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Game Breakdown: Lehigh vs. Yale, 9/20/2014

Brianna Yoo/Yale Daily News
The game this weekend versus Yale, the first game in Yale's season, the first game in the season celebrating the 100th year of the Yale Bowl, is unquestionably a big one for the Mountain Hawks.

That also applies to the Eli, too, thoush.

“We’re excited about the opportunity [to play] against Lehigh,” head coach Tony Reno said. “We want to play great teams in order to be a great team.”

Lehigh fans are hoping that playing doesn't equate winning.

Breaking Down Yale
Offense

The last time Lehigh played Yale, senior WR Deon Randall scored a touchdown on an interior
run for the Eli, and also received passes from a former FBS player, QB Patrick Witt.  Aside
from Mr. Randall and the presence of an FBS transfer at quaterback, though, Yale's offense
today bears no resemblance to then.

Yale QB Morgan Roberts
The biggest transition could very well be that junior QB Morgan Roberts, a backup quaterback at Clemson two years ago, was anointed the head signalcaller.

Looking every bit the part an iconic old-time Yale QB, he did suit up for one game starting at quarterback vs. Penn, going 20-for-34 with 193 yards and 2 passing touchdowns.  And Roberts did a little of everything last season for the Bulldogs: passing (2 games, pitching in relief at Fordham and starting vs. Penn), rushing (26 attempts for 103 yards), and receiving (a 13 yard TD reception vs. Princeton).

Roberts defines the words "dual threat", not to mention possibly being a "triple threat" receiving in certain plays in the playbook.  He won't be intimidated being the main guy on the offense, and his athleticism could be a big concern.

Roberts and Randall make a very dangerous 1-2 combination, too, in Reno's hurry-up offense, similar to the two offenses that Lehigh has faced in James Madison and UNH.

Randall, a 5th year senior, has played on the Eli ever since his freshman year, sitting out 2012 due to injury.  He enters this season 3rd all-time in career receptions, and he averaged 8.5 receptions per game in 2013, despite receiving passes from four different quarterbacks.

He also is especially dangerous running the ball, either on reverses or designed runs, where the speedy 5'8, 195 lb senior has definite big-play ability.  If Lehigh is unable to stop or slow down Randall, the Mountain Hawks will be in for a long afternoon.

Yale RB Tyler Varga
Making matters worse is in Yale's triple-wideout set, similar to Holy Cross' offense, senior RB Tyler Varga, also occupies the Yale backfield.  Before getting hurt last season,

Varga absolutely destroyed Colgate up in Hamilton, notching 236 yards on 39 carries.  Yale went to that well early and often, resulting in a huge Bulldog win.

Yale has a new offensive coordinator this season, Joe Conlin, but he was already a member of the staff before getting promoted in the offseason.

Varga gave a hint about what the offensive gameplan might be on Saturday.

“Establishing the run will definitely be a key to success on Saturday,” Varga said. “Domination in the trenches is something we’ll need to see to get our ground game in rhythm. Our offense, however, is pretty multi-dimensional and success through the air will take pressure off the run as well.”

 That seems to square with by breakdown, where, frighteningly, Yale seems to have a lot of different ways they could go with their skill players - going with a Colgate-like running game with Roberts and Varga (with Randall thrown in for good measure), or a possession passing game to Randall, senior WR Grant Wallace and sophomore WR Robert Clemons.  There's certainly a lot of options that Lehigh's defense will need to stop.

Junior TE Stephen Buric is another receiving/H-Back option that could become a headache, as might junior TE Stephen Little, another decent pass-catching option the Eli have, returning from a missed 2013.

Yale's tough finish didn't come from their offensive line, where 6'5, 300 lb senior OL Ben Carberry anchored one of the few "O" lines that were intact, if with a bunch of underclassmen, for the entire season.  But they are smaller than the offensive lines Lehigh has faced this season.

In a way, it is unlucky that Lehigh will have to face a Yale squad that is completely healthy in its first game of the season.  When completely healthy, their offense reminds me uncomfortably of the Yale offense that went crazy versus Colgate last season.

Defense 

Where Lehigh's advantage might be is facing off against Yale's defense, which boasts only three returning all-Ivy players from last season.

Yale lines up in a base 4-3 defense, with entire front four being underclassmen, but that doesn't mean they're devoid of experience.  At times last season, Yale had eight true freshman on the field.

Probably the most experienced is 288 lb sophomore NG Copache Tyler, who had six tackles against Penn.  In fact there are only upperclassman in Yale's front six, 231 lb junior LB Andrew Larkin. and senior LB Charles Cook (56 tackles).

Two things stand out from this front seven from last year.  First, Yale is a bit smaller across the defensive line, and especially at linebacker, than James Madison and UNH.  Second, in two games versus Princeton and Harvard to close the season, they gave up more than 400 total yards to both teams, gave up more than 30 points, and registered zero sacks.

The strength of Yale's defense is definitely the secondary, with a pair of safeties that were all-Ivy last season, junior SS Cole Champion and sophomore FS Foyesade Olokun.

Champion was second on the team in tackles with 78, as well as nabbing 3 interceptions and forcing two fumbles.  Olokun, a College Sports Journal All-Freshman team member last year, had 59 tackles and 4 pass break-ups.

One more interesting stat in both the Princeton and Harvard games was the number of forced turnovers: zero.

Special Teams

As difficult as it may be to believe, Yale may have an even better special teams group than both James Madison or UNH.  In all phases the Eli special teams are impressive.

Yale P/K Kyle Cazzetta
Senior P/K Kyle Cazzetta has the leg to play on Sundays - most likely as a punter (38.7 yards per punt, with 68 and 72 yard punts to his credit) but also potentially as a kicker (11/15 on FG attempts, including 3 40 yarders).  His kicking is definitely a weapon.

Senior PR Deon Randall is certainly a threat on punt returns, while sophomore WR Robert Clemons III is a proven guy fielding kickoffs - in his first touch of gameday action vs. Fordham, he returned a kickoff 62 yards.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. School of Hard Knocks.  Whether through sophomore RB Brandon Yosha's running or sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky's passing, keeping sustained drives going and eating up the clock through effective offensive play will be critical for Lehigh's chances at victory. If Lehigh can make Yale's offense start their 2014 by schooling them for more than 80 plays and more than 35 minutes of "hard knocks", I like the Mountain Hawks' chances.

2. Bend but REALLY Don't Break.  In years past, Lehigh's defense has been characterized as "bend, but don't break."  In two games this season, Lehigh's defense has been broken way too often in the form of big plays.  Lehigh may not be able to prevent every big play this season, but they need to stop more of them.  It will be a huge challenge, as the Eli have three (or more) dangerous guys that can create these types of plays, but Lehigh's defense has to make more stops to give the Mountain Hawks a chance.

3. Out-executing.  In theory, Lehigh's two games under their belt should mean that this team has learned from their mistakes week to week.  In order to win, they need to demonstrate that they have - and do so from the opening kickoff.  A replay of the start like the Mountain Hawks had vs. UNH would be disastrous.  A replay of the start like they had vs. James Madison would put them in excellent position to come away with a win.

LFN's Fearless Prediction

For something called a "Fearless Prediction", I have been spending an indordinate amount of time being fearful, thoughts of Yale's overpowering opening-day win over Colgate last season rushing through my head.

I keep thinking of Yale's offense, completely healthy, blowing the gates off of Andy Kerr stadium in the first half.  I think of Tyler Varga, running roughshod over the Raiders' overmatched defense, for over 200 yards rushing.

The same ingredients are here against Lehigh for a big offensive day for the Bulldogs.

In other ways, though, Lehigh and Yale are very similar.  The key guys are underclassmen, and guys feeling their way in the 2014 season.  In that vein, Lehigh might have an advantage, with the extra experience meaning a cleaner, more crisp game.

The key, I feel, will be which team jumps to the big lead out of the gate in a shootout.  And I think the more crisp team, the one that has been thoroughly tested the first two weeks, will be ready to pounce and get a win they desperately need.  Yet it requires me to suppress my fears of a Colgate-like game where Yale jumps to a three-score lead and the Mountain Hawks cannot recover.  For this week, I will suppress the fears, and pick the Lehigh victory.

Lehigh 35, Yale 27

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