#Rivalry155: Five Things to Watch, Keys To the Game, Fearless Prediction: Lafayette at Lehigh, 11/23/2019

Below, we're going to do a quick once-over of Lehigh's game notes and possible injuries, then we'll dive right into 5 things to look for with Sacred Heart, my Keys to the game, and the cherry on top will be my Fearless Prediction.

You can read my College Sports Journal preview of #155, complete with TV and streaming information, here.

Keith Groller of The Morning Call headlined his piece "Lehigh’s defense has been its best in years, but it hasn’t translated into a winning season". 

Additionally, Paul Reinhard of The Morning Call headline his preview "Lafayette football has more than just bragging rights on the line vs. Lehigh".

Lehigh's Davis Maxie (95) tackles St. Francis punter Ryan Oliver (33) after Oliver fumbled his punt attempt in the Mountain Hawks season opener at Goodman Stadium on Aug. 31. (April Gamiz/The Morning Call)

Game Notes

There is some good news and some bad news in the game notes.

Last week, RB Rashawn Allen exploded back into the running back mix with his first 100 yard rushing game of the season, and explosive freshman RB Zaythan Hill will join him to hopefully be a great 1-2 punch for the Lehigh running game.  Last week, Lehigh was razor-thin at RB against Sacred Heart - Hill's return could be enormous for this offense.

The bad news is senior QB Tyler Monaco will not be available.  According to the game notes, QB Alec Beesmer will be starting, and QB Addison Shoup will be backing him up.  It's unclear whether we'll see both QBs on the field this weekend.  We might.

QB Keegan Shoemaker

Five Things to Watch With Lafayette

1. Lafayette has found their QB.  The search was long for head coach John Garrett, but somewhere in September he found his true freshman QB, Keegan Shoemaker.  For a freshman, his numbers have been impressive (2,421 yards passing, 17 TDs), and he's been a dual threat QB that has done well both passing and running.  He's a QB with great tools, but his one issue has been turnovers (13 INTs) and making freshman mistakes.  Nonetheless, he's injected a lot of energy into an offense that had lacked it in recent years, and he's a dangerous player when he's "on".

2. Look for a 3-4 defense from the Leopards.  Whether by design or by tinkering, Garrett has trotted out a lot of different looks on defense, sometimes going with a 3-3-5 defense and other times going with more of a base 3-4.  In the game notes, it looks like he is going to go with a base 3-4 which promises to bring a lot of pressure on the QB.

DE Malik Hamm

3. Malik Hamm Is Still A Beast.  Hamm, with 10 1/2 tackles for loss and 7 sacks, is a terrific athlete on the Leopards' front.  After a stellar freshman season, he didn't slow down at all in his sophomore year.  Job No. 1 for the Lehigh offensive line is going to be keeping Hamm out of Alec Beesmer's face.  If Hamm goes hogwild, this game could be over early.

4. Winning Five In A Row Is Damned Hard.  Lafayette is not going out to Murray Goodman Stadium this weekend for the FCS Playoffs or a Patriot League championship, I can guarantee you - they are going out there to break the four game losing streak.  Ask any player who has played in this Rivalry - the emotions running through the sidelines of a team who was winless against their Rivals is immense.  Never underestimate that emotion.

5. Yasir Thomas Is The Senior I Fear The Most.  There's some good things about this Leopards offense - the young QB, a solid offensive line, some good receivers.  But in Rivalry games, the guys I fear the most are seniors, and though there aren't a lot of seniors on both teams, SS Yasir Thomas is the guy I most fear.  He's had a good year in the Lafayette secondary with 56 tackles and 6 pass break-ups, but I could see him playing out of his mind this weekend.  Keep an eye on this team captain.

LFN's Keys to the Game

1. Offensive Line Needs To Make Holes.  Head coach Tom Gilmore insisted to me this week that the offensive line did a much better job than advertised with RB Rashawn Allen's 100 yard game.  They will need to do so again and show Lehigh Nation that they can gut out the tough yards with Allen and RB Zaythan Hill.  It's incredibly critical that Lehigh establish a good running game to set up the passing game and get Beesmer some open looks at WR Dev Bibbens.

2. Flushing Shoemaker Out of the Pocket.  Lehigh's pass rush is going to have to make a comeback this week in order to make Shoemaker uncomfortable in the pocket and keep him from getting into a rhythm.  Blitzing needs to be part of this week's gameplan, as well as maybe keeping a guy around to spy Shoemaker in case he takes off.  In a lot of ways, the battle between Lafayette's OL and Lehigh's defensive front seven might determine this game.

3. Woetzelvania.  LB Keith Woetzel won't be thinking about Patriot League defensive player of the year honors when he's out on the field on Saturday, but if he can make Murray Goodman stadium Woetzelvania this weekend Lehigh has a chance to win it.  His defensive play (107 tackles, 9 1/2 sacks) has been outstanding, with most of his tackles being of the solo variety.  I have a sneaking feeling that he is going to put it all out there on Saturday, and if the rest of the defense rallies behind Woetzelvania, it could be a special Rivalry. 


Fearless Prediction

It's been a very strange year for both teams.  In a game usually dominated by seniors, there are a multitude of underclassman playmakers on both sides.  In a year where winning records usually win championships and FCS playoff bids, Lafayette has a chance at both, and Lehigh has a chance at a championship.  Lafayette's offense is fearsome.  Lehigh's defense is one of the best in the nation.  Up is down.

I feel like Lafayette has their best chance to win The Rivalry since Yankee Stadium.  Many of the ingredients are there - relatively, more experience at QB; some playmakers on defense; a very good offensive line.  But their biggest weapon might simply be hunger.  Nobody on this team has been satisfied with a win over Lehigh.  This is their best shot in years to do it, facing off against a starting QB in his second game as a starter.  Beesmer did show some good things vs. Sacred Heart - he had a lot of poise in the pocket.  Can he do it on the stage of The Rivalry?

The ingredients for a Lehigh win involves the seniors bringing it all, especially early.  Getting an early lead and not playing from behind might be the most important aspect of this game.  This Lehigh group can do it.  Will they?

Lehigh 21, Lafayette 17

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