Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Columbia-Dartmouth, A (Slightly) Longer Look

Dartmouth 20 Columbia 7

Why Dartmouth Won
The Big Green went with what worked, and what worked was QB Mike Fritz running the ball 14 times for 120 yards. Dartmouth's defense did what every defense has done against Columbia and stuffed the run completely and partially stuffed the pass.

Why Columbia Lost
The vaunted Lion defense had no real answers for Fritz's scrambling, and a costly turnover and poor clock management kept the offense out of the game. It wasn't until frosh backup QB M.A. Olawale came into the game that Columbia showed any real fire. By then, it was too late.

Turning Points

1) Sophomore tailback Jordan Davis fumbled the ball away on the first play from scrimmage, giving Dartmouth the ball at the CU 25. Four plays later the Big Green led 7-0. You can't start a game much worse than that.

2) Already leading 10-0 in the second quarter, Dartmouth lined up for a difficult 31-yard field goal attempt into the wind. The Big Green went for the fake, and Brian Scullin's shovel pass to Brent Lowe went for six yards and a first down. Two plays later it was 17-0.

3) Columbia took the ensuing kickoff and moved the ball 80 yards from their own 19 to the Big Green one. But time ran out when Austin Knowlin was tackled at the one by Ian Wilson. Poor clock management left the Lions empty after an 18-play drive.

Other Negatives

Columbia returners still seem afraid to catch the ball on kickoffs and punts. A lot of time needs to be spent on fixing this in practice.

Lion wide receivers are generally running to their spots and waiting for the ball too much. They need to get more aggressive.

Mike Fritz is a good running quarterback, but he's not exactly fast. With Yale's running QB Matt Polhemus next up for Columbia, the defense is going to have to improve its ability to stop the scramble.


Not many. But freshman QB M.A. Olawale is the fastest runner on the field for Columbia right now and he can break tackles too. I'm excited to see what he could do over the course of an entire game. On the play before he scored the touchdown, Olawale was getting wrapped up by a host of Dartmouth tacklers before he skillfully flipped the ball to Austin Knowlin who took the ball to the one.

The freshman Knowlin seems to be doing a better job of holding on to the ball and he looks comfortable with his growing role as a key go-to guy. He'll probably spend most of this week thinking about how he was stopped at the one as time ran out in the first half, but it wasn't his fault.

The defense started slowly, (again with no help from the offense), but they rallied to keep the game from becoming a blow out. That comes from a mental toughness you don't expect to see from a squad with five freshman and sophomore starters.

Columbia MVP: Andy Shalbrack

The freshman Shalbrack's 4th quarter interception at the DC 30 and return to the 19 set up Columbia's only score. He also had seven tackles. This is the second straight week that Shalbrack has been my choice for game MVP.

Frosh QB M.A. Olawale gets and honorable mention for sparking the team late in the game.

Coaching Issues

This was not only Columbia's worst game so far this year, it was Head Coach Norries Wilson's worst day too. The clock issues at the end of the first half were terrible, and M.A. Olawale's powerful display of running ability has many Lion faithful wondering why he wasn't inserted earlier into this game or at any key moment in any game before this past weekend. There was also a 4th and one situation late in the 4th quarter where Wilson chose to punt despite the team being down 17-0 at the time. Wilson will now have to work harder to earn that respect he's been demanding in the league and on campus.

On the other side of the field, give Dartmouth Coach Buddy Teevens a lot of credit for keeping his team focused after the previous week's post game brawl versus Holy Cross. The Big Green players never seemed distracted and they worked hard.

Familiar Pattern?

For most of the last 30 years, Columbia has followed a disappointing loss with a noticeable dropoff in overall effort the rest of the season. Wilson can go a long way to gaining back whatever respect he's lost by continuing to get the Lions to show up every week. The good news about this season is that Columbia has not been totally blown out yet, and the most points the Lions have surrendered is a respectable 21. If Columbia is able to keep things relatively close, and that will be a big challenge against Yale and Harvard on the road the next two weeks, then the Lions have some good things to build on.

But if the losses just keep getting worse, than Columbia loses any good mojo they earned with their early season wins. A big problem is that the Lions have no running game, and now everyone knows it. It's going to be hard to beat teams with a ground attack while facing defenses who know they can cheat and overload against the pass.

Shuffling the Lineup?

I think to stay competitive with Yale this coming Saturday, Wilson needs to start M.A. Olawale at QB. His running was electric and while he only went two-for-nine with his passes, he was facing dime coverages and a stiff wind by the time he was throwing the ball. Hormann is just not moving the offense and he's had enough time to get it right. I wouldn't mind seeing a shuttle QB system, esepcially if it ends up confusing opposing defenses all day, but that can be distracting and difficult for a team to do in the middle of the season.

Wilson has to mix things up in the tailback position as well. Jordan Davis has recently added fumble problems to his usual running difficulties, and that is making him a terrible liability. Ray Rangel showed a little spark on Saturday and perhaps he can get something going with a few more carries.


This was the toughest loss of the season for Columbia, and that means Wilson will have to deal with emotional and physical challenges as the team prepares for Yale this weekend. But if Olawale is up to the challenge of a possible start at QB, this could be end up becoming a very revealing loss for the Lions because it will have shown the CU coaches that they have a weapon in the frosh signal-caller. And the loss to a previously winless Dartmouth could add to the "overlook factor" as Yale is coming off a big overtime win over Penn last week. An 0-3 in the Ivies Columbia is less of a motivator than a 1-2 in the Ivies Columbia.

Of course, all of this is positive thinking to a slight extreme. But focusing on the negatives is just too depressing.


At Tue Oct 24, 11:27:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

With the most winnable Ivy game a loss and facing a Yale team on an upswing, the team's reaction will be indicative of how far they've come. This will not be the only test but an important one, not only for the balance of this year but for next.
I'd like to see more playing time for some first-years. Stoll's limited use is puzzling, given his rep, unless he's injured, of course.

At Tue Oct 24, 11:33:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Agreed. What's funny is that when most teams put the freshmen in, it's a sign of giving up. If Wilson starts Olawale and gives guys like Stoll a chance on offense, it's a sign that he wants to win right away.

At Tue Oct 24, 11:52:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And, encourages next year's group that talent will out.


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