Big Green defense, streak to be tested by Engineers
Dartmouth enters tomorrow's contest against Lehigh with one last chance to play a complete game before entering the heart of their Ivy League schedule which begins with Harvard next weekend. Although Lehigh enters the game at 2-4, the 5-0 Big Green will be challenged to extend their nation-best unbeaten streak to 23 games as the Engineers bring one of the most potent offenses in Division I-AA to Memorial Field. However, accompanying that potent offense is a defense that is giving up 465 yards per game which should give Pete Sellers '98 and company a chance to move to ball with efficiency. Furthermore, Lehigh is only 1-3 this year on the road while Dartmouth salivates at the thought of coming home to play four of their final five games in the friendly confines of Hanover.
Sellers was the offensive story for the Big Green in last week's win over Yale but the win was not his best performance. Despite running for one touchdown and throwing for another, Sellers often struggled as the team faced numerous third and long situations. He should be able to return to the form he showed in weeks two through four as Lehigh is giving up 240 yards in the air per game.
Engineers signal caller Phil Stambaugh is on a roll, having thrown for 900 yards and eight touchdowns in the past five halves without an interception. On the season, Stambaugh has thrown for over 1300 yards and 14 touchdowns as he has been a driving force in Lehigh's offense, which is chewing up nearly 400 yards of offense per contest while throwing only three interceptions.
Dylan Karczewski '99 managed only a little over two yards a carry last week against the Bulldogs as the running game was never able to get on track. While he has tremendous speed and moves, Karczewski has struggled running between the tackles and forced the offense to go to more of an option attack than they may like. He and the rest of the running corps should get a break against the Engineers, who have been generous to running backs in their six games this season, allowing a 100 yard rusher in five of those games.
Lehigh boasts a top running back in Rabih Abdullah. Abdullah is averaging 107 yards per game this season after missing last year with a knee injury. But, he goes up against a strong Big Green rushing defense that has not allowed any team, let alone back, to gain 100 yards running the football. If Dartmouth is unable to stop Abdullah though, it could be a long day for the Big Green defense. "Abdullah is the best back we will face this year. He's a big time player," Head Coach John Lyons said.
Ken Bollens '98 continued his emergence last week at Yale by catching three balls for 108 yards and a touchdown after his touchdown on the previous play was called back. Bollens, who tops the team with 313 receiving yards, has added a legitimate threat on the opposite side of the field to Zach Ellis '98, the Big Green's go-to-guy with 21 catches on the season. Unfortunately for the Big Green, tight end Will Harper '98 has become lost in the vertical offense, catching only four balls in four weeks after hauling in six in the opening game against Penn.
What high-flying offense that leads the Patriot League in passing would be complete without a star receiver? The Engineers' Deron Braswell is a big-play receiver with seven touchdowns and 39 receptions to credit already this year. The tough Dartmouth secondary must shut Braswell down and force Stambaugh to look for other his other receivers who are good but not as dangerous.
Dartmouth's offensive line got into its first slug-it-out contest against a very physical Yale defense and got punished, especially in the second half, as Dartmouth only picked up 37 total yards. The unit allowed Sellers to be dumped twice, the first time the Big Green had given up a sack in three weeks. The run-blocking was woeful as well, only netting 26 yards on 40 carries. Still, this unit has put together some impressive performances and must return to that form against a small Lehigh front seven.
Lehigh's offensive line can take some credit for the team's offensive production but not all of it. After losing two starters, the line has produced up front but will be challenged by Dartmouth as their line only averages 265 pounds. However, they have only given up 10 sacks this season.
As dominant as Lehigh is on the offensive side of the football, Dartmouth is on the defensive side of the football. The Big Green, although somewhat pushed around by Yale in the second half last Saturday, have all the tools up front and have been using them. Tackle Brent Crombie '99 and end Scott Hapgood '97 share the team lead with four sacks and have been effective at stopping the run, while almost every member of the line has a sack. Dartmouth has to stop the run to make Lehigh a one-dimensional team throwing the ball.
Lehigh's defensive unit has been pushed around in every aspect, especially on the offensive line. The front-seven has been unable to stop opposing running backs but has provided decent pressure with 19 sacks in six games.
Big Green backers Zach Walz '98 and Jon Gibbs '99 stole the show last weekend in New Haven, putting on a tackling clinic. The two combined for 31 stops on the afternoon, while Walz added two key sacks that resulted in two forced fumbles. The two are a force and must be to contain Abdullah. Expect Walz and Gibbs to fly around the field tomorrow in trying to snuff out the run and pressure Stambaugh.
Like their defensive line, Lehigh's linebackers have been soft against the run. The corps often finds itself trying to stop the run and leaving the weak secondary to do the job on pass coverage. The linebackers need to stop Karczewski from getting to the outside and force him to run up the middle.
Dartmouth's secondary is coming off a paradoxical game. They had their best performance yardage wise, holding Yale under 100 yards passing but it was their first game this season without an interception. Regardless, they will be tested early and often by Lehigh's high-flying offense. If Dartmouth is forced to commit a safety to stop Abdullah, that will leave the rest of the secondary in man to man coverage against their potent receivers. The Big Green struggled in shutting down the other top receiver they faced, allowing Eric Krawcyzk of Cornell 12 catches and three touchdowns. They must do a better job on Braswell. However, they have the best secondary in the Ivy League and should be able to contain the passing game.
Lehigh's pass defense should have only one focus against the Big Green: preventing Sellers and his receivers from getting the big play. Dartmouth's passing game has become a down-field affair, and will test a secondary that gives up 240 yards a game and lost three starters from a year ago. Expect Ellis, Bollens, and Eric Morton '98 to try and get behind the defense before utilizing short patterns.
Dartmouth's special teams returned to form against Yale after suffering through a horrendous week at Fordham. Wayne Schlobohm '00 needs to have a good day punting to make Lehigh go the distance of the field to score. Tom Reusser '00 proved against last week that he is a dangerous kick returner.
The Engineers are solid on special teams but not spectacular. They have excelled in the return game and will test the Big Green coverage units. Their punting game has been a weak spot though, averaging only 36.3 yards per kick.
Dartmouth needs a convincing win for their confidence headed into their showdown with Harvard a week away. Forget about the unbeaten streak, the Big Green need to win and prove to themselves they can play a complete game for four quarters. The danger for the Big Green though is overlooking this game.
Lehigh needs to find out what kind of football team they are. Dangerous offensively, dangerous to themselves on defense. They are 1-1 against Ivy League teams this year so they have a knack for knocking Ivy foes.
Dartmouth needs to control the flow of this game or they could be in trouble. Lehigh is a very solid offensive football team that can put points up in a hurry. Unfortunately, they give points up in a hurry as well. The Big Green need to be able to control the football, either by running or throwing as well as continuing to throw deep against a weak secondary. Dartmouth cannot afford to get into a shoot-out with Lehigh or there is a grave danger of losing. If the Big Green play well, this is their ballgame. If they make too many mistakes, good-bye unbeaten streak.
Final Score: Dartmouth 31, Lehigh 21