Over the years, the Lehigh football program has always had very high expectations in every sense.
The expectations at Lehigh, as I've observed it, are:
* That Lehigh football teams always have top football students academically as a member of their classes.
* That Lehigh football teams always compete for Patriot League Championships, every year. There is no such thing as a rebuilding year. Championship droughts, and losing records, are supposed to be aberrations.
* That Lehigh football, in the preseason has, as their goal, to win the FCS National Championship.
Are those goals unrealistic? At a point in time for this program, although the goals were lofty, they were not unrealistic.
Patriot League schools in the past have made it to the FCS National Championship game, and won multiple rounds in the FCS Playoffs. Twice Lehigh had the ball with under two minutes to play against teams who would end up being FCS National Champions, with Lehigh in a position to win. The history doesn't lie. Lehigh was right there. There was plenty of reason to believe that it could happen again.
Fast forward to this weekend. Overall, it's been a joyous weekend for FCS football. Holy Cross beat UConn, and murdered their program. Montana beat Washington, and knocked out a nationally-ranked FBS team. There were some shootouts, some blowouts, and overall, there were a lot of positive vibes this weekend.
Not in Bethlehem if you were a Lehigh fan, however. After this weekend's 47-3 loss to Villanova, I was really shaken.
It's not so much that Lehigh lost - after all, I, and pretty much every national pundit who bothered to weigh in, didn't think that the Mountain Hawks stood a chance this week against a Wildcat team that is built to make a run at a FCS National Championship.
It was that even when the game was out of reach, even when Villanova had let up, Lehigh couldn't even find it in them to score even a field goal - or even move the ball - against Villanova's backups.
It wasn't the biggest Lehigh blowout ever. It wasn't the biggest margin of defeat. But I don't think I've ever felt a game - certainly not a September game - where I felt like Lehigh was just comprehensively outclassed in every single aspect.
I don't always expect wins in every situation. But what I realized, after I sat and thought about it for a very long time, is that I expect more than this.
I can't recall a time that expectations have been so low for this program. Not all that long ago competing for Patriot League Championships was a given. They didn't always win them, but it was expected that every graduating class would have at least one ring, and they would always be competing for a championship deep into November.
It doesn't feel that way anymore. Especially with this gauntlet of an out-of-conference schedule, it feels like the hope is to not have too bad of a losing record by the end of October. That does not compute with what I, or other Lehigh fans, have expected for these teams over the years.
I understand I am no ordinary Lehigh fan - I am exceedingly patient. I've preached patience so often and for so many years I've been dubbed "Captain Sunshine" at times. My instinct is to wait and see how the team adjusts, wait and see when OL Justin Gurth is able to start on the OL, wait for the offensive chemistry to come together.
And the truth is, this fall 2021 season is exceedingly young. There is loads of time to turn things around.
But watching last weekend's second half made for an extremely painful experience and it made me question everything.
Lehigh had six offensive drives in the second half. They ended: Interception, Fumble, Fumble, Punt, Punt, Interception, End of Game. Total yards gained: 48 (seven of them rushing yards on the very last play of the game). Total first downs: 2.
Villanova racked up 506 yards of offense, and let up only 139 yards to Lehigh. Along the way Villanova forced six turnovers and no Lehigh offensive play went for more than more than 19 yards. DeNucci's interception return was Lehigh's longest positive yardage play from scrimmage - 23 yards.
The defense yielded 27 points in the second half when the outcome of the game was still in a little bit of doubt, including two 50+ yard TD strikes.
I tried to think of what I would call the highlights of the game. There were a handful, like LB Mike DeNucci's interception, PK Dylan Van Dusen's 34 yard FG, and a few nice passes from QB Cross Wilkinson to TE Alex Snyder and WR Johnny Foley. Basically, a handful of offensive plays, a handful of defensive plays, and a handful of special teams plays.
But those moments were few and far between. The beatdown was extensive.
I've been around a while and seen my share of Lehigh blowouts. And I have seen Lehigh teams get dominated by Villanova before.
In 2010 Lehigh was shut out 35-0 by a Wildcat squad with several future NFL players and a future MLB baseball player. But in the second half in that game, Lehigh could, at least, move the ball somewhat, and the defense forced three turnovers, giving the Mountain Hawks a glimmer of what could be right around the corner.
That 2010 team featured a lot of all-time Lehigh greats, like WR Ryan Spadola, QB Chris Lum, LB Mike Groome and WR Jake Drwal. So we know it is possible to experience a butt-whooping to Villanova and still have a great Lehigh football career.
But that's not where I see this Lehigh football program right now.
With a program that has prided itself on offense over the last three decades, it is gutting to see that the last time Lehigh scored more than 17 points in a competitive football game was on November 2nd, 2019, where the Mountain Hawks lost 24-17 to Holy Cross.
I've talked to fans of the program for a long time, and these offensive numbers shock them.
But it's not just the offense. Every unit needs improvement across the board. Lehigh's defense gave up all 47 of those points to Villanova this weekend. When bad things happened, the defense didn't get better. The Mountain Hawks will not win many games if they give up 47 points, no matter how the offense does.
To put this in the mildest way possible, this is unacceptable. It should meet nobody's expectations that cares about Lehigh football. It has not been like this since Lehigh helped found the Patriot League, and it should not be this way.
For those of you new to the program, Lehigh has been nationally ranked in the past. It can, and should, happen again. But it's not going to happen because in Lehigh's history there has been a lot of offense. Something needs to change, now, in order for that to happen.
There needs to be a desire to fight from everyone involved with the program - zero exceptions. There needs to be zero tolerance for what has been. Everyone should be spending their time in football trying to erase this from the upcoming season - to prove to everyone that this is not what you are about, that this is not the impression you want to make.
And that includes me. I need to see this fight in this team before I start to believe again.