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#Rivalry154 Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction: Lehigh vs. Lafayette

All season I have done a statistical breakdown of Lehigh's opponent, position by position.  As a change of pace, I'm going to do something different this week with the "Game Breakdown" and do a head-to-head comparison of both teams - doing a stat breakdown of both teams still, but doing more of a "Tale of the Tape" to compare both squads to see who might reign supreme in this huge football game.

Something that sometimes gets lost in The Rivalry is the importance of seniors on both sides.  For so many of these seniors, it's not only their final college football game, it is also their final time wearing a football helmet and a jersey.  I've found that seniors find it in themselves to play the best games of their careers.  So seniors in the starting lineup are of great weight to me.

Offense

Quarterback: It has been a fairly disappointing senior campaign for Lehigh senior QB Brad Mayes overall.  After a season where he was a Walter Payton award nominee, he struggled to be consistent, only completing 51% of his passes and helming an offense that has struggled all season to put up points.  Uncharacteristically for Brad, he put up 12 interceptions on the season compared to only 10 touchdown passes.

Having said that, there have been occasional flashes of the same player that won the MVP of the Lehigh/Lafayette game last year, most notably against Bucknell.  In that game his 335 yard performance was more reminiscent of the Brad from last season.  One of the biggest questions of this game has to be whether he has another Bucknell-like game in him to help surge Lehigh to victory on Saturday.

For Lafayette, sophomore QB Sean O'Malley has continued his development as head signalcaller, but he has been little more than a game manager for most of the season.  With only 4 passing touchdowns, one in the waning moments of the Army game last week, probably his best, most effecient game came against Bucknell, where he went 17/25 with 1 TD pass and 2 interceptions.

ADVANTAGE: LEHIGH

Rushing: Going into the season, Lehigh senior RB Dominick Bragalone was supposed to be the bell cow for the offense.  A three-time 1,000 yard rusher, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the South Williamsport, PA native was going to have a fourth and shatter all the Lehigh school rushing records in the process.

It didn't quite work out that way.

After a dominating performance against St. Francis (PA), Dom exited the Villanova game with a head injury, and by the time he came back vs. Penn Lehigh opponents had made it their life's mission to stack the box to make sure Dom didn't beat them on the ground, and for most of the season, they have succeeded.  Bragalone has only 662 net rushing yards and 11 receiving yards in 2018, after being such a huge amount of the offense in last year's Patriot League Championship season.  Dom had 3 touchdowns in the very first game against St. Francis (PA); he's had only one touchdown in the nine games since.

Freshman RB Rashawn Allen has shown a lot of potential when Bragalone was not able to go, earning 324 yards and 3 TDs in limited action.  Allen had one of the most spectacular touchdowns of the season when he took it to the house at Navy after bouncing off a would-be tackle.

Lafayette's rushing attack is a true committee approach.  Against Bucknell, Lafayette had six different backs carry the ball, led by senior RB C.J. Amill but also with sophomore RB Selwyn Simpson, and junior RB Mike Dunn as well.  Simpson is more of a bruiser back, but Amil and Dunn are very fast backs that can kill Lehigh if they get open field on the outside.

Running a base offense with a FB and TE, senior FB Will Eisler has only 1 carry on the season so far, but not only do the backs and QB carry the ball frequently, Lafayette will frequently run jet sweep-style running playes with junior WR Nick Pearson or sophomore WR Quinn Revere to get rushing yards.  Same rules apply: if they get outside, their speed can cause problems.

ADVANTAGE: LEHIGH

Receiving: Both teams boast a young receiving corps that has struggled to pull together to be a cohesive unit, but both have members on their team with some superstar potential.

For Lafayette it is junior WR Nick Pearson, who has 38 catches for 547 yards and has also added 64 yards rushing and a couple of touchdowns.  The Mason, Ohio native is a speed guy you don't want in open space and by the second half of the season had developed into a swiss army knife of an offensive threat.

Joining him are TE Steven Stillanos, who is mostly used as a blocker, sophomore WR Quinn Revere, junior WR Julian Spigner, and junior WR Jake Liedtka in the receiving corps.  Head coach John Garrett spreads out the targets - seventeen different Lafayette players have caught a pass this season, and the fullbacks, running backs, or wideouts can all be targets in this passing game.

For Lehigh the breakout superstar was sophomore WR Jorge Portorreal, who has 50 catches for 733 yards and 3 TDs.  Most of that came during a breakout performance against Bucknell, a 216 yard, 2 TD performance that flashed the big-play ability that had been hiding all season, but the truth remains that if he heats up he can take over a game like he did a couple weeks ago.

One huge missing piece of the passing game that returned recently was senior WR Luke Christiano, a talented playmaker that has struggled with injuries his entire Lehigh career.  Junior WR Dev Bibbens (31 catches, 532 yards, 3 TDs) has been a stable force in this passing game but also hasn't taken over a game, either.  Senior WR Sasha Kelsey has struggled with injuries as well, though that has opened the door for freshman WR Ray Falcone and freshman WR Austin Dambach to flash some of their abilities as well. Senior TE Dan Scaserra was mostly used as a blocker.

But overall, for Lehigh, this felt like a unit that simply struggled to be as potent a force that they seemed on paper.  And for Lafayette, though these units are built for speed they didn't result in a lot of scoring.

ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Offensive Protection: Both offensive lines struggled to carve yards out for their offenses, both rushing and passing, and though perhaps the "sacks allowed" numbers don't seem too big for either squad, both units struggled to protect their quarterbacks all season.

Lehigh's offensive line is one of the youngest in recent memory, thanks to injury.  Freshman OL Justin Gurth and sophomore OL Chris Fournier are the bookend tackles, and though Lehigh faced a bunch of challenging defensive fronts this season (9-0 Princeton and FBS Navy leap to mind), as a unit everyone struggled until a working offensive front was finally found.

Lafayette's offensive line has much more experience, starting with senior C Kevin Zataveski.  Though he sat out the 2017 season, whenever able he has started for the Leopards and he gives Lafayette some much-needed senior leadership and stability.

ADVANTAGE: LAFAYETTE

Defense

Rushing Defense: The Leopards defensive front has done a good job stopping the run, allowing opponents to average only 3.9 yards per run play vs. Lehigh allowing 5.3 yards per run play. 

Lafayette's 3-4 boasts a defensive front that may not be as good as Colgate's, but is extremely solid overall and aggressive.  Freshman DE Malik Hamm (7 1/2 sacks) stands out in the pass rush, but it's the three linebackers, senior LB Jerry Powe, senior LB Michael Root, and sophomore LB Major Jordan who are really good tacklers and sold guys in the middle. 

Lehigh's 3-1- 3 hybrid defensive front has struggled to find consistency all season, despite a unit that has a lot of experience.  Senior DT Harrison Kauffman has been the heart and soul of this line, while senior DT Juwan Morrow and senior DE Julian Lynn along with junior DE Davis Maxie have offered some good individual performances but, aside from the Bucknell game, has struggled to be consistent.  The same could go with the linebackers, where junior LB Keith Woetzel and senior LB Mark Walker struggled all season with some injuries.  Sophmore LB Pete Haffner and junior LB Jon Seighman came in and played well at times, but again, consistency was an issue.

ADVANTAGE: LAFAYETTE

Passing Defense: Both the Leopards and Mountain Hawks have only 4 interceptions apiece, though in Lehigh's case it hasn't been for lack of opportunities.  It feels like in every game there's been at least one dropped interception by Lehigh, and had the defensive backs held onto the ball, perhaps Lehigh might have had another win or two.

Team captain DB Sam McCloskey, missed most of 2017 with an injury, but he along with junior FS Riley O'Neil formed a solid tackling combo in the defensive backfield - when he was healthy.  Senior CB Donavon Harris and junior CB Marquis Wilson had some flashes of big-play ability, as did sophomore CB Divine Buckrham, but again the theme is consistency - when things broke down, the results ended up being big plays.  All season it seemed like the coaching staff was tinkering with the formula on defense looking for something that worked, and even now in the biggest game of the year, it still feels like they're still tinkering.

Lafayette's secondary has a bunch of upperclassmen, most notably senior FS Trent Crossan who is an excellent tackler in the run game.  Junior CB Eric Mitchell has been a solid corner as well, while junior SS Yasir Thomas and junior CB Tre Jordan, now finally healthy, round out the unit.

ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Special Teams

Punting: Lehigh P Ed Mish and Lafayette P Jacob Bissell are both exceptional Patriot League punters, almost identical in terms of yards per kick (both averaging almost 42 yds) and punts downed inside the 20 (15).

ADVANTAGE: PUSH

Kicking: PK Ed Mish has been fairly accurate with his kicks, but they have all been of the short variety (his longest has been 27 yards) and last week he had an extra point blocked that was a critical moment in the game.  For Lafayette, PK Jeffrey Kordenbrock has nailed 4 field goals of more than 40 yards, though to be fair coach John Garrett has sometimes chosen some questionable times to unleash that weapon - for example, down 28-3 to Sacred Heart midway through the 3rd quarter.

ADVANTAGE: LAFAYETTE

Returns: Lehigh has truly struggled to get many returns this season, only getting 317 yards on kickoff returns.  Sophomore DB Jaylen Floyd has provided some spark on punt returns, but that's about it.

Lafayette, on the other hand, has two returns for touchdowns, one a punt return from RB C.J. Amill and another a kickoff return by RB J.J. Younger.

ADVANTAGE: LAFAYETTE

LFN Keys to the Game:

1. Who's Hungry?  Lafayette is facing the prospect of having their senior class go 0-4 against Lehigh.  This is the motivation that the Mountain Hawks will be facing on Saturday, and Lehigh will have to match or beat that intensity over all four quarters.  If they don't, this game will not be close.

2. The Cohesiveness of the Lehigh O Line.  Everything Lehigh needs to do offensively funnels through the Mountain Hawk offensive line.  They will have to match Lafayette physically and allow Dom Bragalone and the running game to get that 100 yard game to give Lehigh a chance to win.

3. Turnovers and Special Teams.  Every kick return, every penalty, and every turnover is so vital in these Rivalry games and can cause violent momentum swings.  It is Lehigh's job to make sure that they are on the right side of those.  If Lehigh forces more turnovers than the opposition, I like Lehigh's chances.

Fearless Prediction

Both of these teams are remarkably evenly matched.  Anyone who thinks that either team has a huge advantage or disadvantage is sorely mistaken.

Where I wonder if Lehigh can keep things together, however, is in the area of special teams and just overall fire and brimstone.  Lafayette's team is starving for a win over Lehigh.  The seniors have worked their entire football careers for this very moment.  They see the 2-8 record.  It is completely within sight.

Somehow, some way, Lehigh is going to have to summon something inside to overwhelm that passion that Lafayette is going to bring to the table.  They're going to have to channel the team that beat Bucknell and the team that blocked a field goal to beat St. Francis (PA).  They're going to have to play turnover-free ball and need to blow Lafayette off the line of scrimmage.

Can Lehigh do it?

Lehigh 24, Lafayette 27

Comments

Anonymous said…
Chuck,
Kudos for going with the analytical pick instead of the homer route. I agree.
Your head to head at each position was excellent. Lafayette should win this on paper..the fact they stayed relatively close to Army is the most impressive performance out of either side this season.
Anonymous said…
This will be a blowout, Lehigh's D is atrocious.
Anonymous said…
Happy to say you are ALL WRONG! Go Lehigh!
Anonymous said…
Happy to report Andy just signed a 3 year contract extension. Well deserved!
Anonymous said…
Best performance and best energy and aggression in a couple years by the Defense...even if it was against a very poor offensive club. Certainly ended on the right note.

Very interested to know the plan now for the LONG climb back to the top tier of FCS. Dominating Lafayette and Bucknell is great, but its a baby step toward the old LU tradition.
Anonymous said…
How can someone be “happy” to report a terrible football coach got a three year extension? Is that real?
Anonymous said…
Can't believe they would extend his contract it's time to clean house from top to bottom. Andy has trouble stringing together a sentence.
Anonymous said…
Some apparently got trolled by the 5:44 guy yesterday. A 3 year contract within minutes after the Rivalry game? THINK.

It will be days, more likely weeks before we hear anything on Andy and the staff.
Everyone needs a perspective here...Andy is a great human, a very introspective caring guy. But 2 lonely PL wins over absolutely terrible offensive clubs this year, and mostly some of the worst defense in FCS for two straight years. All the various journeyman running backs who had career days the last couple years should be sending the D Coordinator a Christmas card.
Anonymous said…
Cohen said after the game "the program is still solid". The program, and the league are almost in total collapse. I feel like I am in an alternate reality. What was he watching all season? I feel so sorry for him and his players, but the move has to be made for everyone's sake, including his. This could get really ugly with players bolting from the program, and internal in-fighting spilling over into public forums. There have been so many losing seasons in Cohen's tenure and so many embarrassing loses. This has got to stop!
Anonymous said…
AD Joe had a very interesting altercation with a fan when the staff entered the locker room at half time. The fan said something along the lines of "So will we get a new coach next year Joe?", and Joe got up in his face, called him an asshole at least twice and said something like "You don't know what goes on behind the scenes". Seemed like AD Joe was a little unhinged (and very unprofessional) over a passing comment from a fan. Guy has been around for too long and should probably be removed himself, but the school doesn't give two shits about their athletic programs so Joe will continue to cash his check, not make any tough decisions and put out bad programs.

On another note, the only people who could have possibly made that "5:44PM" comment and meant it would be either Andy Coen, his wife, or the AD.
russs said…
The D has been the elephant in the room. 108th this year in FCS, lower than that last year, I believe. They haven't been able to tackle or stop anyone in the last few years, bailed out by an offence w/ an AA WR and another all PL (Casey, right?), and presumably an O line that could protect the QB. Besides not being able to tackle (noted on a recent non-LU broadcast), why has Bragalone been running up the middle w/ no success all year? Did I miss something? Isn't he the first RB in many years w/ the speed to get outside? The announcers mentioned that on Saturday, no success up the middle, why not try something different? Can't remember too many screens this year; passes to the TEs? What was the name of the Laf RB who ran for 300 (300!) yds against LU in '14? Right, I couldn't remember either, had to look it up; no half time adjustments in that one. Etc., etc. Can they come back? If so how long will it take. Either they are not getting th players, or not coaching them up, or, perhaps both.
Anonymous said…
Good god Russs, are you familiar with the term BEATING A DEAD HORSE? Russ, this season and this era, are over. Let it go man, we're begging you.
Allen said…
Coen leaving program, early Alzheimer's
Lehigh is in good hands now with Donnie Roberts until a new coach can be found
Anonymous said…

I think we all knew something was terribly wrong with Coach Cohen. His inability to form coherent sentences was quite evident. I thought it might have been Parkinson's Disease but this is just as bad. I feel so conflicted. You want a new coach to rebuild the program for the kids,the school, and the fan base, but who would want it to be this way? God bless Coach Cohen. God bless his family.
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