|« Bye Meant Back to Basics for Lehigh||Mountain Hawks Ready to Take on Princeton on Saturday Night »|
Quakers Offer Stiff Test for Lafayette
Defensive battle brewing. Game will give Leopards an idea of how good they are.
EASTON - Two relatively easy matchups before an off week may not be the ideal way to start a season, which is why the past two weeks have been a little different for the Lafayette College Leopards than previous down periods.
Because the Leopards (2-0) will step up a bit in class from their previous two opponents when they host the University of Pennsylvania (1-0) Saturday at Fisher Stadium (6:07 p.m., RCN-4), coach Frank Tavani worked them quite a bit harder than he normally does with a bye week that comes later in the season.
Penn comes in after extending Villanova, which is ranked 19th in the Sports Network’s FCS national poll, to overtime, where it dropped a 20-14 decision at home. Lafayette hasn’t played since handing Georgetown a 24-6 defeat on Sept. 13.
“We weren’t looking so much for rest as we were to get some work done and make some corrections from the first two games,” Tavani said. “We were able to go back and re-create those plays and those mistakes and go over them and get some positive repetitions and doing them the right way.
“Obviously from film last year on Penn, we were able to start some preparation, but the real game planning only began this past Sunday when we got their game tape from the Villanova game and then started to zero in.”
Lafayette, which finished with the nation’s top-ranked overall defense in the FCS last season, has put itself in a position in the early going to achieve that for a second straight season. The ‘Pards are third in total defense (185.5 yards per game) and first in scoring (6.0 points per game).
A quick, hard-hitting linebacking corps led by Patriot League preseason Defensive Player of the Year Andy Romans is a major reason. Romans and sophomore Neil Goldsmith patrol the outside. Junior Mark Leggiero is in the middle.
Goldsmith also has an older brother playing for Penn: starting defensive tackle Drew Goldsmith.
“It’s going to be really strange,” Neil Goldsmith said of Saturday’s matchup. “We’ve actually never played against each other. He was always ahead of me as little kids, in Pop Warner football. And in high school, we were on the same team. But we’re really competitive. So it’s going to be a blast going against him. I just wish I could get a shot on him if he was on offense.”
Neil Goldsmith has recovered from two anterior cruciate ligament surgeries on the same knee to become the only sophomore to start for the defense this season aside from an injury promotion.
Until the summer, he wasn’t sure what this season would bring.
“In the spring, I didn’t play (because of the knee surgery last fall),” Goldsmith said. “So I was a little worried, because I was in a lot of pain. But throughout the summer I started feeling much better. Then when camp started off, the first few days were a little rough, a little swollen. But as I worked through it, it just got better every week, and now I feel great.”
What the coaches saw was a player who couldn’t be denied a spot.
“He has such range because he’s so tall and his arms are so long,” Tavani said. “He just gives you so much more out there. And the kid’s really enjoying playing football and really coming into his own physically.”
Goldsmith has seven tackles and both of Lafayette’s interceptions through the first two games.
By contrast, senior wide receiver Tim Watson paid his dues for three seasons before finally getting a chance to start. The only goals he pays much attention to these days are winning the Patriot League crown and returning to the FCS playoffs.
“Individually, I’d love to score a touchdown,” he said. “… But I’m putting that on the backburner. I’m more focused on our team goals this year.”
The players know they can’t win the league title this week, but they also know by Sunday morning that they’ll have a much better idea of their chances. Penn represents that good of a barometer.
Tavani is especially impressed with the Quakers’ defense.
“They’re always very physical,” he said. “They usually have a real good guy or two up front, which they do. Their nose man is very, very good, No. 75 (Joe Goniprow). You’ll see him all over the field and just a very good player. Their linebackers are very strong (and they’re) very athletic in the secondary.
Their one corner (Chris Wynn) had two of the four picks at Villanova. They’ll certainly face a different team (this week). We’ll certainly attempt to run the football and hopefully be somewhat effective as well as balance that with throwing the ball to what I think is some pretty good talent that we have, too, at receiver.”
Quakers offer stiff test
By Nick Fierro, The Easton Express-Times