My rants and insight into Colgate athletics and Patriot League sports

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

2006 Patriot League Preview: #3 Lehigh

#3 Lehigh

Recent History

With an established tradition that bespeaks of excellence, Lehigh University boasts one of the finest programs in all of I-AA. Through multiple faces on the field and multiple coaching staffs on the sidelines, the Mountain Hawks have earned the respect of the Patriot League and beyond. More often than not, when a team faces off against the Brown and White, they end up going home with a loss in hand.

To give the reader a sense of just how good Lehigh has been, fans in Bethlehem haven't seen at least eight wins in a season since 1997's 4-7 year. Year in and year out, Lehigh enjoys national rankings, league title contention and, as coaches soon find out, the pressure and expectations that go along with that success. The bar is set high for the Mountain Hawks, and most years, they come through.

Off Season Developments

In the third and final coaching change of the League, this off season Lehigh reached back to an earlier era of dominance by naming the former offensive coordinator under Kevin Higgins, Andy Coen as its 28th head coach. Coen, who was Penn's offensive coordinator when the head coaching call came, replaces now Elon head coach Pete Lembo.

Lembo, despite boasting a 44-14 record while directing the Mountain Hawks, was never really completely embraced by the Brown and White faithful. Dogged by comparisons to Higgins, his predecessor, and hurt by losing three out of the past four games to archrival Lafayette, Lembo looks to have decided to try his hand at a new situation.

With Coen at the helm, some new coordinators are in place. The good news is that these coordinators aren't really new to Coen. Offensive Coordinator Trey Brown followed Coen from Penn, having coached the wide receivers. The defense has been turned over to a familiar name in the Patriot League, David Kotulski. Kotulski was most recently at Holy Cross, but also spent significant time at Bucknell in the 1990's, as well as was their interim head coach for a season.

In a somewhat unusual situation, a large number of the coaches under Lembo have remained in Bethlehem. At last count five of Lembo's coaches will still be on the sidelines this fall for the Mountain Hawks. This is a bit of a double edged sword here; one could say that the lack of turnover will be good for the program. One could also say that if the fans weren't happy with Lembo, how happy will they be with essentially half of his staff still in place?

For recruiting in a short season, it sure looks like Coen knew what he wanted to do. Having worked at Lehigh before, it's pretty apparent that 'Air Lehigh' will not be going away anytime soon when one counts six wide receivers and a tight end in a class. There is a heavy focus on the skill positions as well as on linebackers, where six players as well were snagged. With almost half the class coming in as either a linebacker or a wide receiver, the remaining spots are sprinkled across the positions.

2005 Schedule

The 2006 schedule continues what's been a fairly formulaic (and good) list of opponents. The slate opens with an NEC team, then an A-10 team, there are several Ivy opponents and then the league schedule. It doesn't get any more clear cut than that.

This year's home opener is newly 'scholarshiped' NEC foe Albany who will be looking to make a statement as they press their case for dropping the 'mid-major' label. The Mountain Hawks will then look to notch an important A-10 win against regional rival Villanova down in Philly. They then take on two of the most storied programs of all time, Harvard and Yale; Havard in the cozy confines of Goodman Stadium and Yale on the road.

The 'Harvard-Yale-Princeton' triumvirate is broken up by the start of league play against Georgetown down in D.C. before Lehigh completes the trifecta on the road.

With more than half the season under their belts, Coen and company's attention then shifts squarely to the main task at hand: the Patriot League Championship. Bucknell makes the first trip to Bethlehem, with a revenge game against Holy Cross breaking up Colgate and Fordham's trip to the Lehigh Valley. The season ends, as it always does, against the Lafayette Leopards. This one is the 142nd and it will be the first in the newly renovated Fisher Field.

Season Outlook

While some important names return this fall, some equally important ones have graduated. The undisputed heart of this offense will be junior quarterback Sedale Threatt. Threatt possesses a Randall Cunningham type athletic ability that showed from the start after he took over for injured Mark Borda. While not truly a running quarterback, he will be a one man threat to score at any time and will require plenty of attention from opposing defenses. The real key in this writer's opinion will be how strong his supporting cast is.

While not afraid to run the ball, for as long as I can remember Lehigh has been known for its passing attack. Having graduated a small army of senior receivers, the main focus now shifts to senior wide receiver Lee Thomas. Thomas averaged about 41 yards per game and scored three times for the Mountain Hawks in 2005 and is the only established receiver Threatt will be able to turn to. After him, it's wide open. It may turn out as it often has n the past that there are horses in the stable ready to run this fall. Their ability to provide Threatt with some targets will be a key aspect of this season's potential.

When deciding not to tuck it and run himself, on rushing plays Threatt will hand off to two familiar faces in seniors Greg Fay and Marques Thompson. While neither were the feature back last season, both have proven to be adequate when their number is called. There are a few players in line that are waiting for a chance to prove themselves in the Lehigh backfield, in particular a pair of transfers:Matt McGowan (Richmond) and Josh Pastore (Kent State) are both potential names that we might know by the end of the season.

Threatt's line is a mixed bag, as while returning some good experience in a trio of seniors (Jim Petruccelli, John Reese and Jason Russell), he also loses two all-league lineman that must be replaced. Apparently sophomore Kevin Bayani will most likely step into a starting role, and at 6'4" and 300 lbs., Lehigh fans should be happy to see a big boy like that impress the coaches.

The vaunted Lehigh defense will be, for the fourth time in four years, operating under a new defensive coordinator. Returning six starters on defense will certainly help Kotulski maintain the tradition of excellence for the Mountain Hawks, but there will certainly be some questions that need answering. In addition, the move to a 3-4 defense will be an interesting one to watch.

Leading this defensive unit will be fifth year senior Royce Morgan, an all-league performer on the line. The line will probably be Lehigh's strongest defensive element as Morgan is joined by experienced seniors Paul Fabre and Eric Rakus.

The news isn't so good on the linebackers, as Lehigh's two top tacklers are lost to graduation. There is some movement from line to linebacker with the new 3-4, so senior Matt Mohler will likely be the anchor of this corps. On the inside, Micah Greene seems to be the solid choice to start. After that though, it appears to be anyone's guess.

Much like the linebackers, the defensive backfield will an unknown quantity this year. Gone are the services of two all-league defensive backs this year. With the cornerback tandem of Brannan Thomas and Julian Ahye in place to defend the pass, the safety positions are where the Mountain Hawks need to get up to speed. The good news is that the likely starters, senior Julian Austin and junior Ernie Moore, saw significant action last season.

A familiar name on punt duties, sophomore Jason Leo will now be asked to add placekicking to his resume this fall. Leo, a solid punter, nailed a 45 yarder against Georgetown last season. I think Lehigh's in safe hands here.

Predicted Finish

3rd. With a program like Lehigh's, it is wise to never consider them out of the battle for first place and the coveted autobid of the Patriot League. The only thing holding back their ranking is the lack of proven offensive targets for Threatt and the unknown head coaching ability of Andy Coen. Compare that with what the teams remaining to be ranked are bringing back in players and coaches, and the slight nod goes elsewhere. That said, this could certainly be a championship season for the Mountain Hawks.

This season will be one that tests the strength of the Lehigh program. Villanova, while down, is still a formidable opponent. Of all the Ivy teams to schedule, Harvard, Yale and Princeton are probably the toughest trio. Albany will sell its soul to the devil for a win. Finally, with Colgate and Lafayette flexing their muscles and the other three Patriot teams eagerly looking for a chance to knock off a big dog with a new coach, there will be no rest for the weary here. Week in and week out, Lehigh is going to have to perform at its best in order to bring home the crown.

They can do it, but it will only happen if some unknown players on offense and defense emerge to compliment Threatt and Morgan, respectively. Place your bets folks!

6 Comments:

  • Great job as always 13. Of course, I'm hoping you're wrong... but the difference between 1 and 3 would seem so slight anyway.

    FYI, Courtney Elder could be the starter at FS, who is another keeper in the secondary. I'd put him on my depth chart above Moore.

    Again, great job.

    By Blogger Chuck B '92, at 4:35 PM  

  • Outstanding job...respectful and classy even though you relegated those Hawks to the #3 slot.

    Just alerted the Kid that #3 is posted, so you should get about 50 hits tonight after the Hoyas finish their evening workouts.

    By Blogger LBPop, at 4:43 PM  

  • 13, I'm enjoying the series of articles--very informative and a nice lead in to camp. All of your top three will have inexperience at key positions, particularly defensively, and LU maybe more than the other two offensively; add in the coaching change and a third place prediction for them seems justified, as does a conclusion that the title could be won by any of your top four without surprise. Fordham, with their fifth years and experience at QB, seems very formidable. My favorite quarterback's separated shoulder not being surgically repaired has me losing sleep.

    By Anonymous andy, at 6:02 PM  

  • Excellent and very fair assessment of Lehigh's chances. I have 2 bones to pick. Lehigh like all other Patriot League teams has 6 full time assistant coaches. Only 2 of the 6 are holdovers from Lembo's staff. Travis Stinson was a starting outside linebacker last year and is returning for his senior year.

    By Anonymous Lehigh74, at 10:53 PM  

  • Very well done '13'and I can't disagree with where we should be picked ON PAPER. The intangibles are what makes champions. BTW, the Yale game is away, not in 'cozy' Goodman.Also, Great photo of Goodman!

    By Blogger Ngineer, at 11:54 PM  

  • ngineer - Somehow I misread the Yale game. I will correct.

    74 - I didn't make a distinction between full time or not. The coaches listed on the website that I refer to are:

    Adam Sheier - special teams/wr's - 5th year

    Gerard Wilcher - d backs - 3rd year

    R.J. Ryan - tight ends - 3rd year

    Jesse Gambone - d assistant - 2nd year

    Chris Shank - assisant o line - 2nd year

    That's a fairly large chunk of 'Lembo Leftovers'.

    As for Stinson, he appears on the roster but is noticeably missing in the write up. Check out this webpage: http://www.lehighsports.com/sports/football/release.asp?release_id=4281

    He's not mentioned once. Not sure what that means.

    By Blogger colgate13, at 8:47 AM  

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