Skip to main content

Big Part Of Lehigh Title Run Is Offensive Line Resurgence

Going into last weekend, most people thought that Holy Cross might pose a problem for the Mountain Hawks defensively.

The Crusader defense had shut out two opponents, contributing to wins over Lafayette two weeks ago, 42-0, and a CAA team, Albany, 37-0.

How would Lehigh's offensive line do against Holy Cross' defensive front?

Once the dust had settled on Saturday, the answer was: "just fine, thanks for asking."

The Mountain Hawks did an awful lot of things right on offense last week, jumping out to a 41-10 halftime lead, carving out 543 offensive yards and executing 83 offensive plays.  But the foundation for that offensive explosion came from a vastly improved performance on the offensive line.



In the final out-of-conference game of the season against Yale, Lehigh struggled mightily on offense in a 27-12 defeat.

"Not a good day, today, at all, particularly offensively," head coach Andy Coen said after that game. "I think Yale really dominated the line of scrimmage and put a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They were not allowing us to really get anything going in the run game at all. I've said this before, but we have to have the balance. We have to be able to run the ball and we have to be efficient throwing the football."

Rough Day for Lehigh Versus Yale
Yale sacked Shafnisky 4 times that afternoon, and didn't allow a single touchdown pass in that game.  I didn't take it lightly, either, frustratingly penning a piece saying that Yale came into our house and pushed us around.

"We thought one of the keys to the game for us was to kind of limit [junior QB Nick Shafnisky's] opportunities to run with the football and have time throwing," Yale head coach Tony Reno said afterwards. "Did we get him every time? No. He's a heck of a football player and Lehigh's a great team. But for us, the biggest chance for us to keep Shafnisky off the scoreboard was to put some pressure on him in the pass game."

Junior OL Zach Duffy and the rest of the offensive line took the challenge.

"I think once league play started, we took a step back and realized what we needed to do for us to score points and win football games," he told me.  "Our motto has been to not only outplay our opponent, but physically dominate them with technique and effort. Coach Andy Marino has been drilling that into us and it's working."

The following week at Bucknell, Lehigh ditched their old gold helmets and switched to a new uniform combination, all-white jersey and pants with a white "Lehigh" helmet.

Junior OL Zach Duffy
Though some might have attributed the Mountain Hawks' offensive success to the new uniforms, a lot more of the reason for Lehigh's 21-10 win over the Bison was a revitalized, refocused offensive line, who allowed the Mountain Hawks to carve out 229 net rushing yards against one of the better defensive fronts in the Patriot League.

Against Fordham, Georgetown and Holy Cross, the Mountain Hawks have been gaining tons of yards both on the ground and through the air.  In the last three games, Lehigh has gained 491, 453, and 543 yards respectively of total offense.

That's on the O line of Duffy, senior OL Matt Cohen, senior OL Matt Ford, junior OL Brandon Short, and sophomore OL Tim O'Hara, as well as senior OL Stephen Camasta, who went down with an injury over this time, and senior TE Chris Ruhl.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence right now," Zach said.  "As a unit, we take a lot of responsibility in the success of our team."

For Zach against Holy Cross, it also included an unexpected play in recovering a fumble on a key drive in the first half.

"The fumble play was pretty wild," he said.  "I saw the ball fly up into the air when freshman QB Brad Mayes got hit, and my instincts kicked in. It felt like I got there in a split second, but from what everyone has jokingly said, I apparently looked like I was running in slow motion. I knew I was going to get pummeled by 2-3 guys as soon as I recovered it. I guess I got a lucky bounce."

Giving Shaf That Final "Push"
That "lucky bounce" was critical, because as soon as Duffy recovered the fumble, Mayes completed a pass to junior WR Jarrod Howard for a first down, keeping the drive alive until Shafnisky powered the ball into the end zone on a 10 yard running play, with O'Hara, for good measure, giving Shaf the final push to get him into the end zone.

Six plays on that drive were rushing plays of 5, 5, 7, 0, 5, and 10 yards, demonstrating how well Lehigh's offensive line was doing on that drive.

As it stands, Lehigh has it in their power to win a Patriot League co-championship behind this resurgent offensive line, but Zach and the rest of the unit knows very well it won't be easy.

"We had a blast on Saturday against Holy Cross, [but] we definitely have a challenge coming up," he told me.  "Colgate has a stout defense. They've managed to shut down their opponent's run game two weeks in a row. I think everyone was very impressed that they shut down RB Chase Edmonds. We're going to have to push ourselves this week at practice and prepare for a physical defensive front. The great thing right now is that we are playing with a lot of confidence, and peaking at the right time. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best, and right now Colgate is the best because they're unbeaten in the league."

Up in Hamilton, it should be an old-fashioned trench battle versus Colgate, and Zach and the offensive line, I'm sure, would have it no other way.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Fifteen Guys Who Might be Lehigh's Next Football Coach (and Five More)

If you've been following my Twitter account, you might have caught some "possibilities" as Lehigh's next head football coach like Lou Holtz, Brett Favre and Bo Pelini.  The chance that any of those three guys actually are offered and accept the Lehigh head coaching position are somewhere between zero and zero.  (The full list of my Twitter "possibilities" are all on this thread on the Lehigh Sports Forum.)

However the actual Lehigh head football coaching search is well underway, with real names and real possibilities.

I've come up with a list of fifteen possible names, some which I've heard whispered as candidates, others which might be good fits at Lehigh for a variety of reasons.

UPDATE: I have found five more names of possible head coaches that I am adding to this list below.

Who are the twenty people?  Here they are, in alphabetical order.

How The Ivy League Is Able To Break the NCAA's Scholarship Limits and Still Consider Themselves FCS

By now you've seen the results.  In 2018, the Ivy League has taken the FCS by storm.

Perhaps it was Penn's 30-10 defeat of Lehigh a couple of weeks ago.  Or maybe it was Princeton's 50-9 drubbing of another team that made the FCS Playoffs last year, Monmouth.  Or maybe it was Yale's shockingly dominant 35-14 win over nationally-ranked Maine last weekend.

The Ivy League has gone an astounding 12-4 so far in out-of-conference play, many of those wins coming against the Patriot League.

But it's not just against the Patriot League where the Ivy League has excelled. 

Every Ivy League school has at least one out-of-conference victory, which is remarkable since it is only three games into their football season. 

The four losses - Rhode Island over Harvard, Holy Cross over Yale, Delaware over Cornell, and Cal Poly over Brown - were either close losses that could have gone either way or expected blowouts of teams picked to be at the bottom of the Ivy League.

Why the Ivy Le…

Remembering Andy Coen's Time As Head Coach As He Steps Down as Lehigh Football Head Coach To Address Health Issue

I read the announcement that head coach Andy Coen was stepping down as head football coach late Friday evening.

It was an announcement that I was expecting, to some degree. 

Those of use who have been following the program closely knew that something was amiss with Andy. 

And yet, the reason for him needing to step down was devastating.

"Life has thrown me a curveball," Coen said in the press release on Friday, December 7th, 2018. "I am in the early stages [of early onset Alzheimer's disease] and it is best for me to eliminate stress and concentrate on my health and well-being.  My wife, Laura, and my children, Molly, Nolan and Finn have supported me throughout my career and are my biggest fans.  This is a very difficult decision for all of us, but it is what is best at this time."

It was the gutting, pit-in-the-stomach diagnosis nobody wanted to be true.  Just like that, a bigger challenge than simply winning football games faces the man who has been heading …