#39 Lehigh FCS Football 2014 Preview

George Hammond

Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Overall Rank: #39
#2 Patriot League

Lehigh Team Page#39 Lehigh FCS Football 2014 PreviewBuy Lehigh Football Tickets

An 8-3 season usually is cause for celebration but not at Lehigh where the Mountain Hawks would consider last year’s effort a sub-par performance. A 50-28 defeat to rival Lafayette in the regular-season finale kept Lehigh from not only winning the Patriot League title, but securing an FCS playoff berth too. Last year’s senior class went 39-9 in its four years and won two league titles in 2010 and 2011, including playoff victories in each of those seasons. If Lehigh is to make the playoffs this season, it will do it with a lot of new faces – on the roster and on the coaching staff. Head coach Andy Coen has six new members on his staff. But the focal point of the 2014 season is something called “Rivalry 150.” The 150th meeting of college football’s most-played rivalry – Lehigh vs. Lafayette – will take place on Nov. 22 at Yankee Stadium ... yes, that Yankee Stadium where upwards of 40,000 will witness the historic matchup.

2013 Record: (8-3, 3-2)
2013 Postseason: None
Coach: Andy Coen (59-33 at Lehigh, 59-33 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Drew Folmar
Defensive Coordinator: Joe Bottiglieri

Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Rich Sodeke, RB, 67 yards
Passing: Nick Shafnisky, QB, 326 yards
Receiving: Josh Parris, WR, 443 yards
Tackles: Colton Caslow, LB, 64
Sacks: Tim Newton, DL, 5.5
Interceptions: Isaiah Campbell, LB, 1, Noah Robb, LB, 1

Other Key Returnees: QB Matt McHale, QB A.J. Visconti, WR Derek Gaul, WR Derek Knott, TE Tyler Coyle, OL Ned Daryoush, OL Terez Owens, DL Arturo Gyles, DL Greg Palma,  CB Jason Suggs, K Ryan Pandy

Key Losses: QB Brandon Bialkowski, C Matt Lippincott, WR Lee Kurfis, TB Keith Sherman, WR Sergio Fernandez-Soto, FB Sean Farrell, LB Nigel Muhammad, S Tyler Ward, P Tim Diveis

A year ago, the linebacking corps was a big question. Now it’s a strength as several young, talented players emerged in the past year. The inside linebackers are led by junior Noah Robb and sophomore Colton Caslow, who finished second on the team in tackles as he started six games as a freshman. On the weak side will be Isaiah Campbell, who started all 11 games last year, and sophomore Pierce Ripanti. The latter was so impressive last year that Coen hopes to get Ripanti and Campbell on the field together. Junior Matt Laub, who is recovering from offseason surgery, is penciled in at the strong side position if he’s healthy. Tight end is another position of strength as four significant contributors return, including Tyler Coyle (21 receptions) and Dylan Colgate. Offensive tackle Ned Daryoush, a two-time Patriot League selection who has started the last 22 games anchors a promising but inexperienced offensive line.

Quarterback is one of the biggest question marks. There are four returnees, but several have been battling injuries. Senior Matt McHale has the most in-game experience, but he missed the spring because of offseason surgery. He appeared in eight games last year and made two starts. Seniors A.J. Visconti and Gerard Poutier are in the mix as is sophomore Nick Shafnisky, who saw action in four games as a freshman and threw for 326 yards. The quarterback position isn’t the only skill position to take a hit. Running back Keith Sherman, a 1,000-yard rusher, is gone. Sherman, who had eight touchdowns, was Lehigh’s first 1,000-yard rusher in 11 years. Senior Rich Sodeke has the most in-game experience while juniors DJ Kee and Dan Brown expect to see action. Gone, too, is top receiver Lee Kurfis, but senior Josh Parris did start all 11 games last year. Lehigh’s secondary will feature four new starters but many have seen experience and if all this isn’t enough to worry Coen, the Mountain Hawks lose all-league punter Tim Diveis.

The Bottom Line:
Despite the key individual losses on both sides of the ball, Lehigh has many talented newcomers. The question is: How soon will they grow up? The defense looks promising and Coen knows the Mountain Hawks must create more turnovers than they did last year. “We were not a bad team turnover-wise from an offensive standpoint especially as much as we threw the ball,” Coen said. “What we didn’t do well was create turnovers. We had a string of four games when our defense didn’t create a turnover. That’s hard to do.” And it would spell big trouble in 2014. The key, of course, is finding a quarterback. Shafnisky might be the guy as he is a dual threat. The opening part of the schedule is tough: The Mountain Hawks host James Madison in the opener, then visit New Hampshire the following week. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Lehigh start 0-2, but by the time “Rivalry 150” rolls around, expect Coen to have another pretty good team.

Projected Postseason: None

2013 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 154.0 (71st in nation, 5th in conference)
Passing Offense: 292.4 (14, 2)
Total Offense: 446.4 (21, 2)
Scoring Offense: 31.6 (32, 2)
Rushing Defense: 201.5 (94, 6)
Pass Defense: 235.5 (85, 5)
Total Defense: 436.9 (93, 6)
Scoring Defense: 31.1 (85, 5)
Turnover Margin: -0.90 (112, 7)
Sacks: 1.82 (77, 3)
Sacks Allowed: 1.09 (19, 2)


See All College Sports Madness Top 44 FCS Football Previews