GEORGETOWN AT LEHIGH 10/14/2023: Game Preview And Fearless Prediction: Lehigh Finally Returns Home To Find “Scary” Hoyas On Their Doorstep

BETHLEHEM, PA – On his weekly radio podcast with Tom Fallon, head coach Kevin Cahill this week called Georgetown “scary“.

For most of the last decade, many Lehigh fans would have scoffed at the idea, or thought that the coach is just delivering “coachspeak”.

But no longer. Coach Cahill isn’t kidding.

Lehigh fans are in uncharted waters as “scary” Georgetown (3-3, 1-0 Patriot League), who recorded a win against Fordham, face off against Lehigh (1-5, 0-1 Patriot League), who recorded a loss against Fordham.

And again, that’s the state of the Lehigh football program right now.

While it’s not easy to find “betting lines” to find out casual fan’s confidence in the outcome, the Gridiron Power Index, or GPI, can offer us some sort of comparison of ten different human and computer ranking systems to see the difference between the teams.

Georgetown is 85th (61.875), while Lehigh is mired at 106th (71.5). By any objective measure, this makes Lehigh home underdogs to the Hoyas.

As a longtime Lehigh football watcher, I can’t emphasize enough how unusual this is.

Since the Hoyas joined the Patriot League in 2001, Georgetown has beaten Lehigh exactly once, in 2018.

That 2018 meeting was quite a game – a game where I said Lehigh had reached “rock bottom”.

Tied 9-9 after regulation, Georgetown’s points came from a touchdown, extra point, and a blocked extra point that was returned for a 2 point conversion by the Hoyas.

Georgetown lined up for 5 FGs, and missed all 5, but Lehigh could not manage to take advantage, ending 3 drives in the red zone with 0 points.

When overtime came around, Georgetown simply wanted it more.

“They weren’t just equals with the Mountain Hawks – they simply wanted this more, much more than Lehigh,” I wrote. “They were not just winning for themselves, they were winning for all those other teams that couldn’t do it.  This was a moment that used to be just a dream for the Hoyas; now, with the goal so close, there was no way they weren’t going to do this.”

Since then, Lehigh has won three straight against the Hoyas, making it a 20-1 record in the modern era and a perfect 10-0 record at Murray Goodman. But that underplays how close the matchups have actually been.

The year after the Hoyas’ win (2019), Lehigh ended up outlasting the Hoyas 27-24 at home after Georgetown QB Gunther Johnson connected with future USFL pro WR Michael Dereus for a 70 yard touchdown strike, and then converted the 2-point conversion to tie the game at 24 with about a minute and a half to play.

A 48 yard connection from QB Tyler Monaco to WR Dev Bibbens put Lehigh within range of PK Austin Henning for a game-winning kick to escape the Hoya’s upset bid.

In 2021, the outcome was well in doubt in the second half when Lehigh finally pulled away 23-9, and last year one only of Lehigh’s two wins on the year came against Georgetown at Cooper Field, where the defense held off a two-point conversion try late to escape DC with a 21-19 win.

The bottom line is, although historically Lehigh has dominated the Hoyas, by any definition over the last six years that gap has narrowed, to say the very least.

And certainly in 2023, Georgetown has earned their respect, too.

Two weeks ago, Georgetown upset nationally-ranked Fordham 28-24 in one of the all-time homecoming upsets. It was an entire team effort, one that underscored their experienced QB and their strong team chemistry, both of which contributed to their win.

“Right before the game, we asked what they were willing to do for the person next to them,” Sgarlata said in an interview with The Hoya. “This is a really tight group. They’ve been through some ups and downs already in the early part of the season, and I was just impressed with when things went wrong today, how they stuck together on the sideline.”

“I want our team to take away that we’re tough,” fifth-year QB Tyler Knoop said. “We are built for the moment. We’re a tough team. We play four quarters, and it’s not just a fluke.”

They indeed are not a fluke. Instead, they’ve become scary.

GEORGETOWN HOYAS (3-3, 1-0 Patriot) AT LEHIGH MOUNTAIN HAWKS (1-5, 0-1 Patriot)
Murray Goodman Stadium/Bethlehem, PA. Noon
STREAMING BROADCAST: ESPN+ (subscription needed)
PxP – Marco Socci, Analyst – TBD
BROADCAST (Fox Sports Lehigh Valley 94.7 FM/1230 AM; LVFox
PxP – Matt Kerr, Analysts – Tom Fallon and Connor Mills

LFN’s Drink of the Week

If it’s “Red October”, you know what that means – Phillies postseason. While it might be trendy to name drinks after Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola or Trea Turner, last year in a fit of inspiration I named a cocktail after Ranger Suarez, and considering he was the starting pitcher in two of the Phillies’ wins over the Braves – what better time to bring it back? You can find the recipe for the Ranger Suarez Cocktail here.

LFN’s Tailgate Dish of the Week

For a large group of hungry tailgaters (whatever you don’t bring, you can freeze and reheat for later). Meatballs like this have been a staple for our “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”-esque family for quite a while now. Best of all, it also works for a morning tailgate – just make them the night before, reheat, and keep them warm in a crockpot. You can find the recipe here.

Made-Up Midseason Report Card

As a part of your preseason ruituals, here’s a link to my made-up midseason report card for Lehigh’s 2023 season so far. It’s a made-up analysis of what’s gone well so far, and what needs improving.

Game Notes and Injury Report

This week’s game notes show WR Eric Johnson back on the depth chart, who is a very welcome addition back to the fold. He came in briefly last week after nursing an injury from the Merrimack game, and the idea is that he should be in even better shape this week than last. Last week he came in with 1 catch for 10 yards, but his big-play ability could come into play against Georgetown if he’s healthier.

LB Tyler Ochojski went out last week with an injury but he is looking good to return this week, though we’ll probably need to wait for the pregame to be 100% sure. One name who doesn’t appear to be back is RB Gaige Garcia, who isn’t present in the game notes, but again, it’s probably worth checking closer to kickoff whether they will all be back. Not to put too fine a point on it, but every starter or upperclassman name added to Lehigh’s depth chart will be a huge plus.

Scouting Georgetown

“Very proud of the way our kids played today,” Georgetown head coach Rob Sgarlata said after last weekend’s 42-39 defeat at the hands of Penn. “It was a back and forth battle against a quality opponent from the Ivy League. Our kids never quit. I told our kids after the game ‘if I had to choose any locker room in the country to be in I want to be in ours.’ We did some great things and we made some mistakes that we will fix this week as we get ready for Lehigh. This team has shown a lot of heart and a lot of SISU in the last two weeks and it is something that we will build on as we get into the Patriot League schedule.”

Georgetown is a dangerous team not because they were preseason No. 1 in the Patriot League, and not just because they beat Fordham two weeks ago and took Penn to the wire last week. They are a dangerous team because their culture has shifted. They are fearless, they are not quitting, and in the 4th quarter they are not crumpling.

Here’s the type of team this is: Down 16 points to Penn in the 4th quarter, the Hoyas executed two offensive drives that ended in touchdowns and 2 point conversions to tie the game, including a 16 play, 85 yard drive to tie it under 2 minutes to play.

Fifth year senior QB Tyler Knoop, who literally waited his turn four years through COVID and other starters, went 8-for-9 on the drive and connected with RB Joshua Stakely from 1 yard out to tie the game, and for good measure tossed the 2 point conversion to tie the game.

Aside from Knoop (1,080 yards passing, 61.80% completion rate, 14 TDs, 5 INTs), Stakely is the closest thing the Hoyas have to an offensive star (457 yards rushing, 107 yards receiving, 8 TDs), but in reality Georgetown’s rushing attack is two pronged with RB Naieem Kearney (441 yards, 4 TDs) not too far behind him.

While the Hoyas do tend to run more than they pass, their passing game has been very spread out to different recievers and effective so far. In six games this year the Hoyas have held onto the ball on offense for an average of 32 minutes, which should terrify Lehigh – they win through sustained drives and limiting the opposing offenses to fewer plays. However, Columbia’s solution to stop Georgetown was to stop their run game – they limited the Hoyas to 32 total rushing yards, and blanked them 30-0.

Keeping with their theme, Georgetown’s defense has been aggressive and has totaled 24 tackles for loss in six games, with no player having more than two individually, while boasting one of the top pass defenses in the Patriot League so far. LB David Ealy III leads the team in tackles with 35 and has notched 2 TFLs.

LFN’s Keys to the Game

  1. Stop Them In the Slop. With a forecast of persistent rain tomorrow, it stands to reason that the Hoyas will run early, late, and everywhere in between, and it’s up to Lehigh’s front six to keep that run game from working effectively to take time off the clock. The hope is if you stop Georgetown’s running game, you stop the Hoyas, and Lehigh should test this theory.
  2. Chunking. The development of QB Brayten Silbor last week was great to see, and he’ll have to keep that momentum up by connecting on short “chunk” plays to convert 3rd downs and sustain drives. Especially with the weather it might not be a day to bomb the ball – the short stuff might be critical.
  3. Special Teams Advantage. One of the unquestioned bright spots of the year has been the play of P Ben Banks-Altekruse, who has averaged 42 yards per punt and has done an outstanding, if quiet, job on this team. This is one of those games where the special teams weapons of Altekruse and PK Nick Garrido could loom large, as well as the special teams tackling units as a whole.

Fearless Prediction

I’ll keep saying it until it’s no longer true, but nothing has been handed to this Lehigh football team, and considering the probable torrential rainy weather and the resurgent Hoyas, that trend seems to have carried through to this week too.

If Lehigh is to win this week, they will have to reverse some important trends this week in order to do it.

They’ll have to cut down the Georgetown running game significantly, perhaps limiting them to maybe 150 yards.

They will have to use RB Luke Yoder and the offense to get more than 4 rushing first downs in the game (currently they are averaging 3.17 rushing first downs per game).

Most importantly, though, they will have to reverse their trend of giving up points in bunches at the end of halves and the end of games.

It all seems possible, especially given Lehigh’s history against the Hoyas. But will it happen? Will Lehigh be a grittier team than a scary team like Georgetown?

Lehigh 13, Georgetown 20