Like Lehigh, the Bison are 1-7, but unlike Lehigh, the Bison have played a whole lot of close games.
Two weeks ago, Bucknell came a two-point conversion away from tying Lafayette but fell just short in a 29-27 loss to the Leopards, and had the ball with a chance to win the game late in the fourth quarter.
They also played William and Mary close to start the season, falling 14-7, and their lone win of the season came against Holy Cross, the same Crusader team that walloped Lehigh last weekend 56-0. When the Bison played them, two Bucknell touchdowns and two Bucknell field goals were enough to carry the Bison through in a 19-16 win.
Like many Lehigh opponents, Bucknell always enjoys extracting their pound of Mountain Hawk flesh if they are able. The Mountain Hawks have won 17 of their last 19 meetings against the Bison, and they are likely to put their absolute best foot forward with a chance to send a message. This is this group of seniors' final chance to be able to beat Lehigh, and they have to be licking their chops looking at last week's game film.
Breaking Down Bucknell
How many quarterbacks have Bucknell had over the past few seasons line up against Lehigh? It seems like there are too many to count, a different one every season.
This year is no different, but for a different reason: with opening-day starter QB John Chiarolanzio and his backup sophomore QB Logan Bitkofer out with an injury, it's former true freshman and third-string QB Tarrin Earle who is in line for his first-ever collegiate start.
6'3 185 lb Earle, who got thrown to the wolves after Bitkofer got a lower-leg injury during the failed two-point attempt, did move the ball against Lafayette's defense past midfield, until two big sacks derailed the Bison comeback attempt. A graduate of Montclair High School in New Jersey, he appears to have been a prolific pocket passer who had more than 2,500 yards passing in a single season. With so little experience, the Mountain Hawks should be able to really pressure him.
Bucknell head coach Joe Susan is almost certainly going to have Earle be a game manager instead of a gunslinger. The Bison largely run 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.
With FB Andrew Owers more of a pass catching H-back instead of a rushing fullback, it's unclear whether he'll emerge as a rushing fullback or whether Susan might have something else up his sleeve when it comes to rushing the ball. Either way, he'll probably look to the ground game.
Last week's top receiver was junior WR Justin Bethea, with 4 catches for 111 yards and 1 TD, but Susan generally has his quarterbacks spread the ball around to a multitude of receivers, including the backs Cooper and Owers (who, incidentally, leads the Bison with 3 TD receptions). WR Alan Butler (238 yards, 2 TDs) and TE Alex Twiford (13 receptions, 68 yards) round out the top guys on the depth chart.
Bucknell has run the 4-2-5 defense for years, and once again it is a tremendous group that forces tons of turnovers that keep them in games. 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
Lehigh may have caught a break that DE Simeon Page is out this week with an injury, for he was a powerful force on Bucknell's defensive line with 9 tackles for loss. That doesn't mean that the Mountain Hawks are off the hook, though, with LB Sam Chitty (11 1/2 tackles for loss) and LB Matt Robinson (59 tackles, 2 forced fumbles) in the front six.
With the guys up front getting so much pressure on the quarterback, perhaps it's not surprising that Bucknell's has ten interceptions on the season.
Bucknell's return games are always some of the better units in the Patriot League and again they deserve Lehigh's respect this week. RB Stefone Moore-Green and CB Bryan Marine will be returning kicks this week, with dangerous Marine averaging more than 10 yards per punt.
P Alex Pechin is having an all-Patriot League type of season, averaging 45 yards per punt.
Susan is an aggressive coach and has been known to frequently go for it on 4th downs with makeable FGs, though PK Ethan Torres has been 3 of 4 on FGs this season. He is 0-1 on kicks more than 40 yards this year.
LFN's Keys to the Game
1. Kitchen Sink. I wouldn't leave many blitzes in the playbook this week, with Bucknell's inexperienced QB and pressure seemingly the key to the game. I'd blitz early and often, and even throw in a kitchen sink blitz in there somewhere, too.
2. Stretch the Defense. What I would do to combat Bucknell's aggressiveness is to run and pass to the outside to work that aggressiveness against them. QB Brad Mayes will hopefully stretch that front six with screen passes, and catching Bucknell in the blitz once could yield great dividends.
3. Turnovers. Nothing has doomed Lehigh more this season that turnovers, They simply cannot happen again if Lehigh hope to to win this football game.
Before today's game, Lehigh's men's basketball team is conducting an open practice for those who would like to attend and possibly get some free Lehigh men's basketball free swag. Had this happened at Bucknell a few years ago, I would have said that early November is always basketball season at Bucknell, never football season. How times have changed.
The Mountain Hawks desperately need something to hang their hat on this week to have a chance against Lafayette in a couple of weeks. They need to demonstrate a level of excellence that has lacked in the last month, and it's unclear whether that level of excellence can be achieved again this year.
I'd love to be pleasantly surprised. But I'll believe it when I see it.
Lehigh 14, Bucknell 17