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2018 Week 2 Lehigh Players of the Week And Report Card: Villanova

It's a lot less fun to go through the "Players of the Week" and report card after a loss, but it's still got to be done. 

Last week's somewhat humbling 31-9 defeat comes at a point of the season where it's more of a learning experience than a death blow to the season, and also came against one of the very best teams in all of FCS.

It wouldn't surprise me to see Villanova win the CAA this season.

In any event, here we go.

In the run-up to the game, I thought one of the keys to the game was for QB Brad Mayes and RB Dom Bragalone to form a good run/pass balance to move the Lehigh offense.  Progress was uneven at first, though during the very first drive leading to Lehigh's first score it was working pretty well.  When Bragalone was lost for the game, Mayes and the offense had to shift strategies against one of the best defenses in the nation, becoming almost exclusively a passing team.  Though a challenging task, Mayes wasn't successful in breaking the logjam until late in the game.

It was tempting to put "Incomplete" here, but injuries are part of the game, and when Bragalone went down with injury, Lehigh hardly ran the ball with RB Rashawn Allen and RB Evan Chadbourn.  No rush went longer than 9 yards and as a team Lehigh only averaged 1.3 yards per carry.

As a unit, the receiving corps didn't show the consistency that was necessary to pull off the upset.  There were a few bright spots, notably WR Dev Bibbens' late TD catch, but it wasn't nearly enough.

Early in the game the young offensive line did some good things against Villanova's tough front six, but as the need shifted to pass block each down it seemed like the offensive line wore down somewhat, keeping Mayes unstable in the pocket too often.

The game clearly changed drastically once Bragalone left the game, and as mentioned a bunch of times, Villanova's defense looks like it may prove to be one of the best at the FCS level.  Still, it was disconcerting to see so many 3-and-outs from a Lehigh offense.

The strength of Lehigh on Saturday came from the entire defense, but it was especially heartening to see the Mountain Hawk front six stop Villanova so effectively on 3rd down and get the Wildcats stuck for so many tackles for loss.  Led by senior LB Mark Walker's 11 tackles and 3 tackles for loss, the front six created some good momentum at times for the entire team - though it wasn't always the case, when QB Zach Bendarczyk got that extra second to zip a big play pass in there or a run by one of Villanova running-backs-by-committee.  In any case, for the second straight game I liked what I saw.

Not all the great play came from the front six.  Senior S Sam McCloskey also had a whale of a game, with 8 tackles, 7 of them solo, and 3 passes defensed that all elicited cheers from the crowd.  Though burned for a couple of big plays, most of the time the secondary were delivering some big hits and working really well with the front six, especially when it came on 3rd down.  I see signs of this unit becoming a really good unit - but they're not there yet.

In the end you have to see "31" on the scoreboard for Villanova and say that it wasn't a total success on Saturday defensively.  But I can see this unit continue to grow, and it will be exciting to see how they stack up when they play Navy.

Special teams was truly difficult to assess this week.  On the one hand, the kicking game of PK Ed Mish was outstanding, with 10 punts averaging over 43 yards per kick and adding a FG to start the game.  There were also two missed FG by Villanova, at least one I believe that was partially blocked.  However a killer play on a Villanova punt, where the ball hit a defender and was recovered by the Wildcats, was a huge momentum drain and the type of mistake that you can't make versus a Top 10 team.  The Wildcats also got plenty of yards on returns.

LFN Players of the Week:

Offense: WR Dev Bibbens (5 catches, 73 yards, 1 TD)
Defense: LB Mark Walker (11 tackles, 9 solo, 3 TFL including 1 sack)
Special Teams: PK Ed Mish (10 punts, 43,3 average, 21 yard FG)
Underclassman: LB Erik Slater (4 tackles, 1 1/2 TFL)


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