Freshman defensive back Stuart Cundiff points to a teammate on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2017, at Goodman Stadium. After a few early losses, the team has gained momentum during league play with a 2-0 Patriot League record. (Sarah Epstein/B&W Photo)

Op-ed: Can Lehigh football bring home another title?

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Despite a 2-5 overall start to the season, the Lehigh football team now controls its own destiny for the Patriot League title as the Mountain Hawks sit atop the standings with an unblemished 2-0 record. 

Lehigh began the season with five straight blowouts, leading many fans to believe there were deep-rooted problems within the team — especially on the defensive side — that would prevent the team from going anywhere.

As the team entered Patriot League play under immense pressure to come out with a win, Lehigh stunned Colgate University and came out with a 41-38 victory. Junior running back Dom Bragalone rushed for 186 yards, bringing back to life a Lehigh running game that had sputtered in the previous weeks.

After this win, Lehigh played a subpar Georgetown University team. The Mountain Hawks took it to the Hoyas early and immediately removed any thought of another disappointing loss from the fans’ minds. The 54-35 win once again showed that the Mountain Hawks had not given up on the season and still have a chance to go as far as they have in past seasons.

After the 0-5 start, there seemed to be more problems with the team than things to be confident in. The defense had given up long touchdowns, had not forced a turnover and rarely got any sacks. The offense, while high scoring, was forced to throw the ball all over the field because of the lack of production from the running game. It led to an unbalanced attack on offense that resulted in teams being able to game plan for Lehigh.

This has all changed with these past two games, as Lehigh was able to find room to run while also keeping drives alive through the air. Against Colgate and Georgetown, Lehigh rushed for a combined 465 yards. For comparison, the team only rushed for 625 yards during its first five games combined. This more balanced approach has led to success as the Mountain Hawks go deeper into the season.

Do the Mountain Hawks have what it takes to reach a championship?

While I would love it for the team to reach the title, I still have too many concerns to crown it now. Although the defense looks like it is getting things under control, it still needs to find a way to create turnovers, whether that be by getting to the quarterback more often or creating interceptions.

With the defense in its current state, it needs to prove this gradual improvement isn’t just a fluke. It’s still a defense that ranks in the bottom half of the country in nearly every statistical category and has yet to give up fewer than 35 points in a game this season. 

The same goes for the running game. Without a solid running game, Lehigh doesn’t have a chance this year. If the defense gives up too many touchdowns and the offense abandons the run, we’ll already know the rest of the story. It ends with junior quarterback Brad Mayes throwing the ball up and down the field while constantly under pressure.

Put simply, there is no hope if the team reverts back to its pre-Oct. 7 state. Lehigh coach Andy Coen will have to continue this trend if he has any hope of going anywhere this season.

Before I start buying into the hype surrounding this 2-5 team, I need to see a little more from the players and coaching staff. Despite being in first place, the Mountain Hawks aren’t out of the fire yet. There’s a lot more football to play. 

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