We break down the Monmouth game - and we give our fearless prediction below the flip.
Monmouth's game notes, happily, were available early in the week, and it reminded me of a couple other notes about Monmouth I forgot to mention.
First, the Jersey Hawks' home opener against Lehigh is only one of four home games for Monmouth this season, and their game this weekend is sandwiched between two road trips: reoad games against Montana State and Liberty, then away contests against Holy Cross and Columbis.
Second, this is the last time Kessler Field in West Long Branch will have their tiny press box. As a part of Monmouth's move to 63 scholarships, plans are in the works to modernize their stadium, making it more Big South ready by 2014. This comes on the heels of Monmouth's complete renovation of their basketball center, the MAC, and was a central reason why the Hawks were invited to join the MAAC in basketball.
Before getting into the breakdown it's worth pulling up the latest bit from Michael LoRe, too on Monmouth, with the title: Lehigh University football coach Andy Coen wary of Monmouth. Clearly, coach Coen is not taking Monmouth lightly at all.
Let's take a look at the Hawks, and let's judge for ourselves.
Breaking Down Monmouth
Monmouth runs a variation of the "pistol offense", made famous by Nevada head coach Chris Ault. The short explanation of this offense is that the quarterback lines up four yards behind center, and the halfback lines up in various positions five yards behind the quarterback. It's effectively a way to give more time for a quarterback to pass in the spread formation, while also allowing for a speed running game, giving the back an extra head of steam to hit the games. When it's firing, with a speedy back and strong offensive linemen, it can be tough to stop.
This could be of particular concern to the Mountain Hawks, gave up 483 yards of total offense last week to Central Connecticut State, including 258 yards rushing and 160 yards to RB Rob Holloman, CCSU's wonder-back.
For Monmouth, the engine running the offense is 5'10 225 lb junior RB Julian Hayes, who leads the Hawks in rushing this year (181 yards, 1 TD). In his third year as a starter, he's an interesting combination of both power and speed, and remains the critical driver of this offense. Last season against Lehigh, though, he had only 38 yards and 1 touchdown - a key reason why Lehigh ended up beating Monmouth at Murray Goodman 27-17.
His backup, senior RB Kwabena Asante (94 yards rushing) is built similar to Hayes at 5'11, 215 lbs. They represent a formidable, physical 1-2 punch if they are able to jump out and protect a lead.
Monmouth lost QB Kyle Frazier to graduation last season, but see a gunslinging UMass transfer, junior QB Brandon Hill, take his place running the Pistol. At 6'5, 230 lbs, his main problem has been accuracy (52.1% completion percentage) and turnovers (5 interceptions), though perhaps it's hard to judge with games on the road against two of the top teams in FCS. Listed as a "pro-style" quarterback, he's somewhat more likely to stay in the pocket.
At receiver, plenty of talent returns. Senior WR Neal Sterling (39 yards) and senior WR Lamar Davenport (84 yards) are the starting receivers, and Sterling caught one a touchdown pass against Lehigh last season. Junior WR Eric Sumlin (82 yards, 1 TD) comes out in three receiver sets, and a 6'6 5th year player, senior TE Mike Lafferty (113 yards, 1 TD) has emerged as a major pass-catching threat out of Monmouth's backfield. Everything about this unit seems to scream "danger" to Lehigh's secondary.
Critical to Monmouth's success this weekend will be the performance of their "O" line, a mammoth group that may very well be the biggest Lehigh faces all season. 310 lb senior OL Josh Patterson, a 3 year starter and now a continuing starter on Hill's blind side, might be the best of a big, physical bunch.
The Monmouth defense features a base 4-3, and also features a defense with a whole lot of new athletes, including some high-impact transfer players. The good news is that they are still gelling together as a unit. The bad news is that they are improving.
325 lb run stopper junior DT Josh Siemanowicz and senior DE Pat O'Hara are the returning members of the Jersey Hawks' front four. Sophomore DE Darnell Leslie, with 3 tackles for loss, leads that unit who has given up on average 207 yards rushing per game. Whether that's reflective of ability or competition, it's hard to say.
What is certain, though is that a transfer from Temple, senior LB Gary Onuekwusi, has been an early revelation for Monmouth at middle linebacker. A special teams maven on the Owls, he leads the Hawks with 13 tackles and seems poised to be a big contributor for Monmouth this season from the middle.
Senior LB Dave Damringan (12 tackles, 1 1/2 tackles for loss) and sophomore LB John Sieczkowski (6 tackles) round out the unit.
The secondary boasts another key transfer, and one with local ties to the Lehigh Valley area. Senior CB Tevrin Brandon (8 tackles, 4 pass break-ups, 1 INT), is a UConn transfer and was a star player at Bethlehem Catholic. Like Onuekwusi, he was a defensive back and special teams player on UConn and has been one of the bright spots early for the Hawks, notching Monmouth's only interception all season. The battle between him and senior WR Lee Kurfis already looks like something to watch this Saturday.
Sophomore CB Joe Johnson (12 tackles), senior SS Clark Coe (12 tackles, 1 forced fumble), and senior SS Andrew Sutton (10 tackles round out the secondary.
Senior PK Eric Spillane returns, a kicker with a fantastic leg that already has booted a 46 yard field goal last season.. Last year he went 34-35 on extra poinst and 12-16 on field goal tries including a 43 yarder. His leg is so good, in fact, that he's also taken over punting duties this season, averaging 39.4 per boot.
Interestingly, head coach Kevin Callahan is still tinkering with the special teams units, switching senior CB Tevrin Brandon, senior SS Elijah Phillips, sophomore SS Zach Fabel, and freshman RB Lavon Chaney. All have the speed to be effective return me, especially Brandon, who already ripped a 43 yard return this season.
LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Stopping the run. This weekend I'll be looking very closely at Lehigh's front seven vs. the Hogs up front for Monmouth. Were last week's rushing yards gained by CCSU just first-game jitters, or a true area of concern for the Mountain Hawks? After this weekend's game we'll know for sure, but for me, stopping the run is something I'm looking for Lehigh's defense to "show me".
2. Turnover Ratio. I think if Lehigh is in the positive in regards to turnovers, that will bode well for the Mountain Hawks' chances on Saturday. If senior QB Brandon Bialkowski's can show some of the great accuracy he flashed last weekend and Lehigh's defense can force Monmouth's offense to turn over the ball at the same rate as in their first two games, I like the Mountain Hawks' chances.
3. Quick start. I would much rather see Lehigh play Monmouth jumping out to a quick lead and then sitting on that lead rather than the alternative. The Mountain Hawks got a taste last weekend on how difficult it is when a power rushing team gets a two touchdown lead, and one hopes they won't need a refresher course this time around. A quick lead, and forcing the Jersey Hawks to play catch-up, would be a great boon to Lehigh's chances this weekend, too.
Head coach Andy Coen has gone to great pains to alert people that Monmouth is no pushover. And, as my analysis has shown, he's right. Monmouth has a lot of individual parts that most teams would love to have on their side.
It's one of four Monmouth home games on the year, the first of only one of four chances Monmouth fans will have to watch their team live. Monmouth will need to come out blazing. They'll have to.
Left unmentioned, too, is the fact that the Mountain Hawks had "one of those games" last weekend, the historic 20 point come-from-behind victory. After the high of a win like that, it's way too easy to mail it in the following week. And, quite frankly, Monmouth is too good a team to simply head to the post office and send it in.
It's hard not to look at any improvement on Lehigh's defense as being critical to the Mountain Hawks' chances at victory. If Hayes has 100 yards rushing, that could spell trouble for Lehigh, and I see other "danger spots" for Lehigh, too.
If Lehigh needs to rely on another 20 point comeback to win, I think Lehigh will lose. However, I think Lehigh will have enough offense - just - to win this game this weekend.
Lehigh 40, Monmouth 34