Just as I was going to write a nasty-gram about CCSU's penchant for releasing their game notes in the dead of night, their game notes finally did get released, just in time for the breakdown. With them in hand - plus a huge assist from the New Britain Herald and Hartford Courant, here's my breakdown.
Breaking Down Central Connecticut State
Central Connecticut State, under head coach Jeff McInerney, will be running an offense that is unique to all of Lehigh's opponents this year. It's a spread flavor of the triple-option offense, with McInerney being a disciple of Georgia Southern's triple-option offense made famous by hall of fame coach Erk Russell, who adapted his version from the classic Wishbone offense. There are lots of Russell acolytes who are famous head coaches, most notably Paul Johnson of Georgia Tech. Additionally, there are a lot of triple-option devotees that came out from Georgia Southern's Southern Conference from that era, notably the hall-of-fame Air Force head football coach Fisher DeBerry, who eas a former offensive coordinator at Appalachian State, and longtime Wofford head football coach Mike Ayers.
McInerney, of course, puts his spin on the classic offense: let's call his flavor the "Fire Up Option", based on his Twitter handle. It's a flavor that involves two wideouts rather than a slot back, and speedy running backs instead of true "power guys", but still requires his QBs to read the coverage and make decisions to either run, or misdirect, sometimes with a pitch to a running back or fullback, reverses, or passes. Against Stony Brook, the breakdown was 18 pass plays, 47 rushing plays, which gives you a good idea about how the Fire Up option works. It tries to grind you down, and then surprises you with the pass when you least expect it.
The good news for Lehighh is that Central Connecticut State is still breaking in two quarterbacks in that critical position. McInerney has announced that junior QB Andrew Clements and freshman WB Nick SanGiacomo, a transfer from Tulane, will split time at that position. Both are about 6'2 and weigh about 220 lbs, built like running backs, which is befitting as they have rushing as a key part of their game.
If you're simply judging by last week's performance, Clements vastly outshone the the former member of the Green Wave, connecting on 8/11 passes and rushing for 103 yards, including touchdown runs of 50 and 28 yards. SanGiacomo, in contrast, went 0-for-6 passing and rushed for negative yards. But don't take that to mean that the two QBs will not split time. McInerney wants to know who their starter will be in their first crucial NEC game against Wagner, so it seems likely both will continue to get a chance.
Listed at the top of the depth chart at tailback is junior RB Chris Tolbert, but he is out for the year with a leg injury, according to the New Britain Herald, so 5'8, 170 lb Kent State transfer sophomore RB Rob Holloman figures to get the lions' share of rushing opportunities. Stony Brook held him to 38 yards on 19 carries last week, a 2.0 average, but he will be a speedy back for Lehigh to stop. For more "power running", 5'8, 190 lb senior FB Nate Pagan lines up, who had 6 rushes for 14 yards last week. (It's worth mentioning that the beefiest running back on the roster is sophomore RB Jacob Lavender, at 5'11, 225 lbs, so it's clear that small running backs, getting lost behind the big linemen, is a key strategy.)
When they do throw the ball, the Blue Devils have a veteran group returning to catch those passes. Senior WR Deven Baker, who had 44 all-purpose yards last week, is a particular concern with his size (6'4), speed, and blocking ability downfield. On the other side is 6'6 junior WR Denzell Jones (3 catches, 27 yards), while 5'7 junior WR Nick Bacarella and senior WR Matt Tyrell back them up. Don't be surprised to see them running the ball, too, through designed reverses or even direct snaps.
CCSU's offensive line is very young, with 290 lb senior OL Devon Dixon leading the unit. They line up smaller than Monmouth's hogs, but are asked to be more athletic as a part of the "Fire Up Option", so don't look at heights and weights here. It is worthy of note that Stony Brooks (admittedly talented) defense shut down this unit well in the trench last weekend.
Like Monmouth last week, CCSU's defense features a base 4-3. Unlike the Jersey Hawks last week, they only return two seniors on their defense. Fortunately for the Blue Devils, they include two starting linebackers from last year, including one all-NEC selection.
Senior LB Lorenzo Baker, this year's team captain on defense, posted an impressive 80 tackles, 42 solo-stops, 8.0 tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles in 2011. He was limited last week against Stony Brook, but he well be very "Fired Up" in the home opener close to his hometown of Middletown, CT to come up with a great performance. Senior LB D.J. Radich (3 tackles) also returns from last year, while junior LB Patrick Atkinson (7 tackles, 1/2 tackle for loss) rounds out this unit.
In contrast to the linebacking unit, the "D" line is young and inexperienced. They lost their key sackmeister from last year, DE Charles Williams, and none of their front four registered a sack last weekend. Junior DE Victor Harris (5 tackles, 1/2 tackle for loss) seems to be Williams' heir apparent - eventually - while 6'0, 245 lb junior NG Manuel Dopazo anchors the middle. It's worth mentioning that Stony Brook rushed for over 300 yards against them.
The secondary, though, is another Blue Devil area of strength as well. Junior SS Antwione Reese (8 tackles) returns as a starter on defense, while junior CB Chris Linares (2 INTs in 2011) also returns. They are all speedy - but they are also small. Sophomore FS Andrew Murdock (5 tackles), at 6'2, is the only member of the starting secondary over 6 foot.
It isn't fair to say special teams are an afterthought on CCSU's team, but senior P Greg Migdal didn't have a single punt attempt last weekend, and he didn't have an attempt last year. McInerney is a gambler, and he's known for going for it a lot on 4th down, and the pooch-punt when necessary. He'll go for the two point conversion if it gives him an advantage over the extra point.
Sophomore PK Steven Calitri had a fine day last weekend kicking, with 2 extra points and a 37 yard FG, so he has a good leg. Speedy junior WR Nick Bacarella is on the depth chart returning both punts and kicks. Last week, he returned 5 kickoffs for 56 yards.
LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Jump to the early lead. The Blue Devils thrive on grabbing an early lead, and sitting on it, with their running game. Do what Stony Brook did last week, and jump out to a two touchdown lead, and the Blue Devils have a much harder time playing from behind. Do that this week, and it will help get a big "W".
2. Time of Possession. Central Connecticut State thrives on beating you in the time-of-possession game. If Lehigh can keep that gap very small, it will mean that turnovers will be at a minimum, and the defense are creating a lot of 3-and-outs. That will go a long ways towards victory.
3. Dominating the trench. The big matchup this weekend has to be Lehigh's revamped "O" line vs. CCSU's young, relatively inexperienced front seven. Can the Mountain Hawk offensive line control the game? If they do, it will be a long day for the Blue Devils.
Lehigh won last weekend, but, to put it charitably, it wasn't the cleanest of wins. Key Lehigh penalties led directly to Monmouth points. Three turnovers. Time of possession in the second half was just over 12 minutes.
But 1-0 with an ugly opening-day victory is a better position to be in than the 0-1 CCSU finds themselves in. Their 49-17 drubbing at the hands of a nationally-ranked team showed them they have a ways to go before they get to the top. With their second nationally-ranked opponent in two weeks, it doesn't promise to get easier, even at home with a brand-new scoreboard.
Watching the Monmouth game closely, I saw a Lehigh team with a lot of individual talent beating themselves. Senior QB Michael Colvin, I felt, played a much better individual game than he was given credit for, and a lot of the problems seemed to stem from a rash of "O" line injuries in the 95 degree heat. Had the Mountain Hawks played cleaner, this game wouldn't have been a contest, though, even with the injuries.
I think last week's win was a useful wake-up call for the Mountain Hawks rather than a sign that things aren't well in Brown Town. The "O" line will be shuffled this week, but will be effective. The young guns have a game under their belts, and the mistakes will be cleaned up. They will play better than last Saturday, and that's why they're going to beat Central Connecticut State.
Lehigh 41, Monmouth 17