Defense wins championships.
If that statement holds true, the Lehigh football team will be on the outside looking in for the 2017 FCS Playoffs, meaning it will not defend its Patriot League title.
The Mountain Hawks have gone winless in their first four games, but it’s the nature of those losses that causes concern.
While the offense has done its job for the most part, ranking second in the country in passing yards per game, the defense has been consistently porous. Out of 123 FCS schools, Lehigh ranks 121st in fewest rushing yards allowed per game and fewest points allowed per game, 51.3.
Oh, there’s more. The Mountain Hawks rank 122nd in the country for fewest total yards allowed with 552.8 per game. The defense has given up 28 touchdowns — an FCS worst— with nine of them coming in a loss to UPenn on Saturday.
Granted, it’s a young, inexperienced defense in a new formation, but the missed tackles and assignments have not improved since week one. In fact, it’s worsened to the point where the Mountain Hawks have allowed 121 points in their last two games, constantly gashed by running plays up the middle.
It’s rare to see a team with an offense averaging 34.3 points per game, winless in a stretch of four games, but those odds have been defied. Lehigh’s offense has tried to compensate for its defense or lack thereof, but it’s difficult to keep pace with opponents when they’re scoring quick and often.
Lehigh’s best performance came against Villanova University in week one, a team that was ranked top 15 in the country and it gave fans some positives to take away. In a 38-35 loss, the Mountain Hawks squandered away several opportunities to pull off the upset, but the errors were unforced and not a result of playing one of the best teams in the nation.
Despite a solid showing during the first week, it’s all gone downhill since. With Patriot League play starting in two weeks, the Mountain Hawks have yet to iron out their flaws or at least find a way to mask them.
Not to mention, Lehigh must travel to Fordham University in a few weeks to battle against one of the best, if not the best, running back in the country in Chase Edmonds. Two years ago, Edmonds ran for a record-breaking 347 yards and three rushing touchdowns against the Mountain Hawks.
Lehigh has consistently performed well in Patriot League play in recent seasons, so it’s not time to panic yet, but in the words of coach Andy Coen, he has “never been in this type of situation before.”
There’s plenty of football left, but if this stretch of subpar play leaks into Patriot League competition, Lehigh will be watching the FCS Playoffs from home come November.