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Game Preview, Fordham at Lehigh, 9/29/2012

(Photo Credit: WFUV)

Everyone knew that Fordham would be a different team from the Rams that went 1-10 in 2011.

The only question was: how different?

They changed the helmets - a sort-of cross between the crimson, white-lined black letter of Harvard and the numbered helmet of a Holy Cross or Alabama.

They changed the uniforms - presumably to make it resemble those of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, who, in the early going, a a surprising 3-0 with wins against the Patriots and Eagles.  (That might be no accident: former Ram QB John Skelton is on the roster and started opening day, while his brother, TE Steve Skelton, who also went to Fordham, is on their practice squad.)

They even changed the head coach - Joe Moorhead took over for Tom Masella to usher in the next phase of Fordham's transition from need-limited aid to academic index-based scholarships.

So far, the Rams are different enough from last year, tripling their win total from last year (1) over their first four games (3 wins).  But that begs the next question - are they different enough from last year to make a run at the playoffs?

Lehigh unquestionably played a tough, emotional game down at Liberty - a 28-26 win that saw them get beat up quite a bit.  The Flames, who held the ball for more than 40 minutes, was brutally effective at times when it came to running the football, and could very well have won the game, had it not been for two amazing plays by senior QB Michael Colvin and senior LB Billy Boyko.

The risk this week, for Lehigh, is an emotional letdown from that very emotional game.

Football is an emotional game, but it is impossible to get teams up emotionally amped up for every single week for every single game, so championship teams frequently need to rely on something other than emotion to win football games week in and week out.

It's a fact for every nationally-ranked football team in FCS.  Take, for example, Illinois State.

After a big win over an FBS school, beating Eastern Michigan 31-14, they then turned around and very nearly got beat by Eastern Illinois - eking out a 54-51 double-overtime victory, and allowing the Redbirds to keep their spot in the Top 25.

On the other side of the equation, the unranked Panthers knew full well a win over the Redbirds could provide them with a key selling point for a Top 25 ranking the following week - not to mention a card, which might be needed in the future, to pull out to the FCS playoff subcommittee when it comes time to pick an at-large team in the playoffs.

For Fordham, a win over a Top 25 team is critical for any case they have to make for the playoffs.  Since they are ineligible for the Patriot League regular-season championship and autobid to the playoffs, for the Rams, every game is an audition for the playoffs, and aside from a tilt against FBS Cincinnati later in the year, the game this weekend against the No. 13 team in the country could provide no better audition for their chances.

Making this even more of a dangerous game for Lehigh is that Fordham has a three-year headstart on the Mountain Hawks in terms of football scholarships.

The Rams have been offering them since 2009, and have three classes on Rose Hill competing with the same types of scholarships offered by Delaware, Towson, North Dakota State and Northern Iowa.  While the Rams haven't had world-beating won-loss records the last two years, it hasn't been for lack of talent.  CB Isa Abdul Al-Quddus, along with the Skelton brothers, is on an NFL roster this season as a member of the New Orleans Saints.

Will the Lehigh players and coaches make sure that the dip in emotion doesn't mean a dip in focus for the upcoming week?

Much was made - from me included - on how the game against Liberty made Lehigh a better football team, that it could be the signature win from which Lehigh will propel itself to great heights this year.  Certainly, it could be.

But it could also be a game where Lehigh suffers an emotional letdown, dropping focus a little, since the game against Fordham doesn't count towards the Patriot League won-loss record.

This weekend, which will it be?

Game Notes
The game notes this week reflect yet another change on the offensive line - sorta.

Before the game started at Liberty last week, it was announced that sophomore OL Matt Douglas and senior OL Vinny Pelligrini would be switching the left and right guard positions.  This week, that change is reflected in Lehigh's game notes, as well as the official return of senior TE Jamel Haggins to the starting two deep.

Something of concern, though, is the disappearance of senior LB Sam Loughery off the two-deep this week.  According to Michel LoRe of the Express-Times, he's out with a mild head injury he sustained early in the game last week vs. Liberty.  The leading tackler on the team, he's replaced by senior LB Jerard Gordon, who has already gotten a lot of playing time in Lehigh's linebacker rotation, with 11 tackles and a big fumble recovery against Monmouth to clinch that game.  Sophomore LB Tashaun Mitchell,

(But seriously, what is it this year with Lehigh's defense and big game-clinching touchdowns?)

Weather Report
For the first time all season, there is the potential of a developing weather system for this Saturday.  The weekend forecast currently calls for a high of 68 and a 10% chance of rain - but this has been evolving.  On Friday evening, there is a 70% chance of rain, and if it is at all delayed, it could affect your tailgating plans.  Check frequently over the next couple of days as to guidance.

A Word on Fordham
If the folks on Rose Hill that thought that football scholarships would make Fordham into world-beaters by 2011, winning a virtual Patriot League trophy last year, they couldn't have been more mistaken.

Aside from the obvious issue with the won/loss record, the Rams were in the upper half of FCS statistically in exactly two categories: net passing and net punting.

That's not exactly a recipe for success.

With "scholarship athletes", Fordham finished 119th out of 120 teams in stopping the run.  They also finished 119th out of 120 teams in scoring offense as well.

While it's still the first 1/3rd of the season, all indications are that they will not be returning to those ignominious 2011 stats.  In fact, their statistical turnaround has been fairly remarkable.

Take rushing defense, where the Rams are currently 39th.  Or total offense, where Fordham is No. 1 in the Patriot League.  Or scoring offense, where they are now 34th nationally, and 1st in the Patriot League. 

Certainly their statistics have been padded somewhat by the presence of D-II Lock Haven on their schedule, whom they pulverized 55-0, scoring 7 touchdowns, notching 5 sacks, and accumulating 530 yards of total offense.  The stats are not simply padding because the Bald Eagles compete in Division II, they are padded stats since Lock Haven is currently 0-4 and didn't score a single point in their first three games.

At any level, Lock Haven is a bad football team. But it's not entirely due to the presence of the Bald Eagles on the Rams' schedule that one can credibly say that Fordham is in the midst of a turnaround.

1-1 Cornell, who put themselves in the conversation for the Ivy League title last weekend with a 45-6 throttling of Yale last week, fell to Fordham 34-27 as Fordham racked up 470 yards of total offense on the Big Red.  Cornell QB Jeff Matthews, one of the best signalcallers in all of FCS this year, threw for 489 yards against the Rams, but it wasn't enough.

And last week, Fordham played their crosstown rival, Columbia, and took home the "Liberty Cup" in a 20-13 victory - their third straight victory over the Lions.

Putting aside their only loss on the season - a tough, lightning-delayed 28-13 loss to Villanova in the rain - Fordham, like Lehigh, has learned how to win football games.

Head coach Joe Moorhead will be the first Patriot League head football coach to have played and coached in a Patriot League game after this weekend.  He's the first-ever Patriot League player to become a head coach anywhere, and at his alma mater, no less.

Moorhead, a three-year starter at quarterback for Fordham from 1993 to 1995, was a Second Team All-Patriot League pick as a senior, finishing 13th nationally in total offense, and graduated with school single-season records for completions and passing yards. 

But many of those yards didn't come against Lehigh - which, perhaps, may not be all that surprising.

The Rams are 2-22 lifetime against the Mountain Hawks, and the 24-6, 38-7, and 17-0 victories by Lehigh over Fordham while Moorhead was the starting QB were typical of the games of that time.  It wouldn't be until 1997 that Fordham would get their first victory over Lehigh.

LFN's Drink of the Week
I've come to the point with these "Drinks of the Week" where I'm starting to get requests. 

@kwheels31: respectfully suggesting Champagne for this week as it is both my mom and MIL's bday. Perrier Jouet all around for us on Sat! LU! ;)

This puts me in a strange conundrum.  To me, it feels a bit early for Champagne, even one as great as Perrier Jouet, and while I don't want to discourage fine bubbly wine on a pair of birthdays, it's a tough one as "Drink of the Week".  Champagne before a single Patriot League game has been played?  It feels unlucky.  And it if feels unlucky, it's probably not the right call.  So I'm sorry to say that Champagne won't be the "Drink of the Week" this week.  Sorry.

But building on the sparkling theme - and the fact that it's fall - might I suggest a different bubbly beverage: Woodchuck Hard Cider.  Always a favorite of mine when I've just enjoyed one too many beers during the week, I love hard cider in general, and Woodchuck is my personal favorite.  (This fall, I'm actually hoping to make my own hard cider - but that's months away from consumptions!)

I implore you to please drink responsibly when tailgating.  As always, I don't mind folks enjoying a few drinks, whether it be Champagne, hard cider, or non-alcoholic cider - but for Heaven's sakes don't get behind the wheel of a car afterwards.  (Well, maybe after the non-alcoholic cider.)  Thanks.

The Five Songs On My Mixtape for Fordham

One of the worst movies I've ever had the misfortune to witness is the movie 54, ostensibly starring Ryan Phillipe and Mike Myers.  While there are plenty of movie reviews that don't seem to detail enough how bad this movie is, it does have one scene, where Philippe and co-star Neve Campbell take time off from the sex, drugs and off-screen selling-their-bodies-for-sex to go - get this - bowling in New Jersey.  I've always thought this scene was one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes in cinematic history.  Usefully for this week, it also reminds me how much I hate New York.

I guess I was reminded of this the other day when I saw, to my embarrassment, Volumes 1 and 2 of the 54 soundtrack with a bunch of CDs I own.  It also contained one of the songs on my mixtape this week - a fresh reminder as to why we all need to hate New York at some point in your life.

1. Empire State of Mind (Bright Lights Remix) (Jay-Z)
2. Ain't Leaving Without You (JR Extended) (Jaheim)
3. Native New Yorker (Odyssey)
4. Pop Muzik (M)
5. I Hate New York (Jeff Ruby)


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