Execution is key to creating a successful and winning environment. As the football team (1-3, 0-1 Ivy) comes off its 35-14 loss to Lehigh, it’s an element that might have less to do with the X’s and O’s of schemes and play calling, but more to do with focus.
This is something Lions head coach Pete Mangurian had touched on before traveling to Bethlehem, Pa. to take on Lehigh and its 14-game winning streak. He said that mental lapses had hurt the Light Blue’s chances against Princeton—lapses that couldn’t necessarily be explained by a lack of practice.
Mangurian specifically pointed to the first play of the Princeton game—where the Tigers returned the opening kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown—as a play the Lions went over plenty of times in practice, but simply failed to execute in a the game situation.
“When things like that happen, you’ve got to be a little more aware of not the football side of it, but the competitive, emotional, how-do-you-deal-with-pressure issue,” Mangurian said last Wednesday. “That’s their return, they run it all the time. We talked about it all week. We practiced it all week. You get in the game, you know it’s coming, and you don’t do it.”
Going into the game against Lehigh, the Lions knew minimizing those pressure mistakes would be the key to having a chance to beat one of the better teams in the FCS. Mangurian also touched on how he saw qualities form the Mountain Hawks on film that he’d like the Lions to emulate.
“There’s a lot of things about this team that are indicative of good football teams, and that’s what we’d like to be,” Mangurian said. “It’s good football. It’s not necessarily exactly the way we do it, but fundamentals are there.”
But after the Lions’ loss on Saturday, Mangurian echoed much of what he’d said in the middle of the week.
“The issue is, it’s the mentality and the lack of concentration, and the lack of competitiveness in a moment when guys don’t do what they’ve been taught to do,” he said. “It’s not ongoing. It’s not that we don’t have competitive guys. It’s being caught in a moment when a game is big, and not being focused on what’s happening at that particular moment. And not anticipating, not thinking ahead, not reading your keys, not being disciplined enough to do exactly what you’ve been taught to do.”
Even for the team that came away victorious on Saturday, there is still work to be done in terms of maintaining a consistent mental approach.
“It’s about focus. It’s about being able to just do your job to the best of your ability every opportunity you get,” Lehigh head coach Andy Coen said. “And where we have had these lulls in execution have been largely ourselves not maintaining focus. Fortunately for us, we’re always able to come out of it. So that means we’ve got the right type of kids—the right makeup. But we’re looking for a degree of consistency there.”
Coen’s message is one of not accepting complacency with success. Lehigh’s head coach still recognizes the importance of staying focused each and every play.
“It’s hard every play to do the right thing—it sounds silly, but it really is,” Coen said. “And we’ve made more plays than we’ve had made against us through these first six weeks. So we just have to learn from all those things, and we just have to dial it in every play.”
For two football programs in very different stages, the message stays the same. And Mangurian said that in order for the Lions to become successful, the team will have to maintain its focus on a more consistent basis.
“It’s the ability to win,” he said. “And winning involves doing it right all the time, not once in a while. And we’re not doing it right all the time, we do it right once in a while. And that’s not good enough.”