Lehigh at Bucknell Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction: Will Homecoming Spell Doom Again For Lehigh?
In my preview, I spent a lot of time talking about Lehigh, but let's take a minute to try to get inside the heads of this Bucknell team this weekend.
The Bison, along with every other team in the Patriot League, are still mathematically alive for at least a share of the Patriot League title. But considering that mathematical window closes the second Colgate beats Georgetown (or, barring that, Lafayette), it's more realistic to say that the Bison are playing for pride, and the future, this Saturday.
Not that that's going to make things any easier this weekend - Fordham, in similar circumstances, beat Lehigh 45-35 last weekend.
And something that has to be remembered is that for every team on the schedule, beating Lehigh is a huge goal. Along with Colgate, Lehigh's perennial success makes opponents just that much more focused during Lehigh week to take them down, and all the better if the Mountain Hawks are 2-6.
Even worse for Lehigh, this game comes on Bucknell's homecoming, which will add some extra juice to the Bison for this matchup. In 2013 on homecoming, it was Bucknell that beat Lehigh 45-23 that really started to change expectations for the Bison football program.
Last year Bucknell fought a tremendous fight at Murray Goodman Stadium in an effort to prevent the Mountain Hawks from clinching the Patriot League Championship.
Joe Susan's team did so by focusing on what Bucknell does best; control the ball; shut down the opponent's offense; and minimize turnovers.
The Bison held Lehigh to their lowest scoring total all season - 20 points - and very nearly rallied for the game-winning score, until LB Pierce Ripanti got past a future NFL lineman to sack Bison QB R.J. Nitti, and in effect making the Mountain Hawks Patriot League Champions after a hard-fought war, 20-13.
That should do it! Big sack on 4th down gives ball back to Lehigh with 1:06 left and LU up 7. #lvvarsity pic.twitter.com/pHHevbaW9j— Keith Groller (@KeithGroller) November 5, 2016
(As an aside - OL Julie'n Davenport, the offensive lineman that Pierce got past, is scheduled to get his first start for the NFL's Houston Texans this weekend. “He’s got the IQ, maturity and demeanor to be successful,” Susan said. “His demeanor is outstanding for the position that he will be playing, and if he maintains that, he’ll be employed a while (in the NFL).”)
Let's tackle this weekend's huge game in Lewisburg.
Breaking Down Bucknell
The Bison's main game when it comes to offense is ball control. In their most effective games (think vs. Sacred Heart), Joe Susan's team will hold onto the ball more than ten minutes than their opponents. Against the Pioneers, they won the time of possession game 38 minutes to 22.
Bucknell's largely runs a two-back set out of the shotgun, meaning that the quarterback frequently has a running back and fullback flanking him at all times (or sometimes a TE). The offense uses a bunch of shifts based on the flow of the play, to open up holes for the runners and the quarterback to run the football, while using play-action to set up big plays in the passing game.
|QB Matt Muh (Daily Item)|
Muh is listed as the starter this week, and thus far this year has been the more steady hand at QB with fewer turnovers. However it wouldn't be a shock to see sophomore QB John Chiarolanzio come into the game at some point, perhaps in the two-minute drill, since he's delivered more big plays in the passing game. Chiarolanzio started last week, though, and really struggled, forcing Susan to go with Muh in the second half.
|RB Chad Freshnock|
Freshnock has really impressed during his short Patriot League career, a 6'0, 220 lb physical back that is hard to take down. Carter will take over when Freshnock needs to take a breather, while Garcia is the smaller, speed back who, along with Freshnock, will provide a useful target for Muh out of the backfield. Senior TE/FB Andrew Pobielski, too, doubles up as an effective lineman out of the backfield and an outlet target in the passing game.
Senior WR Jack Horan has been Bucknell's leading receiver, a 6'3, 210 lb target that has gotten 377 yards receiving on the year and has been the closest thing to a go-to guy the Bison have, while 6'1 junior WR Alan Butler (189 yards, 1 TD) has been a more possession, move-the-sticks type of receiver. Last week's top receiver was sophomore WR Justin Bethea, with 3 catches for 48 yards, while freshman TE Alex Twiford has mostly been kept in to block.
|DT Abdullah Anderson|
Lehigh's defensive players might want to bring a notebook and pencil to the game on Saturday to take notes on how a really good multiple 4-2-5 defense is run. It's the same defense Bucknell has run in years past, and once again it is a tremendous group. When Bucknell has been successful, their defense has been stopping drives consistently and forcing turnovers. That's what Lehigh's going to have to worry about on Saturday
The biggest (and I mean biggest) standout in their front four is 6'4, 295 lb senior DT Abdullah Anderson (5 TFL, 1 INT), a guy who NFL scouts have been looking at all season. Don't be fooled by the 5 tackles for loss - he's a force in the middle and an overall disruptive force in both stopping the run and tipping passes at the line of scrimmage.
Joining Abdullah on this daunting defensive line are a pair of freshmen, freshman DE Simeon Page (5 1/2 TFL), and freshman DE Roger Mellado. The Bison have had injury problems on the defensive line outside of Page and Anderson, and senior DE Trevor Fennimore is listed at starting defensive tackle this week as a part of that shuffle.
|LB Ben Richard|
With the guys up front getting so much pressure on the quarterback, perhaps it's not surprising that Bucknell's has eight interceptions on the season.
Bucknell's secondary features freshman ROV Brandon Benson (25 tackles, sophomore SS Aaron Brown (23 tackles, 2 INTs), junior SS Joe Lauro (49 tackles, 1 INT), junior CB Bryan Marine (43 tackles, 1 INT) and senior CB Colin Jonov whom you may remember from his amazing pick six to beat Lafayette in OT.
"COLIN JONOV HAS WON THE GAME!"— Bucknell Football (@Bucknell_FB) October 23, 2017
Doug Birdsong's call of Jonov's pick 6 was 🔥. #StartTheStampede pic.twitter.com/ahzlabea07
Bucknell's return games are always some of the better units in the Patriot League and again they deserve Lehigh's respect this week. Sophomore RB Stefone Moore-Green (21.6 yards per kickoff) and junior CB Bryan Marine has also historically been a solid return man, while junior WR Alan Butler will be returning punts.
Junior P Alex Pechin (44 yards per punt) has been a tremendouns Patriot League punter, and may be first-team all Patriot League by the end of the season. Susan is an aggressive coach and has been known to frequently go for it on 4th downs with makeable FGs, though junior PK John Burdick has been 9 of 12 on FGs this season, including a 41 yarder.
LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Run Away! No, that does NOT mean run away scared from Lewisburg - it means, check where DT Abdullah Anderson is, and run somewhere else. A running game going in a bunch of different directions away from Anderson with junior RB Dom Bragalone and friends could set up some nice play-action opportunities for big plays.
2. Stretch the Defense. Lehigh is blessed with such a dynamic offense, but what I would do to combat Bucknell's aggressiveness is to run and pass to the outside to work that aggressiveness against them. Junior QB Brad Mayes will hopefully stretch that front six with screen passes, and catching them in the blitz once could yield great dividends.
3. Turnovers. Nothing doomed Lehigh last week more than four horrible turnovers, two in Fordham's red zone, and two inside their own 20, complete momentum-crushers. That cannot happen again if Lehigh is to hope to win this football game. The Mountain Hawks need to protect the ball more and hold onto the ball, even in the middle of a big pass rush. It could be the most important part of this Saturday's game.
Lehigh is in control of their own destiny in November for the Patriot League Championship. If they win today, they will have a chance to have a meaningful game next week vs. Holy Cross. The dream of rings with "Back To Back Champions" on it is still alive. But in order for it to remain alive, this Lehigh team will have to play at a higher level, a higher intensity, and a higher level of pride than they did last week vs. Fordham.
In Lehigh's favor, Bucknell is unlikely to do this week that, say, Yale did in Week 3 and unveil an entirely new offense. They will certainly throw in some wrinkles and will play with pride and passion, because to Bucknell, this is their big moment on Homecoming to beat the team they hate more than anyone on their schedule. But we know how Bucknell will basically come at this team. The question is whether Lehigh will be able to stop it or slow it down.
Lehigh is lucky. They have a chance in November to make a run at the title, even though they've showed themselves to have a lot of flaws. Most 2-6 teams at this point of the season are starting the youngsters and playing for the seniors, but this Lehigh team still can possibly win the League and get as a reward more football games to play. It's something to treasure - if they can fix or minimize these flaws by the end of the season.
Lehigh 35, Bucknell 17