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A 47-3 Loss to Villanova Simply Isn't Acceptable

Over the years, the Lehigh football program has always had very high expectations in every sense.  

The expectations at Lehigh, as I've observed it, are:

* That Lehigh football teams always have top football students academically as a member of their classes.

* That Lehigh football teams always compete for Patriot League Championships, every year.  There is no such thing as a rebuilding year.  Championship droughts, and losing records, are supposed to be aberrations.

* That Lehigh football, in the preseason has, as their goal, to win the FCS National Championship.

Are those goals unrealistic?  At a point in time for this program, although the goals were lofty, they were not unrealistic.  

Patriot League schools in the past have made it to the FCS National Championship game, and won multiple rounds in the FCS Playoffs.  Twice Lehigh had the ball with under two minutes to play against teams who would end up being FCS National Champions, with Lehigh in a position to win.  The history doesn't lie.  Lehigh was right there.  There was plenty of reason to believe that it could happen again.

Fast forward to this weekend.  Overall, it's been a joyous weekend for FCS football.  Holy Cross beat UConn, and murdered their program.  Montana beat Washington, and knocked out a nationally-ranked FBS team.  There were some shootouts, some blowouts, and overall, there were a lot of positive vibes this weekend.

Not in Bethlehem if you were a Lehigh fan, however.  After this weekend's 47-3 loss to Villanova, I was really shaken.  

It's not so much that Lehigh lost - after all, I, and pretty much every national pundit who bothered to weigh in, didn't think that the Mountain Hawks stood a chance this week against a Wildcat team that is built to make a run at a FCS National Championship.  

It was that even when the game was out of reach, even when Villanova had let up, Lehigh couldn't even find it in them to score even a field goal - or even move the ball - against Villanova's backups.  

It wasn't the biggest Lehigh blowout ever.  It wasn't the biggest margin of defeat.  But I don't think I've ever felt a game - certainly not a September game - where I felt like Lehigh was just comprehensively outclassed in every single aspect.

I don't always expect wins in every situation.  But what I realized, after I sat and thought about it for a very long time, is that I expect more than this.

I can't recall a time that expectations have been so low for this program.  Not all that long ago competing for Patriot League Championships was a given.  They didn't always win them, but it was expected that every graduating class would have at least one ring, and they would always be competing for a championship deep into November.

It doesn't feel that way anymore.  Especially with this gauntlet of an out-of-conference schedule, it feels like the hope is to not have too bad of a losing record by the end of October.  That does not compute with what I, or other Lehigh fans, have expected for these teams over the years.

I understand I am no ordinary Lehigh fan - I am exceedingly patient.  I've preached patience so often and for so many years I've been dubbed "Captain Sunshine" at times.  My instinct is to wait and see how the team adjusts, wait and see when OL Justin Gurth is able to start on the OL, wait for the offensive chemistry to come together.

And the truth is, this fall 2021 season is exceedingly young.  There is loads of time to turn things around.  

But watching last weekend's second half made for an extremely painful experience and it made me question everything.

Lehigh had six offensive drives in the second half.  They ended: Interception, Fumble, Fumble, Punt, Punt, Interception, End of Game.  Total yards gained: 48 (seven of them rushing yards on the very last play of the game).  Total first downs: 2.

Villanova racked up 506 yards of offense, and let up only 139 yards to Lehigh.  Along the way Villanova forced six turnovers and no Lehigh offensive play went for more than more than 19 yards.  DeNucci's interception return was Lehigh's longest positive yardage play from scrimmage - 23 yards.

The defense yielded 27 points in the second half when the outcome of the game was still in a little bit of doubt, including two 50+ yard TD strikes.

I tried to think of what I would call the highlights of the game.  There were a handful, like LB Mike DeNucci's interception, PK Dylan Van Dusen's 34 yard FG, and a few nice passes from QB Cross Wilkinson to TE Alex Snyder and WR Johnny Foley.  Basically, a handful of offensive plays, a handful of defensive plays, and a handful of special teams plays.

But those moments were few and far between.  The beatdown was extensive.

I've been around a while and seen my share of Lehigh blowouts.  And I have seen Lehigh teams get dominated by Villanova before.  

In 2010 Lehigh was shut out 35-0 by a Wildcat squad with several future NFL players and a future MLB baseball player.  But in the second half in that game, Lehigh could, at least, move the ball somewhat, and the defense forced three turnovers, giving the Mountain Hawks a glimmer of what could be right around the corner.  

That 2010 team featured a lot of all-time Lehigh greats, like WR Ryan Spadola, QB Chris Lum, LB Mike Groome and WR Jake Drwal.  So we know it is possible to experience a butt-whooping to Villanova and still have a great Lehigh football career.

But that's not where I see this Lehigh football program right now.  

With a program that has prided itself on offense over the last three decades, it is gutting to see that the last time Lehigh scored more than 17 points in a competitive football game was on November 2nd, 2019, where the Mountain Hawks lost 24-17 to Holy Cross.

I've talked to fans of the program for a long time, and these offensive numbers shock them.  

But it's not just the offense.  Every unit needs improvement across the board.  Lehigh's defense gave up all 47 of those points to Villanova this weekend.  When bad things happened, the defense didn't get better.  The Mountain Hawks will not win many games if they give up 47 points, no matter how the offense does.    

To put this in the mildest way possible, this is unacceptable.  It should meet nobody's expectations that cares about Lehigh football.  It has not been like this since Lehigh helped found the Patriot League, and it should not be this way.

For those of you new to the program, Lehigh has been nationally ranked in the past.  It can, and should, happen again.  But it's not going to happen because in Lehigh's history there has been a lot of offense.  Something needs to change, now, in order for that to happen.  

There needs to be a desire to fight from everyone involved with the program - zero exceptions.  There needs to be zero tolerance for what has been.  Everyone should be spending their time in football trying to erase this from the upcoming season - to prove to everyone that this is not what you are about, that this is not the impression you want to make.

And that includes me.  I need to see this fight in this team before I start to believe again.


Anonymous said…
I think we all know that success starts at the top. Hiring a coach with a lifetime record below .500 was a bad idea.
Did we think he was going to improve on his mediocre results?
Anonymous said…
The question is not just that we are at this point, but why? It’s easy to point out this is unacceptable, but harder to pinpoint why, and how can we turn this around.
Anonymous said…
Agree, so disappointing! Doesn’t seem that the university cares about having a good football team.
Anonymous said…
Get a new Head Coach. We run a RPO offense with a QB that doesn't run.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for a great article!

As fans we need to hear this and get some changes made

My family gave $ to Lehigh Football but won't get a dime from me until the AD turns it around
Unknown said…
My family tries to go to as many games, home and away as possible for the last 15 years. This was the first time we ever left at half time!!! Who does the recruiting for this team? This display was nauseating! I couldn’t believe Lehigh is considered a D1 team…time to move out into a D3 league. Sick to my stomach…the only good thing I took away from this game was that they sold 2 hotdogs for $3.00!!! Put me in Coach, I’m ready to play if no one else is!
Anonymous said…
So glad I opted out of season tickets! That was just a complete waste of time! Kept hearing how good they were going to be. That was pitiful! The sun on the silver bleachers makes it impossible to find a seat where you don't overheat. If it's not a cloudy or cool day stay home. Even if it is, stay home anyway!
Unknown said…
Hot dogs were good! Team and Coach sucked! Should have asked for a refund.
Jmiller68 said…
Totally agree. There's something missing from Lehigh football team the last couple of years, lost games we could have won and gotten blown out of games that should have been competitive. Once the slide starts, it's hard to turn around.
This from a fan who endured the Cooley days of the mid-60's. Coach Gilmore is no Fred Dunlap.
Jmiller68 said…
The play that summed the game up for me was in the second half, the quarterback responsible for close to half a dozen turnovers was so injured that he couldn't be bothered to try to recover a fumble two yards away, but is right back at quarterback on the next possession.
There's a serious lack of "wanna" on this team, and as one poster said, it starts at the top. We got Tom Gilmore, and Bucknell got Dave Cecchini. Let's see which way these two programs go in the next few years.
Anonymous said…
Chuck, thank you for capturing the feeling of disgust I believe many fans and alums are feeling. I played for Coach Coen and was around for some of the poorer seasons before things took off in 2010. I think it is worth noting that even though we had losing records, we were competitive --> 2009 against NATIONAL CHAMPIONS Villanova was a 38-17 final score.

Coach Gilmore inherited a difficult situation, no doubt, but I share the sentiment of other commenters and folks on message boards in asserting that he was the wrong man for the job. It seems we are opting for mediocre coaching talent for the sake of continuity, rather than giving more ambitious and talented younger coaches a building block for their resume on the way up (a la Lembo, Fordham+Moorehead, and whoever the new wunderkind at HC is).

Personally, I'd rather cycle through staffs every 4 years than watch the same staff continue to slip into mediocrity. I empathize with the players for having to listen to all the negativity and noise, it was certainly there in 2009, but the current state of affairs cannot continue. Something's gotta give.
Anonymous said…
To Jmiller68,
Are we really bringing up Dave Cecchini once again? Stop the madness please. How many more years to we have to hear about losing out on Cecchini?

FYI, Bucknell appears to be in EXACTLY the same situation as Lehigh. Got shut out last week, same issues as LU. And many if not most commenters mention the need next time to hire a coach with a winning record. Are you aware of Dave Cecchini's lifetime head coaching record? Tom Gilmore looks like Nick Saban in comparison. Dave's win percentage is a stellar .3098.
But of course it surely would be better if he was back at his ancentral home in the Saucon Valley... Stop the nonsense.
Anonymous said…
Hey, it could be that BOTH Cecchini and Gilmore will both be out of a job before the end of this season.

That Lehigh Bucknell game will be a real barnburner this year...
Anonymous said…
How about the combined pointe scored in 24 total quarters for Colgate, Bucknell and Lehigh after Week 2:


At least 2 LU games should be competitive this year.
HG said…
New President Helkle needs to clean house in the Athletic Department. The glories of the 2011 football team and the 2012 basketball team are now ancient history. Coen was kept around too long by AD Sterrett - a nice personal gesture but not in the best interests of the program and the school. Gilmore was a lazy and convenient hire. Joe has done a good job over time but has now been on campus for fifty years. It is time for him to move on (as we all must do at some point). A new AD will then be free to terminate Gilmore (i.e. not his hire, Sterrett's hire) and, hopefully, hire an up and coming coach rather than another retread.

Recognizing that the Patriot League is not the Big 10 or SEC, there is nonetheless a financial aspect to the current ineptitude. A competitive football program can draw 9/10 thousand fans per game (excluding Lafayette, for which attendance has also thinned) versus the current 3/4 thousand. At $15 per head, this is 90K per game and $.5MM per annum - more than enough to attract better coaching and recruiting talent.
Anonymous said…
It is much more than the AD and coaching staff unfortunately. Colgate has been touted as having a really solid coaching staff and program in place, and they are in the same boat so far this year.

Read Chuck's latest commentary..
Anonymous said…
The Lehigh football team has won almost no out of conference games over the past 4-5 years despite the awarding of scholarships. Yet, the out of conference opponents haven't changed their scholarship policies during that period.
No offense whatsoever over the past 3 years,and no improvement this year.
Gilmore is just not bringing in the talent. I agree with prior comment that both he and Sterrett must go.
The coaches lost the 2019 Lafayette game by playing a prevent defense during Lafayette's final possession when a blitzing defense had shut down Lafayette the entire game.
I have been giving to Lehigh football over many years, but I won't be doing so this year. All very sad!
Anonymous said…
come on man, you're still obsessing over the prevent defense in the final drive of the Lafayette game from 2 years ago? LOL. No offense really gotta get a life.

You are missing the entire point. There are several Patriot League programs in the same situation, including Lafayette. The Ivy's have a huge advantage. High level FCS 0 a huge advantage. So, you are welcome to stop your contributions to the program. I don't care, and apparently, the PL schools don't care. None of them. Life goes on. The PL feels other things in life are more important than football and the nostalgia some old alumni feel for their football program. For the immediate future, that is the way of the world.
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Peter said…
This loss was so embarrassing. A 47-3 Loss to Villanova is not acceptable at all. They must improve their game. Now it's time to avail Logo Design usa for more information.

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