Lafayette at Monmouth – September 2nd 3 PM, Kessler Stadium West Long Branch, NJ
The John Garrett era kicks off at Lafayette as the Leopards head to the Jersey Shore to take on the Monmouth Hawks. While Lafayette has a new coach to start the 2017 season, Monmouth will be unveiling the rebuilt Kessler Stadium. The Hawks were in desperate need of facility upgrade since they joined the Big South prior to the 2014 season. The new Kessler Stadium is still rather small (4,000) but it has numerous modern amenities the old facility lacked. If John Garrett and Lafayette want to be the ones celebrating a “new era” in style they’ll need to rely on their defense to lead the way.
Monmouth will be breaking in several new players at the skill positions so points could be at a premium for the Hawks against a potentially strong Leopard defense. Lafayette has talent every level of the “D”. The Hawks will turn to Kenji Bahar (964 yards 4 TDs in 2016) at quarterback. The sophomore started the last 3 games of 2016 with mixed results. Bahar will likely lean on preseason All-Big South selections WR Reggie White Jr. (69 rec 934 yards 7 TDs) and TE Jake Powell (16 rec 146 yards 1 TD) to lead the way on offense while the running game gains traction. Projected Monmouth starting RB Pete Guerriero did not play football last year. Instead he was one of the top track athletes in the MAAC. With all 5 starters returning along the O-line it will be interesting to see how Monmouth goes about establishing the run. Lafayette has the talent in the front 7 to test the veteran Monmouth offensive line.
The big questions for Lafayette are on offensive. Many fans were shocked when Garrett announced true freshman walk-on Sean O’Malle would begin the season as the starting QB after winning an extremely competitive battle during fall camp. Like Monmouth’s Bahar, O’Malley has an excellent WR/TE duo to lean on in the passing game. Dylan Wadsworth (42 rec 591 yards 1 TD, preseason 1st Team All-PL selection) and senior Matt Mzarek (71 rec 755 yards 8 TDs) are often an afterthought despite putting up excellent numbers on an offensively challenged team. The strength of the Monmouth defense is easily their secondary so the inexperienced O’Malley will need to be extremely smart with the ball. Mike Basile is a STATS 1st team All-American at SS so the Leopards better figure out where he is at all times. The Hawks defensive linemen and linebackers are no slouch either. Lafayette will need their offensive line to improve upon last year’s dismal play. O’Malley needs senior RB DeSean Brown (96 carries 341 yards 3 TDs) to provide the Leopards with some semblance of a rushing attack. If Lafayette can find some balance on offense they have a shot escape New Jersey with an upset win.
The first thing that Garrett must do at Lafayette is inject some energy into the program. That shouldn’t be a problem in the season opener. Or at least it better not be since Monmouth will come out sky high in their new stadium. Lafayette has the defense to get off to a 1-0 start but the offense is a huge question mark with O’Malley starting at QB. This should be a closely contested game for 60 minutes.
Prediction: Monmouth 24 Lafayette 16