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Lions’ Offensive Pregame Preview: Lions’ “big ugly” responds boldly to an even bigger challenge

October 1, 2009

A big boy with bigger words, G Joe Mecca offered some bold predictions for Friday night's game at Kean, on top of confident responses to its challenges

A big boy with bigger words, G Joe Mecca offered some bold predictions for Friday night's game at Kean, on top of confident responses to its challenges

Joe Mecca isn’t from Texas.

The Lone Star State boasts all of one representative on the Lions’ roster, but it’s wide receiver Mark Gardner that hails from Dallas–not the junior offensive lineman. Funny thing is, you’d never know.

Round-bellied and wide-mouthed, Mecca might be the closest embodiment (literally) of the state’s motto/magnet of outsider disdain, “everything’s bigger in Texas.” There’s nothing insignificant about him–nor his response to head coach Eric Hamilton‘s criticism of his unit’s most recent performance against Morrisville State.

“We’re gonna have to rush for 300 this week then,” he said Tuesday, prompting a teammate to chime in, offering a supportive “again.”

“We’re gonna have to do it. We’re gonna have to prove that we’re one of the top rushing offenses in this country.”

The Lions’ front-five stumbled out of the gate early in the team’s eventual 67-34 win over the Mustangs, accumulating a mere 81 first-half rushing yards on 18 carries–shameful, but only by self-imposed standards. Acknowledging his disapproval of the team’s showing last Saturday, Hamilton clarified that his words resonated as a disdainful assessment, but not a threat nor an ultimatum.

“Listen,” he said as streams of players dispersed from the locker room before Tuesday’s practice. “You don’t have to issue a challenge for the next team you’re playing. The challenge is on film.”

Following its "looks" segment Tuesday, the Lions RBs and O-line come together--much like they'll need to in Union on Friday

Following its "looks" segment Tuesday, the Lions RBs and O-line come together--much like they'll need to in Union on Friday

Not to contradict the Lions’ seasoned leader–off to a purposeful start to his 33rd year at the helm–but its implicit elsewhere, too.

Should the Lions enjoy offensive success Friday, it’s won’t be a glamorous battle. It’s going to be dirty when the team heads north to face Kean University–just the way the Lions’ “big uglies” prefer it.

During the Cougars only hiccup of the regular season, a 17-30 home-opening loss to Delaware Valley, the Aggies sketched a detailed blueprint for dissecting the NJAC’s second-ranked defense (allow 278.67 total ypg).

Del Val’s monotonous ground-and-pound rushing attack slowly ground away at a diamond-hard defensive front-seven, producing the team’s only offensive points (returned INT 90 yds for TD). On each of its scoring four drives, the Aggies averaged 6.3 yards per carry for 139 yards and two touchdowns. When it didn’t milk production out of its running backs, the team split its other six possessions down the middle–three punts, and three untimely turnovers (INT, 2 on downs).

And that was the nation’s 116th-best rush attack (average 140.33 ypg; 5th in MAC)–not quite what’s rolling into Union on Friday.

Each representing a caustic spear on the Lions’ trident of runners, Justin Donoloski, Chase Misura and Michael Yetka round out Division III’s 12th-most productive backfield–one of Hamilton’s most complete, by his own definition.

Working hard all season like he is here in Tuesday's 1v1 segment, RT Andrew Ross finally cracked the starting lineup last week vs. Morrisville St.

Working hard all season like he is here in Tuesday's 1v1 segment, RT Andrew Ross finally cracked the starting lineup last week vs. Morrisville St.

“We’ve certainly had a better running back here or there,” he said before Wednesday’s afternoon session. “But that player did a lot of things. This group is talented enough that we can play them not only by committee, but by their strengths and weaknesses and get everybody involved.”

Despite its glaring lack of depth, the group’s perseverance drew Hamilton’s comparison to another noble company of overachievers.

“Our running backs are like the Marines—the few, the proud. We don’t have many, but the ones we do can call play.”

Best of all according to senior right tackle Andrew Ross, who ineffectively danced around the issue, is the tandem’s knack for whiting-out the O-line’s miscues is much-appreciated–the few times it happens, of course.

“It also helps that if we don’t block it, uh, perfectly,” he said amidst a deluge of laughter. “The backs can make it right. Chase, Donoloski, Yetka—they find some big holes.”

But the Lions’ haven’t quite faced a single concentration of athleticism as Darryl Jackson, the Cougars’ starting-nose tackle. Listed on CBSSports.com as its 75th-best defensive lineman, the 6’1, 348-pound marshmallow of tenacity and mass likely personifies the prototypical NFL space-waster, similar to an Albert Hanesworth (signed a $100M contract with Redskins during off-season).

Safe to say, there won’t be much room for error–or anything else for that matter.

RB Justin Donoloski (2nd in NJAC rush ypg) has emerged as one of his unit's more outspoken leaders--aside from its most productive

RB Justin Donoloski (2nd in NJAC rush ypg) has emerged as one of his unit's more outspoken leaders--aside from its most productive

“That’s gotta motivate you when you’re playing against that kind of talent,” Hamilton said, recognizing the added incentive to competing against a potential professional.

And in case you were wondering, no–Mecca didn’t need any such enhancement to his well-fed ego.

“We gotta push these guys around,” he said, citing physical dominance in the trenches as this weekend’s key to victory. “They’re some big dudes. We’re going to have to rely on our technique and coaching to drive these guys down the field, open up some holes.”

In spite of Chase Misura’s eager anticipation of his homecoming of sorts–evidenced by a comical “Ooh, touchdowns?” following Tuesday’s practice, as well as the statistic–rushing success should yield a plentiful bounty for Lions’ play-makers in the passing game.

Despite a lackluster complete game resume (10/20, 133 yds, TD, INT), vetern quarterback Mike Isgro leaned on Del Val’s ball-carriers, safely targeting receivers on four of his six scoring-drive attempts. Of his even C-note’s worth of yardage on the series, two plays accounted for more than 20 yards, including a 62-yard strike to senior wideout Brandon Fox.

Susceptible? Yes. But push-overs these Cougar defensive backs are not.

Hamilton realizes the necessity for preparing for the nationally acclaimed pro prospect in Kean DT Darryl Jackson (75 out of 166 DTs), dictating his expecations to Mecca

Hamilton realizes the necessity for preparing for the nationally acclaimed pro prospect in Kean DT Darryl Jackson (75 out of 166 DTs), dictating his expecations to Mecca

At perfect liberty to flaunt national accolades of its own, Kean University enters Friday’s contest ranked 33rd in the NCAA in opponent passer efficiency, limiting signal callers to a humble average QB rating of 93.48. Characterized by intricate zone-blitzes and loading the box against easily rattled men-under-center, the Cougars have forced five interceptions–three by 2008 All-NJAC honorable mention Jamahl Williams, who currently ranks tied for seventh in the NCAA (1.0 INT per game).

An unexpected beacon of leadership entering the season, sophomore running back Justin Donoloski enumerated the few criteria he believed necessary to perpetuating his offense’s gaudy dominance.

“It just takes everybody doing their job,” he said following Tuesday’s practice. “It takes 11 guys, not just any one of us.”

In advent of coming exposure to an unprecedented duress, the conference’s second-most productive warehouse of rushing yardage assumed a defeatist tone–harping on the season’s few missed opportunities.

“If one guy messes up one play, or takes a play off, then hey—we could have had a touchdown or had one called back. We need to have everyone giving all they’ve got on every play.”

In a strange sort of back-handed humility, one that only he could effectively pull off, Mecca appeared equally disinterested in the season’s early fortunes–or expectations, depending on your perspective.

“We gotta put ‘em behind us. Those three games—those should be our gimmies. Now we go into true NJAC play. We gotta see what we can do against the top teams in the conference. If we can beat those guys, this is gonna be our first test this week.”

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