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Game Preview: The Patriot League Championship Game: Colgate at Lehigh, 11/10/2012

"The word is that Dick Biddle's squad is in "rebuilding" mode with the graduation of RB Nate Eachus," I confidently wrote back in the preseason of Colgate's chances for the Patriot League title in 2012.  "The Raiders' backs will still get the yards, but the real question is: can their defense get back to the world-beating form of the early noghties?"

Picking them to finish fifth, as others had, seemed a no-brainer.  Even though QB Gavin McCarney returned for his junior season, his continued growth, and the development of the offensive system around some new, young guys, couldn't result in a title run for a "rebuilding" squad, especially with a defense that needed to find an identity, could it?  Especially without Eachus, who made the Kansas City Chiefs' roster?

With the Patriot League championship and FCS playoff autobid on the line this Saturday, the answer couldn't be clearer.  Yes.  They can.

The Raiders' "O" has morphed into one of the most scary offensive units in all of FCS this year, making this by far the biggest challenge the undefeated Mountain Hawks have faced all season.  And the stakes couldn't be higher, with the Patriot League title, a potential FCS playoff bid, and a litany of records and winning streaks, on the line for Lehigh.

Colgate's offensive numbers just make opposing teams weep.

510 yards of total offense per game.  No. 3 in the country, behind playoff-bound Old Domnion and the pinball pass-happy offense of Stephen F. Austin.

42 points per game.  No. 4 in the country, behind Sam Houston State, Old Domnion, and Harvard.  The Bearkats, like the Monarchs, are almost certainly playoff-bound, and Harvard almost certainly would be if the Ivy League allowed their champion to play in the playoffs.

298 rushing yards per game.  No. 7 in the country, behind triple-option teams Georgia Southern, Wofford, and The Citadel, as well as Stony Brook, Cal Poly, and Stony Brook.  Aside from the Bulldogs, there's a good chance all five of the teams ahead of the Raiders could be playoff-bound.

Passing efficiency: 165.72.  That's good for No. 2 in the country, behind Stony Brook, and their uber-effecient passer, QB Kyle Essington.

And the numbers get even more grim when you look at their recent history against Patriot League opponents.

Their lowest point total in conference games?  47 points, which they achieved against Bucknell.  They put up 51 on Holy Cross, whom Lehigh beat last weekend by a point.  They put up 57 on Georgetown, something that hadn't been done against the Hoyas since 2005.  And they put up an eye-popping 65 points against Lafayette.

"It was the most points in a game for the Raiders since a 66-0 win against St. Lawrence in 1941," Colgate athletics happily reported this week, detailing all the gory statistical details from the game.  Nine touchdowns.  9.8 yards per rush.  288 yards rushing from the quarterback, McCarney.

Colgate gained 755 yards of total offense against Lafayette - which ordinarily would be remarkable, except for the fact that it broke the all-time record set only three weekends ago, when they rolled up 707 yards against the Hoyas.   And against the Leopards, Colgate rushed 54 times for 512 yards - a school record.  The offensive records, and exploits, just go on and on and on.

The upshot is that this isn't just a garden-variety offense Lehigh will be facing: this will be an elite unit, one of the greatest they will see this regular season.  (On "Senior Day", no less, in a game which could be the last the seniors play at Murray Goodman stadium.)

With everything on the line, and the fact that the game will be carried nationally at 12:30PM on CBS College Sports with Todd Christiensen and Dave Ryan calling the action, all signs point to a strong turnout by the local fans, too.

"The advance sale we've had is a good leading indicator of strong game day sales," I was told by Rich Haas of Lehigh Athletics (via Lehigh's sports information director, Steve Lomangino), so it's right to expect a big gameday crowd this weekend as well.

Would the Mountain Hawks have it any other way?  No way.

"They're Oregon," head coach Andy Coen told Keith Groller of the Morning Call. "Their quarterback is lights out right now, a big strong athletic kid, and RB Jordan McCord is playing real well. Over the last five games, they have to be leading the country in scoring … it's been 65, 47, 57, 51, and 47 points over the last five games. There's no doubt they're the class offense in the league right now.  It could be a real offensive shootout.  I have no expectation of going in there and holding them to 20 points or anything like that."

"They do really good things with their gap schemes and how they block on certain plays, but it's really nothing extraordinary that we haven't seen all year," said senior LB Jerard Gordon in another Morning Call article by Groller. "We feel as though we have to just play Lehigh defense and keep your position and really know who your man is on every play and just play him."

"We know Colgate is going to score points because they're a very explosive offensive team," senior OL Tom Ruley told Groller. "But our mentality remains the same and that's that every time we have the ball, we want to score a touchdown. We can't turn it over and we can't make dumb mental mistakes."

Ruley credited senior QB Michael Colvin for Lehigh's ability to win when the chips are down.

"Mike's a great leader, always calm in the huddle," Ruley said. "It's a great motivator. He's not a screamer. Just a great guy to be around, a down-to-earth kind of kid.  We absolutely feel our best offensive game is still out there.  We've shown flashes of what it can be. It can happen this week. We might need it to happen this week."

I don't think there's any doubt.  Lehigh does need it to happen this week.

Game Notes
With the Patriot League championship on the line, this week's game notes feature a heap of good news for the Mountain Hawks.  Two seniors that have been major playmakers for the offense and defense, senior TE Jamel Haggins and senior LB Sam Loughery, return after sitting out the last two games with injuries, according to Michael LoRe of the Express-Times.

The healthiest Lehigh has been since opening day, it seems like the only minor question for Lehigh in terms of injuries is whether junior LB John Mahoney, or sophomore LB Isaiah Campbell, will get the majority of time at outside linebacker.  Both have played tremendously this season.

Weather Report
Snowfall this weekend for a Lehigh/Colgate game?  Nah.  The weather report is calling for a near-perfect November afternoon for football, 55 degrees, and some mild winds.  It should be a perfect setting for such an important game.

A Word on Colgate
This rivalry has come a long way from that first game in 1922, which was played in Johnson City near Binghamton, NY.

In modern times, instrumental in setting up the annual game against Colgate was former Lehigh head football coach Fred Dunlap, who also was a star football player at Colgate.

Even back then, he saw how similar Colgate and Lehigh were in terms of academics and athletics. You could say that his foresight paid off with a conference affiliation, too.

When the Patriot League formed in 1987, it seemed only natural that Lehigh's northern rival be included along with Holy Cross, Lafayette, Bucknell, Lehigh and Davidson - thanks to Dunlap's efforts.

It's also worth noting that when it comes to recruiting high-academic football players, Lehigh and Colgate are always in the same conversation to prospective students.

The Patriot League's academic index ensures that prospective football players are academically qualified to handle Lehigh's and Colgate's challenging workload, and of all the players in our region that meet those standards, the recruiting battles are fierce.

For example, former Lehigh RB Matt McGowan out of Hazleton went to Lehigh, but the next big back to come out of there was Eachus, after both Lehigh and Colgate recruited him hard.  Nearby, record-setting senior RB Zach Barket came from the same region, and also wsa pursued by both the Mountain Hawks and Raiders, with Lehigh, of course, coming out on top.

It's not just highly coveted western Pennsylvania/Coal region recruits, either: such battles are also happening across the country, in Florida, California, and other football hotbeds as well.

Many times, football players that go to  Lehigh have to wonder what might have been had they matriculated at Colgate - and vice versa.

It definitely plays a big role in the intensity of this rivalry.

LFN's Drink of the Week
Normally, I'd go with what got me here.  Last year for the trip up to Hamilton, a 45-25 Lehigh victory, the "Drink of the Week" was Red Death, a deathly concoction of sweet and alcohol that was a favorite of my Lehigh set when I was still and undergrad and still had a twenty-something liver.  But I can't go that way this time around.  "I'm risking diabetes drinking your drinks," legendary Lehigh fan Rich Heelan tells me, and I agree with him.   I can't have my readers drink a drink that could legally be used as antifreeze.

Instead, I'm going to go with Napoleon's Mexican Winter.  Yes, essentially a Black Russian, substituting Courvoisier with the Vodka - and served warm, for a chilly November day.  It should be the perfect blend of sweet, thickness, and world domination to which Lehigh fans aspire.  (And in Winter, no less, something that Hamilton, New York seems to personify 365 days a year.)

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. 

The Five Songs on my Mixtape for Colgate
Last weekend, it was Sandy.  This weekend, it's the snow, the continued power outages, and the deep effect Sandy still has on New Jersey, New York and the many hometowns of Lehigh football players still deeply affected by the storms that have ripped this area.  With the hope that this mixtape can offer some form of entertainment or relief, here's the five songs on the Mixtape this week.

1. Tommy's Language (ft. Deadmau5, Porter Robinson, Wynter Gordon) (Kap Slap Bootlegs)
2. How Ya Like Me Now (Kool Moe Dee)
3. Five Little Pumpkins Sitting on a Gate (Learning Station) 
4. All Shook Up (Elvis)
5. Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)


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