Despite losing its first Patriot League game since 2015 on Saturday against Fordham University, Lehigh football’s running game stood out once again with a 306-yard rushing effort behind an experienced offensive line.
Even with the loss, the Mountain Hawks (2-6, 2-1 Patriot) are still tied for second place in the Patriot League.
The offensive line has found ways to be resilient through changes in its starting lineup and looks to continue its gradual improvement in the upcoming matchup with Bucknell Unversity. Offensive line coach Andy Marino highlighted the struggle the line has gone through despite having different starters.
“We’ve rotated offensive linemen quite a bit this year, which is unique,” Marino said. “The offensive line has continued the process of getting better each day. The offense plays better thanks to daily improvement, fundamentals, tight ends, blocking — the offense as a whole has gotten better.”
With three starters returning to the offensive line from last year, fifth-year Brandon Short, senior Timothy O’Hara and fifth-year Zach Duffy have been pillars at the center guard and tackle positions respectively.
“We have 16 linemen on our roster, 13 of which are healthy and seven of us have had significant playing time,” O’Hara said. “The depth certainly helps in that we have guys who have game experience.”
The line has performed well even though it’s not the biggest offensive line in the league. Short said despite only one starting lineman — Duffy — weighing more than 300 pounds, the offensive line is deceivingly strong. The Mountain Hawks rank second in the Patriot League rushing yards per game with 155.9 and first in rushing touchdowns with 18.
Along with run blocking, the offensive line takes pride in ensuring junior quarterback Brad Mayes stays protected inside the pocket.
“We have the mindset that if Brad even needs to move or gets touched, we’re doing something wrong,” O’Hara said. “We need to make sure he doesn’t get sacked. The more time Brad has to get the football down the field, the better chance we have to win.”
Hoping to continue their offensive dominance, the Mountain Hawks will travel to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, on Saturday where Bucknell is coming into the matchup in sixth place in the Patriot League with a 1-2 conference record. The last time the two teams met, the Mountain Hawks were victorious in a 20-13 defensive battle at Goodman Stadium. The Mountain Hawks clinched the Patriot League title with that victory.
Bucknell defensive lineman Abdullah Anderson will be of concern to the offensive line as he has compiled 13 career sacks and is a three-time All-Patriot League honoree. Bucknell has built a reputation for its defensive prowess.
“Bucknell has a very good defense,” Short said. “They are probably one of the best we’ll play all year, starting with Abdullah, their defensive tackle who is very big and physical.”
With the offense being a focal point for the Mountain Hawks this year, much of the blame for Lehigh’s losses has been on defense, which has yet to allow less than 35 points in a game this year. Short said the offense should also be held accountable for the team’s performance.
“The offense still needs to improve as much as the defense,” Short said. “It’s very easy to blame the defense in these high-scoring games, but when the offense is turning the ball over four times in one game, you have to look at both sides of the football.”
Emphasizing team football has been key with a team that realizes it is still able to win the Patriot League title this year.
“We have only one thing to play for,” O’Hara said. “When it comes down to it, we still have a position to go out and win the title. We want to go and win the Patriot League this season. If not that, then all we are playing for is pride — or for us old guys.”
The football team hopes to improve to 3-1 in the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks are still in command of the Patriot League championship hopes and can secure the title if they win out the rest of the way.