard work will pay off handsomely with a win here. Win here, and go into "The Rivalry" guns blazing.

Lehigh 31, Fordham 17


Anonymous said…
I see a close game that Lehigh loses, again. A two win season will force the Lehigh administration to "consider" letting Andy go, but in the end, this feel good PC crowd will feel pity for the guy and his staff and re-up their contracts.

It's change we can believe in.
Anonymous said…
Naaaaaaa. We win this one by 2 TD's. Fordham is weak up front.
Anonymous said…
That had to be up there with one of the ugliest, yet entertaining games I have ever had the chance to witness.

Their QB is as much as a Pro prospect as our's. Not!

Give the D credit, but come on......

The PL has taken a back seat to many D3 teams I've watchedthis season.

What a shame, but you still cant convince me it's about scholarships, I think maybe the budget is way to tight to recruit and attract good coaching.

I didn't count the number of turnovers in this game butit was almost comical.

Anyway, I guess at this point in the downward spiral of LU football Coen will take whatever he gets in an attempt to hang on to his job.
Anonymous said…
Anonymous said...

"...but you still cant convince me it's about scholarships, I think maybe the budget is way to tight to recruit and attract good coaching."

Look around at the assistant coaching talent LU has lost since 1999. Many are coordinators or head coaches elsewhere, proving your point. The pay stinks so they go elsewhere. Attracting good young coaches is a crapshoot... sometimes you get a really good one, sometimes you don't.

I say coaching is the problem at Lehigh and have not heard a single word from any of these bloggers proving I am wrong.

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