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Game Breakdown, #Rivalry150, 11/22/2014

There is but one football game in this college football season tomorrow, and it's in New York City at Yankee Stadium.  That means there's but one football game to break down, and it's #Rivalrly150, which will be done below the flip.

It's hard to believe that the season is already coming to an end, and that the game that was years in the making is about to happen tomorrow.

It made for a weird vibe on campus today, where I went to get my tickets and buy my Rivalry scarves for tomorrow.  I'm used to the Rivalry being in the air on campus, but campus mostly had serious students there, the football-crazed of whom are probably in Manhattan right now, fresh from watching Lehigh's president John D. Simon ring the final bell of the New York Stock Exchange, or attending the sold-out Lehigh/Lafayette swim and dive meet, or listening to Lehigh Choral Arts at Carnegie Hall, or attending the gala with Earth, Wind and Fire.

With all the hoopla, it can be forgotten there's an actual football game tomorrow - essentially a bowl game.  Let's see how Lehigh can come out of the Bronx with a win.


Breaking Down Lafayette
Offense

If you believe the chatter coming from the Lafayette message boards, there's a lot going in in terms of Lafayette's quarterback situation.

Let's explain a little.

Lafayette QB Drew Reed
Sophomore QB Drew Reed, the Tennessean QB that lit up Lehigh last season in the 149th meeting between the two foes, started in their game two weeks ago versus Colgate.  But as has happened before this season, he got hurt, meaning sophomore QB Blake Searfoss came in relief to guide the Leopards to a 19-16 win.

The 6'0 Reed, when healthy, is a dangerous running, mobile, and accurate with his throws.  But he seems to have struggled in his sophomore season somewhat (1,022 yards passing, 9 TDs, 9 INTs, 43 net yards rushing).  The 6'2 Searfoss is more of a pocket passer (1,063 yards passing, 7 TDs).

If you believe Lafayette's game notes, Reed is the undisputed starter.  But this week, there have been intimations that Reed is still not 100% able to come back from his injury against Colgate, fed by the report on the Express-Times that head coach Frank Tavani said to the Express-Times that they are "preparing Blake to start... all I will say now is Drew is day-to-day".

Further complicating matters is the fact that Searfoss is rumored to have suffered an injury in training this week.  If that's the case, and Reed is not ready to go, senior QB Zach Zweizig, who played previously for the Leopards but hasn't fielded a snap this season, would be the starting QB.  Zweizig is an average quarterback that was a pretty good signalcaller but not good enough to unseat Reed or Searfoss.

(If I'm coach Andy Coen I'm preparing for a 100% Drew Reed irrespective of all this press chaff.)

Lafayette RB Ross Scheuerman
The superstar on this Lafayette team is clearly dynamic senior RB Ross Scheuerman, who singlehandedly leads the Leopards in rushing (887 yards), receiving (468 yards), and scoring (13 TDs).  Look for lots of read-option with Scheurman, screen passes to Scheuerman, finding Scheuerman downfield... and don't be surprised to see him perhaps try the old halfback toss and pass to give him a pass completion on Saturday, too.

Scheuerman is a back with unnatural speed and good hands, good enough to perhaps get him on an NFL roster this offseason.  He's 11 yards shy of getting to 6,000 all-purpose yards for his career at Lafayette, and if Lehigh can somehow prevent that from happening, I'd say Lehigh will almost certainly win the game.  But that's not likely: Scheuerman will likely get his yards.  The Mountain Hawks' strategy has to be to contain him best they can, as well as his frequent lead blocker, junior FB Dan Dellovade.

At receiver we see two seniors on the depth chart that helped torch Lehigh last year, senior WR Demetrius Dixon and senior WR Justin Adams.  Both have combined for 384 yards receiving this year, however, both struggling through injuries (and Dixon did not play last weekend vs. Colgate).  Behind them have been freshmen and sophomores, the most notable of whom is sophomore WR Tim Vangelas (240 yards, 1 TD).  Though junior TE Brian Keller adds another target (223 yards, 3 TDs), the Leopard receiving corps has struggled with injury all season.

Lafayette's offensive line has struggled mightily to protect their quarterbacks, allowing an eye-popping 80 tackles for loss and 36 sacks in 10 games.  If Lehigh is to win this weekend, they'll need to keep up this type of pace when it comes to harassing Lafayette quarterbacks.

Defense

Where Lafayette has done well this season is defense, where their 4-2-5 formation kicked into life midway through the third quarter against Colgate and allowed the Leopards to escape Hamilton with a rare win, shutting out the Raiders the rest of the way.

Lafayette DE James Coscia
Senior DE James Coscia (7 1/2 tackles for loss including 4 sacks) leads a big, beefy defensive line that has allowed about 181 yards per game on the ground.  Senior DE James Dorner (5 tackles for loss including 2 sacks) offers a strong pass rush from the other side, while junior DT Steve Mercado and sophomore DT Matt Rothrock plug the middle well.  Overall the line is very aggressive and has been good at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks; all four have at least one sack.

Junior LB Mark Dodd (83 tackles, 3 tackles for loss) leads the Leopards in tackles, and his battery mate at linebacker, senior LB Colton Kirkpatrick, has come back from injury to help him anchor the middle well.

Worrying for Lehigh is the fact that Lafayette has a very strong secondary, which has nabbed 8 of the Leopards' 9 interceptions on the year.  Leading the charge is freshman CB Phillip Parnham with 3 picks, and already teams had started to throw away from him and focusing on the side of speedy junior CB Matt Smalley (10 pass break-ups, 1 interception).  Junior DB Chris Brockman (72 tackles, 5 tackles for loss) has provided a dynamic swingman as it comes to pass rush and pass defense, while a pair of seniors, senior FS Shane Black and senior SS Jared Roberts, fill out a worryingly good secondary.

Special Teams
Where Lafayette is extremely dangerous is in the return game.  Senior RB Ross Scheuerman has returned kicks all season, including a 90 yard return for a touchdown, and he'd love nothing better to pad his resume for the NFL by adding one or more in Yankee Stadium.  Junior CB Matt Smalley isn't exactly a slouch on his other side, either, averaging more than 20 yards per return.  Squib kicks are an option.  On punt returns, senior WR Jared Roberts has an 81 yard return as well - so again, punting out of bounds is an option.

As great as Lafayette's return game has been, their kicking game has struggled, with both their kickers unable to hit more than 50% of their attempts on the season.  Weirdly, junior PK Ryan Gralish (3-6 on the season) is listed as the No. 1 kicker on the depth chart even though freshman PK Thomas Martin kicked the game-winning 31 yard FG two weeks ago against Colgate.

Lehigh certainly hopes to see a lot of sophomore P Ryan Forrester this Saturday, who is averaging 39.1 per boot.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Jobs.  For Lehigh, it's all about executing their jobs.  It's not a time to be awed by the lights, or the Stadium, or the tunnel, or the stands.  The field is still 100 yards.  It's still November.  It's still Lafayette.  Manage the emotions as you always would against Lafayette.
2. Second-level contain.  Lehigh's defense needs to contain Lafayette's backs and receivers after first contact.  It's been a lot better in the last few weeks, but it needs to be at its best to contain Scheuerman, Reed and company this Saturday.
3. Minecraft.  Crafting a strategy against Lafayette's defense involves a lot of pickaxing - runs by sophomore QB Nick Shafnisky here, dinks to senior WR Josh Parris there.  I'm less interested in home run balls as I am a lot of singles and doubles - 5 yards here, 4 yards there.
4. Special Teams.  Seriously think about taking that part of Lafayette's game entirely.  Squib kicks on kickoffs are options.  Punting out of bounds is an option.  I would consider using that.

Fearless Prediction

I've been picking these games for an awfully long time, and they are notoriously hard to predict in regards to the extreme emotions at play - the final football games of so many seniors on both sides.  Add to this the extra scale of playing in Yankee Stadium and the task becomes even tougher.

You can't even really go on momentum.  Both schools beat Colgate to end their seasons, though in different fashions.  Lehigh leapt to a huge lead and held on for dear life at the end, while Lafayette fell in a 16-0 hole and improbably rallied to win with a game-winning field goal.

I've seen many of these games seem to hang on the seniors, but even there it's pretty inconclusive.  Senior OL Ned Daryoush and senior RB Ross Scheuerman both seem to have NFL training camps in their future.  Lafayette's defense is stout; so is Lehigh's offense.  The Leopards' offense has struggled; so has Lehigh's defense, for the most part.

On the way home from Lehigh today, my wife asked me who I thought would win the 150th meeting.  I told her that more than any other year I've done this, I honestly don't know.

Lehigh 33, Lafayette 31

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