Archive For The “Matt Ford” Category
Everything about the 2015 season screamed “rebuilding,” even if the Lehigh faithful never really could bring themselves to completely believe it.
Lehigh was coming from a frustrating 2014 where the Mountain Hawks came close to beating James Madison at home, but couldn’t finish the game, making Lehigh slide to an uncharacteristic 3-8 record.
There was the departure in the offseason of RB Chris Leigh, the one player that scored a touchdown for the Mountain Hawks in the 150th meeting between Lafayette and Lehigh in Yankee Stadium, and RB Brandon Yosha, the transfer running back that battled injury and chop blocks leading to his retirement from football as well.
With pretty much any other team and any other fan base, expectations for the year would have been low. But at Lehigh, expectations are sky-high, for better or for worse, all the time. Perhaps it’s the historic success of the program; perhaps it’s the fans, who are spoiled by all the Patriot League championships, wins over Lafayette, and FCS playoff wins, but that’s what playing at Lehigh is all about.
What the 2015 Mountain Hawks will be best known for is righting the ship from that awful 2014 to return to the winning ways that all Lehigh fans seem to expect. Going into the 2015 offseason, the Mountain Hawks 6-5 record wasn’t good enough to win a Patriot League championship – though they came very, very close – but it definitely shows that the foundation has been rebuilt for future success.
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All the Rivalry games are memorable in their own way for everyone in attendance, from the seniors playing in their last game to the kids playing on the grass embankment.
The there will be four plays that will be remembered the most, the four plays that defined this game for Lehigh and really demonstrated how tough this team was in 2015, and how tough they might be in 2016.
Most importantly, though, was the fact that Lehigh finally was able to chuck aside any doubts about winning a big game.
Wins against Lafayette are always important for the many Lehigh fans in the near-16,000 people who attend these games. But winning this particular game was doubly important for this Lehigh squad that seemed to almost desperately need the win in order to demonstrate to the fans in the Valley who they are, who they were, and where they’re headed.
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Going into last weekend, most people thought that Holy Cross might pose a problem for the Mountain Hawks defensively.
The Crusader defense had shut out two opponents, contributing to wins over Lafayette two weeks ago, 42-0, and a CAA team, Albany, 37-0.
How would Lehigh’s offensive line do against Holy Cross’ defensive front?
Once the dust had settled on Saturday, the answer was: “just fine, thanks for asking.”
The Mountain Hawks did an awful lot of things right on offense last week, jumping out to a 41-10 halftime lead, carving out 543 offensive yards and executing 83 offensive plays. But the foundation for that offensive explosion came from a vastly improved performance on the offensive line.
|Lehigh QB Nick Shafnisky (Morning Call)|
Junior QB Nick Shafnisky spent Patriot League media day telling the gathered media about haters drinking the haterade.
Well, he didn’t exactly say it like that. But he did talk about proving the haters wrong.
“I love having people either be there for me or count me out,” he said. “Personally, I love it all. I love haters. I was just saying to my dad – the more people are talking bad about you, the more people you have to prove wrong. I love proving people wrong, and making my coaches from high school proud.”
Now finally healthy, Shafnisky finally has the chance to prove a lot of people wrong – those that doubted his ability to recover from a Rivalry game he’d rather forget, those that thought he might not get over the injury that severely limited him last season, those that picked Lehigh to finish fifth, sixth, or even seventh in the Patriot League.
Despite an infections optimism that carried all the way through the preseason, you could see the chip forming on Shafnisky’s shoulder that day, as well as junior LB Colton Caslow‘s.
How Shaf and Caslow perform with that chip on their shoulder is going to play a big part in the 2015 season.
“We want to show that the 3-8 team you guys saw last year is not what Lehigh’s about, and it’s not what Lehigh football is about,” Shaf said. “When they announced that we were picked fifth, Colton and I just looked at each other, and said, ‘We’ll see.’ Everyone has a different chip on their shoulder to prove everyone wrong.”
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|Senior OL Matt Ford|
We live in a world where we can judge the work of an offensive line by the overall output of the offense.
Gone are the days when you can look at a starters’ height and weight and judge whether they will be a great Patriot League player, or not. And at Lehigh, especially, the bar is particularly high for offensive linemen, with OL Will Rackley making the NFL, and players like OL Ned Daryoush, OL Keith Schauder and countless other all-Patriot League offensive linemen to provide the protection and push to keep drives alive and allow the skill players to make things happen.
Yet last year’s statistics, overall show again that, as a unit, this team too needs to improve.
Chip Kelly‘s Oregon teams averaged 82 offensive plays per game, which allowed the Ducks to become a perennial Pac-12 powerhouse while he was there. By this admittedly high standard, Lehigh’s 70 offensive plays a game falls short.
Some statistics that show signs that Lehigh’s offensive line did a good job in 2014 – like 4th down conversions (24th in the nation) and rushing offense (58th). But one thing’s for certain – this unit, with four returning starters, will need to make one more leap to the next level if Lehigh is to compete for Patriot League championships once again.
It’s not exactly a secret that the foundation of Lehigh’s offense in the Andy Coen era is an exceptional pass blocking unit.
With graduates from this unit like OL Keith Schauder, OL A.J. Hood, OL Troy McKenna, C Matt Lippincott and OL Will Rackley, who earns his paycheck on the offensive line of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, it’s clear that offensive line is always a priority for Coen and offensive line coach Brett Sawyer.
This year sees Lippincott and Hood graduate, but also sees a lot of excitement with a lot of returning starting talent – including a bookend tackle in senior OL Ned Daryoush.