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Lehigh At Fordham Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction: Will Edmonds and Anderson Play?

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

A key element to this week's game is the status of Fordham QB Kevin Anderson and RB Chase Edmonds.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that Fordham is a different team with or without one or both of them.

Edmonds was held out in the second half of a blowout loss to Colgate, only eight yards short of the Patriot League all-time rushing record, while Anderson left the Lafayette game with an ankle injury, and hasn't returned since.

Some speculation exists on the Fordham board that Anderson was suspended for the Georgetown game last week.  If it is true that Anderson was suspended, and not hurt, the interesting part of that aspect is that there is historic precedent.

"Eagle-eyed followers of Lehigh Football Nation may have noticed last week that Fordham did not suit up their regular starter, QB Kevin Anderson, versus Georgetown," I wrote in last year's preview of the Fordham game.  "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."

If the official story is that Anderson was suspended for a "violation of team rules" - which, by a incredible coincidence, happened in two consecutive years in the exact weekend of the Georgetown game - it means two things.  First, it means that Georgetown is the luckiest team in the Patriot League to miss Kevin Anderson twice.  Second, it means that Kevin Anderson is starting on Saturday.

I don't know if Kevin Anderson and Chase Edmonds will absolutely start on Saturday.  But I'm going to write this preview as if they are, because, frankly, I'm convinced they're starting.  Sometimes, things are exactly how they look.


Breaking Down Fordham
Offense

People around Rose Hill love to wax philosophic about former head coach Joe Moorhead, the current wunder-offensive coordinator at Penn State who got to Happy Valley after taking over a transitioning Ram program from fired head coach Tom Masella.

Along with current Fordham head coach Andrew Breiner, he developed and installed the "multiple no-huddle" offense, 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.  

Fordham QB Kevin Anderson
I like to call their multiple-no huddle offense the "Battering Ram", with a big, physical signalcaller and a speedy, surprisingly tough back to shoulder the rushing load.  Like many dynamic offenses - like Lehigh's, for that matter, Fordham wants to play fast and execute as many plays on offense as possible.  If Fordham's offense is clicking, they will execute a high number of plays.

In Breiner's system, senior QB Kevin 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 has been very adept at finding the open receiver.  This is borne out by his 2017 rushing yards (191 yards gained rushing) and passing stats (60.8% completion percentage, 11 TDs, 4 INTs).  We'll assume he's well rested going into this weekend.

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
Senior RB Chase Edmonds burst onto the scene at Fordham as a freshman, and very quickly made an already-potent offense into a downright frightening offense with a record-setting year - setting the Fordham single-season rushing record (1,838 yards) and rushing touchdown mark (23 rushing TDs).

Over the last three years, the Central Dauphin East graduate did much of his damage against Lehigh specifically.

2014 - 197 net yards rushing, 5 rushing TDs, 1 catch, 9 yards
2015 - 347 net  yards rushing, 3 rushing TDs, 2 catches, 55 yards, 1 receiving TD
2016 - 182 net yards rushing, 3 catches, 11 yards

As a sophomore, "Edmonds came out of the locker room like a man on fire, and played like it," I wrote about Fordham's 59-42 win in 2015, the last time Lehigh ventured to the Bronx to play Fordham.  "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."

What has always struck me about Edmonds 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.

My thought is that Edmonds is a once-in-a-generation sort of running back.  But his steep dropoff in production in 2017 has to make one pause for a moment.

Edmonds has a grand total of 329 net yards rushing this year with one TD, which is shocking when you consider Chase had more than that in a single game versus Lehigh in 2015.  But more than the yardage totals, what's shocking is how much less of a running workload he's had - in the prior three years, it wasn't surprising to see Chase touch the ball 30 or 35 times a game.  Even in the games he's played this year, he's ceded an awful lot of carries to freshman RB Zach Davis, and never surpassing 20 carries.

What might Breiner do on Saturday?  For the Rams, the future is now.  Any slim chance they have of reclaiming a Patriot League title requires winning this weekend, and if they have Chase Edmonds at 100%, there's little reason to hold him back and save him.  I'd anticipate an old-school workload for him this week, and I wouldn't be surprised if Chase has as his goal this week matching the rushing yardage he had last time Lehigh came to the Bronx.   My fearless prediction: 25 or 30 carries.

Last year, Anderson had always had a servicable set of receivers at his disposal, without any one guy emerging as a go-to threat.  This year his receivers have been plagued with injuries - most notably junior WR Corey Caddle, one of their most productive receivers - hampering the emergence of a go-to guy once again.

Fordham WR Austin Longi
Junior WR Jonathan Lumley (426 yards) is the Rams' leading receiver, had a career 8 catch, 119 yard performance against Eastern Washington, but didn't play last week.  Speedy junior WR Austin Longi (315 yards, 3 TDs) recently came back from injury and has been prolific, catching 13 balls versus Georgetown for 150 yards and caught Fordham's only touchdown of the afternoon.  Rounding out the unit is junior TE Isaiah Searight (258 yards, 2 TDs) and sophomore WR Joe Ferraro, who has replaced Caddle.

In past seasons, Fordham's "O" line, was absoutely terrific in protecting Anderson and carving huge holes for Edmonds.  This season, the line still is led by senior OL Anthony Coyle, but the rest of the line has been shuffled around a lot, especially earlier in the year, due to injuries.  The Rams have uncharacteristically given up 32 sacks - more than four a game.

Defense

Fordham has stuck to a 4-3 this season, in large part to take advantage of their personnel.  The Ram defense has given up a lot of points, it is true, but to some degree that has been due to the competition.  Many FCS teams would probably get rocked around by Army (64-6), Eastern Washington (56-21) and even Yale (41-10). 

In years past, the Rams have thrived on turnovers to help keep things moving on their offense.  This season, however, Fordham is only +1 in turnover ratio and has forced a grand total of 11 takeaways.  Fordham has also struggled somewhat in pressuring the quarterback, totaling only 11 sacks on the year, even though their aggressive D line still gets a lot of tackles for loss.

Fordham DT Manny Adeyeye
On the D line, senior DT Manny Adeyeye (34 tackles) has stood out, while senior DE Jonathan Dimon, senior DE Ty Green, and sophomore DT Michael Ware round out the front four.  Adeyeye (296 lbs) and Ware (281 lbs) make it difficult to run up the middle against Fordham.

The linebacking unit on Fordham features a promising young player, freshman LB Glenn Cunningham (57 tackles, 1 INT, 1 fumble recovery), lining up alongside junior LB Lawrence Menyah (37 tackles, 3 tackles for loss) and senior LB Niko Thorpe (28 tackles).

The strength and experience of the Ram defense is still in the secondary, with senior S Caleb Ham (49 tackles, 1 INT), junior CB Dylan Mabin (18 pass break-ups), and junior SS Antonio Jackson (45 tackles, 3 INT).  Joining them is promising sophomore CB Jesse Bramble (2 fumble recoveries)

Special Teams

One thing Fordham has been able to do is recruit any number of tremendous kickers and punters, and it seems like they've gotten another gem in freshman P/PK Andrew Mevis.  Mevis had a great game last week vs. Georgetown, averaging 40.5 yards per punt and doing a spectacular job pinning the Hoyas deep repeatedly in the 4th quarter, and also going 3-for-3 on field goals of 30, 31, and 31 yards.

Junior DB Dylan Mabin is a proven threat on kickoffs (411 yards, 1 TD) and is joined by senior CB Caleb Ham on that unit.  Junior WR Austin Longi handles punts and his longest return on the year has been 17 yards.

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.  If Lehigh's defense stays disciplined, keeps Edmond's longest runs to be of the 12 yard, 15 yard variety, I love 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 junior RB Dominic Bragalone and surgical passing from junior QB Brad Mayes.

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.  If Lehigh wins the turnover ratio battle, the chances of a win go up dramatically.

Fearless Prediction

It's an old saw that in football "they're all championship games," and this week it's certainly true.  For Fordham, it's going to very likely be the scene of Chase Edmonds breaking the all-time Patriot League rushing record, and it's also gunning to be a showcase for NFL scouts that Chase Edmonds is worth a draft pick.  I think Fordham will try to make this the Chase Edmonds show.

Lehigh finally has some momentum, and also is a little bit fresher coming off the bye week.  A huge question for the Mountain Hawks is whether the bye week screwed up that positive momentum that got the season out of the wood chipper, or whether the rest helped refresh the team for four straight championship games.

I can't shake the feeling that I need to see more from this Lehigh team before I consider them favorites in the Patriot League title chase.  A consistent, turnover-free, physical win over Fordham would help.  If the game becomes the Chase Edmonds show, I don't like Lehigh's chances.

Lehigh 52, Fordham 45

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