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Lions’ Offensive Pregame Preview: Lions learn from USC’s mistakes, look to sidestep letdown

September 23, 2009

Distinctly etched or largely unspoken, there’s a golden rule in football:  Don’t look past anybody. Parading into gridiron combat on game day is suicide, regardless if a team’s haughty visage of self-awareness stems from a few early wins–even decisive ones.

But if there were ever extenuating circumstances permitting this kind of peacock pregame entry, they’d look a whole lot like the start of the Lions’ 2009 campaign. And a team prompting it might resemble Morrisville State College.

In the Lions’ first two contests, the team rolled to victories easier than Danny Almonte’s 70 mph fastballs toasted “his” age-group’s pedestrian Little League competition in 2000. But unlike nine years ago, the Lions’ dominance looks more legitimate than the however-year-old Cuban’s birth certificate. Entering this weekend’s NJAC showdown against the Morrisville State Mustangs, all indications suggest the team’s success won’t be as promptly invalidated–via a loss or legal intervention.

Following a career day vs. FDU-Florham, TCNJ's Chris James ranks 5th in the NCAA in passer efficiency (206.08 QB rating)

Following a career day vs. FDU-Florham, TCNJ's Chris James ranks 5th in the NCAA in passer efficiency (206.08 QB rating)

While abusing its first two opponents–winning by an average margin of 23 points–the Lions’ have blown up stat sheets while they’ve irradiated box scores. In a King Kong-esque scaling of the NCAA’s statistical scaffolding, the team and several of its players have wedged themselves into the national ranks of Division III’s top performers.

To put it lightly, Morrisville State hasn’t.

Now ‘boasting’ an 0-3 record, the Mustangs lackluster performances have buried the team in the conference standings and statistical rankings–even earning themselves some national accolades. Its defense is atrocious, forfeiting over 42 ppg (214 of 235 in NCAA) while offering as much resistance to opposing quarterbacks as critters in a game of Whack-a-Mole (allowed average 172.3 QB rating; 218 in NCAA). The team hasn’t even recorded a sack.

So it seems, there’s just no way the Lions’ leave the field Saturday without a win.

Right?

Maybe. But the Lions’ offense isn’t throttling down any time soon. Especially not in the wake of newsworthy upsets elsewhere in college football.

“You can’t look ahead to what’s coming down the road,” head coach Eric Hamilton said, alluding to USC’s letdown flop against Steve Sarkisian’s bottom-of-the-barrel Washington Huskies–a team that finished 2008 without recording a win. Hamilton’s well-aware of the inherent dangers in underestimating an opponent, and he’s not letting his players’ eyes wander down the road, as the team turns the corner toward the beef of its schedule.

“If you can’t take care of the business at hand, you’re going to be regretting every minute of it. For us, this week its Morrisville.”

And players were quick to testify to their coaches remarks.

“Coach is working us hard like we’re playing the best team in the NJAC,” Colin Weber said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’re preparing like we’ll be seeing the best team we’ve played so far.”

Weber, whose 126.5 receiving ypg ranks 17th in the nation, echoed his quarterback’s guarded demeanor entering a game against an opponent that hasn’t quite found its identity, clouding perceptibility of what–exactly–you’re dealing with.

“You never know what team is going to come out on Saturday,” Chris James said, conducting his first interview as the nation’s fifth-ranked passer (206.5 QB rating at week’s end). “And that’s the scary part because you could get beat if you take them lightly.”

In its 2009 conference-opener versus the NJAC’s reigning champs–a 26-17 loss to Cortland State University–the Mustangs remorseless and scavenging defensive play manifested in the afternoon’s three takeaways (2 fum, INT). Morrisville State couldn’t capitalize on the other two fumbles it forced, though the ball-from-ball-carrier extractions disrupted otherwise promising Red Dragon drives.

The team was shut out a week later by Montclair State, losing 52-0.

“For our guys its very simple:  Put the Cortland film in from two weeks ago,” Hamilton said. “They gave Cortland a ball game. If that doesn’t get your attention than I don’ t know what will.”

In spite of its early success en route to compiling a 2-0 record, wide receiver Colin Weber stressed the importance of humility and dilligence during this week's practices

In spite of its early success en route to compiling a 2-0 record, wide receiver Colin Weber stressed the importance of humility and dilligence during this week's practices

Hamilton stressed that–in spite of its record–the ball-players at Morrisville State aren’t push overs. They’re some big boys–electric ones, too.

“Of all the teams we play, Morrisville will be among the top three, talent-wise. They’ve got talent up to wah-zoo. If you give them an opportunity to get up on you, they can be very, very tough. If you get up on them early, hopefully you’ll have a chance to control the game.”

And a choke-hold of the reins is exactly how the Lions’ offense has operated early on, averaging 41.5 first-half points thus far. At the end of last season, the team averaged 27.1 points–per game.

But according to the Lions’ players, there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

“We just want to take small strides every week to get better,” James said. “If we do that we should win every game no matter who we come across. But if we take steps back that’s when we’ll lose. It’s just about concentrating more each week because each week it’s harder and there’s more on the line.”

“I think we still have a lot to work on, but we have confidence in ourselves and in our game plan,” Weber added. “If we continuously work hard and execute, I think we can beat anyone in the conference.”

As for their personal statistical compilations, the players weren’t aware of their individual numbers, averages, rankings–none of it. And without a win this weekend, they’re likely to care even less.

“It doesn’t matter if we don’t win next week,” James said. “It’s still the third week of the season. It just doesn’t matter.”

Silent for the entirety of the interview, even Justin Donoloski (102.5 rush ypg; 45 in NCAA) sounded off on the levity of what he considers nothing more than a few Arabic numerals.

“As long as we win, that’s all that matters.”

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