Friday, September 30, 2005

The Columbia-Princeton Story

Lions are 13 Point Underdogs at Princeton this Saturday

As important as the week 2 win was for Columbia given our many struggles to go 2-0 over the years, this game versus Princeton is even more important. Obviously, this is an Ivy League game, so this one matters in the standings. The Tigers are also 2-0, but dubiously so. At least one of us is not for real, perhaps both. Here is a list of seven reasons why Columbia needs this game:

1) For a Winning Season in 2005:

We need to go 4-4 over the remaining 8 games to reach the magic 6-4 mark. After Princeton, there just aren't a ton of "winnable-looking" games out there. Lafayette on the road is going to be a long shot, Penn at home the following week is an even longer shot, (and by the way, why do we keep scheduling Penn for Homecoming? It's such a downer! I say we alternate between Dartmouth and Yale for the foreseeable future). Dartmouth is winnable, but it's a road game. Then we have a winnable Yale game, a long shot Harvard game, another winnable road game versus Cornell, and finally a very tough home game versus Brown, (we haven't beaten them since 1996).

So that's three winnable games after this game at Princeton and two of them are on the road. In other words: slim pickings. If we don't beat Princeton Saturday, 2-8 is a real possibility.

2) For Revenge
A lot has been made of Columbia's stunning "Hail Mary" win over the Tigers in 2003. The Lions rallied from a 20-0 1st quarter deficit to win it. But even though that game broke some hearts in Tiger Town, the Lions are still very much in the red when it comes to the heartbreak factor with Princeton. Last year, Princeton ruined Columbia's Homecoming, and the whole season in my book, by beating us in OT 27-26. Columbia led 20-17 with just a couple minutes left, only to see Princeton drive down the field for a last-minute tying FG. That drive was greatly aided by a very stupid facemask penalty on Columbia, (the foul was committed as several CU defenders were sacking the Tiger QB; just an unnecessary thing), which made it worse. Then, after Columbia's Rashad Biggers single-handedly fought his way to the end zone for a quick TD in OT, the extra point was blocked! Princeton predictably capitalized with a drawn-out drive that included a 4th down conversion before finally scoring a TD and the winning extra point. Oh, and we had missed an extra point earlier in the game.

But 2004 is really only a third of the recent story. In 2002, the Tigers beat CU 35-32 in New York thanks to a ridiculous Hail Mary TD pass to end the first half. Columbia had been dominating the game up until that point and couldn't really recover from the shock.

In 2000, also in New York, Columbia blew a 24-14 lead with just over two minutes to go and lost in OT, 27-24.

Four of the last five CU-Princeton games have been nail-biters with Princeton winning three of the close ones and they also took the only recent rout, 44-11 at Princeton in 2001.

Longer-term, no one Ivy team has burned the Lions more emotionally than the Tigers. Now that's really saying something. Columbia has terribly lop-sided losing records to every other Ivy team, but the record versus Princeton is the worst, 13-60-1. Princeton has even managed to sting us in the few great years we've put together in the last 50 seasons. The 1961 co-Ivy Championship team was forced to share the title with Harvard because of a 10-point loss to Princeton. The 1996 8-2 team had its undefeated season ruined in week 7 by a 14-11 loss to Princeton. The list goes on and on.

The only really horrific loss Columbia has handed Princeton came in 1988. That was when Columbia actually ended its record 44-game losing streak at Homecoming against the Tigers, 16-13. Princeton had been favored to win the Ivies that year, and the loss not only embarrassed Old Nassau, it took them out of the running, (Cornell and Penn shared the title in the end). But the Tigers made up for it by grabbing a share of the title just a year later.

3) Do It For Mike Cavanaugh!

This is the 10th anniversary of the 1995 game when Columbia and Princeton met at Palmer Stadium with identical 3-0 Ivy League records. Columbia had a wonderful option QB that year named Mike Cavanaugh, who was beginning to play evenly well as a passer and a runner. Columbia had stunned Harvard at Cambridge, and beaten Penn and Yale at home to reach 3-0 in the league. The win against Penn was particularly satisfying as it ended the Quakers' best-in-the-nation winning streak.

But then we headed down to Princeton and the worst happened. Cavanaugh broke his leg early in the game and the Lions went down to defeat 44-14. Cavanaugh never played again, and Columbia did not win another game that year. Princeton won the championship.

4) Put Roger Hughes out of His Misery

Roger Hughes had the misfortune of replacing Steve Tosches as PU's head coach in 2000. Tosches was an excellent coach in my opinion. I think he simply out coached Columbia a number of times during his tenure, and I know he did it to other teams too. On the other hand, Hughes is just not a good head coach, and I just don't know why he's held on to his job for as long as he has. Oh wait a minute, I do know... it's because he's been lucky enough to beat Columbia four out five times when he really should be 1-4 against us. Without the lucky wins over CU Princeton recorded in 2000, 2002, and 2004, this guy would definitely be gone by now. I say we put him, and his many detractors among the Princeton faithful, out of their misery.

5) Princeton is Just Not a Very Good Program Anymore

It's been nine years since Columbia was a contender. But Princeton hasn't been one in 10 years. Year after year, these guys win games against much weaker opponents, (which is still better than Columbia has been able to do I realize), and they end up with 5-5 and 6-4 records and seem to always believe they're building on something for the next year. The Princeton fans' delusions are usually most rampant after Columbia games. They bash us as being a lousy team all week, then their team beats us thanks to a Hail Mary, onside kick, or a missed extra point, and suddenly they're the champions in waiting. Here's a memo to the Princeton fans: if you barely beat a weak team, you're just not that good yourselves. Columbia could win 55-0 this Saturday and you still wouldn't find ONE real Columbia fan that would think we were going to win the title.

6) Princeton is Certainly Not a Very Good Team Right Now

Princeton has Jay McCairens, Justin Stull, and a couple of 300-pound behemoths on the left side of their O-line. Other than that, this team is not much to write home about. Their QB's are inexperienced and the primary one has thrown 4 INT's and just 1 TD. And that's with a surprisingly low number of total plays for a team that's played two games. Same deal with the running backs. One of them has a decent yards-per-carry average, but he's only had 12-13 carries per game. The defense is stronger, but shows a tendency to start giving up leads late in the game.

7) Columbia Deserves Some Respect

Columbia is a 13-point underdog in this game. Now I know we've only beaten two relatively weak teams, but come on! I don't think Princeton can beat ANYBODY by 13 points right now. And Columbia at least has a good enough defense to keep this game close. The odds makers are also putting the under/over in this game at 47 points. I think that's way too high and indicates to me the sports books think Princeton will win this game something like 30-17. Unless Princeton gets 2-3 defensive TD's, I don't think they're scoring 30 points against us. And I think 17 points might be enough to win this game.


Columbia can beat these guys by playing the tough "D" they have in the first two games, and with a little more consistency in the passing game. If they get a running game going, then they could win by more than one score.

My biggest fears are McCairens, who can single-handedly win the game if Columbia is dumb enough to try to test him, and that huge left side of the O-Line that could create big problems defending the run. But Princeton had these same advantages against San Diego and they were trounced in the statistical battle and almost lost on the scoreboard too.

Columbia needs to either score early, or keep things tied through the first half. The Tigers have been a first half team and the Lions are a second half team. Other than that, they seem pretty even. But I think Columbia has a dangerous passing attack and Princeton is really struggling offensively. Craig Hormann is going to be a big-time QB for this team, and I kind of hope Shoop would just give him the ball for good. But even when Hormann shuttles with Joe Winters, I think the offense has something good going. Obviously Jordan E. Davis or someone in the backfield needs to contribute more, but I think the running game is bound to get at least a little better.

I do think this game will be close. Columbia and Princeton just don't have the horses to run the score up on anyone, and with the weather expected to be nice, I don't think there are going to be too many silly condition-related mistakes.

Columbia's defense is so pumped now, I really don't expect them to play poorly in the early going. They may tire out late, but Princeton's offense has been so weak in the second half, I'm not sure it will matter terribly much. If Columbia loses, it will be because the offense gets shut down or shuts itself down.

I think we're headed for a very low-scoring game, nothing more than 17-14, and possibly 14-10. I think it will be Columbia by 3.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


Columbia 23 Duquesne 13

*The account below includes all the impressions I took in as a fan along with the game summary. If you're just interested in what took place on the field, please scroll down.

I thought of a lot of cute headlines I could have gone with to report on the Lions' second game, but nothing is more important than focusing on our first 2-0 start since 1996. What we know now is that this is a team with a lot of heart, which is always encouraging. Whether that will be enough to bring us a winning season is still unclear, but no long-time Lion fan will ever look two wins in a row in the mouth.

Getting to the game was not the most pleasant experience. Despite lighter-than-usual traffic on the always-nightmarish Cross Bronx Expressway, things got worse from then on. You can no longer get on the northbound Henry Hudson Parkway from the Cross Bronx because of that land collapse last spring that is still being repaired. That meant taking Broadway from 181st to the stadium area around 215th and between the double-parkers, suicidially stupid jaywalkers, and the traffic lights, you've got a fight on your hands.

But to add insult to injury, parking at Baker Field is basically impossible these days. The Columbia athletic department has basically eliminated parking inside the Baker Field complex, blocked off 215th Street from Broadway, (so you can't even use the Twin Donut lot and pay them $10 to park for the game as I have in the past), and they've had the NYC Dept. of Transportation to restrict parking along 218th from the Seaman Avenue approach. I'm not sure if CU has a deal with the local parking garages, but I guess I'll have no choice to head to one of them directly next time and cough up the $30 or so for the day.

Subway commuters had their troubles as well, as the #1 train was not running to the 218th, forcing everyone to take the A to 207th and walk the 11 blocks. Actually, when I take the subway, I prefer taking the A and getting the nice walk through Isham Park, but I realize not everyone is in as good condition as I am, or is as subway-literate.

I understand Columbia wanted to restrict some tailgating activities because of alcohol consumption, and they also wanted to set up a little fairground with activities for kids, but the result was terrible attendance even on a beautiful day with a 1-0 team to cheer for. 3,500 fans showed up! It was a disgrace for our hard-working team to have to play in front of such a meager crowd. I applaud the efforts of the department to shake things up at Baker Field, but so far the execution has been poor. There weren't even any T-Shirt concession stands at the stadium selling t-shirts, etc! Food prices were markedly higher than last year, but that's true across the country.

Here's where things turn positive: This was a special game for me as I took my 2 1/2 year-old daughter to her first football game. She was an absolute angel as my mother-in-law pitched in to help keep her happy, but my little girl was fine sitting on my lap the whole game and consuming a boatload of healthy snacks. We didn't even need to change her diaper until after the game.

As we were parking we met senior tri-captain Joe Winters dad, (more on his game below), who had driven all the way from Kentucky to see the game. One of my special pleasures as a New Yorker and a Columbia alum is seeing players' parents come the city for the first time to see their kids play. I think most are a little taken aback by the crowded, apartment-building-dominated, scene uptown, but then they are enchanted by the beautiful views of the Hudson River and the well-kept Wien Stadium.

We arrived at Baker Field at 11:55 and thought about taking my daughter to the kids' fairgrounds, but the amusements were really for older kids. We just decided to head into the stadium at about 12:15 or so.

We were met by the almost completely empty stands; definitely a letdown, but a not entirely a bad thing for someone lugging a stroller and diaper bag up a flight of stadium stairs! After a mostly-uninspiring pre-game band show, (Duquesne didn't bring a band, cheerleaders, or any fans), the new P.A. announcer took over and began his even more uninspiring performance. Sounding a lot like a reject from a 1970's game show, this guy began a boring rendition of announcements that later deteriorated during game time into a myriad of miss-identified players, mispronounced names, and miscalled downs and "to-go" distances. They bumped the former P.A. announcer, Alex Oberweger, to a front-office job, but boy, do they need him back! Actually, they could probably do a lot better with me doing the job, as I am a media professional with years of stand-up experience... maybe I'll apply for the job next year.

Even worse than the P.A. announcer was the sound system person's choice of music! As the Lions were storming the field, some kind of mournful dirge was playing, killing the mood and drowning out the band's rendition of "Roar Lions, Roar!" I'm not sure who died, but whoever chose to play that music should have been the one to go instead.

As the Columbia team took their spots on the sideline, I think the team showed some signs of disappointment at the small crowd. People did stream in pretty constantly as the first quarter unfolded, but it wasn't enough. I'm not ruling out the possibility that Columbia's uninspired offensive play in the first half had something to do with the puny attendance.

Columbia's new field turf looked good. They went with a understated two-tone job that has five yards with dark green turf followed by 5 yard slabs with lighter green stuff. The end zones have a nice font for "Columbia," but it was weird to see both of them just saying "Columbia" and not one with "Columbia" and the other with "Lions." It was also weird not to see a mid-field logo. Perhaps they are working on painting a Lion or the old hooked C-U.

At game time, the wind was blowing pretty hard from the north end of the stadium to the south, so when Columbia won the toss, they chose to kickoff first and take the wind at their backs. The choice paid off right away as Junior kickoff specialist Alex Smith booted the ball deep into the end zone for a touchback. Smith has shown flashes of brilliance since his freshman year, but so far this season he's been outstanding with deeper kicks time after time. He's part of a Columbia overall special teams package, which is not only the best I've ever seen for the Lions, but probably the best I've seen by an Ivy League team in 18 years of watching this league. More on that later.

The Lion defense tried to set the tone, forcing Duquesne to punt after a quick three-and-out. Bayou Aregbe and Justin Nunez made a couple of big plays to halt the Dukes, and then the Duquesne punter put up a duck of a kick that went for just 14 yards. CU looked set with a starting field position at the Duquesne 41, but that good feeling lasted just seconds as Craig Hormann fumbled the opening snap and the Dukes got the ball back at their own 39.

Duquesne got one first down thanks to a CU holding penalty, and then they went to the ground. The Dukes ran six straight running plays for a total of 33 yards to the Columbia 15. Columbia then forced a 4th and short, but Duquesne converted it on the ground and had a 1st and goal at the 8. That's when Columbia snapped out of it. After a 4-yard running gain, the Lions stuffed a run for no gain and forced an incomplete pass on 3rd down. The Dukes had to settle for a 20-yard FG and a 3-0 lead. The kick was so ugly, most of us in the stands thought is was UNDER the cross bar, but the refs called it good.

Duquesne decided to kick the ball away from tri-captain Prosper Nwokocha and rolled the ball along the eastern sideline, but that's when Freshman sensation Jordan E. Davis scooped it up and scampered all the way to the Dukes 41 before getting stopped. But the Lions wasted their second straight possession with great starting field position, with a quick three-and-out. James Cobb rushed twice for a total of 2 yards and Hormann threw a ball incomplete to fullback Mike DeFazio. Freshman Jon Rocholl did get a great punt off, nailing the Dukes at their 13 in what would be the start of another outstanding game for the Lions punter/placekicker.

The Dukes took over and immediately started moving the ball, mixing the pass and the run this time with effectiveness. But on 3rd down and 7 from the CU 47, the Lions secondary began to take over the game. Sophomore Chad Musgrove stepped in front of a pass at the CU 39 yard line and returned it to the 50. Musgrove comes from a town in Mississippi that's been pretty much destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, so it feels good to see him doing good things. And he made a great INT, as it wasn't a bad pass by Duquesne's Scott Knapp, it was just a heads up move by Musgrove to step in front of the Dukes receiver at the last second.

Winters took over at QB and immediately ran for Columbia's initial first down of the game to the Duquesne 40. But that's as good as it got. The quarter ended after James Cobb ran the ball for another no gain, and then Cobb lost two yards on the first play of the 2nd quarter. Why Columbia didn't try to go for a long pass while we still had the wind was a strange decision by the coaches. I would like to see us try to shake up the offense early rather than just try to establish a game plan the whole time. Anyway, Winters threw an incomplete pass on the next play, and Columbia was forced to punt yet again. But again, Rocholl came through with a boot that confused the Duquesne receiver. He actually called for a fair catch, forgot about that and ran with the ball after hauling it in at the 9 yard line. That led to a 5-yard penalty and Duquesne had terrible starting field position at their own 4.

Duquesne got some breathing room with two running plays that went to the 22, but the CU defense stiffened after that. Todd Abrams stopped the first down play for just a two yard gain, and Keenan Shaw then took down the Duquesne lead runner for a 3-yard loss. On 3rd and 11, Nwokocha made great first-down saving tackle, and Duquesne was forced to punt from their own 30. The Duquesne punter did better this time and Tad Crawford couldn't advance it at all, giving CU it's worst starting field position of the day at their own 31.

Columbia showed some signs of offensive life on this drive. Winters came out throwing, first misfiring on a throw to Brandon Bowser, but then finding Nick DeGasperis for 21 yards to the Duke 48. Then Winters threw up a strange looking wobbly pass that Jim Besselman caught along the eastern sideline despite being interfered with at the Duquesne 25. The fun was over after that, however. Alex Ehrhart got a couple of 2-yard runs to the Duke 21, but then CU was hit with a delay of game penalty, forcing us back to the 26. Winters then failed to find Mike DeFazio on two straight pass plays, the second coming on 4th and 11 at the 26. Super placekicker Rocholl was kept from trying a 43-yard FG by the wind in his face, and it left us no points and a 3-0 deficit with about 8 minutes left in the half.

Columbia's defense was not letting up. Senior tri-captain Bill Beechum sacked Knapp for a two yard loss on 1st and 10, and then two plays later, Shaw forced a fumble that Shay Murphy recovered at the Duke 45. Shaw made a great play after Duquesne appeared to pull off a 3rd down conversion on a pass from Knapp to Dan Spriggs, but Shaw forced Spriggs to cough it up. It was a great example of continuing to fight, even though it looked like the Dukes had made a clutch play.

Unfortunately, Hormann came back in and picked up where he left off. He was sacked from the blind side on the first play and fumbled the ball away at midfield. It was one of those weird plays where everyone in the stadium knew Hormann was about to get sacked except for Hormann.

With all of one play to rest, the Columbia defense still didn't look tired. A holding penalty against Duquesne forced a 3rd and 12 from their own 48 and the resulting play ended in a incomplete pass. This was just one example of Duquesne's incredible 0 for 14 performance on 3rd down conversions for the day. A far cry from Columbia's defensive M.O. of recent years where they would stop opposing offenses on 2nd downs and then falter on 3rd downs, even when there was a mile to go for a first down. Duquesne then punted and got a lucky bounce to the Columbia 19. But Sophomore Dan Daylamani was called for an illegal block in the back, and Columbia had to start at its own 10.

When Daylamani came back to the sidelines, Head Coach Bob Shoop went nuts! I've never seen a CU coach chew out a player, but Shoop grabbed his jersey and gave him an earful. I could hear him yelling "GOD DAMMIT, NO!" from my seat many rows from the field.

Columbia got one first down to the 24, as Jordan E. Davis got some carries in the backfield, and Hormann finally completed some short passes, but the drive fizzled at the 31. Rocholl didn't get off the greatest of punts, but a Duquesne holding penalty pushed them back to their own 30.

Duquesne went three-and-out again and had to punt again. It was another dud this time, and CU took over at their own 49.

Winters came back in here, and this was a little troubling as Hormann seemed to be getting in to a groove on the previous series. Winters completed a short 5-yard pass to Ehrhart on first down, but on 2nd down, he threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted by Duquesne's Kyle Postell and returned all the way to the Columbia 8. Winters does get a kudo for chasing down Postell, pushing him out of bounds, and saving the touchdown.

Columbia's defense still wasn't giving in. With 39 seconds left in the half, time was of the essence and Duquesne tried to go to the air. On first down Knapp threw an incomplete pass. On second down the Dukes were called for a false start, pushing them back to the 13. On 2nd and 15, senior tri-captain Bill Beechum and pass rushing specialist Jeff Oke combined on a 10-yard sack. Another incomplete pass on the next play forced another Duke FG attempt, which was good from 40 yards out. 6-0 Duquesne.

The half ended shortly afterwards and the feeling in the stands at the break was pretty dim. The offense was doing nothing and squandering the great effort on defense. Something had to change.

But things stayed the same at first. On their first play from scrimmage, Cobb fumbled the ball, giving the Dukes possession at the CU 37. After one good running play to the Columbia 29, the Lions shut the door again, getting a tackle for a loss on 3rd and 2 and forcing the Dukes to punt from the CU 32 with the wind in their face. The punt resulted in a touchback.

The CU coaches refused to give up on the run, however. Ehrhart got five yards on a draw play out of the shotgun on first down, but the same play went for just one yard on second down and then Hormann failed to find Bowser on 3rd down. The series would have been a total bummer if it hadn't been for Rocholl's incredible 74-yard punt for a touchback. It was the second-longest CU punt ever, (the record is for 77 yards and is about 30-years old), and it helped keep us on top of the field position game.

The Columbia defense forced another three-and-out and CU took over after a Duquesne punt at their own 36. A holding penalty put us in the hole and facing an eventual 3rd and 19 from our own 27. But then Bowser made a fantastic catch on a slightly overthrown ball by Winters along the western sideline for a 40 yard gain to the Duke 33. Bowser really stretched out and dove for the ball to grab it. On the next play a short running gain turned into a 16 yard play after Duquesne was called for a late hit. But two incomplete passes and then Winters' ill-advised decision to take a sack instead of throwing the ball away, forced Rocholl to attempt a 41-yard FG. No one should have worried as Rocholl nailed it with great distance and height on the kick. Now it was 6-3, and CU was back in the game. Rocholl is just a freshman, but even if he improves just slightly over the next four years, he has a great chance to make the NFL. I would just suggest he put on some weight before he tries to do any tackling on special teams.

Smith's ensuing kickoff was another touchback. On first down, the defense flushed Knapp out of the pocket and forced him out of bounds at the 23, but a late hit penalty gave the Dukes the ball at their own 38. You got the feeling that maybe the call was a "make-good" to even things out after CU got the late-hit call on the previous drive. But it never really mattered as linebacker Adam Brekke picked off a tipped pass on the ensuing 3rd down play and returned it all the way to the Duquesne 17. Brekke has been the leader of the linebacking crew, and it was tough not having him in the game last week. He didn't start against the Dukes, but made a big impression when he was in there. Hopefully, he'll be 100% for Princeton next week.

Columbia was unable to do much with Brekke's gift, however. Winters was sacked on first down and fumbled the ball back to the Duquesne 29. Luckily, he recovered his own fumble, but CU couldn't net any yards on the next few plays and Rocholl was called on to kick it from 46 yards out. No problem. The kick sailed through and now it was 6-6.

The ensuing kickoff? Another touchback for Smith. The next series by Duquesne? Another three-and-out. The Duke punt was fielded for a fair catch at the Duquesne 46.

But the weak offense still hadn't woken up. Hormann was in now, but he threw three straight incomplete passes. Rocholl then kicked a high punt into the western sun and the Duke returner fumbled it away. Shay Murphy recovered it for Columbia at the Duquesne 5 yard line.

But no matter how good the field position, Columbia couldn't put Duquesne away. The quarter ended after two runs for no gain, and then on third down Bowser dropped a sure TD after making a good move to get open in the end zone. Rocholl nailed the 22 yarder for the 9-6 lead, but there was a feeling that CU's numerous offensive miscues would come back to bite them.

But that would only come true if the defense let it happen, and they weren't going to do that. Tad Crawford intercepted a Duke pass at the 43 and returned it to the 39 on the next series. After that, the CU offense got rolling. On 3rd and 6 from the Duquesne 35, Hormann found Pete Chromiak on a crossing pattern and Chromiak dragged his defender to the 13. After a rush for no gain and an incomplete pass, Hormann found Bowser on the west side of the end zone with a timing pattern. Bowser made a great catch to make up for his drop on the previous drive, and CU finally had a TD. The extra point was perfect and we led 16-6, but there was 11:22 on the clock.

A rare short kickoff by Smith was covered for no return by the CU special teams, but then the defense took its only break of the game. Knapp moved the Dukes 74 yards with pass after pass, finally getting a 4-yard toss for a score with 9:22 left. Duquesne now was down by just 16-13 with plenty of time left and some momentum on their side.

But a nice kickoff return by Nwokocha and a penalty on Duquesne gave CU a starting field position at their own 44. Then the running game finally kicked in. Jordan E. Davis ran the ball twice for a total of 12 yards and Columbia now had a first down on the Duke 44. Bowser then made his presence felt. On 3rd and nine from the 43, the whole stadium saw the Duke defender grab Bowser's jersey as he streaked open along the western sideline. The penalty gave CU a first down on the Duquesne 28. Some short, but solid runs by Davis and a short pass to Bowser left us with an eventual 3rd and 3 from the Duke 10. Then Hormann found Bowser in the middle of the end zone for another TD, and the game was back in CU control. With a 23-13 lead with 5:14 left, the defense just had to hold on.

Duquesne got as far as their own 44, on the next series, but a pass on 4th and 1 fell incomplete. Columbia drove to the 26 on the next possession, but elected to run out the clock by giving Davis the ball 7 straight times before he finally was stopped on 4th and 6 from the 20.

Nwokocha intercepted Knapp's pass on the next play and Columbia was able to sit on the ball for the rest of the game. A great defensive performance and a late wake-up call by the offense had delivered a nice 23-13 win!

My team had won, my daughter had enjoyed it, and the sun was still shining!


Offense: B-

A definite F performance was salvaged by the decent showing in the fourth quarter. But 4 turnovers, no running game, and too many field goals in lieu of TD's won't wash against stronger opponents. I still think Hormann should be the man the whole time, as I think he is better overall once he warms up. Bowser is a playmaker, and Jordan E. Davis should get the chance to start next week against Princeton. Davis has big shoulders, which he'll need to bang into the defenders the O-line will probably continue to fail to block for him. The other wide receivers besides Bowser didn't make the impact they did against Fordham, but Besselman still showed me a little something. I wish DeGasperis could have played a bigger role.

Defense: A-

They were a little weak against the run in the early going and they totally took a powder on the Dukes' TD drive, but it's hard to get mad at this unit that never quit despite little help from the offense for so long. The secondary proved you can absolutely dominate a game with good pass coverage as they picked off Knapp 4 times, forced another fumble and made Duquesne go 0 for 14 on third down situations. Nwokocha and Musgrove were all over the passing lanes, as Keenan Shaw and Justin Nunez made their presence felt helping out the run defense. You get the feeling Shoop really loves Nunez in particular, as he was a walk-on last year and is obviously a hard-worker. Early in the game, I heard Shoop yell "Yeah Baby!" and give Nunez a big thumbs up after he made a tackle. The defensive line didn't produce as many sacks, but they did better against the run. Meanwhile, the linebacking crew was much improved, anchored by Todd Abrams and getting that help from Brekke.

Special Teams: A+

This is an easy one. Rocholl is a stud. The coverage teams make for no nervous moments on opposing kick returns. Our returners are exciting. Smith is nailing his kickoffs. What more do you want?


I'm still not convinced we will go 5-5 or 6-4, but there's definitely a great deal of fight in this team, and the defense seems solid. Some consistency on offense could actually make us a title contender, but that would require a running game of some kind, and we really don't have that now. Davis is still a freshman, and most of his good runs have come late in games when the opposing defenses are tired. BUT, if he improves, we have a shot at a great season now.

Princeton poses some interesting challenges. The Tigers have a great defense, but a weak offense... not that different from what we seem to be like right now. I hope the Lions have a great week of practice and come in with some surprises on Saturday.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Don't Rain On My Parade

Lions favored by 4 over Duquesne Dukes Tomorrow!

Apparently the Columbia campus is in an uproar over a new tailgating policy that will keep undergrads, and most everyone else, from bringing tons of alcohol to Baker Field. Somehow, I don't think this will distract the team, which hopefully doesn't do much drinking before or during games. The game's the thing, my friends the game's the thing.

Columbia started out the week 6 1/2 point favorites versus Duquesne, a mystery of team from the MAAC. The MAAC is a Division I-AA conference like the Ivies, but their schools are smaller and less well known. Duquesne has been the king of the MAAC for years now, with 5 or 6 titles in a row. They decided to ratchet up their out-of-league competition last year by taking on Penn. The Quakers drubbed them 51-10, and did a similar number on them last week 41-14.

Duquesne has a red shirt frosh QB who's been impressive and two speedy runners who are a problem if they get free. Their defensive line seems strong, and the unit as a whole is opportunistic. They beat Fordham a lot more impressively than Columbia did, but that game was at Duquesne.

For Columbia, coach Shoop says he's going to keep the shuttle system in place for now. If that means Hormann will get about 65% of the snaps like he did against Fordham, that's fine. While I would just give Hormann the job outright, I can see how Winters' presence confused Fordham a bit and neither QB made any real mistakes.

Here are the keys to the game:

Which QB will shine?

Will the young kid from Duquesne, Scott Knapp, slice up the mighty Lion secondary, or will Hormann or Winters steal his show?

The Lions passing game was tremendous last week, and will probably have to be all season if they're going to get to 5-5 or better. But the Dukes also rely on passing most of the time, so that means the secondaries will have to step up along with the pass rushers. I think our secondary is one of the best in all of Division I-AA, and the pass rushing is getting a boost from new-comer Jeff Oke, who helped seal the game for Columbia last week with 3 sacks and two forced fumbles. Duquesne has a star defensive tackle in Josh Antinopoulos, but other than that I don't see much size on their defensive two-deep roster. Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not sure we'll be facing a ferocious defense here, especially against the pass.

Will the Lion running game make a bigger contribution?

Passing and receiving by committee has been effective, but the multiple runners failed to impress

Alex Erhart, James Cobb, and Jordan E. Davis are all listed on the two-deep for this game, and has to hope that one or all three of them will be able to wear Duquesne down. Duquesne has had good numbers versus the run this year, but I'm not sure the fact that they held Penn's Sam Matthews below 100 yards really means that much in such a rout. Both teams have a great opportunity to cross up their opponents with a focus on the run in the early going, so whatever team gets some traction on the ground could grab a big advantage.

Will there be a crowd?

With all the doom-and-gloom reporting about the new alcohol policy at Baker Field, I'm worried too many students will stay away.

We're supposed to get the most beautiful weather in weeks tomorrow in New York; clear skies, no humidity, and 70-75 degrees. What a waste of a nice day if the crowds don't come. I'm betting if there are fewer than 7,500 people at the game, the athletic department will revise the parking policy by homecoming.

Can We Win?

In the previous post, I outlined how important week 2 games have been for judging this Lions team over the past 10 years. This game is as winnable as we have left on the schedule. If we lose this one, then 1-9 or 2-8 is a real possibility. If we win, the chances of 5-5 or 6-4 begin to get a lot better. We're now only favored by 4 points, but no true Columbia fan cares about the spread! I'd take a 3-2 win with a late FG any day! Let's hope for the best.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

It's All About Week 2

If you think the Lions and their fans are too giddy about being 1-0 because we're not used to it, you'd be wrong. Over the last 11 years, Columbia has actually been 1-0 six times now if you include this year, so we've been pretty respectable in season openers. But it's been the games after that,the games in week 2, that have defined every Columbia season since 1996. In fact, 1996 was the ONLY TIME in the last 10 years that the Lions followed up an opening week win with another victory in week 2. Here's a look at our recent history in games after opening week wins that should make it clear how big this game against Duquesne really is for Columbia:


After going up to Cambridge and beating Harvard for the first time since 1978, Columbia fell apart in the second half of their home opener against St. Mary's and lost 34-14. The game was indicative of how the Lions would play the first half of that season: tough against the Ivy opponents, but inept against the non-Ivy teams. It was all moot a few weeks later when star QB Mike Cavanaugh was lost for the season with a broken leg. Columbia finished the season 3-6-1.


After a gut-wrenching overtime win over Harvard in week 1, the Lions eked out a defensively-dominated 17-10 win at Fordham. Columbia would go on to be 6-0 before finishing the season at 8-2 and second in the Ivies. 1996 is still the best Lions season of the last 44 years.


After a stunning 24-0 shutout of Harvard in the home opener, Columbia traveled to Bucknell to face the Bison. But two kickoff returns for touchdowns killed a decent effort by the offense and the Lions fell 27-20. This game really defined the entire year for Columbia as the Lions finished 4-6 and 3-4 in the Ivies. It was a year of missed opportunities, capped off by a wasted defensive effort in the last week of the season when the Lions fell to the high-powered Brown offense by a score of 10-3.


After Jonathan Reese and company showed some offensive fireworks in a 43-26 win over Fordham in the home opener, it was Bucknell again that made us fall back to reality. Leading by 10-6 with time running out, the Lions failed to cover a punt that the Bison returner actually fumbled before recovering it and returning it inside the 20. On a fourth and goal with less than 10 seconds left, the Bucknell QB completed a TD pass for the 12-10 victory. The Lions finished 3-7 despite Reese's record-breaking season.


After winning the inaugural Liberty Cup game at home against Fordham on a last-second field goal, Columbia went up to Colgate and never had a chance. The Red Raiders drubbed us 38-6. The Lions finished the season 1-9 and head coach Ray Tellier was sent packing after 14 years at the helm.

I think our track record says it all. It doesn't matter if Duquesne is a powerhouse or not, this game is crucial for the Lions if they're going to have a good season. The good news is that this game is at home, and the Lions are actually favored by 6 and 1/2 points. If we go 2-0, I think these guys are capable of 5-5 or better. But if they lose, 3-7 or worse is a lot more likely.

Monday, September 19, 2005

All For One and One For All

Columbia 23 Fordham 17

What a magical night it was for the Columbia Lions Saturday at Fordham! It wasn't bad for me either, as I sailed through light traffic, got free parking on the street, and got to enjoy a Columbia win with my father-in-law and my neighbor.

Getting to Fordham turned out to be a surprising breeze after the nightmare of 2003 when traffic and bad parking had me getting to a Columbia game late for the first time since I was a freshman in 1988! This time, I avoided the backed-up Whitestone Bridge and took the Bronx River Parkway from the Throgs Neck and got there in plenty of time. After being turned away from the Fordham lot, I simply found free street parking about two blocks away, beautiful!

I love the Fordham campus, so I enjoyed walking through it to get to Jack Coffey Field. The weather was overcast, but the temperature was nice as we settled into our seats. After a special invocation led by Fordham's President Father McShane, they decided to delay the start of the game because of lightning in the area. I thought that was a pretty good decision, but the delay dragged on even after the storm blew over, (it never actually rained). By 7:30, they really could have started the game, but they waited until 8:05, and it was getting annoying. The extra time helped the stands get packed and probably made big money for the concession stands, so maybe that was the plan all along.

Jack Coffey field was hosting its first night game since temporary lights were used in 1977 against Hofstra. They also put in FieldTurf, (the same surface Columbia installed over the summer), so there was a "new" look to the place. It's not a bad venue overall, but the metal bleachers are murder on your but and they only have 3 ticket windows, which can make for a very long wait if you have to pick up tickets on the day of the game.

Just seeing the Lions take the field was gratifying as we finally got some answers to about 10 months worth of personnel questions. Hormann was the starting QB, although Coach Shoop said on Thursday he would shuttle him with Winters under center rather than go with one guy the whole way. James Cobb was the starting tailback, even though the program and two-deep listed Alex Erhart as the starter. (I sat behind Cobb's mom throughout the game and watched her root enthusiastically, but very respectfully, for her kid. I was glad when he finally broke through for a big run late in the game after a tough start).

The new group seemed to be doing quite well as Columbia took the opening kickoff and started to move down the field. (Prosper Nwokocha had a nice return of 32 yards to the CU 37 in what would be a nice hint of what was to come later). Hormann looked like a seasoned veteran despite his sophomore standing and he zipped lots of nice passes through the air. Just as importantly, the green offensive line which returned only ONE player with game experience, seemed to be giving Hormann all the time in the world to throw. The run blocking was not nearly as good, but I knew the coaches would succeed at teaching these kids either pass-blocking OR run-blocking, and with our talent at QB, it made sense to focus on protection. Anyway, Hormann put his first pass right on the money and Fordham was called for interference, giving Columbia the ball at the FU 48. Two runs for no gain by Cobb forced Hormann into his first 3rd down situation and he made the most of it with a 10-yard throw to Jim Besselman. (Besselman made a good impression all night). So now we had the ball at the FU 38, 1st and 10. We went right back to the air with a nice pass to Pete Chromiak to the 30, but Pete fumbled it away and Fordham took over on their 34. It was a bummer because every aspect of the passing game had been looking so good. I just hoped we would be able to resume whenever we got the ball back.

Fordham took the ball and got a couple of first downs, before stalling on the CU 43. On 3rd and 2 from there, Nwokocha came up big with a tackle for no gain on Fordham's James Prydatko to force the punt.

The Lions took over from the 20 and went to the air. Hormann completed two passes in the first series, the second one a nifty 8-yarder to speedy fullback Micke DeFazio for a first down to the Fordham 32. After an incomplete pass and run for no gain, Hormann stepped up in his second straight 3rd down situation with another screen to DeFazio, this time for 13 yards to the CU 45. After a run for a loss, Hormann found Bryce Marshall, the back-up fullback, for 15 yards and a first down to the FU 42. The next play was just about the only decent run for the Lions in the entire first half as Gary Mesko ran it for 14 to the Fordham 28. But then the Lion drive stalled, as Hormann threw a pass incomplete on 3rd and 7. Then the freshman kicker John Rocholl hooked a low-liner wide left on the 42 yard field goal attempt. Another good-looking Lion drive had ended in no points and you just knew the Rams would make us pay.

And they did just that. Prydatko had a number of big runs on the ensuing drive, and he took it in from 6 yards out to give Fordham the 7-0 lead. The Lions looked a little lost on run defense, and you got the feeling the Fordham coaches were ready to go to the ground more after a terrible showing in their first two games.

The gloomy feeling increased when the Lions took over on the next series. Nwokocha had another nice return of 29 yards to the CU 36, but that was the only highlight. Joe Winters took over at QB and threw an incomplete pass after a run for a loss and was sacked on 3rd and 13 back to the 22. After a punt, Fordham took over at their own 42. (There was good coverage on the kick on the Columbia side as the punt return netted no gain. Kick coverage was one of the few CU strengths last year and they looked good doing it again for the most part on Saturday).

Fordham took over at the start of the second quarter and started moving it down the field again. It started with what seemed like the biggest pass play of the night for the Rams as their QB Derric Daniels found Erik Conroy for a 25 yard completion to our 33. After another first down on the ground, Daniels found Conroy again for 15 yards to the CU 3. It looked like we were about to go down 14-0, but then the defense picked it up. Keenan Shaw tackled Jonte Coven for a 3-yard loss, Daniels threw an incompletion, and then one of the much-derided inexperienced linebackers, Todd Abrams came up big with a 7-yard sack of Daniels back to the 13. It was great performance by a squad that looked like they were falling asleep just a couple of minutes before. Fordham got the easy field goal, but it felt like a bit of a moral victory for CU.

Columbia took over at their 23 after a rare sub-20 yard return from Nwokocha, (it went for 17 yards). Winters was under center again, and this time he looked better. He started it off with an 11-yard scramble for a first down. Shoop had said he decided to go with the shuttle system because Winters was able to make better plays with his feet, and that was apparent on that play. But two plays later, he went to the air with success, finding Bessleman for 26 big yards to the Fordham 39. Then he threw to again on the very next play for 11 yards. But Winters misfired on his next two passes, and the draw play on 3rd and 10 with DeFazio only went to the 24. Luckily, Rocholl was up to the task on the 41-yard field goal attempt that followed. It was another low-liner, but it was good and we were back in the game at 10-3.

Fordham got one first down on their next possession, but had to punt after Keenan Shaw made a big play on Prydatko, nailing him for a 4-yard loss on 3rd and 2 from the FU 34. Momentum seemed to be swinging our way.

Hormann was back in at QB, and he picked up where he left off. He threw for another first down on 3rd and 3 from the CU 34, and got another first down on the next play with a completion to Jordan Davis at the FU 41. Then the drive fizzled with yet another fruitless run and two incompletions. But then Rocholl got off his best punt of the night, pinning the Rams at their own one.

Fordham got one first down, but time ran out after that, leading us to halftime. Things looked generally good at the time with the momentum in our corner, but the missed opportunities on offense were haunting me. The halftime show consisted of a short performance by the Fordham cheerleaders, (the CU band and cheerleaders didn't come to the game for some reason. I figure the band isn't welcome after the infamous off-color Altar Boy joke of 2002, but the cheerleaders couldn't trek the 6 miles from Columbia to Fordham)? After that the Fordham "dance team" strutted to two songs that were definitely a lot sexier than I would have expected. How do they get away with that at a Catholic school? Oh well, I'm not complaining.

Fordham got the ball to start the 2nd half and they went 3 and out. Once again, the CU defense came up big on 3rd and short as they pressured Daniels into an incompletion on 3rd and 2 from the FU 28. That signaled the biggest difference on defense from the first half to the second half as the Lions applied the pressure to Daniels after seemingly letting him alone earlier.

CU took over after the punt at their own 36. Hormann was back and looked great again. Thanks to a couple of nice runs by Cobb, his first 3rd down situation was just a 3rd and 2, and he nailed it with a four yard throw to Brandon Bowser. A good run by Jordan E. Davis, (Jordan P. Davis is a WR), left us with another 3rd and 2, and then good fortune started to shine on us a bit. Fordham went offsides to give us the automatic first down at their 39. Then Hormann found Nick DeGasperis for 16 yards to the 23. Two plays later, the Rams went offsides again, giving us a first down at the 12. CU never thought of doing anything but passing after that. Hormann found Demko in the back of the end zone on the next play, but he was out of bounds. Another incompletion made it 3rd and 10. It would have been huge for Fordham to hold us to a FG there, but Hormann stepped up big with a thread-the-needle throw on 3rd and 10 from the 12 to Bowser who had a half a step on his defender in the middle of the end zone. Rocholl's extra point was good and things looked great at 10-10.

CU's defense kept up their impressive pattern, giving up just one first down and then forcing the punt. Fordham's QB Daniels was wilting under the newly-applied pressure and his throws were going way off line.

Columbia looked like they were going to take advantage as Winters was again the QB with the drive starting at our 20. After getting the initial first down of the drive on a 6-yard run by Cobb on 2nd and 2 on the first series, Winters took off for a 15-yard run to the Fordham 49 on 3rd and 8 on the next series. Then things started getting weird. Winters completed two passes, but they were dump-offs that ended in basically no gain. After that, Rocholl shanked a punt he was trying to slip out of bounds and Fordham got the ball back after an awful 9-yard punt to their 43! Sure enough, two plays later Prydatko ran around to the left and broke Tad Crawford's tackle for a 57-yard touchdown.

The momentum was lost, and the game looked bleak all of a sudden as we were down 17-10. But that gloom lasted about 2 minutes. On the ensuing kickoff, Nwokocha took the ball in the middle of the field at the 6-yard line. He immediately sprinted to the left sideline and got some nice room to about the 35, but then he cut it back inside and outran the entire Fordham team down to the right sideline and he took it in for a touchdown! It was our first kickoff return for a TD since Jonathan Reese did it at home in a close loss versus Cornell in 2000. But this run was not only a major piece of athleticism, it was just what we needed at a crucial time. The game was tied now at 17 and the momentum was back in CU's corner.

The CU defense picked up the cue from the special teams and Jeff Oke forced Daniels to fumble with a sack on 3rd and 9. Co-Captain Bill Beechum fell on it at the FU 34 and Columbia was back in business. Hormann immediately found Demko for 21 yards on a pass that Demko caught even though he was interfered with. Hormann threw for another 9 yards two plays later to Jordan E. Davis at the 14, but he couldn't complete a pass on 3rd and 1 and Columbia had to go for the field goal. Rocholl not only made the short 21-yarder, but he also got the ball up this time and we had our first lead at 20-17.

As the fourth quarter started, CU's defense stayed tough with another forced 3 and out. Tad Crawford made me nervous by fumbling the punt after signaling for a fair catch, but he recovered his own drop at the CU 33. Then the long dormant running game woke up. After DeFazio was dropped for a 2-yard loss, Cobb refused to go down and squeezed out 16 yards on a run to the CU 47. On the next play, Erhart showed that explosive speed he has with a sprint to the Fordham 7. But then Columbia just stalled and Rocholl had to kick another short field goal. It was nice to get more points, but 6-point leads in the 4th quarter are not for the weak-of-heart. I just didn't know if our defense could be asked to keep it up any longer.

At first, my fears seemed to be accurate as Fordham got two quick first downs, one on a pass and one a run to our 40. But that was as bad as it got. On 3rd and 4 from our 34, the linebackers nailed Prydatko for just a one-yard gain after he caught the ball from Daniels. Then on 4th and 3, Tad Crawford waded under a floater from Daniels, picked it off and then ran it back 18 yards to the CU 34. Crawford looked like an infielder catching a pop-up, and he timed it perfectly.

8:40 remained in the game when we got it back. Hormann was back in to stay. On 3rd and 6 he found Bowser for 19 big yards to the FU 43. Bowser's catch was fantastic as he managed to grab it just as he was falling out of bounds. Then the penalty flags started to plague us. On 3rd and 8, Hormann found DeGasperis on the Columbia sideline for nine yards, but DeGasperis was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct foul after the ref said he was celebrating too much. That still gave us a first down and 10, but back at the Fordham 47 instead of their 32. We couldn't get another first down, and we had to punt from their 44. Sure enough, Rocholl shanked ANOTHER punt he was trying to angle out of bounds and it went for another 9 yarder! Once again, I thought the defense might finally give out.

I was wrong, after forcing a 4th and 4 the Lions played heads up football again as Shaw nailed the Fordham punter who was going for a fake. It was a nice hit as Shaw had him one-on-one, went for his legs and flipped him high in the air. But then the refs flagged us for an excessive celebration penalty AGAIN, pushing the ball back to the Columbia 47 instead of the Fordham 37.

CU's offense was out of gas by this time. 2:34 was left in the game. Fordham forced a 3 and out and called time out with 2:09 to go. This time, Rocholl punted in the middle of the field, and the Lion coverage was there, holding the Rams to a 7-yard return and starting their drive at their own 24.

This was it, 1:55 to go and 76 yards to defend. How much could the CU defense have left? On 3rd and 4 from the 30, Daniels completed a 16-yarder to Rashawn Haynes. After two incomplete passes, Daniels found Jim Caffarello for 9 yards to the Columbia 45. On 4th and 1, Prydatko got three more yards to the 42, but time was running out. With Fordham needing to go to the pass alone now, Columbia's defense elected to put the pressure on, and then it became the Jeff Oke show. On 1st and 10 he sacked Daniels for 3-yard loss to the CU 45. Then on 2nd down Oke sacked him again and forced and recovered the fumble. The game was over!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Young and the Restless

3 Days Until Kickoff!!!

Columbia released the two-deep roster for the Fordham game today and there were more surprises. Senior Alex Ehrhart got the nod as the starting tailback, despite the good buzz we heard about junior James Cobb in the Harvard scrimmage.

I was also surprised by former walk-on Justin Nunez getting the start at one cornerback slot instead of Chad Musgrove. Our secondary is our only really strong unit, so Nunez must have impressed to round out the talented group that includes Prosper Nwokocha, Keenan Shaw, and Tad Crawford.

And how about freshman Jon Rocholl getting the start as both place kicker AND punter? I realize he's a kicker, but at 6-3 and 175, he must be as thin as a twig. Let's hope he avoids the big hits.

Obviously, there are a lot of concerns with such a young and inexperienced team. But enthusiasm could go a long way, and I hope the new starters are pumped to show they deserve to play.

There are some positives too. I think the defensive line, anchored by Bill Beechum and Usche Osadebe will be strong, and if the linebackers overachieve just a little bit, the secondary will not have to pick up too much slack.

The offense is a total question mark. But it looks like Brandon Bowser will reprise his role as the deep threat, and Nick DeGasperis will be the shorter-range target. I loved how Bowser got open deep so often last year, and DeGasperis has a nice ability to get open over the middle and squeeze some more yards out after the catch. The starting TE is going to be sophomore Jamal Russell, who the coaches seem to think needs to grow into the position. I don't expect him to be a frequent passing target, which is too bad, because young QB's need big tight ends to throw to as they gain experience.

Even without a lot of high hopes on my part, waiting for this season to start has been harder than usual this year. Maybe that's a good omen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

It's Craig!!

4 Days Until Kickoff!!

Word came down early Monday that sophomore Craig Hormann has won the starting QB job. I'm excited about the idea of a 3-year starter, and I think Hormann must have really shown the coaches something by beating out the senior tri-captain Joe Winters. I hope the Hormann era is long and prosperous.

Rumors are trickling out of Lion camp about some more injuries to the linebacking corps, and some bad blood about fullback Gordon Radlein's departure. We'll have to wait for the two-deep to find out about the linebackers, and I don't know what to make of the possible loss of spirit on the team. Last year the athletics web site posted the two-deeps on Tuesdays, so maybe we'll get one of those questions answered later today.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Good News, Bad News?

6 Days to Kickoff!

So my employer, CNN is sending me down to Atlanta to help out with the flood coverage, which is an honor and I'm happy to relieve the troops, but I'll barely be back in time to catch CU's opener at Fordham. My wife is just THRILLED, that after a week away from her and our great toddler daughter, I'll be rushing right out the door again. But, I'm sort of cashing in my chips as the "full-time working dad who spends the most time with his child." (Okay, there is no such contest for that title, but I think I'd definitely be in the running if there were).

Enough about me, because this was an extremely event-filled weekend for Lions football, especially since we didn't even play.

Saturday was a Columbia advance scout's dream with BOTH of our first two opponents playing each other. Duquesne really surprised me with a 30-13 thrashing of Fordham. The Rams running woes continued, with their leading rusher averaging just 2.8 yards a carry and the team netting just 45 yards rushing on 40 carries. That gives Fordham a GRAND TOTAL of 78 yards rushing in their first two games COMBINED.

But the Ram offense truly screwed up with costly turnovers. Fordham's QB Derric Daniels shook off the injury and started, but his numbers weren't exactly fantastic. He also threw an interception for a TD. The Fordham defense wasn't too bad, but they gave up some big plays and the CU offense will definitely have to test that secondary with some long throws to lead WR Brandon Bowser.

I would say it's generally good news that Fordham seems much weaker this season, but there are two things that bother me about starting the season against an 0-2 Ram team. 1) Fordham will be DESPERATE to beat us, and 2)For as long as I can remember, the Rams have gotten better as the season moved along.

On the other hand, Duquesne's strong play is nothing but trouble for the Lions right now. When this season's schedule was announced, I was sure the Duquesne game was the most winnable contest for Columbia. Now I think that's no longer true at all. Their defense has been good in both their wins, and the offense is opportunistic with flashes of brilliance. Of course the true test for the Dukes comes this weekend at Penn. I'm still pretty sure the Quakers will win, but Duquesne may play them close and gather even more confidence for when they play us on 9/24.

Still no word on who will get the starting QB nod this season for CU. I expect to hear by Monday or Tuesday. Hopefully, the athletics web site will also release the game notes and the two-deep by Tuesday.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Air Shoop?


All the shuffling at the tailback and fullback positions, plus the huge amount of passing in the scrimmage with Harvard, lead me to believe we may be going to the air A LOT this coming season. That would make sense if Coach Shoop's very positive public assessment of our two quarterbacks is the real deal.

Look, you have to play to your strengths. And I don't think Columbia's going to be lucky enough to field a top-flight offensive line with all the rookies who will be starting. MAYBE they'll be able to run-block or pass-block, but I can't believe they'll be ready to do both effectively. So that leads me to believe the coaches are focusing on protecting the QB and going from there.

Columbia doesn't have a lot of wide receivers with impressive stats behind them. Senior Brandon Bowser came out of nowhere last season and established himself as a deep threat, but he's alone in the "highly-experienced" category. It looks like the coaches are going to spread the ball around, shuttling a number of receivers in and out of games. On the other hand, I don't think all the receivers besides Bowser will be completely interchangeable. I think Nick DeGasperis and Jim Besselman will be featured a little more than people like Pete Chromiak and Jeff Coles. But I've just named 5 WR's right there who should see a lot of action, and hopefully, they'll make opposing defenses crazy.

If you're going to throw the ball a lot, you have to be able to react quickly to guys getting covered and notice the mismatches when they occur. Perhaps that's why it's taking so long for Shoop to decide on the starting QB; he may be installing a new program that takes the seniority advantage away from the senior Joe Winters as he battles it out with Sophomore Craig Hormann.

Throwing the ball a ton is something that could make sense this year. It's certainly worked for Brown for the last 12 years, and before then, they were only slightly ahead of Columbia in the battle to stay out of the perennial Ivy cellar. If we institute a true "West Coast Offense," it should open things up for our inexperienced running backs and make things exciting week after week. But like everything else, we'll have to wait and see.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

The New Lions Den

10 Days to Kickoff!!

In general, I like the fact that Columbia has installed a new "field turf" at Wien Stadium. Field turf is that artificial surface that really looks and feels like grass instead of the carpet-like astroturf. It's pretty much the norm in NFL stadiums right now. But one thing that worries me is the loose rubber that apparently is so broken up that it fills your sneakers when you walk up and down the field. Today's COLUMBIA SPECTATOR describes this in some better detail.

Now I know a lot of people think rough field conditions become a "home field advantage" for the host team. But I'm not so sure. The best example that disproves that popular notion is Candlestick Park. The San Francisco Giants seemed to suffer at that awful park as much as their opponents over the years, and I'm not surprised that they have played so much better since they moved to Pac Bell a few years ago.

The 49ers have also played better as a road team over the years and the year they went 15-1 (1984), they lost that lone game at home. The Niners also lost their share of playoff games at home over the years, while doing remarkably better in the postseason on the road. San Francisco is beautiful city, but Candlestick is a dump.

So, I worry that playing on a rough surface will just hurt us more because we'll have to play 5 games a year there, while everyone else will only have to come here once every 2 years at the most. Luckily, the experts say the field begins to play like regular grass after a year or so.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Some Encouraging Stuff

11 Days to Kickoff!!

A lot of those burning questions we've been carrying around since the end of last season have yet to be answered, most notably who will be our starting QB. But I'm encouraged by some of the moves Coach Shoop has made since practice started on August 21st. Here they are:

1) I like that it looks like they simply booted Gordon Radlein off the team, even though it was his starting tailback job to lose when camp started. I mean no personal attack on Mr. Radlein, but I was never impressed by what he did on the field, and obviously he wasn't too impressive in practice either. I don't think his replacement, (looks like that will be Junior James Cobb for now), will be Emmitt Smith-like, but I do think he'll work his hardest knowing that his predecessor got the axe.

Seriously, how refreshing is it that Columbia's coaches seem to value effort and toughness over reputation or seniority now? How many games have we lost in the last 5 years alone because our players lost focus at the key moment? We may not win the league, but I bet a tougher attitude results in one or two more wins this season at a minimum.

2) The starting QB job is still not set. Usually, that would be a concern, but it really looks like Joe Winters and Craig Hormann are both playing too well to be counted out just yet. Shoop does say he will make the announcement sometime before next Monday, so they can have a week of practice before the opener at Fordham with the eventual starter under center. This is another encouraging sign. Winters is a tri-captain and a senior, but he still isn't being allowed to waltz into the starting job. He seems like a great guy, but if Hormann is the man, than all the better. As a sophomore, Hormann stands to get better and better and be a major force by the time he's a senior. We had a 3-year starter in Jeff McCall from 1999-2001, but it looks like Hormann is a lot more talented.

3) The coaches are shuffling some players like madmen... and in the past that's been great for Columbia. Adam Brekke has been one of our better linebackers the last two seasons, but he's been moved to fullback. I'm hoping that means we're deeper at the linebacking position than I thought and we could spare him.

What's NOT encouraging so far? Well, we still have a killer schedule ahead of us, and the only Ivy team that's looking weaker than it did before the summer is Yale, (thanks to a couple of injuries to key starters), so my prediction for a 1-9 season is now only upgraded to 2-8. But if these guys are as tough as they seem to be in training camp, we could have a 2003-like season with 4 or 5 wins.

***Opponent Update***

Fordham started its 2005 campaign with a 34-20 loss to Rhode Island at URI on Saturday. Fordham's starting QB was looking good until he went down with an injury in the 2nd half. There's no word yet on whether he'll play next week at Duquesne, but if he's still out or slowed for the 9/17 against Columbia, that will definitely help the Lions. It appears the Fordham defense played pretty badly, giving up a whopping 387 yards rushing and recording no sacks or interceptions. But their own running game was astonishingly bad, racking up just 33 yards on 34 carries. In their 17-14 win over Columbia last year, their running game was also pretty weak and they beat us with defense. So, if the defense remains as bad as it was against URI, AND their starting QB is still even a bit hurt when the Lions take Fordham on in 11 days, this could become a very winnable game for CU.

Duquesne started things off with a 23-12 win over Robert Morris in their opener. The Dukes are excited about their freshman QB, who racked up some impressive numbers and was named the MAAC Rookie of the Week. It's really going to be hard to measure what kind of an opponent these guys will be since they come from a smaller conference and we've never played them before. But we'll get some help as they get ready to host Fordham this Saturday in a game that should help our advance scouts immensely!

Lafayette started with a 40-21 win over another MAAC opponent, Marist. The Leopards impressive offense looked good again, especially when you consider this was a road game and that Lafayette started slowly last season. But Columbia can still be a bit encouraged by the Leopards' unimpressive defensive showing, and the fact that the game was close until the 3rd quarter. Still, Columbia meets Lafayette at Easton, PA in week 4, when I expect the Leopards to be in mid-season form.