Patriot League: Week 9 Preview

The final weekend in October features the biggest league game so far this season. Fordham’s visit to #21 Lehigh will have both league and national ramifications. The winner will have the inside track to the Patriot League title and the automatic bid into the FCS playoffs. The loser will likely have to win out and hope for an at-large bid. The other game that could factor into the title chase is Holy Cross at Colgate on the nearly frozen tundra of Andy Kerr Stadium. The Raiders need a victory and a Fordham win over Lehigh to set up a showdown next week in the Bronx. The third league game of the weekend sees Georgetown traveling to beautiful Fisher Field to take on Lafayette. While this game does not have any championship implications it’s still important for the psyche of both teams as the season hits the stretch run. The other game this weekend is an intriguing non-conference tilt between Bucknell and #10 Charleston Southern. The Bison would send a strong message to the rest of the league, and country, with a road win over a Top 10 team.

 Bucknell at #10 Charleston Southern – 29 Oct. 11:45 A.M. Buccaneer Field Charleston, SC

(Big South Network)

Bucknell (3-4, 2-1) heads south to face 10th ranked Charleston Southern (4-2, 3-0) for a daunting late season non-conference game. The Bison will look to build off of the momentum they gained from their impressive 42-17 win over Lafayette last weekend. Bucknell’s offense was aided by the return of senior QB R.J. Nitti. While Nitti’s numbers certainly weren’t eye popping, the ability to shake off some of the rust that comes with missing significant time was important if Bucknell wants to finish the season strong. The Bison still have a chance to grab at least a share of the Patriot League title as November nears.

Charleston Southern is currently tied with Liberty atop the Big South standings. The Buccaneers opened the season with a heartbreaking overtime loss to 5 time defending FCS national champion North Dakota State in Fargo. The Bucs other loss came against Florida State in early September. Since then, Charleston Southern has won 3 straight. Last week the Bucs dominated Presbyterian on their  way to a convincing 35-7 win. Bucknell will have to play their best game of the year if they want to avoid being the Buccaneer’s fourth victim in a row.

A major key for Bucknell will be their defense. The Bison currently possess the top ranked unit (21.6 ppg allowed) in the Patriot League but haven’t faced an offense as capable as Charleston Southern’s all season. The Bucs are led by a bruising rushing attack (280 ypg, 6th in FCS) and timely passing (139 ypg). The unit is averaging 35.6 points per game on the season. The ground game’s success is a result of depth rather than one single star. Senior RB Mike Holloway (102 ypg 7 TDs) leads the way but he receives significant help from backfield mate Darius Hammond’s 40 ypg and 2 TDs and backup QB Robert Mitchell (50 ypg 4 TDs). Mitchell is coming off a 100 yard rushing game against Presbyterian. Charleston Southern likes to run a lot of option orientated plays when Mitchell comes in.

Normal starting QB Bucenell (125 ypg passing 6 TDs 1 INT) isn’t asked to do a lot in the passing game but when he is called upon he can deliver. In his last two games, @ Coastal Carolina and Presbyterian (both CSU wins), Bucenell is a combined 22-29 305 yards and 4 TDs. Bucknell’s defense will have to be aware of the play action pass when Bucenell is under center.

Bucknell finally has some stability at the quarterback position with the return of R.J. Nitti. The senior school record holder for passing yards displayed some rust last week but the Bison offense overall executed at a much high level than in previous weeks. RB Joey DeFloria (130 yards 1 TD) and WR Tim Carter ( 2 rushing TDs) are both coming off impressive performances in the win over Lafayette. Those two along with Nitti will need to be at the top of their game against a stingy Buccaneer defense (296 yards allowed) if the Bison hope to pull off the upset. Charleston Southern has big time playmakers at every level of defense. Corbin Jackson leads secondary with 32 total tackles and 1.5 TFL while Solomon Brown has been the most disruptive LB (30 tackles, 6.5 TFL and 2.5 sacks). The defensive line is anchored by Anthony Ellis who leads the team in sacks with 5.

Beating a Top 10 Buccaneer team on the road would certainly give Bucknell the confidence to win their remaining league games. Charleston Southern can’t afford a loss if they want to earn a bye in the playoffs. Their upcoming game against Liberty in Lynchburg will likely settle the Big South title. Due to some scheduling quirks the Buccaneers likely need to win their conference in order to make the playoffs.

Of Note: Bucknell has never faced a current Big South member while Charleston Southern has met a Patriot League team once; a 24-10 win over Georgetown in 2006. Bucknell visited Charleston, SC in 1970 for a game against The Citadel. The Bison’s last road win over a ranked team came against Fordham (31-10) in 2003.

Georgetown at Lafayette – 29 Oct. 12:30 P.M. Fisher Field Easton, PA

(Patriot League Network)

Georgetown (3-4, 0-2) heads to East Central Pennsylvania for a league tilt against Lafayette (1-7, 0-3). The two teams enter with a combined 11 game (Lafayette 7, Georgetown 4) losing streak. The Leopards have been in freefall since their season opening win over Central Connecticut. Six of their seven losses have been by double digits. Poor play along the offensive line has been the main issue on offense. The Leopards have the least productive (62 ypg) rushing attack in the Patriot League and their quarterbacks have been under constant duress all season.

The Hoya’s season got off to a promising 3-0 start (first since 1999) before hitting an October swoon. Their defense continues to play quite well (22.7 ppg allowed, 2nd PL) but it hasn’t been able to overcome a well below average offense (18.0 ppg, 7th PL). The struggles on “O” derailed the Hoyas chance to upset Fordham last Saturday. Georgetown had several opportunities to take the lead in the 17-14 loss but multiple interceptions, including one on the final drive, were too much to overcome. If the Hoyas can avoid turnovers and get improved QB play they should be able score points against a poor Lafayette defense (37.5 ppg allowed, 7th in PL).

Both teams enter the Saturday’s game with questions at quarterback. It’s reasonable to assume that senior Drew Reed will be back under center for Lafayette despite being pulled in favor of Blake Searfoss in last week’s loss to Bucknell. The Leopards still have the second best passing attack (261 ypg) in the league despite struggling mightily the last two weeks. They’ll face a Hoya defense that is more susceptible to the pass (240 ypg 6th in PL) than the run (147 ypg 3rd in PL).

The Hoya’s QB situation continues to be a little more muddled. According to this week’s two-deep either Clay Norris or Brock Jonhson will get the nod. Norris was pulled in favor of Johnson last week in the Hoya’s loss to Fordham. Both quarterbacks struggled with consistency and interceptions. Whoever gets the nod this weekend will be facing the league’s top passing defense (163.5 ypg allowed).

Neither team (Lafayette 7th in rushing, Georgetown 6th 92 ypg) has much of a ground attack to turn to if the quarterback play remains subpar. The Leopards turned to freshman Mike Dunn last week in attempt to inject some life into the rushing offense. Dunn aquitted himself quite well (5.8 ypc 1 TD) against a very tough Bucknell defensive front. He’ll likely see an increased role as the season draws to a conclusion. Alex Valles continues to see the bulk of the carries for the Hoyas despite averaging 43 ypg. Backup RB Isaa Ellsworth has made some big plays here and there but his opportunities remain limited. If there was ever a game to get things rolling this would be it as the Leopards possess the worst rush “D” (283 ypg allowed) in the league by a large margin.

Ultimately, this game could come down to the old adage, “who wants it more”. With both team’s seasons trending in the wrong direction to varying degrees, motivation might be the determining factor. Despite the current 4 game slide the Hoyas still have a shot at a winning season. Given Georgetown’s struggles over the last 15 years, that alone should be enough to come into the game focused. Lafayette is basically resigned to playing for pride and their coach at this point. The Leopards already secured their 7th straight losing season. Beating Lehigh to close out the year is about the only thing that could salvage the 2016 campaign at this point.

Of Note: Georgetown has won 4 out of 6 meetings against Lafayette this decade including a 38-7 shellacking last year in Washington D.C. The Leopards are still seeking their first Patriot League win since the 2014 season finale against Lehigh. Georgetown has entered November with a .500 or better record only once (2011) since joining the Patriot League in 2001. Lafayette leads the all-time series 12-7.

Fordham at #21 Lehigh – 29 Oct. 12:30 P.M. Goodman Stadium Bethlehem, PA

(Patriot League Network)

Fordham (5-2, 2-0) heads to the Christmas City to take on Lehigh (6-2, 3-0) in what is the Patriot League game of the year so far this season. With the forecast calling for sunny skies and temperatures in the 60’s it figures to be a perfect day for some offensive fireworks given the explosiveness of both offenses (Fordham 1st in PL in scoring 41 ppg, Lehigh 2nd 40 ppg). Last year the two teams combined for 101 points in Fordham’s 59-42 win.

The biggest key for the Ram’s offense is the status of starting QB Kevin Anderson (58% comp 237 ypg 16 TDs 3 INTs). The talented Marshall transfer was suspended for last week’s game against Georgetown for violating team rules. The nature of the violation has not been disclosed by Head Coach Breiner. Second string QB Luke Medlock got the start last week but had to leave early in the second half with an injury. Medlock has not practiced all week. He was replaced by Colton Smith whose main task was handing the ball off to Chase Edmonds down the stretch.

The Mountain Hawks also enter Saturday’s showdown with some uncertainty at quarterback. Nick Shafnisky was forced to miss last week’s game against Holy Cross with a lingering ankle injury. It was the second time this season (@ Yale was the other game) the senior signal caller was forced to watch from the sidelines. Brad Mayes put forth another excellent performance (20-30 287 yards 3 TDs) in relief. Mayes is the more polished passer but Shafnisky’s running ability makes him a little more difficult to prepare for.

The most difficult player to account for this weekend will no doubt be Fordham’s Chase Edmonds (1244 yards 177 ypg 12 TDs). The junior RB has terrorized Lehigh perhaps more than any opponent he’s faced the last three seasons. Last year he set a then Patriot League record with 347 yards in the Rams 17 point victory of the Mountain Hawks. He also added 2 receptions for 55 yards and a TD for good measure. If Lehigh wants to end their 3 game losing streak against Fordham they must be able to at least “contain” Edmonds. The Mountain Hawk’s rush defensive is vastly improved this year there’s still chinks in the armor (209 ypg allowed, 6th in PL). Lehigh will need the best game of the year from their front seven. Defensive End Tyler Cavenas and LB Colton Caslow need to continue their excellent play for the Mountain Hawks.

Lehigh must also be aware of 6’8 TE Phazahn Odom. To say Odom is a matchup nightmare would be a serious understatement. Odom doesn’t receive a ton of looks but when he does he’s nearly impossible to stop with an accurate throw. The Rams WRs, while talented, are not quite as dangerous as previous editions so the passing game doesn’t attack downfield nearly as much. As a result, Odom could come up huge near the goal line and on key 3rd downs.

The Fordham defensive coaches are also faced with their own challenges this weekend. They must figure out a way to slow down the top two WR’s in FCS in yards. Troy Pelletier currently leads the nation with 908 yards (9 TDs) while his running mate Gatlin Casey is a close second with 893 yards (11 TDs). Both receivers have shown the ability to attack every level of the defense. Fordham must figure out a way to get pressure on the QB in order disrupt the timing. That task might be a little more plausible with the return of LB Niko Thorpe and DL Emmanuel Adeyeye from injury. They’ll be working against a Lehigh offensive line that has done a great job protecting the QB (13 sacks allowed) so far this year. Fordham must also worry about (192 rushing yards allowed, 5th PL) Lehigh RB Dominic Bragalone. The stud sophomore RB is coming off his best game of the year (182 yards 2 TDs).

This figures to be a great game and an excellent showcase for Patriot League football. While the winner will have nothing guaranteed, they’ll certainly have the inside track to the automatic bid into the playoffs. Fordham has made the FCS playoffs each of the last 3 years (2 via at large bids) while Lehigh is looking for their first playoff appearance since 2011.

Of Note: Fordham has won the last 3 meetings; all by double digits. Before the Rams recent run of success the Mountain Hawks had won 23 out 25 games including the first 13 meetings in Bethlehem. The last time Lehigh lost 4 straight times to conference opponent was 2004-2007 (Lafayette). The Mountain Hawks own a 23-5 all-time series lead.

Holy Cross at Colgate – 29 Oct. 1:00 P.M. Andy Kerr Stadium Hamilton, NY

(Patriot League Network)

The leaves are off the trees and the first snow has fallen in the Chenango Valley yet Colgate (2-4, 1-1) will be making only their second appearance at home when they face Holy Cross (3-5, 1-2) on Saturday. The defending Patriot League champion Raiders are coming off a much needed bye following a brutal stretch of games to the start the year. They still have a chance to repeat but need Fordham to beat Lehigh on Saturday. Should that happen, the league championship may very well be on the line next week in the Bronx.

The Crusaders had a chance to get back in the title race last week against Lehigh but were thoroughly dominated to end the dream. Blaise Bell (14-27 157 yards 3 INTs) got the start and, outside of the opening drive, did not play well. Holy Cross has been plagued with erratic QB since Peter Pujals was injured early in the season. Sophomore Geoff Wade (65% comp., 143 ypg 5 TDs 2 INTs) is listed as the starter this week. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Blaise Bell get some playing time if Wade’s injured calf is still giving him trouble. Wade has proven to be more than capable so far this season when he’s had the opportunity to play. He definitely gives Holy Cross the best chance to pull the upset on the road.

Along with improved quarterback play, Holy Cross will need the defense to step up against a potent Colgate offense. The Crusader “D” played well against Bucknell and Harvard before struggling mightily against an explosive Lehigh “O”. Colgate’s offensive attack (31 ppg 3rd in PL, 404 ypg 3rd in PL) is more in line with Lehigh’s minus the diverse passing schemes. The Raiders rely heavily on their zone-read based ground attack (193 ypg) and timely passes that create big plays down the field.

It was announced this week that Colgate’s starting RB James Holland will miss the remainder of the season. His physical presence between the tackles has been missed. Keyon Washington (94 ypg 5.1 ypc 4 TDs) has done a great job filling in but his effectiveness would be even greater as a change of pace back. As it is QB Jake Melville (68 rushing ypg 4 TDs) remains the catalyst in the rushing attack. He’ll have the Crusader’s Nick McBeath (71 tackles, 6 TFL) and Co. on their toes all game with his ability to run the zone-read to near perfection.

If Wade is indeed healthy and under center for Holy Cross, the Crusaders should have some success against the shaky Raider’s defense (29.2 ppg allowed 4th PL, 419 ypg allowd 6th PL). The key will be getting the ball in the hands of Jake Wieczorek and Branden Flaherty’s hands. Blaise Bell struggled to consistently get those two the ball in last weekend’s loss to Lehigh when there were opportunities to do so. Wieczorek has turned into an explosive weapon at WR and punt returner. Due to the Crusader’s struggles at RB, Flaherty has been forced to spend time in the backfield which has limited his effectiveness in the passing game. If normal RB Diquan Walker (limited to 4 carries against Lehigh) is once again healthy Flaherty should be able to spend more time out wide.

With the grumblings growing on Mount St. James regarding Holy Cross’s Tom Gilmore’s future this game seems to have added importance. The Crusaders still have a chance to post a winning record with a strong finish which might be enough for Gilmore to stave off the gathering pitchforks.

Of Note: Colgate is currently riding a 4 game winning streak against Holy Cross. The Raiders have really dominated the series since 1998 by winning 13 out of 18 meetings. Prior to Colgate’s win in 1998 Holy Cross won 14 straight in the series. Colgate will surpass Dartmouth on Saturday as Holy Cross’s second most played opponent (79th meeting). Holy Cross leads the all-time series 40-33-5.



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