Kings of the Hill
There are two teams tied atop the Ivy League standings, and Columbia must travel to face one of them this weekend at Yale Bowl, (by the way, the Yale people like everyone to call it "Yale Bowl," and not "The Yale Bowl." It's kind of like the people in Toronto who admonished us to say "Skydome," and not "The Skydome"... of course until they sold the naming rights and now it's "THE Rogers Centre").
As much as I'd like to make the relatively short trip to WEST HAVEN, (Yale Bowl is actually in West Haven, not New Haven... who knew?), I have a three-year-old who is in the middle of potty training and I'd prefer to stay home this time. But I'm going to watch the game on YES and see if the Yankees' regular radio play-by-play man John Sterling and former NY Giant Howard Cross have improved at all.
That's wishful thinking, of course. I'm sure Sterling is a nice person, but he's just an awful radio announcer. I don't mind that he actively roots for the Yankees; that's to be expected here in New York. But he misses calls and very often substitutes grunts and groans for actual informative commentary. Instead of saying "ball two," he often gives us an "uhhh," and then dead air for 10 seconds while we all try to guess the count. On TV, at least we don't have to guess what's going on, but everything Sterling says sounds like: "Gee, how much longer until spring training?" Howard Cross has played the role of a snickering guy who still seems to be shocked that these kids are playing competitive football. I miss Spiro Dedes, who did a nice job as the play-by-play guy on YES before landing his sweet new gig as the L.A. Lakers radio announcer. His sidekick for one year was Keith Elias, who didn't speak very eloquently, but certainly was knowledgeable and interested in the league.
But I don't care too much about the commentary. It's more important that Columbia plays well and at least continues its "no blowout" string that it's maintained all year. A big plus would be seeing M.A. Olawale get the start, (his first name is Millicent, so I guess no one needs to wonder why he's going with the initials these days). In the Yale game notes, Coach Wilson alluded to how banged up Olawale was after his one quarter against Dartmouth last week. But unless he's really injured, I will be very disappointed if Olawale doesn't start. He has the speed and toughness to jump-start the positively morbid Columbia offense. I've wished for a running QB for years, and Olawale seems like he could be the guy. Of course, if Wilson wants to shuttle Olawale with Craig Hormann like Ray Tellier did in 1994 with the running Mike Cavanaugh and the passing Jamie Schwalbe, so be it... as long as it works. As it is now, our offense is lethally predictable. Everyone knows we cannot run the ball and that makes it nearly impossible for anything else to work. A fast scrambling QB who can break tackles will give Yale fits, and the Lions need to give Yale fits to win or even make it close.
Weather a Factor?
Right now it looks like it will be a warm rainy day at Yale Bowl this Saturday. That could cut down on attendance and add to the letdown factor the Elis will almost certainly be dealing with after their big OT win over Penn last week. We shall see.
It appears Chris Allison took his demotion on the depth chart from #2 QB to #3 QB very hard and he has left the team. For some reason, too many Columbia players seem to be unable to handle getting benched and they decide to bolt the squad instead. I'm not sure if this is because of poor coaching, kids' unacceptable attitudes, or because New York City is too distracting. But I'd like to see this stop. Quitting a team usually doesn't solve anything for Columbia athletes. The ones who quit when I was a student still ended up hanging out with the athletes, joining or staying in the athletes' fraternities, and generally living the same exact undergrad life they would have had they stayed on their respective teams. That said, Columbia probably needs to provide more support for its varsity athletes so they don't feel so overwhelmed, but at some point you have to say this is on the shoulders of the individual students.
Around the League
Princeton 31 Harvard 28
This was the game everyone was waiting for, and it was exciting enough to earn the hype. The most impressive aspects of this win for the Tigers were the defense's abilities to neutralize Clifton Dawson and coming from behind to win after Harvard had rallied to take the lead going into the fourth quarter. Dawson had just 64 yards on 21 carries. He did score two touchdowns, but to hold Dawson below 75 yards rushing is remarkable. Princeton led 24-14 at the half, but Crimson QB Liam O'Hagan started running and passing Harvard back into the game. Late in the third, Harvard had rallied to take a 28-24 lead and seemed to have grabbed the momentum back for good. Then Princeton QB Jeff Terrell led the Tigers on a 61-yard drive that included converting a 3rd and 13 from their own 36 and a key fumble recovery by Rob Toresco at the Harvard 20. It ended with a nice 20-yard TD pass to Brendan Circle. But it wasn't over, the last 4:32 of the game featured a blocked Princeton field goal, and TWO Kevin Kelleher interceptions of O'Hagan, the second of which finally sealed the victory.
Impressions: Princeton really gets better every week, and I think the Tigers are the best team in the Ivy League right now. The only trouble is, they have to head to Yale Bowl to face the Elis in 17 days and that's going to be a tough test in front of probably 20,000+ fans. Right now, I think Princeton is a better team, but that game is going to be close. Perhaps my Lions will do the Tigers a favor and shock the Bulldogs this Saturday? I can dream.
Yale 17 Penn 14 (OT)
A game that had been a runner's duel between Penn's Joe Sandberg and Yale's Mike McLeod came down to field goal kicking as the Elis Alan Kimball was able to hit his overtime field goal attempt from 35 yards out and Penn's Derek Zoch missed from 37. Sandberg ran for 125 yards on 30 carries and McLeod had a nearly identical 122 yards on 29 carries. Both QB's struggled as Penn's Robert Irvin threw two costly interceptions and Yale's Matt Polhemus completed only 50% of his passes for 115 yards and an interception. Polhemus also only ran for 37 yards.
Impressions: Yale's defense seems to be improving, and that has to give them hope to win the title outright. They should have a great shot at beating Princeton at home on November 11th, but then the Elis have to go to Harvard for The Game.
Brown 28 Cornell 7
Brown's non-existent running game and weak run defense turned things around and the Bears dominated the line of scrimmage in this blowout win in Providence. The key was holding the Big Red's Luke Siwula to just 49 yards on 16 carries. Brown QB Joe DiGiacomo went 17-for-27 for 183 yards, two touchdowns, and NO interceptions. DiGiacomo also ran nine times for 50 yards and another TD.
Impressions: Cornell has to be the biggest disappointment this season as the Big Red have looked just awful on the road, (where they've lost by an average score of 27-12). Brown is the second biggest disappointment, but DiGiacomo showed that he has enough talent to salvage the second half of the season for the Bears. It looks like Cornell and Columbia will be playing for the right to avoid last place on November 11th at Baker Field.