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Made-Up Midseason Grades for Lehigh Football

 We are now officially midway through the 2023 Lehigh football season.  The Mountain Hawks sit at 1-5 overall, and 0-1 in the Patriot League.

I thought I'd go ahead and make up some midseason grades, and set some "fan goals" for the second half.

The 2023 Mountain Hawks were picked to finish fifth in the seven team Patriot League.  In order to meet or exceed that expectation, they'll probably have to go at least 3-2 the rest of the way in conference play.  Their remaining games are vs. Georgetown, at Bucknell, vs. Holy Cross, at Colgate, and vs. Lafayette in The Rivalry.

Can they do it?

Culture Changing: B+.  I was there in the Bronx last week after the tough 38-35 defeat to Fordham, and there wasn't a single player emerging from the locker room that looked like they didn't care.  Every face was glum.  They didn't even seem sad.  More frustrated and angry.

That may seem normal, considering the agonizing way the Mountain Hawks lost, but it was a marked change from many of the Lehigh teams I've seen over the last seven years.  To me, that's a sign that the culture change, talked about by Lehigh players and coaches alike, has been taking hold.

It may not seem like it during this 1-5 start, but I tend to believe that the hard lessons during the five losses are making a positive difference in this team.  With a sophomore QB-WR combo and a ton of underclassmen in key roles, I have little doubt this will pay off over the next few years.  The "culture change" seems to be happening, and it's worth a good grade.  (It would have been an A with another win or two, however.)

Fighting Through It: A.  I am struck how this team has been handed nothing.  

Head coach Kevin Cahill's first win came against Merrimack at Harvard, after venue changes, time changes and torrential downpours and wind.  Injuries, weather and strange circumstances - like a trip to Dartmouth after legendary Big Green head coach Buddy Teevens passed away - just seem to indicate that this team is going to get everyone's Hero Game, with no help from officials, turnovers, or anything.  Everything they get they have to earn.

I hate calling it "adversity", but you could make that case with this team. And despite the tough record and the circumstances, the kids seem to be battling and getting back to it every week.  They could quit, but as coach Cahill actually told me, "they won't".  He's right. 

Underclassmen: B+.  If there's one thing I know about coach Cahill is that he's not a guy who tolerates excuses.  Having said that, Lehigh's injury list has been extensive, forcing underclassmen into key roles.

Putting aside the fact that QB Brayten Silbor and WR Geoffrey Jamiel are only sophomores,  last week at Fordham the starting offensive line was senior OL Renach Gena, senior OL Christian Jablonski, senior OL Jackson Wiles, freshman OL Austin Huff, and sophomore OL Langston Jones.  Only two of these players started the first game at Villanova - Jones and Jablonski - and neither of them were starting at the same position on the O line.

In fact, due to injury Lehigh lost team captain OL George Padezanin the first week of the year and every week since the Mountain Hawks have been starting different O line combinations.  But Huff did a great job against Fordham, as did freshman RB Luke Yoder, who won Patriot League Offensive Player of the Week with a 100 yard rushing effort behind that O line.

It's not just the offense.  Only sophomore DB Nick Petelkian in the secondary has started all season long.  Last week, three freshmen started alongside him. Sophomore LB Tyler Ochojski went out with injury in the middle of the Fordham game and freshman LB William Parton had to step in and did a really good job, with 2 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumble and 1 sack.

Lehigh has had to play a bunch of underclassmen out of necessity, and for the most part they have really done a phenomenal job jumping in due to the circumstances.  They've had to grow up fast.

Tackling: C. Against Monmouth, I winced a bunch of times when I saw Mountain Hawks try to arm tackle RB Jaden Shirden and RB Sone Ntoh.  You simply can't do that against grown ass men like Shirden and Ntoh, who are not just seniors and great athletes but two of the best runners in the CAA and maybe FCS as a whole.  

Overall it's been a concern, and it really was an issue in a close game vs. Fordham, where just one more stop or one fewer yard might have been the difference between a win and a loss, or maybe just overtime.  Maybe it's partially chalked up to youth, but it's definitely an area for the whole defense I'd like to see improved.

Finishing: D.  Finally, the toughest lesson and grade of them all.  Putting aside the very tough games against Villanova and Monmouth for a second, closing out halves and closing out games have been a consistent problem with this team.  

In the win against Merrimack, at the end of the first half up 14-3, the defense gave up a drive that went the length of the field to give up a FG to be down 14-6 at half.  It could have really come back to haunt this team, but thankfully it didn't.  This team, however, has made a habit of giving up a lot of points at the end of the first half.  The defense is averaging giving up more than 14 points in the second quarter, most of them during the last five minutes.

Against Fordham with a 35-24 lead with 10 minutes to play, too, the tendency reared its ugly head and it cost Lehigh the win.  It wasn't just on the defense - the offense couldn't get a couple more first downs that might have run out the clock.  Lehigh had a chance to go for it on 4th and 1 in Fordham territory, but the staff elected to try to punt and pin them deep.  It didn't work, and instead, Fordham drove the length of the field to tie the game with an improbable 42 yard FG.

It's easy find moral victories in the loss against Fordham.  Almost half the team out there were underclassmen, many of them in their first game action.  Lehigh wasn't picked to win by anybody, including me.  By any measure the Mountain Hawks overperformed.  But in the end, all that wasn't enough.

A win against Fordham would have been an instant reputation-changer.  The Rams, after all, are still the league's best shot at ending Holy Cross' reign of terror atop the Patriot League, and they have an FBS win to their credit too, a 40-37 win over Buffalo.  But the team couldn't finish, and thus the 1-5 record still says who the Lehigh Mountain Hawks are at this moment.

In order for Lehigh to finish strong, and to achieve the visible goals still in front of them at the moment - winning at least three more games, playing meaningful league football in November, and beating Lafayette - finishing, more than anything else, needs to be improved.


Anonymous said…
Coaching: D-

The horrendous play calling cost them the win at Fordham. You can't play with one hand around your throat like Cahill.

He's done nothing to address a small & slow roster. Does he know that the transfer portal even exists?

Tackling looks like a junior high school team.

He sounds good though. Someone taught him fluid coach speak.

Nick S. said…
Penalties are a sign of coaching. (8) in each of last 2 games is excessive and
Costing valuable field position. This was supposed to change markedly from the Gilmore era.

Tackling is classic Ivy League mentality. Don’t go live in practice for fear of getting hurt.
Tackle a rolling donut to emulate a 6’1” 215 lb running back is foolish.
This is the Steel City where toughness will always be appreciated. Get tougher by playing the
Game as hard as you practice.

And turn the damn music off at practice. You’re 1-5.
Anonymous said…
That last post was classic old timer, Get Off My Lawn, Vince Lombardi. It does nothing to understand the player of today. I totally disagree about tackling in practice. Are you aware of Lehigh's crippling injury situation? There is proven science about not tackling hard in practice. Buddy Teevens knew it, his team's record turned around immediately after he implemented it. We have a serious injury situation right now, the last thing we need is to have teammates killing each other in practice. TEACHING the art of tackling is the key and maximizing your smart rage in the GAME. Get your weightlifting in all week, your aerobic training, and put 100 percent of your rage into game action.
Anonymous said…
A large part of winning football is related to team speed and correct angle selection when making tackles, and executing offensive plays. I have followed Lehigh football closely for over 50 years and the teams for the past few years have been woefully lacking in overall team speed. The majority of the players are not FCS caliber. Some are borderline D-2. Lehigh is falling further behind in recruiting each year. It is very hard to stop the slide. Past successes mean little to kids who want a good college football experience. Lehigh will have to pay a great deal of money to buy the right coaching. Hard to be optimistic about the future for Lehigh football given the schools unwillingness to look for a coach with proven results. Maybe a D-3 guy somewhere.
Anonymous said…
Speed, size and elite FCS talent have been missing since the peak of the Coen years. At least seven years removed. Add to it some terrible coordinators and a horrific head coach since that time, and here we are. So yes, recruiting has been a disaster. We have to trust Cahill that he can step that up.
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deepa997 said…
That last post was exemplary old folk, Get Off My Yard, Vince Lombardi. It never really figures out the player of today. I thoroughly differ about handling by and by. Is it true or not that you are mindful of Lehigh's devastating physical issue circumstance? There is demonstrated science about not handling hard practically speaking. Mate Teevens knew it, his group's record pivoted following he executed it. We have a serious physical issue circumstance at this moment, the last thing we want is to have colleagues killing each other by and by. Showing the specialty of handling is the key and augmenting your savvy rage in the GAME. Get your weightlifting in the entire week, your high-impact preparing, and put 100% of your fury into game activity.
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