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Game Preview: Bucknell at Lehigh, 10/23/2010

(Photo Credit: Bison Athletics)

When the Bison hired Joe Susan away from Rutgers this offseason to replace Tim Landis, they were looking to change history in Lewisburg.

A recent history that included: no Patriot League title since 1997, the Tom Gadd years. No postseason FCS playoff appearances. Three straight years of losing records. And seven out of eight consecutive years where the offense didn't score as many points as the defense relinquished.

It also includes another ignominious historical record for the Bison - twelve straight losses to Lehigh. Since beating Lehigh 21-14 in that title year of 1997, Bucknell hasn't beaten the Brown & White since. Most haven't even been close. In their last seven meetings, Lehigh has scored 30 or points in every single contest.

It's Homecoming for Lehigh, and the Mountain Hawks are coming off a heartening 21-19 win at Harvard. They'll be faced by a rebuilding Bison team that will almost certainly count this as their Super Bowl. (more)

What's important to consider for Lehigh are two records going into this game: 0-0, 1-0, and 0-0.

The first 0-0 is Lehigh's conference record in the Patriot League this year. As heartening as Lehigh's record has been in their the "theatre of pain" schedule that was the toughest in recent memory, the real record, for all practical purposes, of the Mountain Hawks is 0-0. Going 5-0 in the next five weeks is the only way to ensure a Patriot League title - and football practice on Thanksgiving, in order to play in the FCS playoffs.

The 1-0 is Bucknell's conference record in the Patriot League this year. Even though they're 1-5 and have endured growing pains, the truth remains that they need to win only four games to win the Patriot League title for themselves. They believe as much in the dream of a Patriot League title as Lehigh does. They'll pull out all the stops to do it - and reversing an eleven game winning streak could put the Bison on track to win the Patriot League. That's their plan, and it's up to Lehigh to stop it.

Finally, the last 0-0 is Bucknell head coach Joe Susan's record against Lehigh. All that history, all those gameplans against Tim Landis's triple option attack, get thrown in the dumpster. This is Joe's team now. It's a new beginning for the Bison, and a brand new playbook. It would be folly to assume that last year's gameplan will work this time around.

This game means more to Lehigh than games against the national champions, Harvard or anyone else. This game counts. And this Lehigh team will have to compete in this game as if it counts if they hope to win.

Game Notes
The game notes show that senior OL Keith Schauder, who didn't make the trip to Cambridge last weekend with a leg injury, will not be starting this week on the "O" line, which means senior OL R.J. McNamara will be starting instead, with junior OL Stephen Ganoe backing him up. Another senior, senior TE Alex Wojdowski, will also not be starting for the second straight week. Despite getting dinged up at Harvard last weekend, junior TE Mark Wickware, happily, is recovered from his injury and will start again this weekend.

Junior LB Colin Newton, who has only been in spot duty the last two weeks, reclaims his starting position at outside linebacker this week. And freshman FB Sean Farrell continues to start for senior FB Bryce Arruda, who is still nursing an injury but is Farrell's backup on the two deep this weekend.

In the media luncheon, coach Coen said that senior KR/CB John "Prez" Kennedy has a leg injury that is a "week-to-week" thing.

All things considered, there were no real new injuries sustained at the Harvard game - just continuations of other injuries from previous weeks. Let's hope that Lehigh gets through this game injury-free as well - that would be a huge help the rest of the way.

Weather Report
Once again, it looks like Lehigh will be blessed with some very nice weather, this time at Homecoming. While - yes - it's fall, a partly cloudy day with a high of 56 points to a perfect afternoon for tailgating at Murray Goodman - and homecoming activities. Should be a great time.

A Word on Bucknell
Coach Susan entered the year with two huge blows right off the bat. First, QB C.J. Hopson, the starting signalcaller from the previous three years, became academically ineligible and transferred to a D-II school, leaving coach Susan a choice between a true freshman and a junior that had only played in mop-up duty - once - in his first two years.

The next blow was that LB A.J. Pompliano, an Iraq War veteran expected to be a big contributor this year, blew out his ACL and is out for the year. (Word is that he may be deployed in Afghanistan again after his leg heals, which means he'll be doing something more important than football after he heals.)

Given those obstacles, it's easy to see how Bucknell might have struggled out of the gate so far this year. But despite the record, don't underestimate Susan's no-nonsense attitude making a difference in the Bison, because it clearly has.

Two weeks ago, many folks did not give the Bison much of a chance against defending Ivy League champion Penn - but the Bison battled hard in that game early, and jumped out to an early 7-3 lead before the Quakers settled in and beat them 31-10.

And last week against Georgetown - you can see the highlights at this link - Bucknell's constant battling got them coach Susan's first win as Bucknell head coach.

(Note: That fight song sounds awfully familiar...)

LFN's Drink of the Week
Nothing says homecoming vs. the Bison like a nice Black Bison. It couldn't be easier to make - three parts cola, one part vodka - and I'd personally add a splash of lemon to make this a refreshing, pregame treat.

As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you behave yourself, don't get behind the wheel while impaired (or worse), and are over 21. Please do that. (And, to the fine tooth-decaying, obesity-creating folks at Coca Cola? Call me.)

Breaking down Bucknell
Offense
Bucknell's offense may not be the triple option that we had become accustomed to seeing, but it's still been a fairly conservative affair so far this year, with a balance that tilts towards the run. By all measures, they've struggled, but they've also showed some promise.

That promise has manifested itself in freshman QB Brandon Wesley, who has done a decent job after being rushed into the starting position from the get-go. At 6'2 178 lbs, he has good height, good feet (199 yards rushing, 1 TD) and has steadily improved every week throwing the football (1 TD, 0 interceptions in his last two starts). He's won a couple Patriot League Freshman of the Week honors, but he's still extremely raw and should be able to be forced into bad decisions.

Wesley's great strength is to make something out of a broken play. Against Georgetown, he took a certain sack and made it into a huge gainer, using his speed and vision to make something happen. He's a talented kid - it's no wonder why he's the starter.

The rest of the youthful rushing attack is spearheaded by 5'9 sophomore RB Tyler Smith (212 yards rushing, 1 TD) and freshman FB Travis Friend (38 yards rushing, 1 TD). Smith would have to be considered the "star" on this offense, but both backs are definite options to catch the ball out of the backfield, especially in designed screens but also over the middle as well (34 catches, 187 yards, 1 TD combined), so that is something that ought to be looked at closely. Friend is 6'2 230 lbs, making him a solid fullback, but 6'1 240 lb sophomore TE Terna Ityokumbul has also come in at fullback as well, so it wouldn't be a surprise to see him back there at H-back, either. So far, Ityokumbul has only been a blocking back, but a big one.

(Highly touted sophomore RB Jeremiah Young has not played much this year - mostly thanks to Smith - but don't be surprised if coach Susan brings him in this Saturday at some point. In high school, he wrecked Western PA, played in the "Big 33" all star game and was thought by many to be better than sophomore RB Zach Barket - but a knee injury sustained in the "Big 33" game sidelined him his entire freshman year. Apparently now he's healthy, and could see time this weekend.)

Freshman WR Victor Walker (247 yards, 1 TD), junior WR Gabe Skwara (95 yards passing), senior WR Marlon Woods (39 yards receiving) and junior WR Frank DeNick (197 yards) are Bucknell's receiving corps, though none have really broken out and had a big game so far this year.

Part of Bucknell's problem has been a young "O" line that has needed to adjust from the triple-option days to a brand-new offensive set that features a more balanced attack. Senior OL Jason Vollmar is the "old man" on a smallish line that features a lot of juniors. Junior TE Paul Gatto has some receptions at TE, but his main task is to block. So far, Bucknell's "O" line has allowed three sacks a game, on average - which has to be music to Lehigh defensive coordinator Dick Kotulski's ears, even if he was a one-time head coach of the Bison.

Defense
A brief experiment with the 3-4 last year ended officially with the return of junior DE Josh Eden from his two year Mormon mission. Now, a base 4-3 is Susan's defense and with the former all-league player back in the fold, Bucknell has some strong athletes to run it.

The 6'4, 265 lb Eden is the heart and soul of this defense, with 6 tackles for loss (including 3 sacks) and 31 tackles, including 19 solo tackles. Rounding out the unit is junior DT Robert de la Rosa (2 tackles for loss), senior NG Kyle Boline (14 tackles, 1 sack) and senior DE Tyler Anderson (26 tackles, 3 tackles for loss). This front four is a very, very solid unit, with Eden, a potential NFL prospect, anchoring the line. The trench battle this weekend here should be interesting.

The linebacking unit is also solid, with senior LB Travis Nissley (28 tackles) and the hero of last weekend's game vs. Georgetown, junior LB Sean Rafferty, whose interception return for a TD was the difference in that game. There isn't one guy on this front seven that is a tackle machine - they all get equal time tackling for the most part.

The Bison secondary has not been very good this year so far, with freshman FS Derrick Palmer with the unit's only interception this year. Senior SS Rob Gerlach has been a hard hitter and tackler, but with this unit being the 72nd-rated pass effeciency defense in all of FCS, this would be a golden opportunity for Lehigh's pass offense to get on track.

Special Teams
This unit has been a true bright spot for the Bison, with sophomore RB Tyler Smith leading the Patriot League so far in kickoff returns (548 yards, including 1 TD). Junior CB Bryce Robertson averages 5 yards per punt return as well, so Lehigh's kickoff and punt return units need to be clicking to prevent these guys from becoming weapons.

Freshman PK Alex Eckard appears to have won the placekicking job from junior PK Drew Orth, and the frosh is 2 for 4 on FG attempts (including 1 of 3 last week in windy conditions vs. Georgetown). Sophomore P Ryan Gutowski is a decent punter, averaging 37 yards per boot.

LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Extraordinary Teams. Lehigh's kick and punt return units need to be on high alert this weekend: the Bison have enjoyed a solid special-teams game, and giving up a score with these teams could go a long way towards having the Bison making this a game. Shutting down their units - and maybe scoring a kickoff or punt return ourselves for a TD - would go a long way towards making a happy Homecoming.
2. Use the Pass to Set Up the Run. The Bison defense - actually quite solid vs. the run - could be softened up with some brisk passing to start the game. I'd like to see some crisp Lum-to-Drwal and Lum-to-Zurn connections to set things up for senior RB Jay Campbell to do some damage down the road.
3. Forced Errors. The Bison are a young offense, and if Lehigh's pass rush can force Wesley into making errors this will be a good day for Lehigh. It's a league game, and Lehigh is 0-0, so there's no reason to hold back.

LFN's Fearless Prediction
It's homecoming. Lehigh has historically dominated Bucknell for the better part of the decade. Does that mean Lehigh can cruise to victory? Absolutely not.

It's 0-0 for Lehigh. It's a cliche, but this is a must-win for the Mountain Hawks if they hope to win the Patriot League title. If they look ahead, they will potentially lose this game.

The key for Lehigh is - Lehigh. Will they come out and play Lehigh football? Execute better than they did last week? Will the offense put together two halves? Can senior OL Will "Got Your Back" Rackley and the offensive line contain Bucknell's very good defensive front seven? Can Lehigh's defense keep from giving up big plays?

I think they will. It's hard to say how much that Harvard win meant to this team last weekend, giving Lehigh a two game winning streak and - if they win this weekend - guaranteeing coach Coen a winning record this year, something Lehigh hasn't done for the past three years. But I think it meant a lot - and that momentum will serve Lehigh well this weekend.

Lehigh 34, Bucknell 6

Comments

Douglas said…
First off... That Bucknell video was pretty embarassing for a Div 1 prestige university to have.. My goodness...

second... how can you think that Lehigh will only score 14??? That team looked pretty poor.. I know Lehigh seems to have to live on defense but that's against better teams... I have a feeling that they'll do better than 14... I see a pretty one-sided game.
van said…
Hey Doug, check again, that's 34 not 14.

And my comment would be, you really think our O can score 34 on anybody?
Anonymous said…
Hey Van you should probably check the Princeton score....

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