Saturday, October 21, 2006

Columbia-Dartmouth: Keys to the Game

Columbia (3-2) is an 8.5-point favorite at home over Dartmouth (0-5)

The Lions and the Big Green are similar teams, and they both come into the game with 0-2 Ivy League records. Expect a defensive struggle and a close game.

For Columbia to win it must avoid any kind of let down on defense. Dartmouth's most dangerous weapon seems to be quarterback Mike Fritz and his ability to scramble. Stopping scrambling QB's has been a major problem for the Lions and for many, many years, and it is one of the only defensive weaknesses this season. Fritz is also a high-percentage passer, and I expect Dartmouth to try to complete very short passes and add some yards after the catch. Columbia has done much better in this area, as most short passes have been stopped for minimal gains by the quick and aggressive linebackers. The conventional Dartmouth running attack is not serious, but Columbia needs to look out for the possible return of Jason Bash, who could make an impact if he's able to recover from an ankle sprain injury.

But the defense needs to do more than just stop the limited Dartmouth offensive attack, it needs to set the CU offense up with turnovers deep in the Big Green end of the field, or even score a defensive touchdown or two. Dartmouth has not been terribly turnover prone, so the Lions will need to make things happen. That will be harder to do if Fritz protects the ball with short passes or chooses to scramble rather than throw into coverage.

The Columbia offense needs to show up. It didn't last week in a 16-0 shutout loss to Penn and barely appeared in the 24-0 win over Iona two weeks ago. The running game cannot be expected to magically come to life with the same plays and personnel. Either the Lions start running some plays to the outside, mix it up with more reverses and end-arounds, or the coaches should bring try someone else in the backfield.

Similarly, Coach Norries Wilson needs to bring his hook and yank starting QB Craig Hormann if he's ineffective. Sophomore backup Chris Allison could be the answer to a lot of Columbia's problems if he can run the ball as well as he has in practice and pass with some consistency. Hormann is playing hard and absorbing a lot of punishment this season, but if someone else can get this offense moving, he should get that chance. This should be Hormann's last chance; if he doesn't produce Wilson should pull him and see what Allison can do over a game or two.

Jordan Davis needs to run more aggressively. He's just not going to get the holes other backs get, so he needs to use stiff arms and other power moves to get some positive yards.

The Lion coaches need to draw up some more deep passes to Austin Knowlin. Knowlin is showing an ability to gain yards after the catch, but he hasn't had much of chance to catch the deep ball. A successful bomb or two can make a bad offense look good after 60 minutes.

Closely-matched teams like this often play games decided by the special teams, and no one should be surprised if that happens tomorrow. Dartmouth's Andrew Kempler is basically no threat to hit more than a PAT and that may take three to six points off the board for the Big Green by the end of the day. Punter Brian Scullin has quite a leg, but he's a methodical creature who often takes too long to get his kicks off. Look for the Lions to rush him hard, especially towards the end of the game if it's close. Jon Rocholl has had a tougher time of it over the last two weeks, as he had a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked at Penn and was called upon to kick a 44-yarder into a stiff wind in the Iona game that fell short. Rocholl did nail his other FG attempt in the Iona game and his punts have remained strong.

Both teams lack any kind of a return threat, and that means if there is a good return by some miracle it will be a big boost for the team that gets it.

I think both offenses will struggle to get more than one touchdown, but I think they will get at least that. The rest rides on what points the defenses and special teams can generate. That scenario favors Columbia as does the home field advantage.

Prediction: Columbia 13 Dartmouth 7

Harvard (-1) at Princeton (game is on the YES Network at noon)

The Crimson and the Tigers look like the best teams in the Ivies this season, and this game should answer a lot of questions. Is Princeton's defense as strong as it seems? Is Harvard's offense as strong as it seems? Can Princeton's offense play more consistently? Last year, the Tigers came into Cambridge and shocked Harvard in a loss that cost the Crimson the Ivy title. This year, Harvard has revenge on its mind. Clifton Dawson will not have a 150-yard, but he will get at least 90-yards and I expect him to score a late TD to win it.

Prediction: Harvard 21 Princeton 17

Pennsylvania (+4) at Yale

Yale's multi-faceted offense looks better just about every week, while Penn's offense has been erratic. Had it not been for a turnover and some gambles by Columbia's offense, the Quakers may have only scored once last week at home. Yale's defense is weak, but thanks to Mike McLeod running the ball so well, it usually gets lots of rest when it needs it. The big difference is Yale QB Matt Polhemus is beginning to pass better and that's going to be too much for Penn's secondary.

Prediction: Yale 31 Penn 24

Cornell (-2) at Brown

The Big Red looked very good in their 38-14 win over Colgate last week. Brown, especially on offense, seems to look worse every week. This looks like a classic case of two teams heading in opposite directions. Without a credible running attack, the Bears are going to have a tough time, but I do expect the Brown defense to build on its impressive game at Princeton last week and keep things close.

Prediction: Cornell 20 Brown 14


At Sat Oct 21, 01:33:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The offense must show up..many have written that and I'm bemused. What if the offense is just not good enough and that weak "weapon" can't be effective?
Its presence, especially the running game, has not been evident, even against a team like Iona. Don't we have to conclude there's not enough there there?
To be sure, there are good players on that side of the ball, and some of the frosh have potential. But that's all in the cry of us unreconstructed Brooklyn fans, something about next year.


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