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Colgate's offense has been scary good
Members of Lehigh University’s defense don’t have to go out to the local movie complex to see a scary film.
All the Mountain Hawks need to do is plunk in the film of any recent Colgate football game and watch the Raiders roll to five straight wins, in which they have averaged 53.4 points per game.
Colgate comes to Lehigh on Saturday in the game that will decide the Patriot League title and the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.
The Raiders are coming to Bethlehem after registering league and school records with 531 rushing yards and 755 total yards in a 65-41 win over Lafayette last Saturday.
Adding to the fright factor is that unbeaten Lehigh, ranked No. 5 and No. 8 in the national FCS polls, is coming off allowing season highs in both points (35) and total yards (527) in a one-point win at Holy Cross on Saturday.
Yet, the trademark of this team is to never panic, and the Mountain Hawks are remaining calm even as this offensive storm approaches from upstate New York.
The defense has been breaking down the film and looking at ways to defuse an attack that hasn’t been held under 21 points all season and hasn’t scored under 30 since Sept. 8. Lehigh realizes it’s a matter of the basics.
“They do really good things with their gap schemes and how they block on certain plays, but it’s really nothing extraordinary that we haven’t seen all year,” said senior inside linebacker Jerard Gordon. “We feel as though we have to just play Lehigh defense and keep your position and really know who your man is on every play and just play him.”
Colgate quarterback Gavin McCarney and tailback Jordan McCord will be in Lehigh’s cross hairs.
McCarney has run for more than 1,000 yards and 18 touchdowns and passed for 1,861 yards and 14 more scores.
McCord has rushed for 1,368 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“They have good schemes, and they’re well-coached, but it’s the quarterback who makes them go,” Lehigh coach Andy Coen said. “He’s very talented and he makes good decisions. He’s fast, strong and breaks tackles and when you look at how he carries himself, you can see that he’s one of the leaders of their team. I’m sure they have tremendous confidence in him.”
Coen stated what seems obvious.
“We’re not going to shut them out,” he said. “They’re going to score and get yards. But you want to make them work for them. What’s happened in the last couple of weeks is that they’ve had so many big plays. So, we’ve got to limit them and hopefully create some turnovers.
“They haven’t had to punt much. They didn’t punt against Lafayette, and just once against Holy Cross and twice against Bucknell. So, it’s a real challenge.”
Coen’s team has pulled out four wins by three points or fewer and another that was actually a three-point game until a fumble return on the game’s final play.
So, it’s a team that knows how to win the close ones. The challenge here is just keeping it close.
“We’ll be well prepared,” Coen said. “My feeling is if you don’t play well in this game, then you don’t deserve to be the champion. I just want our kids to give tremendous effort and be more consistent with the execution.”
That goes for the offense as much as the defense because Lehigh’s offense may be its best defense against Colgate.
The Mountain Hawks have 89 points against the Raiders over the past two seasons, 45 last year in Hamilton, N.Y. There’s a chance for similar production this time because Colgate has allowed an average of 36 points over its last four games.
The Raiders might seem ripe for a Lehigh offense that is back to full health after the return of receivers Ryan Spadola and Sergio Fernandez-Soto last week and the expected return of tight end Jamel Haggins this week.
Even though Lehigh’s offense scored 36 points and compiled its second-best offensive total of the season (494 yards) at Holy Cross, there’s a feeling that it left a few plays and points on the field.
This week, the Mountain Hawks won’t have the luxury of wasted opportunities.
“We know Colgate is going to score points because they’re a very explosive offensive team,” Lehigh senior center Tom Ruley said. “But our mentality remains the same and that’s that every time we have the ball, we want to score a touchdown. We can’t turn it over and we can’t make dumb mental mistakes.”
Despite McCarney’s gaudy numbers, Lehigh quarterback Michael Colvin still leads the league in total offense (321.3 ypg) and in passing (278.2).
“Mike’s a great leader, always calm in the huddle,” Ruley said. “It’s a great motivator. He’s not a screamer. Just a great guy to be around, a down-to-earth kind of kid.”
But maybe Colvin needs to be out of this world this week.
“We absolutely feel our best offensive game is still out there,” Ruley said. “We’ve shown flashes of what it can be. It can happen this week. We might need it to happen this week.”
No. 7 in the country, No.1 in the league in rushing offense (279.9 per game)
No. 3 in the country, No. 1 in the league in total offense (510.3 per game).
No. 4 in the country, No. 1 in the league in scoring offense (41.9 per game)
No. 6 in the country and No. 1 in the league in first downs (25.6)
Tailback Jordan McCord
No. 4 in the country, No. 1 in the league in rushing (152.0 yards per game)
No. 3 in the country, No. 2 in the league in scoring (11.2 ppg)
No. 8 in the country, No. 1 in the league in all-purpose yards (162.1)
Quarterback Gavin McCarney
No. 2 in the country, No. 1 in the league in passing efficiency (162.45)
No. 1 in the country, No. 1 in the league in scoring (12.2 ppg)
No. 17 in the country, No. 3 in league in rushing (112.2 per game)
COLGATE (6-3, 4-0) AT No. 5/8 LEHIGH (9-0, 3-0)
When: 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Goodman Stadium, Bethlehem.
TV: CBS Sports Network (Service Electric channel 176, RCN 421 and Blue Ridge 204).
• Radio: ESPN of the LV,1230 and 1320 AM
By Keith Groller, Of The Morning Call