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Game Breakdown, Lehigh at Colgate, 11/14/2015

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

The updated weather report out of Hamilton is that the snow showers are supposed to end by Saturday morning. Gametime should be 38 or 39  degrees with gusts of wind up to 20 mph.

On paper, this should be a good thing for the home team.

Colgate is not in control of their championship and playoff destiny by some sort of fluke.  Their young team tested themselves early, going 0-3 against three tough teams in Navy, New Hampshire and Yale, managing to outlast Holy Cross in a critical Patriot League game that could have deep-sixed their season, and then won the rest of the Patriot League games in front of them, including a Fordham team that had dominated most of the teams on their schedule.

How did the Raiders beat Fordham?

Easy - they held RB Chase Edmonds, and the rest of the Ram rushing attack, to an eye-popping 1.6 yards per carry.  His longest run was 10 yards from scrimmage.

They jumped out to a 21-3 lead and made the Rams earn every yard against them, never trailing, though they were a 2-point conversion away from overtime.

Some might say that the Raiders have struggled to put games away, nearly letting Fordham snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

The truth is that Colgate found a way to win against Holy Cross (coming from behind), found a way to hold off Georgetown, and batted down a game-tying 2-point conversion attempt to beat nationally-ranked Fordham.

They are strong finishers and know how to win tough Patriot League football games, at home or on the road, coming from behind or holding onto a lead. They may have played with fire this year, but they're still not burned.

Breaking Down Colgate

Offense

Colgate QB Jake Melville
Writing a Colgate offensive preview isn't all that difficult, because their offensive strategy hasn't changed that much over the last decade, even under relatively new head coach Dan Hunt.

They execute the read option, frequently with a tight end wide and a blocking fullback to lead the charge and extremely athletic quarterbacks and running backs to gain yardage.

The blossoming of 6'1, 195 lb junior QB Jake Melville is a huge reason why Colgate is in the driver's seat for the championship.  He's the leading rusher on the team (600 net yards rushing), an exceedingly accurate passer (1,766 yards passing, 7 TDs, 1 INT), and generally has a great comfort level running this offense.  He's been remarkably consistent over the course of this season.

Melville is not the only back in this Colgate backfield, as the Raiders, like Lehigh, use a stable of fresh backs to offer different running styles and to wear down opposing defenses.  Senior RB Demetrius Russell, sophomore RB James Holland and junior RB John Wilkins all come into the game and pelt the defense in waves behind junior FB Dan Grasso, who almost all the time comes in as a lead blocker.

All are strong, athletic backs that infrequently get more than 100 yards per game, but get about 15-20 carriers per game and take big chunks.  All have some receptions out of the backfield, but most of their damage comes from rushing, which Colgate will do more than 60% of the time.

Colgate TE John Quazza
Melville will spread the ball around to a few good possession receivers in junior WR John Maddaluna (549 yards, 2 TDs), senior TE John Quazza (402 yards, 3 TDs) and sophomore WR Alex Greenawalt (481 yards, 2 TDs), but don't sleep on their downfield blocking abilities.  A good portion of the running game's great runs come from downfield blocks from this crew, which includes sophomore WR Connor Wingenroth.

The foundation of a great Colgate offense is a great offensive line, this season led by senior OL John Weber.  No one Colgate offensive lineman is more dominant than another, but they are consistently big and strong across the board.

One thing to consider is that Melville's pass protection has been fabulous in their wins this season.  Each time he's been sacked more than two times - versus New Hampshire and Priceton - the Raiders have lost.

Defense

Colgate plays a base 3-4 that has an all-Patriot League level pass rusher in sophomore DE Pat Afrylie (36 tackles, 13 1/2 tackles for loss including 9 1/2 sacks).  Jnuior NT Alex Campbell and junior DE Brett Field round out this excellent front three that may be one of the best Lehigh has seen this year.  They are not the bulkiest linemen the Mountain Hawks have seen but this group is tough and physical.

Colgate CB Ty McCollum
At linebacker. junior LB Kyle Diener (85 tackles, 1 forced fumble is also having a terrific season, to go with junior LB Charles Cairnie, senior LB Cameron Buttermore, and junior LB Chris Morgan.  This unit has benefited greatly by staying intact and uninjured all season.  As mentioned before, their stoutness against the run really stands out.

Where they have had some issues is in the secondary, but with senior CB Ty McCollum (3 INT) breaking out with two picks at Lafayette last week, that unit seems to be getting better and better as the season has come along.  Junior SS Christian Hardegree, junior FS Joe Figueroa, and freshman CB Tyler Castillo round out the unit.

Special Teams

The special teams of the Raiders could be Colgate's achilles heel.

Junior PK Jonah Bowman has only gone 4-for-10 on field goal tries this season, his longest being 39 yards.  He's also had 4 attempts blocked.  Senior P Niko Armiento has been a solid punter, averaging a shade under 40 yards per boot, but he can't be considered a weapon in that area.

Junior KR John Maddaluna, junior KR Chris Morgan and junior KR Christian Hardegree have done a servicable job returning kicks, but haven't returned one for a score yet this season.  Maddaluna is probably the biggest threat to return on this unit.

LFN's Keys to the Game


1. Make Special Teams Hurt Colgate.  If you compare the special teams units of Lehigh and Colgate on paper, the Mountain Hawks win that argument hands down.  If they can prove that on the field as well, that could make the Raiders have a very long day at home.  Freshman KR Donavon Harris and freshman PK Ed Mish alone can make field position and field goals a big part of this game.  Getting big returns to the red zone, and making those red zone trips into points, will be critical for a Lehigh win.

2. Offensive Balance.  Running every play on Colgate is asking for problems, which is why a steady balance of run and pass is probably still, despite the weather, the best way to attack the Raider defense.  Another shot to senior WR Derek Knott downfield early could mean an early touchdown and an early lead - it would be the perfect Lehigh start on Saturday, and one the Mountain Hawks could use.

3. Pressure on Melville.  A big pass rush will be critical to disrupt the timing of Melville, both running and passing the ball, which means junior LB Colton Caslow and senior LB Matt Laub will need to bring the heat to the quarterback.  If I see 3 or more sacks on Melville, like we saw on QB Peter Pujals last week, I love Lehigh's chances.

Fearless Prediction

It's a real November treat to see Lehigh vs. Colgate be a championship game again, and both teams are eager to prove to their fans that they're championship teams, which will make this a great game.  Nothing will be held back, on either side.

Both sides, in a lot of ways, are similar.  They tested themselves early, and are surging late.  They both have multi-faceted rushing attacks, and aggressive defenses.

Where I think Lehigh wins this championship game up in cold, windy Hamilton, New York is in the kicking game.  Emotion?  They're even.  Talent?  They're Even.  Momentum?  They're even.  The only area where there's a huge difference is on special teams, and I think that's where this game will be won.

Lehigh 30, Colgate 26

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