Head coach Bob Chesney is in his first year in Worcester and is working to build up his mark on the program, despite a 1-6 record.
He came to Holy Cross from Assumption College, where he compiled a 44-16 record and made the nearby school a solid member of the NE-10 conference. Assumption has been a strong D-II school over the last decade, engineering an upset over Fordham in 2010 (though that was before Chesney's time).
When Chesney came to Holy Cross, he brought in an almost entirely new staff from the one that Tom Gilmore had assembled. Only four positional coaches remain, while Chesney brought in a new offensive and defensive coordinator.
Holy Cross also had, by far, the toughest schedule of any school in the Patriot League in September, starting with Colgate, who sits undefeated, Dartmouth, who sits undefeated, and Boston College - yes, that Boston College. Throwing out those three games, the Crusaders have been inconsistent, upsetting Yale, but being upset at home by Bucknell. So it's hard to tell what Lehigh is going to get this week.
In Lehigh's game notes, we see senior DL Julian Lynn sliding into the place where the injured junior DL Colin Nace was starting, though there is a chance we will see Nace this weekend as he may be healthy enough to play this weekend. Similarly senior LB Mark Walker is travelling this weekend too, where he'll rotate in with junior LB Jon Seighman and junior LB Keith Woetzel at linebacker. Woetzel is finally fully back from his arm injury, which should be a big help to the defense.
Sophomore OL Matt Fest has been at center the last few weeks at a place on the starting lineup where the Mountain Hawks have struggled - Lehigh's fourth player lining up at center this year. He's listed as the top guy after his baptism of fire the past few weeks, and Lehigh Nation is hoping that the experience he's been getting will translate into some continuity on the O line this week.
Breaking Down Holy Cross
For so many years, Holy Cross was a sort of pass-happy team that sort-of resembled an old run-and-shoot offense, with thee or four RPO-style wideouts, a back out of the backfield that can catch the ball, and a great QB to guide the team and spread the ball around, like QB Dominic Randolph or QB Pete Pujals.
The 2018 Holy Cross Crusaders under offensive coordinator Patrick Murphy are much more run-heavy than the Crusaders you might remember, using a stable of backs to spread out the load and using the passing game as more of a way to keep the defense honest.
Part of Holy Cross' problem is that the running back unit has had a lot of injuries overall, which means nine different Crusaders have run the ball.
Unlike years past, where Holy Cross QBs spread the ball here, there, and everywhere, Holy Cross' "ones" on the depth chart get the most targets: WR Blaise Bell (192 yards), WR Richie DiNicola (265 yards, 1 TD), and WR Martin Dorsey (333 yards, 3 TDs), who has emerged as Wade's go-to guy at receiver, insofar as they have a go-to guy. Senior TE Derek Mountain has mostly been asked to be a pass blocker.
Holy Cross' O line is averaging allowing more than 3 sacks a game, though a good part of that has to be attributed to the fact that the level of competition they've played has been so good. 6'6, 300 lb senior OL Jackson Dennis anchors an otherwise extremely young offensive line. Overall, Holy Cross' offense is a nice blend of seniors and underclassmen. It's easy to see that the Crusaders are pointed in the right direction.
Senior DE Teddy Capsis is probably the most recognizable name on the D line from last season, and he's having a solid year this year with 26 tackles and 4 sacks. When it comes to pass rushing, the Crusaders have been effective, but opponents have been able to make hay on the ground against Holy Cross, as opponents are averaging 5 yards per carry against the defensive front.
Sophomore WS Joe Lang (77 tackles) and junior CB Chris Riley (2 INTs) highlight a solid, but very young, secondary. Notable on this Holy Cross team is that, like years past, they haven't forced a lot of turnovers, especially in the secondary with only 3 interceptions on the season.
Multitalented P/K Derek Ng is only 2/3 on field goal attempts this year - but one of them was enormous, a FG that was the game-winner in OT V's. Yale. He also is averaging 36.3 yards per punt.
RS Spencer Gilliam has stood out on the Crusader return units. He has 348 yards on kickoff returns and also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown vs. Boston College.
LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Lehigh Line Play. When the weather is ugly, thats the time for the Big Uglies, and the Lehigh lines need to win that battle is they are to have a chance.
2. Turnovers. No. Holy Cross is counting on Lehigh to make more mistakes than them to win the game, and that starts with turnovers. Play turnover-free ball, and the Mountain Hawks have a chance.
3. Ground and pound. The weather should lend itself to a steady Bragalone/Allen diet running the ball. I'd throw the balanced playbook out and lean on the run and ask the O line to win this game - prove they can do it.
It's hard to escape the thought that this game will come down to turnovers. To a degree, both teams haven't been able to get out of their own way, and it sure feels like the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win. It feels to me like the younger, hungrier team will win this.
Lehigh 13, Holy Cross 22