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Game Breakdown, Lehigh vs. Cornell, 10/18/2014

We break down the Cornell game after the flip.

The Cornell Big Red are led by the youngest head football coach in all of Division I, David Archer.

His resume sounds like a college football player's dream; starter on the offensive line at Cornell, invited to remain on the coaching staff after a year as an assistant at Franklin and Marshall, and then, after five years and a surprise departure from then-head coach Kent Austin, being promoted from within to become the head coach at your Alma Mater.

What may not be a dream is Cornell's record ever since he took over.  While not entirely his fault, Archer has gone only 3-11 as head Big Red.  Still, it's more victories (and more losses) than I've enjoyed as a Division I head football coach, and he's not even 35.  (To both of you who are wondering: My Division I coaching record is a perfect 0-0-0.)

Cornell is a typical Ivy League school in that NFL prospects have been known to compete up in Ithaca, and this year is no exception, as you'll find out.


Breaking Down Cornell
Offense

It is all the rage these days to talk about number of plays - Chip Kelly feels like an offense needs to be able to run 80 or more plays to win football games.  It's telling that last week vs. Harvard the Big Red only managed 56, and that's a fair representation of how the season has gone for Cornell.

The offense has only averaged 9.8 points per game, while also averaging under 100 yards rushing as a team and under 150 yards passing as a team, numbers that would make Chip Kelly wince.

What isn't helping is Cornell has been going with a freshman at quarterback, freshman QB Jake Jatis, (32-for-58, 2 TDs, 4 INTs) who at 6'4 and 224 lbs is reminiscent of a generation of Colgate QBs, like QB Mike Sullivan, who ran coach Dick Biddle's zone-read offense.  He's clearly got some talent and can run with the ball, but he's only starting his third game at the Division I level.  He's been Ivy League Freshman of the Week several times already this season.

Junior QB James Few
First on the depth chart this week instead is a more experienced player, junior QB James Few, who returns from injury just in time to face off against the Mountain Hawks.

“[James] can manage the game very well,”  Archer told the Cornell Sun. “He’s a guy who can run and throw and he’s tough. That’s what you saw out of him from one game … last year on Senior Day against Columbia. … This offseason, [with] our staff working with him, he’s put in a tremendous amount of hard work.”

That could spell trouble for the Mountain Hawk defense - as long as Few is healthy.  Though he's started two games this season, he hasn't finished either of them.  It's a situation that bears watching this Saturday.

RB Luke Hagy
The back that will make the read-option go is junior RB Luke Hagy (211 yards rushing), who also needs to be picked up on screen plays and other passing situations.

He's already notched more than 1,000 rushing yards and passing yards in his career at Cornell.  When they do run, and they promise to be run-heavy, behind 239 lb junior FB Julian Gallo, primarily a run blocker for the Big Red.

One oddity about Cornell is that despite their run focus, they don't have a single rushing touchdown this season.

6'5 senior WR Lucas Shapiro will certainly be looking to have a big day offensively as the Big Red's No. 1 receiver.  Along with sophomore WR Collin Shaw, they've combined for 274 of Cornell's receiving yards, or more than half of the Big Red's total.  Shapiro has the height to cause people problems catching the ball.

Cornell's offensive line has had problems controlling the line of scrimmage against a pretty strong schedule to date, including games against teams we've seen up close, Bucknell and Yale, and two others that are not that far away from us, Colgate and Harvard.  The "O" line led by senior OL Andrew Weber has given up a whopping 25 tackles for loss in 4 games, including 10 sacks.

Defense

Last week, Cornell's defense held Harvard's powerful offense scoreless in the first half, a fact noted by coach Archer in the post game press conference.  As mightily as Cornell's offense has struggled, their dynamic 3-4 defense, complete with NFL prospect, has kept them in games.  Cornell has 4 forced fumbles already, averaging one per game.

DE Justin Harris
You don't often see 6'6, 272 lb defensive ends at the FCS level, but senior DE Justin Harris is such a player.  Don't be fooled by the tackle numbers (14 tackles, 2 tackles for loss), instead look at his forced fumble and interception vs. Harvard to have a better indication as to what he can do.  Fighting through a lot of double-teams, he still is a disruptive force, while big sophomore NG Jake Lambirth and sophomore DT Michael Staples also fill up the interior of the line nicely versus the run.

Cornell's linebackers also come big with the blitz, with sophomore LB Miles Norris (42 tackles, 3 sacks) and junior LB J.J. Fives (19 tackles, 3 sacks) bringing an impressive outside/inside blitz package to put pressure on opposing defenses.  Sophomore LB Jackson Weber and junior LB Jonathan Ford round out this impressive unit.

Senior FS Rush Imhotep (27 tackles, 1 INT) is the leader in the secondary, and also has a nose for the football, as he's managed to find two of Cornell's forced fumbles in the secondary.   Senior CB Michael Turner is a shutdown corner as well, a guy who doesn't get tested often.

Special Teams

Cornell hasn't been in many games this season, so senior PK John Wells hasn't been asked to win many games for them.  He's 2 for 3 with a long of 29 this season.  Sophomore P Chris Fraser, however, has been very good punting the ball , averaging more than 40 yards per boot, with a long of 72 yards.

Sophomore WR Luis Uceta has been the Big Red's main return threat all year, averaging 20 yards per return on kickoffs.  He's only returned two punts this season, but they've gone for an average of 7 yards.

LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Keep the Play In Front of You.  Cornell's offense has struggled this season, and it's up to Lehigh's defense to keep them struggling.  The only way to do that is to prevent big plays, and to keep the run of play in front of you.  Getting pressure on the quarterback, with guys like senior DT Tim Newton and sophomore LB Pierce Ripanti, will help, but more importantly keeping those six yard gains from becoming big gains from second-level tackling will be even bigger.

2. Protect That Football.  Teams like Cornell feed off defensive stops and turnovers, so it's up to sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky to protect the ball on runs and passes to extend drives.  Cornell brings a lot of pressure from a lot of different areas, so Shaf's ability to make good decisions, like throwing the ball away in certain cases, will be huge.

3. Legos.  Football seasons, and football games, are like that box of Legos you played with as a kid.  You have to make a solid foundation of bricks, build on that foundation, and go from there to make something great.  This game against Cornell is a chance for this Lehigh football team to build a critical Lego brick foundation for the rest of the season.  Only by viewing the game in this way will Lehigh win, and hopefully build on that for the following week.

Fearless Prediction

Last week, I predicted that Lehigh would learn how to win against Bucknell.  They did not, and it has exposed a bunch of weaknesses with the team.  In this void steps Cornell, on their Homecoming weekend.  It was Bucknell's homecoming last year which was their coming-out party, and, arguably, has catapulted them on their spectacular run right now.

Might Cornell do the same thing this weekend?

The optimist would say that Cornell comes at the perfect time for the Mountain Hawks.  A struggling Big Red offense is the perfect opportunity for Lehigh to fix the issues with their defense, build confidence in the offense and the flow of both sides, learn how to win games.

While Lehigh and Cornell are both winless, and both have been challenged by some great football teams (they both faced Yale and Bucknell), the Mountain Hawks were in both of their games against the Eli and Bison, giving up big plays to lose both contests.  Conversely, the Big Red were pretty much blown out of the water in both games.

It may not come easy, but I think Lehigh gets in the victory column this weekend.

Lehigh 36, Cornell 19

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