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Lehigh at UC Davis Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction 9/14/2019

It's what we do every week: copiously go over the opposing game notes and analyze the upcoming game matchup.  One thing that has been undoubtedly very cool about this rare West Coast game for the Mountain Hawks is how great the Aggies have been in terms of getting out game notes, cool content celebrating the 1977 Division II semifinal, and even local press (I see you, Davis Enterprise).

We live in a world where local press is dying, along with it the written word about previewing what are interesting, fun sporting matchups.  This week has been refreshingly fun, and easy to break down, thanks to all the content celebrating the first meeting, and previewing the upcoming meeting.  It's great to see two football communities from across the country come together for a week of good-spirited competition.

A special shout-out has to go to The Davis Enterprise again for the incredible pictures of not only the Division II semifinal game but also the eerie, foggy atmosphere of the morning.  They are absolute treasures and really bring the game to amazing life.  Don't just go to that for the pictures alone - also by all means read their extensive preview of tomorrow's game as well.  But few pictures leave me speechless.  The five that they provided with the article did.

Courtesy The Aggie

Breaking Down UC Davis' Offense

For those of you not familiar with the national FCS scene, UC Davis is currently ranked No. 4 or No. 5 in the country, depending on your favorite national poll.  They are there for a very good reason - They are stacked.

When Lehigh scheduled this game last year, the Aggies were coming off a 5-6 season where they were improving, but not a top tier team, in the always-tough Big Sky conference.

Then last year, under sixth-year head coach Dan Hawkins and longtime offensive coordinator Tim Plough, everything just clicked.

It started with a 44-38 upset win over an FBS team, San Jose State, and then came together with a resounding set of wins against Big Sky competition.  They ended the regular season 9-2, with a dominating win on the road against Montana, 49-21, a real feather in their caps.

Only Stanford and eventual national champion runner-up Eastern Washington ended up besting the 10-3 Aggies all season, with the Eagles' second win against UC Davis happening in the FCS quarterfinals 34-29.  The UC Davis only loss came when Eastern Washington rallied from a 29-28 deficit with just under two minutes left in the game.

For their efforts, Hawkins won the Eddie Robinson award for FCS Coach of the year.

If the Aggies snuck up on the Big Sky to some degree, that isn't the case in 2019, where UC Davis is expected to make a run at the Big Sky title once again.

And the unquestioned leader of the Aggie offense is Walter Payton award hopeful QB Jake Meier.

The 2018 Big Sky Offensive Player of the Year, Maier is an exceptional passer, logging 35 touchdowns to 10 interceptions last season.  He's in every way a baller.

Though he doesn't take off very often and run the ball, he is mobile and can get away from pressure extremely well.  And when he has time to pick apart a defense, he's exceptional at it - twelve different Aggies caught touchdown passes from him last season.  He completed 65% of his passes and threw for nearly 4,000 yards in 15 games, breaking the 400 yard barrier a couple of times, including the win over San Jose State.

Lehigh head coach Tom Gilmore might remember the quarterback I will compart Jake Meier to - that would be former Holy Cross QB Dominic Randolph, whom Gilmore told me years ago had the best football mind in terms of reads and football IQ than any QB he'd coached.

Last season, Maier's go-to receiver was the hugely talented WR Keelan Doss, who finally has landed back on the Raiders' roster.  Losing a 1,000 yard receiver is never easy, but with the way Maier distributes the ball, it may not be hugely important to have a "go-to" receiver like last season.  So far this year, WR Jason Harrell and slot WR Carson Crawford have caught the bulk of Maier's passes, but WR Justin Kraft, TE Matt Hyman, or any number of the stable of UC Davis receivers could emerge in the gameplan.  We're only two games in, but already nine different Aggies have caught a pass.

Another tremendous reason why the UC Davis offense went from "very good" to "great" last year was the emergence of freshman phenom RB Ulonzo Gilliam.  The 5'9 powerhouse provided a tremendous all-purpose threat out the backfield, averaging more than 100 all-purpose yards a game rushing and receiving, and scoring 17 TDs.  He was one of the big reasons the Aggies staved off San Diego's upset bid last week, converting on a 4th and 1 and then scoring what would be the game-winner on a 1 yard TD run.

Lehigh fans watching this offense might be forgiven if, aside from the good vibrations of Lehigh's last trip out to Davis in 1977, that watching the UC Davis offense they might be reminded of some of the happy times of the "Air Lehigh" offense, because Plough's offense shares many of the characteristics of the pinnacle "Air Lehigh" teams.

“We know the Big Sky is the best FCS conference in the country," Lehigh S Sam McCloskey said, "and their offense can be confusing because they do a lot of tricky stuff. We’re going to see some weird things this weekend.”

Something that might be surprising about this offense is that there is quite a bit of youth on the Davis offensive line. Junior RT Joe Albrecht is their largest lineman at over 300 lbs, but the line's overall youth hasn't done much to allow opposing defenses to slow down the Aggie offense yet.


UC Davis runs a multiple 4-3 with the 4th down lineman designated as a "rush".  An encouraging for Lehigh is that the Aggie defense has allowed 31 points per game, including 35 to San Diego last week.  Also encouraging is that the Aggie defense gave up double-digit points in every game they contested in both 2018 and 2019.  So there's a chance that Lehigh's offense can get somewhat on track.

The Aggies' defensive line is loaded with returning experience.  Senior DE Nas Anesi is a team tri-captain and already has 8 tackles, 1 forced fumble, and 1 fumble recovery.  This tells us that the Aggie defense is going to be extremely aggressive, as they've already forced 7 turnovers in 2 games.

At linebacker, watch out for junior LB Connor Airey (15 tackles) and redshirt freshman LB Nick Eaton (11 tackles, 1 sack).

But worrying for Lehigh is the emergence of a budding star in CB Devon King, who already has logged 2 interceptions.  Worse for the Mountain Hawks was King's stunning goal-line stop to preserve victory for the Aggies last week at San Diego.

Even though the Aggies win with an intricate offense, it would be unwise to sleep on the Aggies aggressive defense.

Special Teams

Senior PK Matt Blair is listed atop the depth chart for the Aggies, but so far he hasn't logged a punt or kick yet this year, only kickoffs.  P Daniel Whelan (41.89 yards per punt, 3 50 yard punts) has been exceptional, while PK Max O'Rourke has been a perfect 3-for-3 in FG attempts, including a 40 yarder.  It's safe to say that kicking won't be a weak spot.

Jaylin White, Troy Spencer, and Jordan Perryman have fielded kicks for the Aggies.  They haven't averaged more than 20 yards on returns so far.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Keeping Defensive Discipline.  Villanova last week showed Lehigh why the discipline of good tackling, executing, and doing your part on the defense was so critical - the Mountain Hawk defense played good enough to compete, at times, with the No. 24 team in the country.  They've shown they can do it, but they need to be consistent and to do it for all four quarters in order to have a chance.  They'll need to get some 3rd and 4th down stops - and they can.

2. Can They Pressure Maier?  A recipe for bad things happening to the Mountain Hawks is allowing Maier to get comfortable back there, make a couple of sandwiches before dumping the ball off to Gilliam for a touchdown.  There may need to be some creativity, but somehow Lehigh needs to keep Maier off balance for long stretches of this game.  Can they do that?

3. Balance On Offense.  Somehow, the Lehigh running game needs to make a comeback this week.  Looking over the San Diego box score, the Toreros got 4.0 yards per rush against the Aggies and ran the ball a little more than they threw it.  The rushing game will need to get some traction in order to score the points necessary to sniff the upset.

Fearless Prediction

At 0-2, with a team that is still feeling its way, travelling to the West Coast to face off against the No. 4 team in the nation is a huge challenge.  But that's not to say that it's an impossible challenge, either.

The Mountain Hawks made a lot of strides from Week 1 to Week 2 that didn't totally show up on the scoreboard.  It's clear to many Mountain Hawk watchers that good things are happening - they just haven't found their way into a win yet.  You could see it last week, on both offense and defense.  The wins will come.  But it might take some time.

This game will be another big test for the Mountain Hawks, and another opportunity to make strides to their ultimate goal, which is another Patriot League Championship.  It seems like this will be another big step in the right direction, but once again, without a result in the win column.

Lehigh 28, UC Davis 37


Anonymous said…
Come on now we all know this will be a blowout. Lehigh coach will huff and puff and put on his tough guy face then get back on the airplane have a few cocktails and fall fast asleep.
Anonymous said… blowout. UCD will likely take this as a testing week before Big Sky play really gets going. I don't see them hitting on cylinders. Man it is super hot, but super dry. But in the SAC/Davis area, when the sun goes down it should be no problem for the Mt. Hawks. I think Chuck has it down pretty good, but I will go UCD 42, LU 24. Lehigh fighting hard until the end tonight. We will see..
Anonymous said…
Long way to travel for that kind of effort. Coach could be one year and done if this keeps up.
Anonymous said…
"That kind of effort" Did you even catch the game? That was a GREAT effort, an unbelievable effort, especially on D. They did not concede an inch. If this was the defensive team from the 2 previous years, it would have been 70-13. UCD is an unbelievable juggernaut. Lehigh is like 2 levels below the FCS elites right now. Their offense is terrible right now, granted. But they will start jelling once they get back to their level. So it was actually a great effort last night. Totally foreign environment, but that trip was so worth it to show where the program is, and has to go. The PL title is right there for the taking. No, they won't be getting excited about any more trips to the Fargo Dome, but this was exactly what the program needed.
Anonymous said…
hey Anonymous at 9:23AM,

Would you prefer Lehigh to be losing and giving up 40 or 56 points AT HOME, to some middling, lower level program like Monmouth or Sacred Heart...or would you prefer traveling to California to play an elite program (and learning what a real top level FCS game is like)?
My god, that UCD game last night will pay huge dividends down the road. Colgate also doing it right by playing those 3 killer teams at the start of the season.
Anonymous said…
Patriot League has become the doormat League in FCS despite full scholarships. Villanova kills Lehigh/Colgate & Bucknell and at one time they considered joining the league for football before the league deteriorated. Winning the Patriot League is like being the tallest midget!!!
Anonymous said…
Yes, the PL is a poor league compared to 10-20 years ago. Yes, it has deteriorated relative to the top tier of FCS. I am sick of all the whining about this. LU can win the league, and at this level, its a reasonable goal to attain. With college and university budgets in 2019, and the terrifying future for smaller institutions, LU is never going to be a program like UCD again. Time to stop being angry about this and accept things as they are.
Anonymous said…
I have never seen our offense like this. Beesmer is the future from what I have heard, need to get him playing time and cut our losses although Monaco does have potential.

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