The Lehigh fan base will fill the visitor's side of the unfinished Multi Sport Field Saturday. Few, if any, doubt the outcome.
Over the last five years, Georgetown has become a walkover to the Engineers' fans, much as Seton Hall was in the early days of Big East basketball. The Pirates were once a combined 0-15 in the first seven years against the Hoyas. As football streaks go, Lehigh has scored no fewer than 41 points against GU in any of its last five games, and until Georgetown arrives to give Lehigh a game, the imbalance will continue.
This year's Engineers have something more to play for, however. Three losses by a combined seven points have soured the Lehigh at-large playoff hopes and demand a title run in the PL to return to the playoffs. A stumble in Washington would not only be a mortal blow to the playoffs, but would be an outrage in some circles. To avoid the upset, Lehigh must do a better job in rushing, where opposing defenses have been able to contain the ground game thus far.
RB Marques Thompson rushed for 177 yards on only 11 carries last season versus GU, but is averaging only 58 yards per game to date. QB Sedale Threatt is on target for a 2,000 yard passing season and has been effective in distributing the ball to the receiver corps, including Lee Thomas (18-291), Frank Travato (15-231) and Thompson (9-84). Lehigh is averaging only 35% on third down--if the rushing game improves, the numbers will improve in a big way Saturday.
Georgetown's troubling rushing game should expect more trouble Saturday. Lehigh returns eight seniors and four juniors on defense and will be tough on the rush and pass. 11 players have more than 10 tackles this season, so there are no noticeably weak links across its lineup. Lehigh's linebackers may be a key in controlling Georgetown's mid-range passing--the Hoyas simply can't compete on the long ball and need the 10-15 yard passes to advance the ball.
The instability at QB which has plagued Georgetown throughout much of the PL era is in full tilt again, as neither Ben Hostetler nor Matt Bassuener has been able to secure the starting role. Both will likely see action Saturday, and neither can afford the turnovers which are wounding this team at every turn. Fifteen fumbles in five games (six lost) continues to cost the Hoyas field position in each game to date--for the offense to contend, the turnovers must come to an end. Unfortunately, a slick turf and a lack of stability on the handoffs are hurdles to overcome Saturday.
The Hoyas' defense hasn't matched up to recent standards, particularly on pass defense. The front line must pressure Threatt and force him out of sync; otherwise, he stands to pound the smaller Hoya secondary. Two players to watch will be LB's Mike Greene and Stephen Smith, both of which can help provide a mix of defensive sets to keep the Engineers off stride.
Keys to the game:
--Sedale Threatt. The Hoyas can give Threatt problems, if they control the line and force Threatt out of his game.
--The Game Starts At 1:00. Georgetown cannot afford yet another 2nd quarter start on the scoreboard. Staying close early is a must.
--Turnovers. Lehigh is a combined +8 in turnovers against the Hoyas since 2001. Anything short of an even number of turnovers spells trouble for the Hoyas.
--Breaking Out. No Georgetown offensive player has put together a truly breakout performance in PL play since Luke McArdle in 2003. At the midpoint of the season, a back or receiver needs to take it to another level.
Sports Network columnist Matt Dougherty suggested the Hoyas were "probably already playing out the string" after a 1-4 start. Far from it--while no Georgetown fans are planning out travel schedules for late November, October will prove to be a key month to build the foundation which the staff will use going forward. Lessons learned against Lehigh can make GU a more prepared opponent in PL games later this season versus Fordham and Lafayette.
If Georgetown gets its game together and plays to its potential, this is no walkover game. After three long weeks on the road, however, they need to prove it first to themselves, and then to the fans on both sides of the unfinished field.