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Game Breakdown, Lehigh at Fordham, 10/24/2015

We break down the Fordham game - and we give our fearless prediction below the flip.

Fans, coaches and players alike are keenly aware of the importance of this weekend's game.

“If you look at our win against Bucknell and our win against Penn, which are our two best wins of the year, those were our two best weeks of practice,” senior TE Chris Ruhl told The Brown and White this week. “It was our most intense week of practice. It was our most focused week of practice, so head coach Andy Coen has been pushing for us to set the standard with that.”

Also in this week's game notes for Lehigh, which I forgot about for yesterday, sees a big return on the two-deep as well in junior LB Colton Caslow.

"We've still got a lot of work to do and we're still working hard on getting better every single time we step on the field," senior LB Noah Robb said this week. "We've made a lot of progress, even from two weeks ago. We're getting there."

Lehigh fans hope they "get there" this Saturday.

"It's really crazy, honestly," Robb continued. "To think I only have a couple months left, of football, I don't know what I'm going to do with myself when it's over... Off the field, Lehigh is a great place to go. I've had opportunities to network.  I've received a great education and couldn't ask for a better place to spend the best four years of my life. But I don't want to leave Lehigh without a [championship] ring."


Breaking Down Fordham
Offense

Ram Head coach Joe Moorhead is known in Patriot League circles for three things.

One is his tenure as the starting quarterback for the Rams from 1993-1995.  In fact, Moorhead is the only head football coach at a Patriot League school that actually played in the League as a player and also participated as a head coach.

Two is his rapid rise through the assistant coaching ranks, through Akron and UConn.  In both places, as quarterbacks coach, his calling card was offense, notably Zips QB Luke Getsy and Huskies QB Zach Frazer.

The third is his offensive philosophy, the "multiple no-huddle" offense, that gave him immense success with both Akron and UConn, and ultimately allowing the Huskies to make their first-ever trip to a major BCS bowl, the Orange Bowl.

The "multiple no-huddle", of which variants are used by Pete Lembo at Ball State and Bob Surace at Princeton, is a hurry-up sort of offense that can have a dizzying number of different formations and looks.  It is dynamic in the sense that it can adjust to what your strengths and weaknesses are - if your best athletes are in the backfield, you can run to set up the pass.  But the overarching philosophy is for the offense to be hurrying up so often it wears down the opposing defense.

I like to call Moorhead's physical, multiple-no huddle offense the "Battering Ram", with a big, physical signalcaller and a speedy, surprisingly tough back to shoulder the rushing load.  It's comes from a similar philosophy as Lehigh's other opponents, with the key difference that it's been much more effective in generating points on the scoreboard.

The good news is that Lehigh head coach Andy Coen will not be caught unaware of Moorhead's offense, which is now fairly well-established.  The bad news is, just like Dave Cecchini's "Air Lehigh" offenses, there are many sub-variations baked into the offense and it can be tweaked to attack specific weak links in a defense.

WFUV Reporters Hanging On Anderson's Every Word
Folks around the Patriot League may have been secretly hoping that, with the graduation of QB Michael Nebrich, the Fordham offense might be a bit less powerful.  Unfortunately, they were incorrect, as junior QB Kevin Anderson, a transfer from Marshall by way of Boca Raton, Florida (65.2% completion percentage, 1,797 yards passing 18 TDs) has very much picked up where Nebrich left off.

Like an uninjured Nebrich, Anderson is not afraid to take off with the ball and run with it, making you have to respect his rushing ability, while he's also very adept at finding the open receiver in Moorhead's system.  He's an extremely solid quarterback, and has held up surprisingly well to pressure, too, getting sacked 3 times per game on average yet still leading the Rams on offensive production.

Of course, it helps to have last year's national freshman of the year, according to STATS, running the football and taking pressure off of you.

Fordham RB Chase Edmonds
Sophomore RB Chase Edmonds burst onto the scene at Fordham last year and very quickly made an already-potent offense into a downright frightening offense with a record-setting freshman year.  Any hopes for a sophomore slump have been doused thus far, as the Central Dauphin East graduate.

The 5'9, 185 lb shifty spark plug of a running back is having almost an identical season to last year at this time, having already passed the 1,000 yard rushing mark this year (1,070 yards), having gotten 21 receptions (for 286 yards), having and scored 19 touchdowns.

When Edmonds needs to sit down and get oxygen, 5'10 junior RB Kendall Pearcey, another speed back, comes in.  Last year he also torched Lehigh's defense for 100 yards in a 48-27 defeat last year.

The key difference between this year's Rams and last year's Rams is a receiving corps that isn't as loaded with stars and nightmares for an opposing defensive coordinator to scheme against.  That's not to say that they're bad, but Anderson spreads out the ball a lot more against the newest group of Fordham receivers.  Seven different receivers have received touchdown passes from Anderson this season.

Two of Anderson's biggest targets this Saturday, interestingly, may be freshmen.  Freshman WR Corey Caddle (21 catches 285 yards) and freshman WR Jonathan Lumley (7 catches, 79 yards) are listed atop the depth chart to go with senior WR Robbie Cantelli (29 catches, 443 yards) and 6'8 senior TE Phazhan Odom (15 catches, 293 yards).  Freshman WR Austin Longi (17 catches, 266 yards) will also most likely get a lot of time as well.

But it's a fool's game to try to focus on one guy.  Against Lafayette, no Fordham receiver had more than two receptions.  Discipline, and tackling, will be critical.

What is it when Fordham plays Villanova?  It's tempting to look at the Wildcats, who have held the Rams to a combined 13 points in games against Fordham in 2014 and 2015, as a possible template for a Lehigh victory.

Fordham OL Garrick Mayweather
The first thing that sticks out this season is that Villanova held Fordham to 182 yards of total offense and held Edmonds to under 100 yards of rushing for the game.  Unfortunately, that game also played on a very wet, rainy evening.  Lehigh is not supposed to have any luck in that department, instead facing sunny, 60 degree, beautiful fall weather.

Fordham's "O" line, by definition, has had a great season blocking for Edmonds.  In pass coverage, though, they haven't had the same level of success, yielding three sacks a game.  6'4, 319 lb senior OL Garrick Mayweather anchors a good, if young, offensive line.

Defense

This year, as last year, it was no secret that Fordham would have a top offense in FCS - the only question was whether the defense could slow down opposing offenses long enough to end up on top.

The past two weeks the Fordham defense has yielded 41 points to Holy Cross and 44 points to Penn, which was enough for shootout victories.  Lehigh is hoping that Fordham's young 3-4 defense will be equally, if not more accommodating, this week.

Looking into these two offensive outbursts, they came in very different fashions.  Fordham jumped out to a 28-3 halftime lead before Penn erupted in the second half for six out of seven second-half possessions and came so, so close to forcing overtime.  Holy Cross leapt to an early halftime lead, but couldn't close the deal in the 4th quarter and ultimately lost in overtime.

Junior DE Brandon Weir (3 sacks) is the most productive guy on the defensive line in terms of statistics.  He's the speed rusher, while junior NG Manny Adeyeye and junior DT Justin Vaughn provide the beef, both topping the scales at 290 lbs.

Fordham LB Stephen Hodge
The two guys in the linebacking unit that have done the best overall this year are senior LB Stephen Hodge (69 tackles, 8 1/2 tackles for loss) and a budding star in sophomore LB Niko Thorpe (50 tackles, 4 sacks).  Hodge sat out last year due to an injury, but is back for his final year of eligibility and is having a great season.

Though Fordham's defense has been giving up points the past two weeks, they are also an opportunistic defense that has forced a lot of turnovers.  Senior S J.Q. Bowers has been a big part of that with 3 picks, while senior CB Lourenzo Smith (1 INT, 4 passes defensed) has also been good veteran leadership for this defense.

Special Teams

Junior PK Mackay Redd has a heck of a leg as a kicker, already having converted a 54 yarder this season and continuing a very solid legacy of kickers the past few years at Fordham.  He's 6-8 on the season.

Fordham P Joe Pavlick
Junior P Joe Pavlik has not only blossomed into becoming a very solid punter, averaging nearly 40 yards per boot this season, but his 2-point conversion of a botched snap in the Army-West Point game made him an unlikely hero in that game.  (For him it was sweet vengeance: last year, vs. Army, he had a punt blocked, which was a key play in their loss to the Cadets last season.)

Junior CB Jihaad Pretlow was one of the heroes last week vs. Holy Cross, with his 87 yard kickoff return versus the Crusaders being a big part of their comeback win.  Speedy junior RB Kendall Pearcey is no easier to deal with on the other side, while freshman WR Corey Caddle has done a fine job in punt returns this season as well.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Offense as Defense.  The old saw is "the best defense is a good offense," and never before has this been more critical than with Fordham.  Keeping Anderson on the bench with long, sustained, grinding drives, led by the rushing of freshman RB Dominick Bragalone, junior QB Nick Shafnisky and the rest of the offense will be critical, and, of course, not turning over the ball.

2. Solo Tackling.  Lehigh did excellent work two weeks ago preventing big plays on defense, and a big part of that was excellent tackling in space.  Edmonds will probably get his yards, but it's up to Lehigh's defense to really put a physical pounding on him to make him earn every inch.  The better the tackling and the more physical the defense, the better the Mountain Hawks' chances of winning.

3. Turnover Ratio.  Two weeks ago, the Mountain Hawks made some mistakes in turning over the ball and some untimely penalties.  That didn't hurt Lehigh in their victory, but similar mistakes this week are much more likely to be cashed in for touchdowns by Fordham's impressive offense.  Ball security, and some turnovers going Lehigh's way, will be critical if the Mountain Hawks are to win.

Fearless Prediction

Lehigh fans want to be optimists.  They want to go to the Bronx and not have to fear anyone.  In that vein, the Mountain Hawks head to Rose Hill on a high, looking forward to challenging a Top 15 team in the country.

For the past two weeks, Fordham barely survived a couple of shootouts.  Can Lehigh do the same?  It seems unlikely.  The last time Lehigh gave up more than 30 points in a win was a season-opening win against Central Connecticut State back in 2013.

That means the Mountain Hawks will have to win this game the hard way - through the defense holding Edmonds well under his average, the offense not making the mistakes that have happened even in wins this season.

What will happen on Saturday is a great battle, without a doubt.  Fordham doesn't seem like the same team they were last season, even though they're still impressive and very much deserving of their place in the FCS landscape.  If Lehigh wins, it feels like the sky will be the limit for the rest of the season.

But Fordham wins these close games because they know how to win.  They didn't beat Holy Cross in overtime by accident, nor did they hang on against Penn because they got lucky.  They are a together team, and know what it takes to win games.

Prove me wrong, Mountain Hawks.

Fordham 38, Lehigh 27

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