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Know Your 2010 Opponents: "That School in Easton"

Picture this: you're a Patriot League team that was ranked in the Top 25 most of last year.  You've lost your starting quarterback to graduation - a guy who is playing professionally.  You have questions at quarterback, but you have an incredible receiving corps coming back - so why aren't we picked to finish first in the Patriot League?

Thought I was talking about Holy Cross?  Well, I was.  But I was also talking about Lafayette - a team who legitimately could make most of the same claims that the Crusaders have, with QB Rob Curley playing football overseas and a chip on their shoulders because they were picked 3rd.

In a way, though, it's much worse for the Leopards. Their last-gasp loss to Lehigh, the 27-21 overtime loss, has had nine months to fester. If you thought the size of the chip on Holy Cross' shoulder pads were big, wait until you see Lafayette's. (more)

"The players at Lafayette are still fuming over their overtime loss to Lehigh, which overshadowed the fact that the Leopards had a superior season overall than their rivals," notes the Easton Express-Times.  It's true.  The Leopards were 8-1 going into the last two weeks of the season - their only loss coming 19-13 to Liberty, a team that also spent time in the Top 25 - and had two heartwrenching losses on consecutive weeks.  First, the 28-26 nailbiter against Holy Cross that lost them the Patriot League championship.  Then, the overtime humiliation against their bitter rivals to clinch the fact that Lafayette wouldn't be practicing on Thanksgiving.

They're probably spent all offseason looking at the records.  Lehigh was 4-7.  4-7!  They were shut out at home against Yale.  Yale!  And lost to Princeton.  Princeton!  We dominated Yale and Harvard, and we we better than one of the nation's best defenses when we beat Penn 20-17.  And we lost to who?

Head coach Frank Tavani will certainly be a master at using this reality to motivate his team.  He always seems to be able to do so, and he returns plenty of players to allow him to do so.

But - just like Holy Cross - who replaces Curley?  If you believe all the reports, junior QB Ryan O'Neil is the man.  "At this point, Ryan has established himself as the starter coming out of spring," Tavani told the Express-Times. "He has had a very good camp and he's an outstanding athlete."

But then who was that Lafayette quarterback at Patriot League media day, then?  Why, that was senior QB Marc Quilling, who talked to media and also was mentioned by Tavani in the same article.  "Marc has the most game experience," he said. "And he's having his best camp ever. He's competing on a daily basis. Both kids are working hard."

The only thing that seems true is that both players will get time at quarterback this year.  It's possible that the Georgetown game - the Leopards' season opener on Sept. 11th, as they have a bye week this coming weekend - might be a live audition as to who should be the starter the rest of the way.

Both made their names throwing the ball - Quilling, in fact, made his name locally, at nearby Parkland in Allentown - but O'Neil strikes me as a bit more mobile than Quilling, who is more of a pocket passer.  I have no idea who will win the battle - but I'd guess that we'll see both Quilling and O'Neil in their opener.

Luckily for O'Neil and Quilling, they have some of the best receivers in the Patriot League to throw to.  Senior WR Mark Layton (838 yards receiving, 11 TDs) and senior WR Mitchell Bennett (596 yards, 4 TDs) are a formidable 1-2 punch when it comes to receiving.  Layton, a 5'8 speedster, in particular has made some preseason all-America teams and will certainly be a guy for opposing defenses to key on.  Add senior WR Nathan Padia (10 catches, 127 yards) and it's easy to see that the receiving corps will be the Leopards' great strength on offense.

After the receiving corps, though, Lafayette has some interesting questions to answer at tailback and on the offensive line.

Junior RB Jerome Rudolph, one part of the three-headed rushing monster offensive coordinator Mickey Fein used last year, returns - but backing him up is a largely unproven quantity in sophomore RB Vaughn Hebron (yes, he's the son of the former Eagles player).  Behind them?  It's possible we might see some true freshmen, like freshman RB Patrick Mputu  or freshman RB Marcellus Irving, in the mix.

And the "O" line isn't much more settled.  Starting junior OL Anthony Buffollino returns - one of two juniors starting in the trench for the Leopards.  Only two senior offensive linemen are on the roster - meaning there will be a lack of experience starting out.  Though freshman OL Andrew Anastor - a very large, 305 lb transfer from Northeastern - is a guy who looks like he can come in right away and make a difference.

Defensively, it's obvious the man of the hour is going to be senior LB Mike Schmidlein (100 tackles, 2 sacks) in defensive coordinator John Loose's 4-3 defense.  Senior LB Nate Dixon and junior LB Ben Eaton look like they will step into vacant linebacker spots without too much trouble: Lafayette isn't "Linebacker U.", but it's awful close.

But with the graduation of NG Andrew Poulson and DT Ian Dell, who will take their place on the defensive line?  Senior DE Doug Gerowski (25 tackles, 2 sacks) and senior DT Michael Phillips (20 tackles, 1 sack) return on the "D" line, but Poulson's and Dell's large shoes need to be filled.  Sophomore DT Tahir Basil and senior DE Lewis Irving seem to be the favorites to fill in, but they are unproven commodities.

The secondary will feature a pair of players that share a last name but are unrelated: team captain senior SS Donald Ellis (26 tackles, 1 interception) and junior CB Brandon Ellis (53 tackles, 2 interceptions) patrolling the secondary.

There are plenty of names to worry about on this defense.  It's not very hard to imagine all this talent gelling, and the chip on their shoulders getting bigger and bigger - all the way to the weekend before Thanksgiving.


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