To taste the sweet fruits of victory again, Cornell (1-1, 1-0 Ivy) will have to do more than be good this weekend against Lehigh (3-0, 0-0 Patriot). It will have to be excellent.
Lehigh enters the contest tied for 17th in the NCAA I-AA rankings and have won an impressive nine-straight victories over Ivy League opponents and 13 consecutive victories at home.
On top of that, the Red will have to compete with a considerably bigger and faster team, a concern for head coach Pete Mangurian.
“They’ve got great speed on the ends and they’re a very physical team,” Mangurian said.
Senior co-captain Joe Splendorio voiced his concerns as well.
“They are athletically, top to bottom a better team than us,” he commented. “They are a strong team.”
Speed will be a big factor in Lehigh’s offensive and defensive game plans.
“They’ve got the kind of speed that you’d better be efficient in all your movements because they can make a mistake and still recover,” Mangurian said. “They don’t say out of position long, if they ever get out of position,” he added.
The coach also stressed mistake-free play from his own squad.
“We can’t miss opportunities. We can’t drop balls in the flat when we’re open for five-yard gains,” the coach said. “We have to take what they give us.”
The Mountain Hawks have already faced two Ivy opponents in this young season, Penn and Princeton. Two weeks ago Lehigh got by Penn 17-10, and last week it escaped with a two-point victory over Princeton, 20-18. Neither of those victories were quite as convincing as the Hawks would have liked them to have been.
Princeton nearly upset the undefeated Mountain Hawks’ team last week by scoring a touchdown with 1:18 remaining, only to have their two-point conversion broken up.
Lehigh was not particularly sharp either, though it was opportunistic. Lehigh used two Princeton turnovers and turned them into a pair of passing touchdowns for Brant Hall, a new quarterback for Lehigh who likes to run. The junior took off ten times for 31-yards last week against the Tigers.
“The quarterback has a great scrambling ability,” Mangurian said of Hall.
Hall’s running ability and the newfound ground game will likely give a Cornell defense that has already given up 613 ground-yards fits. Cornell also had trouble stopping Yale in third-down situations last week, a trend that does not bode well against a team that is completing third-downs at a 45% clip thus far.
“Defensively, they stretch you a lot of different ways,” Mangurian commented. “They can run the football, they can obviously throw it, and if things close down [Hall] can take off and run with [the football], so it’s going to be challenging defensively [for us].”
If Cornell hopes to run the ball again as it did last weekend against Yale, it will certainly find the going tougher against a speedy Lehigh defense that is ranked 15th in the nation in run defense (I-AA).
Last week junior Evan Simmons ran 25 times for 117 yards. The junior has yet to score his first collegiate touchdown, and will be looking to improve that statistic this weekend.
Mangurian is looking for the speedy junior to get plenty of hand-offs again this weekend.
“We have to continue to try to run the football. We have to have some success running the football in order to make the rest of our offense go,” Mangurian noted. “We cannot be one dimensional.”
Cornell may find seems in the passing lanes this weekend, however, as Lehigh has allowed 188.3 yards-per-game in the air thus far this year. Those numbers should be favorable for a Cornell team that has averaged over 250 yards passing in its first two games. Rahne will once again be searching out Splendorio, who caught five balls for 101 yards last week.
Mangurian refuses to look at the passing game only, insisting that balance is in the cards for this week’s Red attack.
“It’s our plan to continue running the football and trying to have some balance offensively,” he commented.
When the Hawks have the ball, the 6-0, 215-pound Phil Pleasant will line up at tailback for Lehigh. Pleasant ran for 80-yards last week against Princeton on 17 carries. The big junior will be the main running force for a Mountain Hawks that is normally known as ‘Air Lehigh’. Offensively, this change has been key for a Lehigh that has had trouble holding onto leads this year.
The Red, however, is looking past the numbers and is simply looking forward to a game against a ranked opponent this weekend.
“It’s a big chance for us to do something special for our program,” Splendorio said. “We’re looking forward to that opportunity.”
Which team can execute most effectively should come out on top.
Archived article by Charles Persons