It's a big game in the Patriot League this weekend at Murray Goodman Stadium, and the FCS experts have been weighing in - and to a person, all picking Colgate to win.
Craig Haley of STATS/Athlon Sports:
An at-large playoff bid is out of the question for Colgate, which is going to have to repeat as Patriot League champion to get back to the postseason. The Raiders are reeling, while Lehigh’s offense (51.3 points per game the last three weeks) is soaring no matter if the quarterback is Nick Shafnisky or Brad Mayes. Shafnisky is due back this week.Emory Hunt over at Football Gameplan also has picked Colgate to win, and the vast majority of posters in the Any Given Saturday fan community as well have picked the Raiders.
Thanks to Colgate's game notes for providing key parts of this content.
Breaking Down Colgate
Writing a Colgate is personally my absolute favorite to write. Why? Because their offensive strategy hasn't changed that much over the last decade, from former head coach Dick Biddle to current defending Patriot League champion head coach Dan Hunt.
Having said that, although they execute the read option often, frequently with a tight end wide and a blocking fullback to lead the charge and extremely athletic quarterbacks and running backs to gain yardage, they have also gained an impressive passing attack that means opposing defenses can't simply put nine in the box and give the backs nowhere to run.
Hunt's team in 2016 has a reputation of being fundamentally sound and is also a team that has barely been penalized. They've only averaged 3.75 penalties a game.
|QB Jake Melville|
He's the leading rusher on the team (206 net yards rushing), an in the past has been an exceedingly accurate passer, though through some extremely tough competition this season his low completion percentage (53.10%) and high number of interceptions (4) are very uncharacteristic for him. His 399 yard passing game vs. Cornell, with 3 TDs and 0 INTs, are much more indicative on how he plays.
Melville is a master at the read option, seeing where the breaks are in the line and will easily tuck away the ball and run. He'll undoubtedly have seen the film of Yale QB Tre Moore and Penn QB Alek Torgerson, both similar types of read-option QBs who had some success running the ball against Lehigh's defense.
|RB James Holland and a friend (New Haven Register)|
Last week, Holland didn't play vs. Cornell, and there is speculation as to whether he'll be available for the game vs. Lehigh this weekend. It's fair to say that with Holland in there, Colgate is a different team when it comes to getting physical, grind-it-out yards to keep the sticks moving. While Washington did a fine job filling in for Holland last week, he's at his core a different type of runner than Holland.
I think coach Hunt wants, and might have, a three-pronged attack of Lehigh's defense on Saturday with the bruiser Holland, the shifty Washington, and the read-option of Melville, all running behind power blocking of senior RB John Wilkins to pelt the defense in waves.
All that can be said is on the latest Colgate depth chart, Holland is listed first. We might need to wait and see whether it's #22 or #7 actually starting when the Raider offense first takes the field.
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. In the past all have caught the ball out of the backfield, but most of their damage comes from rushing, which Colgate will do more than 60% of the time. This has been a consistent feature of Colgate football for quite some time now.
Some of Colgate's best teams in the past decade had tall WR Pat Simonds on their team to keep them honest, this season, it looks like the Raider defense has a similar receiver on their squad.
|WR John Maddaluna|
Filling out Colgate's 3 wideout set is junior WR Alex Greenawalt (167 yards, 1 TDs, and 6'5 sophomore WR Thomas Ives, who are also very strong downfield blockers for the running game.
The foundation of a great Colgate offense has always been a great offensive line. There had been a small doubt as to whether this year's squad would be able to be as good as last year's unit, but guys like junior OL Ryan Paulish quickly put that to rest. As ever, Colgate's "O" line is big and physical, and they'll try to out-physical you to the victory.
Colgate plays a base 3-4 that has an all-Patriot League level defensive line that is both talented and deep.
Start with one of the best bull rushers in all of FCS, junior DE Pat Afriyie (9 1/2 tackles for loss including 4 1/2 sacks). After his breakout sophomore season, he hasn't missed a beat so far this year despite Colgate's games against Richmond and Syracuse. He's a major disruptor in all aspects - speed to the quarterback, and also getting his hands up to knock down passes over the middle.
|DE Pat Afriyie|
At linebacker. senior LB Charles Cairnie and senior LB Kyle Diener are are both 1 and 2 on the team in tackles, while returning starter senior LB Chris Morgan and impressive newcomer junior LB Trent Williams round out this impressive group. Six of the seven were members of last year's defense.
Colgate has always stopped the run extremely well, and this year is no different. Opponents are only averaging 100 yards rushing against them.
Which leads us to the glaring weakness of the Colgate defense - the secondary. The Raiders have given up an eye-popping 343 yards per game through the air, something that must leave Lehigh offensive coordinator Drew Folmar foaming at the mouth trying to find ways to attack it.
It's worth mentioning, though, that Colgate has also forced 8 interceptions to go along with all that yardage, so it's better to quantify this unit as a high risk/high reward group. The 8 interception is good enough to be ranked 4th in all of FCS.
What's interesting, though, is that this unit was made up for the most part of players that played against Lehigh the past few seasons - senior SS Christian Hardegree, senior FS Joe Figueroa, and Nazareth native senior CB Adam Bridgeforth, who sat out all of last season after an injury in the first game of the season. They, along with sophomore CB Cortney Mimms, will be fired up to prove themselves, especially after last week versus Cornell where they gave up a key passing touchdown with under a minute left in the game.
Senior PK Jonah Bowman has been a perfect 4-for-4 on field goal tries this season, but in general, Hunt, like Biddle before him, will only settle for the short stuff on field goals and will largely go for it in on 4th down if the alternative is a 40 yard field goal. Bownan's longest this season is 31 yards.
The new punter, sophomore P Josh Cerra has been a solid punter, averaging a shade over 40 yards per boot. He has a couple over 50 yards.
Freshman DB Abu Dharamy is the primary punt and kickoff returner, and he owns a respectable 5 yards per punt and 21 yards per kickoff. Colgate also prides itself immensely on strong special teams play - that unit has only allowed a 17.83 yards per kickoff return.
LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Security Blankets. Against Penn, Princeton and Yale, a decent portion of Lehigh's success came at least in part due to untimely penalties and turnovers from the opposition. If history is any guide, Colgate does a terrific job not hurting themselves in these areas, so strong overall execution on the Mountain Hawk side, which includes minimizing (or eliminating) turnovers and penalties, will be a big part of this game. If Lehigh can out-execute Colgate - which is not an easy task for any team - I like the Mountain Hawks' chances.
2. Dunkin' and Dinkin'. A terrific way for a Lehigh quarterback to attack Colgate's fearsome pass rush is through screens and short passes, and someone like senior WR Trevor Soccaras could be a formidable weapon in that area if Colgate chooses to blitz early and often. I think a steady diet of dinks and dunks could be very valuable for Lehigh.
3. Harvey vs. Melville. They call it a "spy", and senior ROV Evan Harvey's emergence on this Lehigh defense provides the perfect spy to counteract some of Melville's designed runs off guard, off tackle, and to the outside. Evan "Are You Talkin' To Me" Harvey playing physical, and making Melville feel every yard he earns, is a great way to try to limit Colgate's rushing attack.
You know the game has ramifications - it always does. You know the game will be close - it always is. You know both teams will come out with peak emotion, ready to fly around - they always are. When Lehigh plays Colgate, it's a rivalry, and it makes for a great game this weekend. Letdown, on both sides, isn't an option.
It's hard to escape the factor of "W3" and "L1" on both sides, though. The Mountain Hawks, on a winning streak where they've averaged more than 50 points a game, is white-hot. The Raiders, who lost on a touchdown pass in the last 30 seconds against Cornell, has to deal with the emotions of that loss.
My question centers around the late game. What if Lehigh's offense is sitting on a 20-14 lead at halftime, rather than a 42-28 lead (as they did last week)? What if Colgate jumps out to a 28-14 lead instead, and the Mountain Hawks need to come from behind? In the last three games, they never were down by more than two scores. If the Raiders jump to a 21-0 lead against them, like they did vs. Cornell, would Lehigh have that level of comeback in them, too?
It's hard, though, to go against this offense, as scorching as it's been. Perhaps with a chip on their shoulders, Colgate will come in, intercept the Lehigh quarterback three times, sack him four times, and come away with a resounding win. But it's just as likely that Lehigh's machine-like offense comes right out and piles on points the same way that they have in the last three weeks. If they do - if this game gets into the 80-90 point total range - it's hard not to go with the Mountain Hawks.
Lehigh 51, Colgate 42