Wednesday, November 08, 2006

This is the Game

Partly cloudy skies with an incredible 65 degrees are predicted for this Saturday's Columbia-Cornell game at Baker Field.

Columbia football has undoubtedly made some nice improvements this year. The defense is aggressive and effective, and there are a few nice additions to the otherwise moribund offense like freshman Austin Knowlin.

But this team needs an Ivy win and this is the weekend to get it. Cornell is a good team overall, with a good defense and a strong running game, but the Big Red have been very weak on the road. (I'll have a complete scouting report on Cornell tomorrow).

The Lions have now lost 16 straight Ivy contests in a row. That's by far the longest losing streak anyone's suffered in Ivy football since THE STREAK; Columbia's 44-game overall losing streak from mid-1983 to mid-1988. This must stop, and it must stop now.

Columbia-Cornell: Recent History

None of Columbia's Ivy rivalries has been as evenly matched in the post streak era than the one with the Big Red. In the 18 games the Lions have played against Cornell since the end of the streak, the Big Red have won 10 and Columbia has won 8. In that time, no team has won more than two in a row, (Cornell is currently riding one of those two-game streaks), and 10 of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Last year's 45-7 win by the Big Red in Ithaca was one of the rare routs in the recent series.

My own memories of Columbia-Cornell are mostly good. The first full Columbia game I ever attended was the 1988 contest that began with a nice start for the Lions but ended in a 42-19 Big Red win on their way to a shared Ivy title, Cornell had to share the title with Penn despite beating them head-to-head a week after the Columbia game. (The first partial Columbia game I ever attended was a few weeks earlier when CU edged Princeton to end THE STREAK).

A year later, coach Ray Tellier picked up his first victory as a Columbia coach with a 25-19 win in Ithaca, (a game I did not attend, but listened to very closely on the radio in my dorm room).

The 1990 Columbia-Cornell game at Wien Stadium was one of the worst experiences of my life as a Lion fan. In a driving rainstorm that never ended, the Big Red stuffed Columbia 41-0. I was physically and emotionally drenched and drained. The only bright spot was the rain even scared the security guards away and I got to watch most of the game on the Columbia sideline undetected.

1991 was not much better. I traveled up to Ithaca to see the game and the Lions were robbed blind in a 28-21 loss. A late Columbia TD was called back by the officials who said the Lion QB crossed the line of scrimmage before he threw the ball. Replays showed he clearly did not. Apparently, the Cornell coaches screamed bloody murder after the ball was thrown and the refs relented for some reason.

I didn't get to another Columbia-Cornell game until 1998 at Baker Field. The Lions played a very nice game after a slow start in the first quarter and won 22-10.

The game in 2000 was another rough one, but filled with a lot of exciting moments. Jonathan Reese returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Columbia score a TD with less than three minutes to go to take a 31-28 lead. But a very short kickoff allowed the Big Red to march quickly down the field and take a 35-31 lead with less than a minute to go. A Jeff McCall to Doug Peck bomb put the ball inside the Cornell five, but time ran out.

The 2002 game was played in rough weather and another short kickoff and late Cornell TD not only lost the game for Columbia but also spelled the end of Ray Tellier's tenure as head coach.

I was enjoying the 2004 contest until Cornell pulled off a huge late comeback to erase a 26-14 fourth quarter Columbia lead and turn it into a 32-26 Big Red win.

I'm hoping to get some happier memories this Saturday.


At Thu Nov 09, 03:03:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Columbia 37P6 said...

As always, you're right on target and I really enjoy reading your great reviews. Regarding the offense, I said early in the 2006 season that one option for improving the running game was to have Justin Masorti, Andy Shalbrack or another of the talented linebackers run the ball in the first quarter to soften up the defense for Davis and Cobb. That certainly worked for Columbia when Des Werthman was around in the nineties. I believe the 225 pound Masorti played fullback as well as linebacker in high school and Shalbrack is a tremendous athlete. I know it's difficult to expect a freshman to play both offense and defense, but these two guys are great athletes so why not give them a few simple handoffs and see what they can do? However, the big question with the running game remains why Columbia's three highly-regarded freshmen prospects , Jefferson, Stoll and Rangel are not seeing playing time at tailback. I also remember reading that Pyles' high school coach thought he could be an outstanding tailback. Do you have any specifics on what's going on with the freshmen?

At Thu Nov 09, 03:57:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Thanks for the kind words. I think Wilson's reluctance to use a few guys both ways is a good indication of where his mind is right now. It looks like he's using this season as a shakedown cruise for the offense. He's not going to tinker and while a great move or two could have produced one more win, (I guess against Dartmouth or Yale), it's hard to blame Wilson for wanting to learn more this season than gamble. That said, I don't think it's much of a gamble to insert Olawale a few times per game and maybe even start him against Brown. We'll see.

At Thu Nov 09, 05:45:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Werthman was used late in games at RB, and only in short yardage/red zone circumstances. More recently,in '96, Rory Wilfork came in at FB and Marcellus Wiley at tailback. That combination was devastating. Masorti reminds me of Des. As for other freshmen, I just can't understand why Norries doesn't go for broke the next two weeks and play MA, Stoll and Rangel. Jefferson was moved to CB;not sure why. Shalbrack should be left where he is; I see him at FS when Tad graduates. MA can also play running back, by the way.

At Thu Nov 09, 07:10:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

link to masorti's stats -
(yeah - I'm family) almost 1000 offensive yards last year and he isn't on Columbia's O?

At Thu Nov 09, 07:13:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andy Shalbrack's stats aren't listed - sorry.


At Thu Nov 09, 08:38:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Interesting stats for Justin. Look, the future is bright. He's proved he can do his primary job at linebacker, so that's a nice accomplishment for a freshman right there. I hope we get to see more of him.

At Thu Nov 09, 10:21:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shalbrack is having a good season. Good athlete indeed. You ought to see him throw a football or play basketball. Kid's got game.

At Thu Nov 09, 06:47:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Through 8 games, we have seen 2 distinctly different teams. The defense has been tenacious. We have seen innovation and free substitution to reach the desired end-a championship defense.

On offense, we have seen the opposite. we haven't seen the same qualities. The same personnel are playing the same positions and useing the same play book and getting the same results.

This has to be differences in the offensive vs. defensive coaching staffs and their philosophies. Innovation and free thinking doesn't seem to reside on the offensive side of the ball.

Our head coach, after all, guaranteed that Columbia would not win the Ivy League championship this year. I don't think I have ever heard any head coach say that beginning a season.

The irony is we could have been "in the hunt" if our offense could have even produced marginally.

It is time to "pull out the stops" and do what needs to be done to prepare for next year. A "W" would do that! If this is different personnel or a different philosophy, let's show our capabilities.

At Thu Nov 09, 08:48:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. It's all been on the big guy's shoulders, and in addition to making some bone-head decisions (self-proclaimed "taking of responsibility")on the field, he is placing too much reliance on an offensive staff that, in my opinion, is not trying as hard as it could to win, ie. pulling out all the stops. The left side of the offensive line has been horrible, while there are a couple of young guys on the defensive side that could play much better than those in there right now.

At Thu Nov 09, 10:37:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is the two deep for Cornell? I hope to see MA, Stoll, Rangel, Joseph and of course Knowlin start for a change. There is a tradition of starting seniors for the last home game but the future belongs to the talented freshmen on the offensive side of the ball.

At Sun Nov 12, 03:40:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

BIG WIN for the program.
Perhaps some of that Rutgers magic rubbed off on the Lions. Believe.


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