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Game Breakdown, The 148th, Lehigh at Lafayette, 11/17/2012

We break down the Lafayette game - and we give our fearless prediction, below the flip.

Checking Twitter and Facebook is not exactly an exact science when it comes to trying to gauge how fired up a team, or a fan base, is.

After a slow start to the trash talk for the 148th meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette, though, there's evidence that the Hate is making a late-week rally as the sheer inevitability of the Rivalry game tomorrow has built the tension.

Still, the biggest question for both Lehigh and Lafayette is: Which team will show up for four quarters?

If there's one consistent theme from both sides, it's that people have been waiting for both teams to play four quarters of well-executed football.  Will either be able to do so?

Breaking Down Lafayette

Going into the season, the starting quarterback position was firmly in the hands of senior QB Andrew Shoop, a mostly-dropback passer that had plenty of experience from his junior campaign.

But it's been a tumultuous season for the Danville, PA native.

In a spiral that started with a suspension from the Penn Game from a "violation of team rules" in Week 2 to a three-interception performance in a 20-17 loss to Georgetown, Shoop ultimately was benched in favor of sophomore QB Zach Zweizig during the game against the Hoyas.

The talented Shoop, who was seemingly poised before the season to be the guy who brought the Leopards back to Patriot League championships, may very well be the starter on Saturday.  In the Leopards game notes, he's the highlighted guy, if Zwiezig is unable to go due to the immense personal tragedy his family has had to endure this week.

Shoop (129/208 passing, 1,483 passing yards, 12 TDs, 5 INTs) is considered a dropback passer mostly, but he does have some mobility, taking off for 89 net rushing yards against Georgetown before he was benched.  Zweizig, if he plays, is largely of the same mold as Shoop, more of a dropback passer (67/107 passing, 7 TDs, 8 INTs) and more of a run-second guy.

Whomever starts at QB, they'll be running the familiar offense that Lehigh has come to expect from Lafayette over the seasons: the ratio of run to pass tipped slightly towards the run, an efficient passing game that specializes in knowing where the chains are, and the occasional shot downfield to keep the defense honest.

The rushing attack for the Leopards is a two-headed attack by two extremely similar types of backs.  Senior RB Vaughn Hebron (459 yards rushing, 65 yards receiving, 3 TDs), son of the former Philadelphia Eagle running back, and sophomore RB Ross Scheuerman (636 yards rushing, 151 yards receiving, 5 TDs) both have the ability to be durable, speed runners yet are also fairly versatile catching the ball out of the backfield.

Senior FB Pat Creahan and junior FB Greg Kessel have not gotten many carries in the backfield this year, instead mostly being used as 240 lb battering rams out of the backfield.  Kessel does have two touchdown receptions, however, so the fullback is most certainly a good target for whomever lines up at QB.

The big playmaker on Lafayette's offense has been junior WR Mark Ross (912 yards, 8 TDs).  The 6'3 215 lb junior has really gotten much better as the season has gone along, notching over 100 yards receiving in six of his last seven games, as well as scoring touchdowns in all of his last seven games.  Ross' best work has come under passes of 30 yards - amazingly, all but one of his TD catches have been 30 yards or less.

After Ross, there are a solid stable of other receivers that have caught passes for the Leopards, epitomizing their spread-the-wealth mentality when it comes to passing.  Senior WR Rodney Gould (243 yards, 2 TDs), sophomore WR Mike Duncan (371 yards, 3 TDs) and freshman WR Jamel Smith (233 yards, 1 TD), and 6'7 junior TE Brandon Hall (230 yards, 3 TDs) have been among the many targets of the Lafayette passing game.

While the skill players have a decent amount of balance of underclassmen and seniors, Lafayette's "O" line, led by 300 lb sophomore OL Luke Chiarolanzio, is incredibly young, with three sophomores and two juniors.  This unit has allowed more than two and a half sacks per game, and allowed three against Fordham last weekend.

When you play Easton U., you know you're going to be playing against a fearsome multiple 4-3 defense.  Lafayette's defense has been a realtively solid unit all year, but most importantly it boasts the No. 1 pass defense of the Patriot League.

With experienced names like senior CB Darius Safford (49 tackes, 3 INTs), senior CB Kyni Scott (53 tackles, 3 INTs), and talented, agressive newcomers like sophomore FS Shane Black (63 tackles, 4 INTs) and sophomore SS Jared Roberts (51 tackles, 4 INTs), this is bar none the best secondary Lehigh will have faced since the Liberty game, and it has to be an area of deep concern for the Mountain Hawks.

Right in front of them are three young, but solid linebackers: junior LB Mike Boles (88 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 INT), sophomore LB Colton Kilpatrick (62 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 INTs, 3 sacks), and junior LB Tyler Robinson, who recently came back from injury.

But it's the senior-laden defensive line which sets up the picks for the Leopards, with senior DT Rick Lyster (48 tackles, 3 sacks) anchoring a scary unit featuring senior DE Tahir Basil (17 tackles, 1 sack), senior DT Jason Marshalek (25 tackles, 1/2 sack) and junior DE James Coscia (25 tackles, 1 sack).  Another guy to watch in the front rotation is sophomore DE Shane Dorner (29 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks).

While it's easy to focus on the interceptions, a lot of the credit goes to Lafayette for putting pressure on opposing QBs and a big "D" line tipping passes.  It will be a giant thing for senior QB Michael Colvin to watch for tomorrow.

Special Teams
Lafayette head coach Frank Tavani has been using first-team starters on his special teams return units, and they have been effective.  Freshman WR Jamel Smith is averaging an eye-popping 10.3 yards per punt, and sophomore RB Ross Scheuerman (16.9 per return) has been strong as well.  Senior WR Vaughn Hebron, in his final game at Lafayette, will be returning kicks for the first time this season.

Freshman PK Ryan Gralish cemented himself fairly early as the first-team kicker, and is credited with a 46 yard FG already this season, but with only seven attempts on the year.  The loser of the battle for kicking duties, senior PK Ethan Swerdlow, has been a relatively solid punter this season, averaging 38.6 per kick.

LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Early Lead.  An astounding statistic for Lafayette in this 2012 season is in every single one of their wins, they had a 3rd quarter lead - meaning, they never were able to dig themselves out of a hole when they've been down in the 4th quarter.  If you pair that with Lehigh's perplexing ability to enter offensive lulls in the 3rd quarter of games this year, it will be critical for Lehigh to jump out to an early lead against the Leopards.  If Lafayette follows the script from their previous wins this year - jump to an early multiple-score lead by halftime, and make it hold up - Lehigh might be in trouble.
2. The Turnover battle.  Preventing your own turnovers and forcing opposing turnovers is always critical to victory, but even more so in a Rivalry game like this which thrives on momentum.  Against Fordham last weekend, Lafayette turned over the ball 3 times, and when they turn over the ball in bunches, they (unsurprisingly) tend to lose.  If Lehigh turns over the ball 0, or 1, time, I really like their chances for victory.  If Lafayette also turns over the ball 2 times or more as well, I really, really like Lehigh's chances for victory.
3. Seniors.  The fact is, the seniors could be playing in their last-ever game in a Mountain Hawk uniform.   Historically, The Rivalry is a game for the seniors, and players playing for the seniors.  If there's a postseason, there's a postseason, but it's no guarantee, so this Lehigh team needs to go out there to play this game as if it were their last.  Because win or lose, it could be.

Fearless Prediction
It is notoriously hard to pick this game.

Like all Rivalry games, it's one where you "throw out the records and the stat books", and it's also a game where seniors discover that it's the last time they will probably ever play football, and come up with performances that defy expectations.

You can add to this fact that Lafayette is coming into this game as hungry as could be for a victory.  They have no intention of being the second class in a row without a win against Lehigh.  They would like nothing better than to ruin Lehigh's chances of playing another game this season.  To top it off, while the rest of us are praying for Zach, they'll be playing for Zach, an entirely different proposition.

Yet to focus on that entirely is to miss the fact that this senior-laden Lehigh team, with a potential NFL player in senior WR Ryan Spadola, has a lot of seniors on its side that should be just as eager to not only win on Saturday, but to play the games of their lives, too, because they don't know if they'll be playing again.

For Lehigh, will the fact their one loss came so deep in the season, off such an emotional game, be too much to overcome?  Will the confidence that seemed to almost singlehandedly carry them through to victories be shattered?

In a way, it is a very good thing that this Lehigh team has a game like this at the end of the year on which to refocus, because I do not believe for a second that this team will come out tired and flat on Saturday.  If Lehigh/Lafayette is written by the actions of the seniors, I think that Lehigh's seniors will come out with the better day on Saturday, and that's why they'll win.

Lehigh 34, Lafayette 27


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