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Lehigh at Fordham Game Breakdown and Fearless Prediction, 10/19/2019

One thing has remained remarkably consistent for the last six years - Fordham has had Lehigh's number.

It hasn't mattered that Fordham has had Joe Moorhead, Andrew Breiner, or Joe Conlin, or whether Lehigh was gunning for a Patriot League title, or not - during that time, Fordham has done only one thing consistently, and that's beat Lehigh.

Granted, during many of those years, Fordham has some all-time teams, with UConn transfer QB Michael Nebrich, current Arizona Cardinal RB Chase Edmonds, and a cast of terrific Patriot League players too numerous to mention.  But then again, during Lehigh's last Patriot League title year of 2017, fourth-string RB D'Angelo Palladino ran for almost 300 yards on the Mountain Hawk defense for a 45-35 win, something the Lehigh seniors remember all too painfully well.

In a year of lowlights, last year's 43-14 loss to Fordham for head coach Joe Conlin's first win as Fordham head coach really stood out to me as a particularly bad loss where the Mountain Hawks seemed to completely bottom out.  I don't often say games are over at the coin flip, but I knew Lehigh was done the second they came back from midfield.

There were some truly epic losses last season - 66-7 to Princeton stands out, of course - but you could argue that expectations against Princeton, Villanova and even Colgate were very low.  The Fordham game, however, was winnable.  It was a game between winless teams, and I predicted Lehigh would win.  "Lehigh has too much talent not to win this game," I said in a moment of being stupendously wrong.

Of the five losses in the last six games in the series, the first few were a result of a battle between teams with equal talent, but in the last two losses, there was a serious enthusiasm deficit, and it showed.  Both Fordham and Lehigh struggled the last two years, but having attended both games, the Rams simply wanted it more.


Breaking Down Fordham
Offense

The Rams run a similar base offensive set as Lehigh, with a 3 WR set, a TE, and single RB.  It's a set that allows for some flexibility with a pocket QB or a running QB, though it tends to work better with a mobile quarterback that can take off with the ball and run.  The Rams are speedy and athletic, and Conlin tries to take advantage of that.

Fordham's goal on offense is to achieve a good balance between the run and pass to make the offense go.  Last year, with a young team, the Rams struggled to find consistency, but there have been some signs that they have, or are about ready to, turn the corner.

QB Tim Demorat
Sophomore QB Tim Demorat started most of the year last year, and especially in the last few games it looks like he is really settling in.  What infuriates Fordham fans is that he still struggles with consistency - at times, he looks like a guy who will take the Rams to the Patriot League title, and others he looks like Superman in the vicinity of Kryptonite.

He’s an efficient passer who has spread the ball around effectively and also has been known to take off with the football, scoring a couple touchdowns on the ground.  Last week, on 4th and 10, he was flushed out of the pocket and connected on a perfect pass to WR Fotis Kokosioulis, a game-winning score with just under 1 minute left.

Demorat spreads the ball out a lot in the passing game, but the emergence of the Northern Illinois transfer Kokosioulis has really been a critical ingredient in getting Fordham in the win column.  Eleven different players have caught passes on offense, and five of them have caught touchdowns - WR Hamze Al-Zayat and WR Dequece Carter both with a couple apiece.  Senior WR Joe Ferraro (16 catches, 205 yards) also features in the passing game, one of the very few seniors on this Fordham roster.

RB Zach Davis
Another piece that has really come together for the Rams is the running game, led by RB Zach Davis, who is generously listed in the game program at 5'10.  Davis is small but he is incredibly fast, something that is somewhat of a surprise since he sat out all of last season with an injury.  Already at 676 yards rushing, Conlin does a tremendous job getting Davis in space and making things happen.  For those of you that remember Lehigh's Jermaine Pugh, Davis is a similar back and paired with Rutgers transfer RB Trey Sneed forms a formidable 1-2 rushing punch.

One of Fordham's Achillies' heels remains in that their offensive line has given up a bunch of sacks, yielding almost 3 a game.  Conlin has shuffled the line a bit, with junior RT Will Conley returning this week to help give Fordham a boost in that area.  6'5, 325 lb junior LT Nick Zakelj is a mainstay of Demorat's blind side and is in line for all-Patriot League.

LB Glenn Cunningham

Defense


Fordham runs a 4-2-5 hybrid defense that is similar to the defense that Lehigh used to run before this year.  Conlin's defensive coordinator Paul Rice was the position coach of Yale DB Matthew Oplinger, who spent some time on the Arizona Cardinals roster with Chase Edmonds. 

The D line's front four has some experience despite their youth, with three juniors (Ellis Taylor, Jeremy Imperati, Anthony Diodato) and one junior college transfer (6'3, 295 lb NT Jeremy Coste) that has done a great job of stuffing the run.

Junior LB Glenn Cunningham and sophomore LB Ryan Greenhagen have been all sorts of great this season so far, and are a real problem for the Lehigh offense to contain.  They form a dynamic duo that is also headed to all-Patriot League status.  Together - already - they have combined for 19 tackles for loss and are 1-2 in both tackles and solo tackles on the team.  They've also forced 3 fumbles between them.

It's the secondary where the Rams are, despite the presence of one of their rare seniors in FS James Biggs-Frazier, pretty young and still a bit inexperienced.  Fordham has give up 278 yards per game passing but has made up for that somewhat by forcing 6 interceptions, including a critical one that allowed the Rams to score and keep the game close in the first half last week vs. Georgetown.

Special Teams

Junior P/PK Andrew Mevis would be the runaway specialist in the Patriot League if it wasn't for Bucknell NFL prospect P/PK Alex Pechin being present in the league, but Mevis averages 40.7 yards per punt and is 6 for 8 on FG tries, including a 46 yarder that ended up being enormous against Georgetown last week.  Mevis is an excellent kicker.

With such a speedy team, Fordham is very dangerous on returns, with Kokosioulis and RB Naim Mayfield both very solid.  Kokosioulis has a 53 yard kickoff return this year.

LFN's Keys to the Game


1. The Speed of Davis, California.  The Fordham offense, to be clear, is not the same as the offense Lehigh faced in UC Davis, but they are similar in that they are athletic and fast.  The Rams will try to play at that sort of speed, and the Mountain Hawk defense will have to be ready.  A lot of that is just doing a lot of the great things they've been doing already on defense and special teams - preventing big plays and keeping the flow in front of them.  However they can slow down the Rams, they need to do so, especially on special teams.

2. The Relentless Pressure Of the Past Few Weeks.  The Lehigh Sack Exchange will need to be trading high once again in order to get Demorat on the back foot.  If he gets the time to pick apart a defense, he can do so, which makes it extra critical that the Mountain Hawks continue their sacking, disruptive ways.  If Lehigh can get an amazing six-plus sack game, I like their chances.

3. Taking Deep Shots.  Two weeks ago, QB Tyler Monaco had a defining moment against Colgate, dictating a 99 yard drive that seemed to give the Mountain Hawks momentum that carried them through the rest of the game.  This week, I'd like to see Tyler and the offense take a few deep shots to try to catch this secondary off guard.  That means TE Alex Snyder, WR Austin Dambach and WR Jorge Portorreal getting behind the secondary and making some plays.  If Lehigh gets two of those, I love the Mountain Hawks' chances.

Fearless Prediction

Lehigh and Fordham are both very similar teams - young teams with some obvious talent but a deep uncertainty on how good they actually are.  There seems little doubt that next year's Lehigh/Fordham game will have some Patriot League title connotations - but the timeline feels pushed forward for both teams, as the winner tomorrow will be at least in a share for first place in the Patriot League.

The question is, which team is more ready to be put in this position?  Both teams' last games were impressive, last-minute wins against Patriot League opponents.  Both teams have come a long way after narrow season-opening losses to NEC teams.  The main difference is that Fordham pulled off one of the best out-of-conference wins of the Patriot League this season, upsetting Richmond 23-16.

That seems to point to a not-very crisp game, with some surprising lapses, and one team demonstrating that they have further to work in order to win the Patriot League.  Unfortunately, that team, assuming WR Dev Bibbens can't suit up, is Lehigh.

Lehigh 20, Fordham 23

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