Friday, September 29, 2006

Princeton vs. Columbia, Keys to the Game

Princeton (2-0) is an 8.5 point favorite against Columbia (2-0) this Saturday

It's hard to argue with the point spread this weekend as Columbia has yet to really face a quality opponent and Princeton seems to have beaten two in Lafayette at home and Lehigh on the road. The Tigers present match up problems for the Lions with their big receivers and opportunistic secondary. But Columbia still has a chance to win this game or play well enough to make a significant step towards improving in the Ivy League.

Columbia Musts

Columbia must put heavy pressure on Princeton QB Jeff Terrell who has only been sacked once all year. Even without intense pressure, he's thrown four INT's and I think the Lions will need to grab at least two or three turnovers tomorrow.

The Lions must guess right on defense and isolate the ball carrier like they did against Fordham. With the Rams, it was easy to guess that James Prydatko was going to get the ball time after time, but Georgetown mixed it up better and so will the Tigers. Columbia cannot replicate the way it played the run against Georgetown and hope to win.

On offense Columbia must test Princeton's run defense. The Tiger D-line seems pretty solid, but not as strong as the secondary. I'd like to see the CU coaches continue to call reverses, and off tackle runs like they did in the Georgetown game. Seeing Columbia execute reverses as well as they did last week was a welcome first for many of us who for years have been watching this team try to establish the straight-ahead run, fail... and then just give up. That said, I'd also like to see us run some fake reverses. Now that we've established the fact that we may bring WR's Austin Knowlin and Tim Paulin to run the reverse at any time, perhaps Hormann can keep the ball and get some big yards along the sideline.

Speaking of Paulin, he definitely has great speed and size and he needs to be used as a weapon as much as possible. Perhaps he can draw some of those very tall Princeton defensive backs off of Knowlin when he gets free along the sidelines.

But the passing game must include more throws to the tight ends. When the chips were down last week, QB Craig Hormann finally found Jamal Russell for a big 36-yard pass to set up the game-icing FG. Russell is faster than most tight ends and he needs to exploit his size against the Princeton linebackers. Perhaps the Lion coaches have been throwing to him less in the first two weeks in order to unveil him as a weapon more completely in crucial Ivy League play. A real surprise could come in the form of the other tight end, 6"6 Troy Evangelist, who still hasn't caught a pass. A number of short passes to Russell and Evangelist in the early going could put Princeton off balance and set up the run and deep passing game at the same time.

Hormann needs to have more than 200 yards passing. Craig has done what's necessary to win the first two games, but this is a much tougher test and 150 yards passing won't cut it this time. If he mixes his targets with throws to WR's, TE's and his running backs, he's got a shot.

But the Tigers are a very solid team, and it looks like they may defy the preseason odds and make a run at the Ivy title again this season. It also seems like Roger Hughes has finally grown into the head coaching job, (I thought his first 4-5 years were an embarrassment for a school with so many resources). I expect Princeton to run the ball outside and use the built-in advantages they have in WR's Brendan Circle and Brian Brigham as much as possible. QB Jeff Terrell may be induced to throw 2-3 interceptions, but his defense is just as likely to ensure the Tigers don't pay for those mistakes on the scoreboard. Terrell is also a good runner, a troubling fact for a Lion defense that continues to have trouble wrapping up opposing QB's when they're forced to scramble.

Some mitigating factors in Columbia's favor include what should be a decent-sized homecoming crowd and the fact that at least some of the Tigers probably don't believe the Lions have improved as much as they truly have. I also expect some trickery from this opportunistic Columbia coaching staff and despite the overwhelming number of freshman and sophomores on the field, this team has pulled off difficult plays like a veteran squad.

I expect this to be close but in the end Princeton should prevail, 21-16.

Columbia-Princeton History

The Lions have played the Tigers 75 times since 1874, and won just 13 of those games. That's a record in futility that's hard to fathom, especially when you realize that five of those Columbia victories have come in the last 18 years.

For the great teams of Columbia's distant past, Princeton was always a bugaboo. The 1933 Rose Bowl Championship team suffered its only loss that year to the Tigers, 20-0. The 1961 Ivy Champion Lions lost to Princeton 30-20 when, trailing 23-20, they had what looked like a sure TD drive killed by an interception returned for a TD.

More recently, Princeton has been the culprit in some of the toughest losses Columbia has had to bear. The Tigers ripped our hearts out with overtime wins in 2000 and 2004, and squeaked out a 35-32 win in 2002.

Columbia has exacted some revenge, however. The 1988 16-13 win over Princeton ended the team's 44-game losing streak and will forever act as an embarrassing stain on the memories of the Old Nassau faithful. And the 2003 Hail Mary win with no time left at Princeton Stadium, (a game I like to call "The Jersey Score"), was the sweetest win of the brief Bob Shoop era.

But while Columbia fans can keep the bitterness of our bad history versus Princeton in our hearts and use it for motivation to cheer louder tomorrow, I hope the Columbia coaches don't try to burden the team with a lot of history they may or may not be able to relate to. This game is about them and their generation as they begin an Ivy League schedule that will test them to the very core. They certainly don't need any added pressure and they shouldn't need any added motivation either.


Dartmouth (+17.5) at Penn

The Quakers have some questions to answer about their starting quarterback position and the defense. This game should help them in some ways, but the Big Green just can't provide enough competition to truly test Pennsylvania. Dartmouth will surely fare better than it did against UNH last week, but not all that much.

Prediction: Penn 31 Dartmouth 7

Yale (+9) at Lafayette

I'm not exactly high on the Elis, but I think this line is a little bloated in the Leopards favor. Lafayette clearly has problems on offense, and that will play into the hands of Yale's "bend and sometimes break, but not always," defense. The Leopards are good at stopping the run, and I don't expect Mike McLoed to pass the century mark or Eli QB Matt Polhemus to do much damage scrambling either. This will be a close one, but I think Lafayette will pull out a squeaker at their nice new field.

Prediction: Lafayette 20 Yale 17

Harvard (-4.5) at Lehigh

Now that Harvard is on to QB #4, it's clear the Crimson are a lethal squad no matter who's under center. I expect Lehigh to do a better job stopping Clifton Dawson than anyone else has this season, but they would shut him down and that's going to kill them in the end.

Prediction: Harvard 21 Lehigh 17

Albany (-6) at Cornell

Cornell needs to get their offense going and it won't be easy against a pretty strong Albany defense. Last week's nine-point performance against Yale had to have been very demoralizing for the Big Red who have been riding high on emotion these past two seasons. The good news is that this is a night game, and Albany's worst showing of the year came under the lights in an awful loss to Fordham.

Predicton: Cornell 17 Albany 14

Brown (-2) at Rhode Island

I expect the Bears to bounce back after a demoralizing loss to Harvard last week, but it won't be easy. Joe DiGiacomo will have to prove he deserves to lead this team.

Prediction: Brown 31 Rhode Island 27


At Fri Sep 29, 11:46:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous said...

One factor which may be important: Wilson's unpredictableness (is that a word?!). He's shown his willingness to try the unexpected, unorthodox, unlike past Lion teams. Perhaps that comes from confidence in his players, units.

At Fri Sep 29, 11:46:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Fri Sep 29, 11:54:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

I agree. Wilson's use of the reverses against Georgetown and the onside kick vs. Fordham have shown some real fire. Look, since the days of Jacob and Essau, the underdogs have had to use trickery to win. There's no harm in trying, especially when you see how well we're running these plays. If you look at the highlights from the Georgetown game, the way Jordan Davis flipped the ball to Austin Knowlin on the 4th quarter reverse was a thing of calm, yet somewhat cocky, beauty.

At Sat Sep 30, 05:46:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Domer '72 said...

Thanks for the great work, Jake. Solid reporting on what Columbia needs to do to beat Princeton. I think it will be a very good game.

At Sat Sep 30, 08:06:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

My please Domer '72. Writing about the Lions makes the season more fun.


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