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Improved Defense Shines In 23-21 Win Over Offense in Brown/White Game

The Lehigh coaching staff took a page from Ole Miss' spring game in their annual Brown/White scrimmage at Murray Goodman stadium.

The scoring system Ole Miss used was to spot their defense a 23-0 lead, and the scrimmage's goal was to  have the offense drive on the defense just like a regular football game.

It is the hope of every Lehigh football fan in every game in the upcoming 2018 season that the offense scores more than 23 points a game.  Last year, the Lehigh offense averaged for than 35 points per contest.

But the Brown defense this Saturday was up to the challenge of containing the White offense.

Twelve times, the offense lined up with a potential drive to score points, and nine of those times, the defense forced the offense to punt or stuffed a 4th down conversion.

It's true that the offense scored three touchdowns, one from rising senior QB Brad Mayes, one from junior QB Tyler Monaco, and one from sophomore QB Addison Shoup.   It is also true that the offense had some really good moments.  But on Saturday the main story was the defense, who looked really good in holding the offense to only those three scores - almost getting two pick sixes, and getting a blocked field goal attempt in another drill to boot.

The festivities started off with one of my favorite parts of the spring game, the awarding of the Jim Gum scholarship.  

QB Jim Gum, a former three-year starter for the Mountain Hawks in the early 1980s, passed away in 2006 after a six-year battle with ALS. Each year at Lehigh's Brown and White spring football game, a scholarship is presented in Gum's name, and this year the recipient was rising sophomore DL Zach Troxell.

Here was Zach talking to Keith Groller about receiving the award:

After the presentation and some early positional drills, both teams took the field for the scrimmage portion, and the defense came right out and established themselves, stopping the offense on five straight possessions.  Early on sophomore DB Marquis Wilson, who led the defense with 7 tackles and 1 pass break-up, shined heading a unit that really put good pressure on the quarterback.

"The game was skewed a little bit because we weren't putting running backs on the ground," a very pleased head coach Andy Coen said after the scrimmage.  "Senior RB Dominick Bragalone can break so many tackles, but couldn't really do that in this scrimmage. The offense performed well. The offensive line did a pretty good job. We protected the quarterback pretty well. I was pleased to see how well our quarterbacks did on the run, escaping pressure."

DB Jaylen Floyd
The secondary, who was playing without senior DB Sam McCloskey and senior CB Donavon Harris, was thin going into this game but played very well, holding all three quarterbacks to a completion percentage of just over 50% - coming very close to several pick sixes.  Sophmoore DE Jack Kircher stuffed Bragalone on a 3rd down, and sophomore DB Jaylen Floyd jumped a route and came very close to taking it to the house, which evoked a big "oooh" from the crowd.

"We had a couple dropped interceptions that could have been touchdowns defensively," Andy added. "But that was good to see. We were close to creating a lot of turnovers, which is a good thing."

After stopping the offense for five straight series, senior QB Brad Mayes got things going with a 21 yard screen pass to Bragalone down the right side, then delivered another to Brags for a 19 yard rumble to give Lehigh their first score of the game.

"I think we did well, we have some things we need to clean up offensively," Mayes said afterwards.  "The defense got a lot of negativity last year, but I think there is a lot of talented players on that defense.  Generally, I think we couldn't have been as good offensively last year without them pushing us.  They gave us a lot of work this spring."

WR Cam Richardson
Mayes' touchdown opened things up for senior RB Jake Buskirk, who rumbled for a 28 yard run to get the ball rolling, and then sophomore QB Addison Shoup, who arched a perfect pass to senior WR Cam Richardson to get the offense's second score.

“We really came out and competed,” Richardson said. “Receivers coach Tim McGorry was really on us this year ,and we tried to get better every day. The whole spring felt cold, like November, but I am used to it being from the Lehigh Valley. I’m trying to become more consistent blocking-wise and trying to catch every ball thrown to me."

The spring session, uncharacteristically, had plenty of snowy, near-freezing temperature days this year.  As a result many practices were inside, or had to be held on the artificial turf of the lacrosse fields because the Whitehead practice fields were unplayable.  Additionally, the practices were later than originally scheduled.

“The weather being as horrible as it was, I was worried we wouldn't be able to accomplish anything,” Coen said. “But the kids worked hard and we even though we practiced from 7:30 to 9:30 at night and often in the cold and rain, they never complained. They went out and did what they had to do.”

After that score, the defense buckled down and stopped the offense on their final three full-field drives of the day.  Senior LB Mark Walker puled through and got the lone unofficial registered sack of the day for the defense.

"I was really thrilled with the thud tackling that we did today," Andy said.  "We didn't bring guys to the ground but we had great tackling form. That really can hurt you when you don't tackle the right way. Last year we weren't good tacklers and that was largely because of our technique. That technique has really improved."

DB Riley O'Neil
After the field-goal drills where Wilson fired around the edge to block an attempt, the practice concluded with red-zone drills, with senior DB Riley O'Neil capping off a great all-around defensive effort with a long-sought-after interception of Brad Mayes.

"Finally," a smiling O'Neil said after the game, talking about his interception.  "I had a couple that were close, and Jaylen had one, and luckily that one came in the red zone."

Riley said that the performance on Saturday was months in the making.

"Once winter break started,", O'Neil added,  "the defense started to work in the weight room every day, sitting in meetings and embracing this new culture that we're trying to bring.  You can see the camaraderie is there, that the team chemistry is there, and on the defense that shows, especially today.  Having fun, and trying to be a great defense."

The game ended with junior QB Tyler Monaco rolling right and finding Richardson for his 2nd touchdown of the contest.
Overall, there were a lot of smiling faces on the field after the game.

"Today was a really good day for the defense," a smiling Zach Troxell said afterwards.  "We really stressed that we wanted to keep them under three points per drive, and we ended up accomplishing that goal, so as a whole I think we did a really good job today.  We took some great steps forward today."


Anonymous said…
Thud tackling is a joke. Why not just play touch football? Coen has no clue what his defense will be like.

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