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Fordham at Lehigh Game Breakdown And Fearless Prediction: Remember getting Chase-d Out of the Bronx?

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

Remember when Fordham RB Chase Edmonds set a Patriot League rushing record against the Mountain Hawks?  I do - it happened just last year, just the sort of Halloween "treat" I'd rather live without.

"Edmonds came out of the locker room like a man on fire, and played like it," I wrote.  "Two 14 yard runs set up Fordham's go-ahead score, and he would rush for 100 yards in the 3rd quarter, ripping off a 60 yard touchdown run to give Fordham a 38-21 lead and capping off three straight touchdowns for the Rams."

Another less-publicized reason for Lehigh losing in the Bronx last season?  Unforced errors.

"Unfortunately, we're still our own worst enemy," head coach Andy Coen said afterwards.  "Whether its penalties or turnovers, you can't beat a good team with those. They're trying to learn that lesson. If you're going to keep turning the ball over more than everybody else, it's hard to win games."

I'm guessing that the Lehigh football players are aware of these two events from last season.


On a side note, one of the great things about this game for me personally is, for the first time in what seems like weeks, I get to use some of my last year/preseason scouting reports on the Rams.

For three weeks, we had brand-new starting QBs for Yale, Georgetown, and Holy Cross, meaning I had to tear up my former previews and essentially start over from scratch.

(Even Colgate, who still was starting QB Jake Melville, had a question mark around RB James Holland, meaning a large amount of extra work was required there, too.)

But this week, we are facing off against an offense that essentially is the same team I scouted this summer, with the same key players.  It doesn't make it any easier for Lehigh, but it sure makes it easier for me.

Breaking Down Fordham
Offense

Fordham is being led by first-year head coach Andrew Breiner, but the offensive system he developed with head coach Joe Moorhead, the "multiple no-huddle" offense, is still essentially how the Ram offense works today.

The "multiple no-huddle" 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 not totally dissimilar to the "pick up the pace of play" style that the Mountain Hawks play.  Fordham wants to play fast, and so does Lehigh.

WFUV Reporters Hanging On Anderson's Every Word
Eagle-eyed followers of Lehigh Football Nation may have noticed last week that Fordham did not suit up their regular starter, senior QB Kevin Anderson, versus Georgetown.  The official story is that the Boca Raton, Florida native sat out the game due to a "violation of team rules".

No further explanation was given, but judging by the game notes, Anderson is still listed at No. 1 on the depth chart, and every public indication is that it was a one-game suspension.  So barring any eleventh-hour revelations, Anderson is almost certain to be the starter this weekend.

Anderson, a transfer from Marshall, hasn't missed a beat from last year, for good reason.

"Him becoming the head coach was the easiest transition for me out of everyone," he said.  "Now it honestly just makes it better for me, because now the guy calling the plays is literally the guy I’ve learned everything from. We have a great rapport, great relationship. We butt heads, we both have super similar personalities, but we always at the end of the day love each other and work hard together and we just want to make this thing work."

In Breiner's system, 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.  He's an extremely solid, accurate quarterback (108/184 passing, 16 TDs, 3 INTs) and pairs that with a decent rushing ability as well (249 yards, 1 TD).

Of course, it helps the quarterback to have one of the best running backs FCS has ever seen running the football and taking the pressure off.

RB Chase Edmonds
Junior RB Chase Edmonds burst onto the scene at Fordham two years ago and very quickly made an already-potent offense into a downright frightening offense with a record-setting freshman year. The Central Dauphin East graduate made an already-potent offense that season into one, I still predict, will be going down in Patriot League history as one of the all-time greats.

The 5'9, 205 lb shifty spark plug of a running back didn't slow down last year, and hasn't slowed down this year, either.  What strikes me about him his that you'd think by seeing his height and weight that his main calling card is blazing speed, but that's clearly not the case.  He's also got amazing strength - he's very hard to bring down on first contact, which is why in the first half of games he sometimes seems like he's down, but then in the second half he wears down defenses as they get tired while tackling.

Edmonds is a once-in-a-generation sort of running back is my thought.  Any defense would have their hands full containing him, and Lehigh is no exception.  If there's a silver lining, it's that you wonder if his large workload might be taking a small toll on his late October and November production.  Last week he ran 37 times vs. Georgetown - can he keep up a 30 carry pace through the rest of the season without a dropoff?

Occasionally,  Edmonds needs to sit down and get oxygen.  When he does, 5'10 senior RB Kendall Pearcey, another speed back, comes in.  Two years ago he torched Lehigh's defense for 100 yards in a 48-27 defeat, so he's got plenty of skills as a backup.

Last season, Anderson was asked to make do with a group of mostly-underclassmen receivers that replaced a star-studded lineup from 2014.  The underclassmen grew up fast, and are effective targets for Anderson, but the receiving corps is more of a spread-the-wealth group at the moment.

TE Phazhan Odom
The receiver that scares me the most is an NFL prospect, senior TE Phazhan Odom (11 catches, 144 yards, 1 TD).  The 6'8, 250 lb tight end is a matchup nightmare for most defensive coordinators, and is especially deadly in the red zone.  Having said that, Odom hasn't been the deadly weapon so ar this season that he was in prior years.

After Odom, senior WR Robbie Cantelli (327 yards, 8 TDs) is the next biggest weapon through the air for Fordham, followed closely by sophomore WR Corey Caddle (204 yards, 2 TDs) and sophomore WR Austin Longi (399 yards, 4 TDs).  Along with senior WR Jorge Solano, they form a comfortable corps of receivers that Anderson is very familiar with.

Last season, Fordham's "O" line, was absoutely terrific in protecting Anderson and carving huge holes for Edmonds.  This season, with a line led by junior OL Anthony Coyle, they have still allowed Edmonds to break Fordham's all-time rushing yardage records but haven't been as effective as in earlier years against the pass, allowing a still-pretty-good 12 sacks on the season.

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 answer has been that the Ram defense has struggled to slow down some of the teams on their schedule - most notably giving up 42 points to Monmouth - but have also notched a bunch of turnovers, which for the most part have resulted in wins. 

Fordham switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 this season, in large part to take advantage of their personnel.  On the D line, senior DE Brandon Weir (2 1/2 sacks) and senior DT Justin Vaughn (4 sacks) are effective pass rushers, while junior DT Nick Angeli and junior DE Ty Green round out the group on the depth chart.

LB George Dawson
Experienced 6'2, 224 lb senior LB George Dawson (47 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 3 INTs) is the heard and soul of the defense, with sophomore LB Noah Fitzgerald on the outside and senior LB David Barletta on the inside.  Dawson is a huge reason why the Rams are so turnover-friendly - he seems to always be around the ball and come down with it in big situations.

The strength of the Ram defense is in a high risk-reward group in the secondary, with a budding star in junior S Caleb Ham (39 tackles, 3 INTs).  Senior CB Jihaad Pretlow, sophomore CB Dylan Mabin, and sophomore SS Antonio Jackson round out the group, which have combined for 3 more interceptions among them.

Special Teams

Senior PK Mackay Redd has a heck of a leg as a kicker, already having converted a 54 yarder last season and has also been tremendously accurate overall (35/36 XP, 9/11 on season).  He's a definite weapon whenever he comes on the field, and might be able to follow PK Patrick Murray into the NFL.


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

Senior CB Jihaad Pretlow is an effective return threat, who had an 87 yard kickoff return versus the Crusaders last year, while speedy senior RB Kendall Pearcey is no easier to deal with on the other side.  On punts, while sophomore WR Corey Caddle continues the role he had last season, with an effective 11.3 yards per return.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Stopping the Big Play.  If Lehigh holds Edmonds to under 100 yards, the Mountain Hawks win this game.  While that might not be totally realistic, it's not unrealistic to expect Lehigh's defense to keep Edmonds' yards-after-first-contact down to levels that don't let him run wild, like he did in the Bronx last season.  If Lehigh's defense stays disciplined, keeps Edmond's longest runs to be of the 12 yard, 15 yard variety, I like the Mountain Hawks' chances, because that will mean that Edmonds doesn't have the big play that has hurt Lehigh in the past.

2. Balanced Attack.  Analyzing Fordham's defense doesn't reveal one side of the ledger that is much better than the other.  That means a multi-faceted attack could be very effective in attacking this defense, with steady running from sophomore RB Dominic Bragalone and surgical passing from whomever is starting at QB..

3. Turnover Ratio.  Ball security, and some turnovers going Lehigh's way, will be critical if the Mountain Hawks are to win, as they are in all shootout games.  It's not so important that Lehigh come out fast as they continue their impressive run of turnover-free games on offense.  If Lehigh wins the turnover ratio battle, the chances of a win go up dramatically.

Fearless Prediction

Lehigh's offense is clicking finding the No. 1 and No. 2 receivers in the country, handing the rock to Bragalone, scoring points in bunches.  The Lehigh defense is doing everything they need to do - forcing turnovers, getting third-down stops, establishing momentum.  Special teams are also doing their part, avoiding big returns, near-automatic extra points.  Right now, Lehigh is a machine.

But champions sometimes are the ones where the machine misfires a little, but the team somehow pulls things together to pull out that victory.  The optimist in me sees the Lehigh football team right now as some sort of unstoppable force, but the pessimist in me wonders, "how might this team react to a setback, a misfire?"

Even so, it's feels like a small concern.  With so much on the line, at home, with motivation and revenge on the brain, it feels like Lehigh will get the job done.  It will be high-scoring, and it won't be a dominating win like Lehigh has had the last few weeks.  But I do think Lehigh wins.

Lehigh 45, Fordham 31

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