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Sunday's Word: Boiling

Back in March, when the thoughts of most Lehigh students involved either spending even more time in the library or the NCAA tournament, this years' Lehigh football players, far away from the fall spotlight, chose the theme of their upcoming season.

The theme was "212 degrees".

"That's the 'boiling' point of water," head coach Andy Coen told Keith Groller of The Morning Call at that time. "The thought is that you want to heat up and when you get to 212 degrees, you boil and you can do some special things. I think they picked up a good theme because we have been close the last couple of years. We have been playing at 210, 211 degrees in a lot of games. This year we need to get to 212."

That quote leaped back into my mind after watching a football game where the frustrations of the college careers of a lot of Lehigh players finally seemed to hit 212 degrees. By any objective measure, Lehigh "boiled" this weekend. (more)


When water "boils" in a glass or steel pot, the activity of the conversion of liquid to gas causes a distinct clicking, rumbling sound.

In yesterday's press conference, there were a lot of references to "clicking", but it might as well been "boiling".

"All around, I think we were clicking very well," junior QB Chris Lum said. "I always felt we were capable of doing what we did today. We had shown flashes before, but we were inconsistent. Today, we just did it on almost every single drive. It was a lot of fun."

"This is my first time beating Colgate since I've been here," senior CB Jarard "Main Man" Cribbs said after the game. "How we put it together, the defense was giving the ball to the offense, everything's clicking, and we're all working as one cohesive unit, it really feels great."

Aside from the references to things "clicking", there were other indicators that it was a whole lot of players that had been brought to a "boil" and not just a few people.

When asked about the keys to stopping Colgate, coach Coen didn't just mention one player on defense.  "When you play against these guys, it comes down to tackling.  I think our tackling has gotten better each week.  You saw how many times, it wasn't just one guy making the tackle on the guy who had the football, it was a host of Mountain Hawks getting there at the point of attack.  That's the way our defense plays, we call it 'Tap the Hat'.  Get around the guy making the play, swarm to the football.  The kids did a great job with that."

Lum had his best day statistically as a Mountain Hawk - with 3 TDs, two through the air and one on a sneak, and only two incompletions after the first quarter was done - but made sure to heap a ton of credit on his teammates, too.

"We have great players, great playmakers," Lum said.  "Throwing a five yard pass that turns into a thirty yard gain... there were a lot of yards after the catch today.  I give a lot of credit to the "O" line as well, I didn't take a sack.  All around, I think we were clicking really well."

Just watching this team on Saturday, it was clear that there were a lot of Mountain Hawks standing up and making plays.  Both Lum and sophomore QB Michael Colvin rushed and passed for a TD.  Six different players crossed the goal line for Lehigh.  Thirteen different Lehigh players got some sort of all-purpose yards, including two guys - sophomore WR Ryan Spadola and senior WR Craig "Braveheart" Zurn - who got more than 100 all-purpose yardage.

On defense, There were 44 - think about that a second - assisted tackles  on the afternoon.  Ten different defenders registered a tackle for loss.  Four different players registered sacks.

And not to be overlooked is that number of sacks given up by the "O" line - zero.  Coming from Colgate's blitz-happy, come-at-you-from-anywhere defense, that's extraordinary.

Those are the stats from a team that's reached 212 degrees.  The "boiling" point.

*****

Earlier this year, there always were "flashes", as Lum called it.  Some indicators, like the first half of the Drake game, that the offense was capable of breaking out. To finally escape the legacy of offensive struggles over the past few years - no matter who the QB was.

You got the feeling that things were heating up offensively - but then, it was as if the gas burner under the Lehigh team ran out of fuel.  Villanova has a way of doing that - their defense being the 6th rated defense in all of FCS, after all - as Lehigh's offense struggled.

It felt like the team went from boiling to tepid.  Sure, there were some more flashes of chemical activity in their wins over Princeton and Fordham, but a trip to New Hampshire, and a 35-10 defeat, made it feel like maybe this team would have to start over again from room temperature.

Of course, this team never really was at room temperature.  They believe in the system in place, and that "boiling" could happen with enough heat and enough hard work at practice during the week.  The gas burner did come back on - it was just a matter of getting back to "boiling."

The final push seemed to come after a halftime speech a couple of weeks ago vs. Harvard.

Down 17 at halftime to a Harvard team (and to a head coach, Tim Murphy, that once had Lehigh offensive coordinator Dave Cecchini on their staff and was the bane of Penn's existence when Coen was the Quakers' offensive coordinator), a visibly irate Coen - his blood probably "boiling" - peeled the paint off the walls with his halftime speech to his players.

If Lehigh was at, say, 208 degrees at halftime of the Harvard game, Coen's speech might have brought them to 212.  And the Mountain Hawk offense started bubbling, and the pot was clicking.

Three touchdowns with a 40 mph wind at their backs gave Lehigh an incredible 21-19 come-from-behind victory.  While everyone admired Lehigh's performance in that game, some thought that maybe it was a fluke, that the old, less effective offense might return when Patriot League play started again in earnest.

A 32-10 homecoming win against Bucknell was impressive - but came against a Bucknell team against which  Lehigh has historically had great success.  When Colgate comes to town, and their great rushing game, we'll see, said the folks who didn't quite see.  When a dominating team like the Raiders - who seems to perennially be in the Patriot League title conversation every year well into November - we'll see how good this team really is.

I predicted a Lehigh win, but I thought it would be a dogfight, something that went down to the wire.

I didn't dare dream that this team would reach the "boiling" point and scald Colgate for 44 points.

*****

Normally this year, it's been the defense that has been "clicking", but the offense hasn't been completely "boiling."  This game marked the first time where the offense got things going very early and "clicked", which caused Lehigh's defense to score the big play that arguably took most of the air out of Colgate.

Both fed off of each other to great effect this Saturday.  Nowhere was that as clear as Lehigh's early offensive success forcing Colgate to do something that they're not accustomed to doing on a regular basis - passing, especially with backup QB Scott Rizzo in the game.

Up 17-0, Rizzo went back to pass, and was creamed by senior LB Al Pierce who had shedded his giant blocker and caused the pass to get redirected and loft a little bit further.  Cribbs saw the play, nabbed the ball, and saw nothing but green in front of him.

It was a perfect display as to how the offensive chemical reaction caused another on defense.

And while you hate to dwell on a negative after such a positive game, on special teams Lehigh still has some work to do.

Special teams were not that special last weekend, to say the least.  From a fumbled kickoff return that could have been a disaster to two out-of-bounds kickoffs, a dropped snap from the punter, a missed extra point and strong Colgate returns on kickoffs, there was a threat that the heat generated by the offense and defense would be cooled down from chilly play on special teams.

It didn't happen - but if there was one tiny, nagging doubt from this game it's that if it's a close game in Worcester this weekend, special teams could be the difference in this game.  A kickoff return for touchdown, after all, was what gave the Crusaders a win in Hamilton and sets up a potential Patriot League championship-showdown this weekend.

To put this in perspective: a Lehigh win and a Lafayette loss next weekend would mean that only a loss at Georgetown and "that school in Easton" would stand in the way of a Patriot League championship for Lehigh and a return to the FCS playoffs for the first time in 2004.

Apart from the Lehigh/Lafayette clash in 2006, it's hard to think of a bigger game in the Andy Coen era than the one coming up this weekend.  And Lehigh will need to be "boiling" in order to come away with the victory.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Actually, a "Lehigh win and a Lafayette loss next weekend would mean" that Lehigh would only need to win one of its remaining two games to be sole champion of the league.
Scott said…
Hopefully a win this weekend will validate Lehigh in the eyes of FCS poll voters. Our 2 losses are to #3 Villanova and #8 New Hampshire.
Love your Blog Sir...It was agreat game vs. the Gate and I cannot wait for Lafayette......
van said…
I started to believe after the Fordham game, a little more after Harvard but after the past 3 years I was not yet a believer even after the Bucknell game.

But the Colgate game has brought me back from the dark side. I now fully expect a win at Holy Cross, which essentially will wrap up the league title (just can't believe that Laffy-it could even dream of running the table).

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