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Penn At Lehigh Game Preview: A Potential Big-Time Receiving Show Might Feature Watson vs. Pelletier

(Photo Credit: Alex Fisher/The Daily Pennsylvanian)

Both Penn head coach Ray Priore and Lehigh head coach Andy Coen aren't necessarily focused on the numbers and the exploits of individual members of their offense.

Priore, focused on finally beating Lehigh for the first time in his head coaching tenure, and Coen, trying to right the ship after a very shaky 0-3 start, have different things to worry about.

But this weekend's affair at Murray Goodman, if the past is any guide, could have the potential of a highlight reel of tremendous catches by some receivers that are getting looks by NFL teams.

Twice before Penn WR Justin Watson and Lehigh WR Troy Pelletier have played against each other, and both times Watson and Pelletier have lit up the opposing secondaries for some tremendous catches and some amazing numbers.

For Penn, it's allegedly about building off the win over Division II Ohio Dominican last week.  For Lehigh, it's supposed to be about getting their first win, and getting some positive momentum back in their season.  But for fans, there's definitely the potential of an offensive circus this weekend that could be immensely entertaining.

Penn remembers their introduction to Troy Pelletier well.

Penn Remembers
They remember the 42-21 win by Lehigh two years ago,  where Pelletier and QB Nick Shafnisky connected 10 times for 104 receiving yards and 2 touchdowns.

It would be Lehigh's first game in 2015 where the Mountain Hawks crossed the 40 point barrier, the first of five games where they would score that many points.

I remember the press conference after that game, where the characteristically talkative Shafnisky held court with the press in the room, while Pelletier quietly sat to the right, talking about a touchdown pass where Shaf didn't see him at first, so he was jumping in the end zone, trying to get his attention.  He eventually did, catching a crushing touchdown from Penn's perspective.

Watson would technically outgain Pelletier - 143 yards to Pelletier's 109 - but Lehigh would win the game.

An excited Shaf wanted to talk about the fact that the Penn game was a real marker for that Lehigh team to show that they were no longer the team that went 4-7 the prior year.

"I heard a statistic out there that last year, we didn't win our second game until November 1st," Shafnisky said, "To be 2-1, to have won two games already,.. I just want to show our fan base that this team is a lot different than last year, offensively, defensively, and collectively.  Just keep going at it, keep working."

Penn Remembers
Shaf and Pelletier also had an amazing performance together versus Penn at Franklin Field.

Troy had an amazing 10 receptions again in that game as well, notching 123 yards receiving, but in the first half was out-dueled by Watson and Penn QB Alek Torgerson, who found Watson for two touchdowns, including one near the end of the first half that temporarily felt like a crusher of Mountain Hawk fan's hopes.

But Shaf and the Lehigh offense would execute a perfect half-ending two minute drill, including a thrilling game-tying touchdown at the end of the first half that was set up by a Pelletier completion on 3rd-and-10 that went 11 yards.

Despite Watson technically winning the statistical battle - 133 vs. Pelletier's 122 yard receiving day - Lehigh would win the game 42-28, shutting out the Quakers in the second half and propelling the Mountain Hawks towards what would become a very special season.

Before the season began, both Watson and Pelletier made their way onto a slew of different FCS preseason all-America teams, seemingly bringing their receiving rivalry onto a brand-new stage.

“The best part about him is he takes it in stride,” said Penn head coach Ray Priore, befor the season. “He realizes that in the big picture he’s just a piece of the puzzle.  The burden of being the man, and stepping to the plate, we know he’s done it before. Oh my God, yeah. He’s got a knack for that. He’s got the skills. But he also has the heart and grit, and the football IQ. It was easy to see early on that he was going to be different. And he would have risen, wherever he would have gone.”

Justin Watson (c/o Philly Inquirer)
Everything about Watson feels centered, even how he didn't waver from his initial choice of Penn after Big 10 school offers started to come in to South Fayette high school in the Pittsburgh area.

Watson has always played with a bit of a chip on his shoulder - and he uses it for motivation.

“I kind of flew under the radar," he told The Philadelphia Inquirer.  "As a senior, the bigger schools started coming at me. My coach would tell me, ‘Hey, I got a bunch of mail today.’ But I was all in with Penn. I really was. The last two years have been great. I’ve worked two phenomenal summer internships [as a finance major], so I don’t know exactly what it is but I couldn’t be happier. My best friends in the world are here. A lot of things wouldn’t be the same. For me, the grass definitely isn’t greener on the other side. This is everything I could ask for."

He even seems centered about his NFL prospects.

“People looking in from the outside ask me about that all the time," he said before the season.  "But the reality is, you never know. Everything else isn’t a constant. When I watch the big-time schools play, it’s almost like I’m breaking down film. I think I’d start on any FBS team in the country. There’s no doubt in my mind it would be cool to use that as a measuring stick. But I’m sure that after the season I’ll have that opportunity, whether it’s at the Senior Bowl or an NFL camp. But first I have 10 more games to play. Right now, all I’m thinking about is [the Sept. 16 opener, at home against Ohio Dominican]. Why stress yourself out over things that you can’t control yet?”

Watson is somewhat vocal and plays with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.  Though Troy is the same type of mammoth talent that Watson is at the FCS level, his way is different.

WR Troy Pelletier (Morning Call)
“He doesn’t like the spotlight," offensive coordinator Scott Brisson told Troy's hometown paper last year.  "He doesn’t think he’s arrived in any way. He just loves working and it’s neat to be around kids like that.”

Troy has a tendency to fade to the back of press conferences at times, but his work ethic paired with his talent is what's most impressive about him, which is reflected by the fact he recently broke Lehigh's receptions record two games ago, a record that was held by another Lehigh great, WR Rennie Benn.  He spent all summer on campus getting better, not content with having the strongest hands of any Lehigh receiver nor complacent with his place already secure in Lehigh's record books.  He kept working and kept grinding because that's how he's always done it.

“He’s about two things — going to class and being the best football player he can be,” Coen told Keith Groller of The Morning Call earlier in the year. “I’m really proud of him approaching things that way and that’s why he has really improved each year.”

Early in his career, for no reason at all, I nicknamed him "The Doctor", and in a weird sort of way, the nickname fits, even though it's not clear whether he's going to choose to study for his doctorate in his major, which is sociology/anthropology.  Doctors spend a lot of time outside the operating theater, working hard to improve their craft so that when called upon, they do great things.  That seems to describe him well.

Both Pelletier and Watson will be bringing their talents to the theater of Murray Goodman Stadium this weekend, and it could be the sort of showcase worthy of these two great receivers.  Coach Coen and coach Priore will be more focused on winning the game, but for the fans the real treat might be the stage.

CB Marquis Wilson
Game Notes And Injuries

The game notes' biggest change was that senior CB Donavon Harris, who had the scary moment last week where he was face-down on the turf and not moving, was not listed on the two-deep this week.  Every indicator is that he will be making a full recovery and that he was only being held last week as a precaution, but sophomore CB Marquis Wilson, who filled in and did well last week, is listed in his place and true freshman CB Tre Neal backs him up.

Junior RB Dominick Bragalone is still atop the depth chart and has practiced ths weel, but he's still a gametime decision and will be questionable this week versus Penn.  If he doesn't go, the backs who would go in his place are a timeshare between senior RB Nana Amankwah-Ayeh, who scored a rushing touchdown last week, and junior RB Micco Brisker, who had a 100 yard rushing game against the Quakers a couple of years ago.

Junior PK Ed Mish was expected to be back and is listed atop the depth chart, but as it turns out he won't be ready to go this week.  Sophomore PK Austin Henning will start at punter and kicker in his place.

Weather Report

It is looking like a picture-perfect day for tailgating this Saturday - summer is rallying with a high of 86, mostly sunny and very mild winds.

Special Stuff Happening

The Lehigh Football partnership is celebrating one of Lehigh's best teams in their 135-year football history, the 1957 Lambert Cup champions.

The Engineers, the first Lehigh team to capture the Cup, were coached by legendary head coach Bill Leckonby, who is Lehigh's current all-time leader with 85 wins.  Andy Coen is currently in second place with 77.

They finished 8-1 and were known for their defense - they only allowed 72 points in the entire season.  Five of the eight victories were on the road and its only blemish was a 12-7 loss to a tremendous VMI team which went undefeated (9-0-1) and beat both Virginia and Virginia Tech.  VMI, who was led by their own legendary coach John McKenna, ended the season ranked 13th in the final Associated Press poll.   That game was played at Taylor Stadium and was a sellout - 13,500 fans.

The captains of the 1957 team were Dan Nolan and Pete Williams, while Peter Johnson was voted Most Outstanding Player.  And, of course, Lehigh beat Lafayette soundly that year as well, 26-13.

LFN's Burger of the Week (#BOTW)

This week saw Lehigh Nation celebrate National Cheeseburger Day, one of the things this week that took a bit of the sting out of the loss to Yale.

To celebrate, may I humbly suggest an LFN fave: the blue cheese burger with carmelized onions and fried Pennsylvania mushrooms.

From the website of Billy Parisi, the genius part of his recipe is that he uses a mix of regular and Cremini mushrooms and mixes them with his ground beef before cooking, infusing the burger with the mushroom flavor and adding soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, salt and pepper.  The full recipe is here and I can't wait to give it a drive myself - I love blue cheese and mushrooms on burgers.

LFN's Drink of the Week (#DOTW)

The Pennsylvania (#DOTW)
My loyal readers that if I find a Drink of the Week that delivers a good win, I'm very reluctant to change it up - "change the drink, change the result," is the fear, so why not go with what we know worked last time?

This week it seems like it's a must to stick with a "winning drink".

For the last two Quaker games, the #DOTW was The Pennsylvania, a drink that is extremely easy to make, with four parts rum (the recipe calls for Cuban rum; I am not that picky;) 1 part pineapple juice, and 1 part grenadine.  Personally I liked removing 1 part rum and adding another part of something less sweet, for example, lemon juice, because that's how my palate works.  (Also, as I mentioned before, it delivered a win.)

It's very easy to see this martini glass as a type of trophy for the winner of the Penn/Lehigh game every time it's contested, perhaps even with a slice of toast along the rim.

As always, Drinks of the Week have a place in responsible tailgates, but only if you behave yourself, don't get behind the wheel while impaired (or worse), and are over 21. Please do that.  And leave plenty of time to sober up.


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