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St. Francis (PA) at Lehigh Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction 8/31/2019

It's what we do every week: copiously go over the opposing game notes and analyze the upcoming game matchup.

Thanks to St. Francis (PA)'s game notes, which is the source of most of this research (and a very, very long offseason of obsessing over this game).  The Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, too, had lots of good preseason content on the Red Flash I used to research.

Let's not wait any longer, and let's get right to this thing!

WR Zach Campbell

Breaking Down St. Francis (PA)Offense

Some years these "football nerd breakdowns" are pretty easy to assemble if they are an opponent Lehigh played last season.  You can just cut last year's breakdown, paste it, and just make changes around the edges.  (Full disclosure: I consider myself very much a "football nerd".)

This year, though, especially on offense, there isn't a whole lot we can use from last year's preview.

Last time out, Lehigh squeaked by the Red Flash 21-19, and the victory came in very big part to the Mountain Hawk defense shutting down the St. Francis (PA) offense in large part.  Lehigh held St. Francis to under 50 yards rushing, and held the Red Flash to one offensive touchdown.

Almost all of the skill players from that team have graduated, and thus Lehigh will face off against a mostly-unknown quantity on offense.  It doesn't help that head coach Chris Villareal tagged defensive coordinator Marco Pecora to be the Red Flash's new offensive coordinator.  There isn't much to go on as to a potential offensive philosophy - at Pitt and IUP, he played defense, and always seemed dedicated to that side of the ball.

However, he wasn't always defense-only.

“I remember when I came back home and was helping coach at Central Cambria, Marco was the quarterback at Richland,” Villarrial said during the team’s annual kickoff luncheon on Thursday. “So he has an offensive mind, which helped him become a successful and great defensive coordinator. So now he’s got to flip that.”

Much of this offseason, St. Francis (PA) was focusing on closing out games.  The Red Flash had five agonizing late 4th quarter collapses - the first one against Lehigh - that led to their 4-7 record.  Villareal wants to get that fixed.

You can have a ton of talent but it’s about the culture of your program,” Villarrial said. “We have to keep building that culture to expect to win.  We’re putting the guys on the practice field in a lot of different situations where they have to finish. We’re simulating a lot of the things that happened to us last year.”

Listed on top of the St. Francis (PA) depth chart at QB is redshirt sophomore QB Jason Brown.  He didn't get into any game action last year, but his bio page says the following: in high school at Chancellor high school in Maryland, he "completed 57 percent of his passes for 2,383 yards, 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.. [and] also ran for 567 yards and 10 scores."  It seems fair to assume that the 6'4, 230 lb QB is going to be a bruising runner and difficult to bring down.

Similarly, I needed to rip up all my research last year on the Red Flash running backs, where redshirt sophomore RB Syaire Madden tops the depth chart and true freshman RB Chris Wells backs him up.  Madden went to LaSalle College Prep in Philly. Wells is another Philly product that went to Jireh Prep last year in North Carolina.  Madden looks like the more heavy-duty back, while Wells appears to be more of a speed back. 

On the receiving corps, only 6'7 TE Terrell Johnson (15 catches, 157 yards, 3 TDs) and 5'8 WR Zach Campbell (19 catches, 172 yards, 2 TDs) return any statistics of note.  Their three top receivers, including former Fordham WR Jorge Solano and all-NEC WR Kamron Lewis, are gone.  The Red Flash show a 3 WR set in their two-deep, with 6'8 redshirt sophomore WR E.J. Jenkins topping the depth chart.

Since speculation is all we have here, my semi-educated guess is that the Red Flash will go with a run-heavy read-option offense like Colgate.  In pass situations, Brown may go to his extremely tall receivers to move the sticks.  However the unknown is what makes this matchup a bit scary.  No Red Flash opponent will know this little about St. Francis (PA) going in.

St. Francis' offensive line is lighter and more athletic than last year, and two redshirt seniors anchor at center and guard, C Alex Shriner and OG Christian Eubanks.  The rest of the offensive line are underclassmen, including a true freshman, 6'7 315 lb OT Cody Newrot, guarding the blind side.

LB Da'Juan Lee


Though their defensive coordinator is switching hats, St. Francis (PA) will continue to host a 3-4 defense that could be one of the better defensive units in FCS, a unit that kept them in games the last two seasons.  In last year's game, to a person Lehigh credited St. Francis as a very good unit that did a lot to disrupt what they wanted to do, especially in the passing game.

Having said that, St. Francis' defensive two-deep only features two upperclassmen, and only one player, 5'10. 280 lb sophomore NG Jalen Brown, with extensive experience.  Most of the experience in the defensive front last year graduated with last year's class, though resdhirt sophomore DE James Watkins had 6 tackles for loss.

There's lots of youth and inexperience at linebacker, too, though LB Da'Juan Lee is very much a proven quantity, especially for Lehigh fans.  The senior from Falls Church, Virginia led the FCS in forced fumbles and added a whopping 19 1/2 tackles for loss and 6 sacks.  Against Lehigh last year he made a meal of the Mountain Hawk offensive line, notching 8 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles, one of which was recovered in the end zone for a Red Flash TD.

It's FS Nick Rinella, however, that is another true superlative on this Red Flash defense.  More known for his place on the return unit, he also helped St. Francis' tough pass defense last season with 59 tackles, 4 pass break-ups, and 1 INT.  He's an expert poacher and a hard hitter.

Like (it seems) everywhere else, St. Francis has a lot of new players plugged in around the proven veterans.  CB Martin Foray, Jr. and SS Jake Heiple played significantly last season, and managed to combine for two interceptions, but it remains to be seen how the defense will come together as a unit now that they are on top of the depth chart.

FS/RS Nick Rinella

Special Teams

This will shock and amaze you, but St. Francis is breaking in new players in the kicking game.  Sopmohore PK Trevor Thompson handled kickoffs last season but didn't attempt a FG.  Sophomore P Ryan Oliver made 10 punts last season for an average of 37 yards per punt.

As mentioned above, it's in the return game where Lehigh really need to be careful  Senior FS Nick Rinella tops the depth chart at both punt and kick returns, and for good reason - as a returner, finished fifth in the FCS and tops in the NEC with 825 total return yards.  66 of those yards came against Lehigh, where he was a Sam McCloskey tackle away from scoring a kickoff return touchdown that might have cost Lehigh the game.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Use Experience To Your Advantage.  Though Lehigh is on the whole a young team, the Mountain Hawks boast the return on defense of 9 of 11 starters, and a certain number of skill positions, most of whom played against St. Francis (PA) last year and those starters that are playing there.  That experience is going to be critical to keep Lehigh in this game, especially defensively. 

2. Settling Down Early.  With as many freshmen and first-time players on the field, at home, it can be way too easy to get overly jacked up and make mental errors.  On special teams, with a Top 5 FCS return man, this can be a big problem.  Special teams are always important, if a bit unsung, but they could make a big impact in a close game.  Don't let a big play wreck the day.

3. Put The Air Back in Air Lehigh.  St. Francis (PA) isn't the only area with question marks this Saturday - the Lehigh offense is going to be unveiled, and it's not at all certain how the Mountain Hawks will go.  Will it be RPO based?  Quick passes?  Air Lehigh?  Ground Lehigh?  Nobody knows for sure, but it seems reasonable that attacking St. Francis (PA) through the air, combating some aggressiveness on defense, makes some sense. 

Fearless Prediction

Every football season is loaded with excitement and potential, but for Lehigh, there is a lot of newness along with the regular pre-season cocktail.  There's a lot of firsts, yet there's a surprising amount of experience.  The potential is there, even with many new faces and a new head coach, for big things.

With two extremely challenging games up ahead in Villanova and UC Davis, however, getting a W here in Bethlehem in the home opener feels critical.  Nobody wants to be 0-3 heading into the Merrimack game.

There's an equal amount of anticipation, because of the unknown St. Francis (PA) brings, and terror, because of the unknown St. Francis (PA) brings. 

But in the end I think what propels Lehigh to victory here is the fact that they bring just enough experience, especially defensively, that should bring the Mountain Hawks together a little sooner than the Red Flash.  There's still so much that's unknown that this is a difficult game to pick, but at home, with guys like DE Juwan Morrow, FS Sam McCloskey, and LB Riley O'Neil anchoring the defense, I think the Mountain Hawks start the season on the right foot.

Lehigh 24, St. Francis (PA) 10


blogger said…
No clue where St. Francis is in PA., and next to no interest in this game.
blogger said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allen said…
Allen said…
After a game like this a team can either roll over and die or they can dust themselves off work their hearts out and come back with a decent season
Unknown said…
First game yes , but there’s a lot of problems with this team, offense sputtered most of the game, running game is non existent. Timing is way off in the passing game. It’s going to get much worse next week when they travel to the main line.
Anonymous said…
Terrible start to the Gilmore era. Good news is that there is an actual cohesive and stubborn Defense in 2019, first time in several years. Bad news is that all other phases rate a D- at this point. Having no running game in the PL is a recipe for an under 500 season.
Anonymous said…
And thank god we scheduled Merrimack in 2019... good chance for a V.
the last indian said…
Anonymous said…
What happened to Lehigh football. Does anyone even care anymore? Doesn’t look like it.
Anonymous said…
All the video replay boards and music blasting on 3rd down isn't going to bring in fans if the offense cannot move against low-end FCS teams. Used to average about 9-10K attendance most weeks. No hope for that again.

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