Monday, October 30, 2006

Official Statement on Musgrove

Below is the short article on Chad Musgrove from today's Columbia Spectator. As expected, Chad's departure has nothing to do with football. Let's remember that this may not be the last we see of him, as people like Marcellus Wiley and a few others returned to Columbia football after leaving school for personal reasons.

I know we all wish Chad the best.

Football Starter No Longer Enrolled at CU
Reasons Still Undisclosed for Cornerback's Abrupt Exit
By Taylor Harwin
Issue date: 10/30/06 Section: News
Columbia College junior and starting cornerback Chad Musgrove was removed from the roster before Saturday's game and is no longer a student at Columbia.

Musgrove could not be reached for comment, but the office of Athletic Communications issued the following statement: "Chad is no longer enrolled at Columbia University. Due to the student's right to privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act we are not able to comment further."

The act restricts the disclosure of a student's academic, legal, or personal information beyond a minimal level. Releasing information relevant to a varsity sport is allowed under the law, however, so Musgrove's departure was not related to football.

Musgrove, an All-District player out of Pass Christian, Miss., was a prize recruit in Bob Shoop's class of 2008. He didn't crack the starting lineup as a freshman, but saw increasing time his sophomore year before winning the starting job this season.

The 6-foot-3, 187-pound junior was one of the Lions' fastest runners in the open field. His athleticism made him a potential asset on both sides of the ball, but trouble with catches kept him on the defense. He scored his first collegiate touchdown this year on a 75-yard interception return against Iona, but he lost his spot at kick returner after several bobbled catches against Princeton.

24 Hour Rule

A day after the 21-3 loss to Yale, I guess I'm not as angry about the tack-on touchdown the Elis scored after calling time with six seconds left. The good news is that against the best overall offense in the Ivies, the Lions only gave up 14 points and one defensive TD in what turned out to be decent weather after all for most of the game.

But now, I'm a lot more disappointed about Chad Musgrove's departure from the team. There's no news on why as of yet, but this can't be about a player quitting over playing time. I can only assume this is physical or academic in nature, but either way I hope he comes back either this year or next. Remember, Marcellus Wiley had to sit out the 1995 season, but he came back better than ever in '96. When I find out why Chad is gone I'll post it here.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

All Wet

Yale 21 Columbia 3

Of all of Columbia's four losses this season, this one feels the worst. That's because the Lion could have easily won this game, and Yale has the refs and one bad pass by CU quarterback Craig Hormann to thank a lot more than any of their own players for their victory. And the worst part of this game was a tack-on TD Yale scored after calling timeout with six seconds left even though they already led 14-3 at the time.

I don't mean to take too much away from Yale. They were the better team today. But Columbia had a chance to beat them and it wasn't exactly the Elis that stopped them. Here's what did:

1) Leading 3-0 in the 2nd quarter, Columbia had just forced the Bulldogs into a tough 3rd and 10 situation after an incomplete pass. Or so it seemed. The ref threw a flag for a little push Lion defensive back Jo Jo Smith put on the Yale receiver as the ball sailed over his head. It was a penalty that never would be called in the NFL, Division IA, or most Pop Warner games. It gave Yale new life and the Elis scored their first touchdown moments later.

2) Trailing 7-3 late in the 3rd quarter, the Lions were marching the football into Yale territory when Columbia QB Craig Hormann threw a very ill-advised pass right to Eli defender Bobby Abare who ran it back for a 52-yard TD. At that point, the game was over.

3) In general, Columbia's offense is just punchless with Hormann at the helm. He takes too long to throw and he is too slow to run out of trouble let alone gain yardage on the ground. He could be a great part of a 1-2 punch with running Lion QB M.A. Olawale, but Olawale only got in on one play today.

The most annoying thing about the game was the way Yale worked so hard to run the score up at the end of the game. With 4th and goal at the one and six seconds left to play, Eli coach Jack Siedlecki CALLED A TIMEOUT, just so he could run one more play for a cosmetic, rub it in, touchdown. It was a classless move, and those who would argue that he was just trying to give his senior back-up tailback a chance to score his first touchdown need to get their heads out Pop Warner land. I have never seen a team call a timeout with less than ten seconds to play in order to score a meaningless touchdown. I didn't see any anger in Columbia Head Coach Norries Wilson's eyes over the final score, but there should have been.

Columbia MVP: Wide receiver Nick DeGasperis had a strong day with 97 yards receiving, and he made a big 42-yard catch and run to set up Columbia's only score.

More later...

Friday, October 27, 2006

Columbia-Yale: Keys to the Game

Columbia is an 18.5 point underdog at Yale Bowl this Saturday

Yale is on a high after beating Penn in OT at the Bowl last week while Columbia may have put together its worst performance of the year in its last game; a 20-7 loss at home to Dartmouth.

Yale has the kind of multi-faceted offense that could finally blow the doors off of the Lions' tough defense which so far, hasn't given up more than 21 points in any game.

But Columbia may get a big defensive assist from Mother Nature. Heavy rain and high winds are expected for Saturday and Yale Bowl has a way of making 20 MPH winds turn into 40 MPH winds pretty fast. Columbia was blown out in a windy Yale Bowl in 2000, but that was an otherwise clear day and the home team was able to take advantage.

Despite my pleas to start M.A. Olawale at quarterback, Lions Head Coach Norries Wilson has announced that Craig Hormann will get the start again. However, it looks like Olawale will get into the game at some point. Why Wilson thinks Hormann and company will get something going on offense this weekend when almost nothing has worked in the six weeks coming into this game is beyond me. But you can understand his reluctance to start a freshman.

On offense, Columbia must find a running game. The speedy Olawale at QB gives us an instant running attack, and if he does see significant time he could achieve what tailback Jordan Davis has not been able to do all season. If the rain and mud make moving the ball nearly impossible for both teams, that would obviously favor the Lions, since they haven't been able to move the ball most of the season anyway. But sometimes, heavy rain can favor an offense, especially one with so many weapons like Yale. Meanwhile, the Lions may find it hard to set up screens and other short pass plays in the rain, but those are the only kinds of plays that have worked for them. To be realistic, if the weather really is terrible, Columbia should just focus on holding on to the ball and letting the kicking game and field position be their offense.

On defense, the Lions need to use the foul weather conditions to create turnovers. Eli QB Matt Polhemus is usually good for one interception per game, and Columbia needs to make that two or three tomorrow to have a fighting chance.

I'm not sure anyone can really stop Yale running back Mike McLeod. I think he might get 35-40 carries tomorrow if the rain and wind kills the passing game. The Lions need to pray the muddy field will slow McLeod down just a bit and give the linebackers and safeties a chance to stuff him. It's still a tall order.

If Wilson is able to work Olawale into the game effectively and the defense gets some major help from the weather, Columbia could keep this one close. But winning the game seems like a very long shot.

Prediction: Yale 17 Columbia 7

Brown (+5.5) at Penn

The Brown-Penn game at Franklin Field could be the only dry Ivy game tomorrow. Right now, the forecasters are expecting the rain to be out of the Philly area by game time. That's bad news for the Bears, who needed a terrible weather situation to even the playing field against the Quakers. Brown did get a nice win over Cornell in Providence last week, but some aspects of that contest, especially Bear QB Joe DiGiacomo's strong numbers, seemed like an anomaly. Meanwhile, Penn knows it's still in this Ivy race even after the 17-14 overtime loss to Yale last Saturday. Look for Joe Sandberg to have a big day on the ground for the Quakers.

Prediction: Penn 24 Brown 13

Harvard (-15.5) at Dartmouth

Another game that will be hit with very bad rain, wind and this one will be cold too. Harvard's Clifton Dawson is going to figure heavily in this game, and Crimson QB Liam O'Hagan is going to run it a lot too. Dartmouth will counter with their QB Mike Fritz carrying the ball plenty, but he won't have as much success against Harvard as he did at Columbia last week.

Prediction: Harvard 21 Dartmouth 7

Princeton (-10) at Cornell

Ithaca, NY is going to be a very ugly place to be tomorrow. But Princeton is a team perfectly suited for ill weather. They have a great offensive line, strong possession-type receivers, and a QB who can make things happen with his feet when he needs to. Cornell will counter with Luke Siwula for about 40 carries, but the Big Red just aren't strong enough right now to beat a Tiger team that is very hungry for a championship.

Prediction: Princeton 17 Cornell 6

Scouting Yale

Does Yale have any real weaknesses? That's the question you have to ask yourself after looking at their record, roster, and team statistics. Sure, the defense has been questionable at times, but it truly seems to be getting better. And if you strip away the opening week blowout loss to San Diego, the entire team looks a lot better. With a 3-0 conference record and home field advantage to look forward to when they play the other 3-0 team, Princeton, the Elis definitely have a shot at winning it all.


Yale has a great runner, strong QB, 2-3 top-flight wide receivers, and perhaps the best offensive line in the league. What else could you ask for?

If I had to pick the top star on this offense, and the entire team, I'd have to go with sophomore running back Mike McLeod. McLeod has 863 yards rushing, a 4.9 yards-per-carry average, a whopping 10 rushing TD's and that's not including his 117 yards and one touchdown receiving. McLeod has been held under 100 yards rushing just once this season, and that was in that disastrous season-opening game against San Diego. Second year players in this league rarely make this kind of an impact, and Yale can look forward to two more years of this talented kid leading their offense.

Meanwhile, Matt Polhemus is a very dangerous option quarterback who averages 5.5 yards a carry and it getting more lethal with his throws as well. He only has four TD passes, but who needs to throw into the end zone when you have McLeod and your own legs to get you there?

But the wide receivers aren't just standing around. Chandler Henley and Ashley Wright have put up impressive numbers this season, Henley being the more productive with 30 catches for 408 yards and one touchdown. Wright is more of a deep threat with 17.3 yards-per-catch average and two touchdowns, including a 63-yarder.

Doing the blocking for all these runners and receivers is an offensive line anchored by All-Ivy shoo-in Ed McCarthy.

The only question anyone can reasonably ask about this offense is why Yale is scoring just 24 points a game and not a lot more.


A big part of Yale's defensive stats have been deceptively skewed by that loss to San Diego. So one has to sift through the game statistics from the Elis' other five contests to get a handle on strengths and weaknesses. Clearly, the defense is not as strong as the Bulldog offense, but it isn't a pushover.

If you strip out the San Diego game, the "D" is giving up a respectable 18.2 points and less than 180 yards passing per game. Those are hardly worrisome numbers when you consider how strong the offense is.

But there are some weaknesses. For one thing, the Elis have forced only eleven turnovers so far, and that's just two more turnovers than they've given up. Certainly not a bad stat, but weaker than what you'd expect on a 5-1 team. Also, Yale's defense seems to get tired as the game goes on. The Elis have allowed 81 second half points this year compared to just 53 points in the first two quarters. And the most surprising stat is that opponents are converting a whopping 51% of their third down situations against them.

This weekend, an added concern is the health of defensive end Kyle Hawari, arguably the best player on the defense. His status is listed as "doubtful," and his presence will be missed if he can't get into the game. But linebackers Chris Barry and Bobby Abare have stepped up this season and I expect them to work even harder if Hawari doesn't play.

The secondary is a young group that's improving from week to week. Sophomore Steven Santoro personifies the unit as he only played JV football last year, but now he has three interceptions and is one of the Elis' leading tacklers.

Special Teams

Placekicker Alan Kimball is talented, if a little erratic. He nailed a 48-yarder in week one but is six-of-11 in his other kicks this season. Punter Tom Mante seems to be just average. Wide receiver Chandler Henley hasn't been dangerous as a punt returner but Santoro is averaging almost 25 yards per kickoff return and he had 94-yard kickoff return for a TD against San Diego. Yale's coverage teams have done an excellent job.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

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.

Allison Bolts

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.

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.

Sunday, October 22, 2006


Dartmouth 20 Columbia 7

Columbia's offense was virtually non-existent again, and the Big Green rode key scrambles from QB Mike Fritz to gain their first win of the year.

Two key plays sealed the Lions fate. On Columbia's first play from scrimmage, Jordan Davis fumbled the ball away at the 25. Dartmouth recovered and scored a TD moments later.

And on the final play of the first half, Columbia's Austin Knowlin was tackled just shy of the Big Green goal line and time ran out.

The only bright spot for Columbia came late in the second half, when frosh QB M.A. Olawale took over and showed his incredible running ability. Will he start next week against Yale?

Give credit to Dartmouth's defense and their opportunistic offense. This is a well-coached team.

More later...

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

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Scouting Dartmouth

Leading off: VOTE FOR NORRIES!

In a brilliant campaign, Liberty Mutual Insurance is sponsoring an online site where people can vote for the college football coach of the year from all the major NCAA divisions. Here's the link: Coach of the Year

You also get a chance to write a little bit about why you're voting for your candidate. Here's what I wrote about Norries Wilson:

"He's brought a fire back to the Columbia football team that has already exceeded its win total from all of last season. Wilson also really takes risks to stand up for his players in an unfavorable environment. These hard-working scholar-athletes know he's on their side."

I realize these online polls are a little silly. But I'd also like to see Coach Wilson get as much support as possible. After last week, it's clear Norries is not getting the respect he deserves and some of us can do something to change that.

On to Dartmouth...

Recent History

For the last several years, the Columbia-Dartmouth game has become an annual battle to avoid the Ivy cellar. But lost in the concern over the standings is the fact that most of these games have been exciting and competitive for most of the last several years. In fact, with the exception of Dartmouth's 40-0 blowout win in 1996, (and that game was actually for FIRST PLACE in the Ivies that year), and Columbia's impressive 49-21 win over the Big Green in 2000, these teams have played eight very good games over the last 10 seasons.

All of this comes after Dartmouth put together one of the most impressive in-conference dominations in league history. After the Lions pulled out a close win over the Big Green/Indians in 1971 at Baker Field, Dartmouth never lost to Columbia again until 1998. There was one tie, a 17-17 game in 1983 at Giants Stadium of all places. Columbia played there just once that season as Wien Stadium was being built. The Lions played some other "home" games at Hofstra. But I've always wondered what the attendance was for that Giants Stadium game. If anyone knows, please let us know in the comments. Anyway, during that incredible 26 game streak without a loss, Dartmouth outscored Columbia by an average of 30-12. The Big Green also recorded five shutouts. But there were some very close games. One came in 1987, when the Lions just missed a last-second field goal attempt that would have ended their record losing streak eleven months earlier than when they actually did. Another was in 1989, when Columbia blew a 12-3 lead with about two minutes to go and fell 13-12. And in 1994, the Lions lost 14-13 when Columbia Coach Ray Tellier made the gutsy call to go for the win with a two-point conversion attempt that ultimately failed. And in some games that weren't exactly close, there were still some memorable moments. In the 1982 game, Columbia QB John Witkowski lit up the Lion and the Ivy League record book going 39-for-64 for 466 yards and five touchdowns in a 56-41 loss to Dartmouth.

But the streak came to a close in 1998 in Hanover, when Columbia edged the Big Green 24-14. This was not only the first win for Columbia over Dartmouth since 1971, it was the first win for them in Hanover since 1946! Including that game, the Lions have won five of the last eight games against the Green, including another win in Hanover in 2001.

The 2006 Big Green


Dartmouth has been slammed with a very tough schedule to start the season and the result is a pretty misleading 0-5 record. I'm not sure how many Ivies would have fared better against the likes of Colgate, UNH, Penn, Yale, and Holy Cross. Head Coach Buddy Teevens is doing a good job with a crew that was 2-8 last year and lost six out of seven Ivy games by an average of 18 points a game. This year in two games against two of the best Ivy teams, the Big Green have only been beaten by an average of 9.5 points. It's hard to tell whether the team attitude has changed much considering the winless first half of the season, but Dartmouth does seem to be playing with more fire.

Some of that fire got out of control after last week's overtime loss to Holy Cross when players and coaches from both teams got into a post game brawl that brought the local cops onto the field. But the incomparable Bruce Wood of Big Green Alert reports that it's likely no Dartmouth players will be suspended and no one was seriously hurt, so the effects of fight will be purely emotional.


The Big Green are averaging just 13.2 points a game, but there is marked improvement in some areas. The running game is still weak, but the team is averaging just under 100 yards a game on the ground and that's a big improvement from last year's 40 yards per game clip. The top rusher is QB Mike Fritz, who gets his yards mostly from scrambles, (something Columbia's had a lot of trouble defending this year and every year for that matter). Fritz has 196 yards rushing on 36 carries, which includes a 30-yard touchdown run last week against Holy Cross. The regular tailback seems to be Hudson Smythe who has 136 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries. Not far behind him in carries is Milan Williams who has 37 carries, but just 70 yards.

As a passer, Fritz is doing a decent job filling in for sophomore Josh Cohen who was suspended for the year for academic reasons. Fritz's completion percentage is an impressive 61.9% as Teevens seems to be calling a lot of high-percentage passes to give his young quarterback some confidence. He has thrown six interceptions versus five touchdown passes, but that is not a glaring weakness. Pass protection has also improved as Dartmouth has allowed nine sacks so far after giving up a shocking 54 all of last season.

The receivers are led by Ryan Fuselier, who has 31 catches for 339 yards and two TD's. The deep threat is Brian Evans who has just 10 catches and no TD's, but his average per catch is 21.6 yards.

Overall this is not an offense that should scare anyone in the Ivy League, but as it showed in its close 17-10 loss to Penn, it can be opportunistic at times. Fritz is the biggest weapon, especially as a scrambler. Teams that don't pay attention to him are likely to get burned.


Thanks to games against offensive juggernauts like UNH and Yale, Dartmouth's defensive statistics this season don't really tell the true story of a unit that has definitely improved from 2005. The fact that the Big Green gave up just 17 points to Penn at Franklin Field and held Yale under 30 points is what people should pay attention to.

The rush defense has been a little inconsistent, but there's obviously some strengths to build on here. The Big Green gave up just 66 yards on the ground to Penn's Joe Sandberg to offset big games against them from Yale's Mike McLeod and Colgate's Jordan Scott. It appears that only the top rushers have burned Dartmouth, with the exception of Sandberg. My vote for the top player here is defensive tackle Brian Osimiri. Dan Cook is another force, despite his lack of size.

The pass defense is a different story. The Big Green have grabbed just two interceptions this season and just about every opposing QB has had a pretty good game against them. Dartmouth also only has six sacks this season. This is where you can beat the Big Green.

This is not a porous defense by any means, but it can be beaten, especially through the air.

Special Teams

Placekicker Andrew Kempler is just not a field goal kicker. He's one-for-four on field goal attempts, with his only successful kick coming from the PAT distance of 20 yards. Kempler is nine-for-nine on PAT's. Punter Brian Scullin is solid and sometimes even brilliant. Dartmouth's return game is not strong. Phil Galligan is averaging a respectable 19.5 yards per kickoff return and a very weak 2.4 yards per punt return. But the Big Green's return coverage has been a bright spot as Dartmouth is allowing just 16.1 yards per opposing kickoff return and 5.7 yards per opposing punt return.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ivy League Roundup

**Update on Coach Wilson's Rant**

After Coach Wilson went off on Ivy League officials and some Penn assistant coaches in the post game news conference, he has now sent a letter of apology to the league and the folks at Penn. This is the Ivy League's version of a fine that NFL coaches get when they criticize refs and the league. It's not unexpected, and is not a punishment per se. Hopefully; this will all serve to further motivate this team.

Now on to the analysis of last weekend's games:

Princeton 17 Brown 3

Princeton improved to 5-0 after this Friday night battle at Princeton Stadium. Once again, the Tiger defense was the story, holding the Bears to just nine first downs, 41 yards rushing and recording four sacks. Brown QB Joe DiGiacomo had no answers, going just six-of-17 for 71 yards and two interceptions. The Bears' defense was actually matching the Tigers for most of the game but late in the third quarter, Princeton took over at the Brown 43 after a bad punt and QB Jeff Terrell moved them down the field. Princeton took a 10-3 lead on Terrell's 18-yard TD pass to Rob Toresco coming out of the backfield. Brown returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but it was called back on a penalty. Obviously, that took the wind out of their sails, but it doesn't look like the Bears would have had enough on offense to do more than keep the game tied a little longer. Princeton's offense is not extremely strong, but it has enough weapons to take advantage of what the defense gives them; which is a considerable amount. This Saturday's game at versus Harvard for the League lead should be a good one.

Harvard 24 Lafayette 7

Clifton Dawson ended his two-game sub-100 yards rushing streak with 144 yards against the Leopards on 26 carries. Harvard's defense was the real story, possibly playing their best game of the season. Lafayette scored first after an early interception gave them the ball at the Crimson 22. But Harvard slammed the door after that; holding Lafayette to just 83 yards rushing and recording six sacks. Harvard's 2005 starting QB Liam O'Hagan will be available to play this week, but he is listed as the backup to Chris Pizzotti, who has performed pretty well in emergency duty after O'Hagan was suspended for the first five games.

Cornell 38 Colgate 14

The Big Red shocked the favored Raiders at Schoelkopf as Luke Siwula ran for 145 yards on 29 carries and did not have even one run for a loss. Cornell QB Nate Ford had an excellent game as well, passing for two TD's and avoiding any interceptions. It's not clear whether this will be the turnaround game for the Big Red after a slow start, but with a very winnable game against Brown in Providence this coming Saturday, it very well could be the start of something good for Cornell.

Yale 26 Lehigh 20 (OT)

A thriller at the Bowl! Mike McLeod had a monster game, rushing for 204 yards on 40 carries. He also had two touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. Yale QB Matt Polhemus had a great day as well, going 18-for-26 for 244 yards and no interceptions. His gutsy 20 yard pass on the first play of Yale's OT possession set up the winning score. Lehigh had their chances in this game; they settled for a field goal on a 4th and goal from the one, and they tied it with a 91-yard drive and two-point conversion. But the offense bailed them out. This may have been Yale's best game of the season, and it comes just before the Bulldogs' big showdown with Penn at home this Saturday.

Holy Cross 24 Dartmouth 21 (OT)

The Crusaders ruined Dartmouth's homecoming with an overtime victory in a back-and-forth game in Hanover. While the end of the day was marred by a post game brawl on the field, there were many positives in the loss for the Big Green. Dartmouth QB Mike Fritz proved to be quite the scrambler, running 10 times for 74 yards, including a 30-yard TD. Fritz also had a decent day throwing the ball, going 15-for-26 for 147 yards and no interceptions. The Big Green's already strong defense played well, giving up just 100 yards on the ground. As several Dartmouth players are waiting to learn if they will be punished for the fight at the end of the game, the team prepares for its annual "avoid the Ivy basement" showdown with Columbia in New York this Saturday.

Looking Ahead...

This weekend's Ivy games will feature a nice helping of perfect symmetry. All four of the 2-0 teams in the league will play each other, while the four 0-2 teams will face each other as well. This means that by the end of the day, we will be able to divide the league into four different sections; two undefeated teams, two one-loss teams, two one-win teams, and two winless teams.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Mid-Season Report Card

After five games the Lions are 3-2 and 0-2 in the Ivy League. Their Ivy League losing streak now stands at 13 games. But there are a lot of positive changes on this team and, for the most part, Columbia seems to be heading in the right direction.


Columbia's offense last season consisted mostly of the deep threat wide receiver Brandon Bowser. He seemed to score every week, even in games when the Lions were blown out. The now-graduated Bowser's big-gainers not only got CU on the board, but they skewed the offensive statistics, making QB Craig Hormann look a little better than he was.

With Bowser gone, Columbia has struggled in every facet of its offense, with one exception. The Lions offensive line has improved greatly in pass protection, giving up just five sacks in five games, compared to 33 sacks surrendered during all of last season. But the offensive line continues to struggle mightily in run blocking, and this weakness has poisoned the rest of the offense's chances to score points week after week.

Sophomore tailback Jordan Davis has improved since last year, but not by any great degree. He often doesn't have any holes to work with, and he's not aggressive enough to create his own. After last week's loss to Penn, Davis fell 31 yards below a 600-yards-for-the-season pace he'll need to help the Lions win games. Columbia has only two rushing touchdowns, and Davis has neither. Backup James Cobb has shown some flashes of brilliance, but he's not the answer. There really haven't been enough carries for any of Columbia's other runners to rate them fairly, but it may be time to spread the ball around, especially to the fullbacks, to see if they can use their size to grind out some yards. For Columbia to attempt no rushing plays after a first and goal from the four last week at Penn shows just how far the Lions have to go in this area.

Craig Hormann seems to have taken a step back from what was a somewhat encouraging sophomore season in 2005. Many of his throws have been a little off-target and he continues to have trouble scrambling for any yardage whatsoever. His completion percentage is down to 53.1% and his yards per attempt stat is at 5.5, also down from last season. Coach Wilson doesn't seem to be ready to yank Hormann, but it may be time to give sophomore Chris Allison a chance in some parts of the upcoming games if Columbia's offense continues to struggle in the early going.

At the beginning of the season, we expected heavy participation from tight ends Jamal Russell and Troy Evangelist. But Russell has been plagued with a series of dropped passes, and Evangelist hasn't had one reception yet. It's not clear why Columbia isn't using these guys more often in the offense, but it may have something to do with the fact that the down linemen need as much help as they can get. It may simply be a case of the coaches not being able to spare the tight ends as receiving weapons. It's yet another example of the offensive lines' weaknesses poisoning the entire attack.

The wide receivers are playing pretty well. Freshman Austin Knowlin is a real sparkplug and he certainly makes one optimistic about the future of the program. Seniors Nick DeGasperis and Adrian Demko have done pretty well and while junior Tim Paulin needs work, he's getting into the mix and using his speed well. One can only imagine how dangerous this unit would be if the running game were just a little better. As it is now, opposing defenses can really concentrate on pass coverage.

Overall Offensive Grade: D


What a difference a year makes! Defensive Coordinator Lou Ferrari has made the most of his second tour of duty as a Columbia coach. His 3-5-3 defensive scheme is allowing defenders to get to the ball quicker and confusing opposing offenses with all the pre-snap movement. Most importantly, the system is allowing the defense's bevy of freshman and sophomore players make the most of their abilities and hiding their inexperience.

The defensive line, made up of starters Todd Abrams, Darren Schmidt and Philip Mitchell has done a great job of stopping the run, something the Lions could not do last season. Of course a lot of the credit for that belongs to the excellent linebacking crew, but everything starts up front. They're allowing 117.8 yards rushing per game compared to 236 yards allowed per game last season. That's better than a 50% improvement. Opposing rushers are getting just 3.2 yards a carry compared to 4.9 last season, (down 34.6%). They've allowed just two rushing touchdowns all season, compared to 26 given up at the end of last year. And the Lions have 13 sacks at mid-season, when they recorded 16 all of last year. But what the stats don't show is the frequency with which Lion defenders end up in the opposing backfield, and the intensity of the hits they're doling out as well.

The big play-makers are the linebackers, led by senior tri-captain Adam Brekke. Brekke seems to be in on every tackle, taking his job as the defensive field general with gusto. Sophomore Drew Quinn and freshman Andy Shalbrack are not far behind making big plays with surprisingly regularity. Freshmen Justin Masorti and Lou Miller have battled each other nicely for one inside linebacker starting spot each week and it seems to be making both of them better players, (although it looks like Masorti has emerged as the slightly better player). Another brilliant move has been moving the ever-aggressive and hard-working Justin Nunez from the secondary into the key "spur" slot at linebacker, where he is getting a chance to stop the run, sack the QB, and still make interceptions.

Despite being undermanned, the Columbia secondary is still strong. Senior Tad Crawford is still leading the way at free safety, and junior Chad Musgrove is a threat to pick off balls and return them for touchdowns. The third starter, 5"7 junior Jo Jo Smith, hasn't let anyone take advantage of his size. The Lions gave up a respectable 183 yards in the air per game last year, and they've whittled that down to 163 yards so far this season. More importantly, they've already picked off nine passes compared to just eight all of last season.

And the final stat is the most important; points allowed. The Lions are giving up just 12.2 points a game compared to 33.7 a year ago. Enough said.

Overall Defensive Grade: A

Special Teams

A mixed bag. Kicker Jon Rocholl is still doing a great job as a punter and his field goal kicking is still extremely impressive. But almost every other aspect of the Columbia special teams needs work. The Lion return game is almost non-existent. Too many opposing punts are not even returned, and Columbia loses 5-15 yards every time they hit the ground and roll. Kickoff returns aren't yielding the Lions much either. Covering opposing kicks was a big problem early in the season, but it seems like some of those problems have been solved. With the Lions' offensive problems, this unit needs to do more to spark the team.

Overall Special Teams Grade: C+


Head Coach Norries Wilson is firing up a young team week after week. It really shows on defense, where Columbia is avoiding the usual let down despite little help from the offense. Wilson has made some questionable decisions to go for it on a number of 4th downs, but he has been consistent in his intensity, and frankly, none of his gambles has cost the Lions a game. Both of Columbia's two losses hinged on a lot more than one or two 4th down plays. Wilson's tirade, (see below), after the Penn game is mostly a positive thing, as he never got down on his own players and showed he's not happy with the state of things in the Ivy League.

Wilson's weaknesses right now center on the offense, which is struggling terribly. He has half a season to get some improvement out of these guys, and he should consider shuffling the lineup a little more than he seems to be willing to do right now.

But Wilson has generally been a pleasure and he certainly has a chance to become one of the best coaches Columbia has ever had.

Overall Coaching Grade: B+

The Right Words at the Right Time

Much has already been said on the blogosphere about Columbia Coach Norries Wilson's angry rant in the post game news conference at Penn. You can hear the whole thing here: Wilson Audio Clip

There are couple of points no one should overlook after hearing the clip:

1) There were no obscenities and no personal threats. Anyone who wants to call this a "crazed rant" has never spent any time with Bill Parcells or Bobby Knight.

2) About 90% of what he said was true. There is no respect for Columbia football among the other Ivy teams, the Ivy officials, and even in much of the Columbia administration.

3) Penn's coaches are extremely aggressive recruiters who routinely bad-mouth Columbia to potential recruits. Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with that exactly, it's also totally understandable for Columbia's coach to complain about that. And if there were Penn coaches coming over to the Columbia bench and bad-mouthing the team and calling it a "J.V. squad," as Wilson claims, then that's just stupid and worthy of a rant.

4) Ivy League officiating is erratic at best. Lots of teams get hosed week after week. The refs could use a few tirades once in a while from the Ivy coaches to keep the more honest.

5) As far as there being any conspiracy against Columbia in the Ivies, obviously that's something you can't prove and that came from anger on Wilson's part.

6) Most importantly, while Coach Wilson ranted he NEVER pointed the finger at his own players. In fact, he went out of his way to defend them and praise their efforts. This is in complete contrast to the self-defeating rants former Columbia Coach Jim Garrett was famous for 20 years ago. He called his players a bunch of "losers" and Wilson is warning anyone who refuses to respect his players that they'll have Hell to pay. Bravo!

If student life at Columbia is anything like it was when I was there in the late 80's/early 90's, then the players need to know that their coach is behind them all the way even if not many other people are. I think this incident will fire up this team the rest of the season.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Weak Front

Penn 16 Columbia 0

Why Penn Won

The Quaker defense maintained its "bend but don't break" M.O. and never allowed a score despite Columbia's many visits into Penn territory. Even a Lion 1st and goal from the Quaker four was turned back. Meanwhile, their offense did what was necessary to win, taking advantage of just enough opportunities to score three times.

Why Columbia Lost

There's just no run blocking to be found on this team. The pass blocking was a little better, but Columbia QB Craig Hormann was forced to throw 45 times, often under heavy pressure. With the no running game to speak of, the Lions had to pass almost all the time, and Penn knew it. Even Columbia's super-reliable kicker John Rocholl came up empty, getting a 37-yard field goal attempt blocked early in the second half.

Columbia Positives

The defense played well for the fifth straight week. They gave the offense numerous chances to win, and never faltered even as those chances went for naught. They recorded only one sack, but the defense kept Penn QB Robert Irvin on his toes. Joe Sandberg ran for 101 yards, but he was held in check in all but a few key moments.

One offensive high note came from freshman Austin Knowlin, who logged the first 100-yard receiving game for any Lion this year.

Columbia Negatives

The offensive line still isn't getting any decent pushes on the running plays, and they also continue to commit costly penalties that kill Columbia drives. This one weakness alone is more than enough for superior teams to capitalize on and beat the Lions. Something has to change to shake up the running game. It may finally be time to insert backup QB Chris Allison, who can run, to cross up the defenses a little. Even if Allison gets just a few series under center, it could make a difference.

Columbia's return game is almost non-existent. The Lions started one possession at their own three after a botched kickoff return. The offense needs all the help it can get, and the returners aren't offering any.

Columbia Game MVP: Andy Shalbrack. The freshman linebacker made some big tackles and set Columbia up nicely at the Penn 31 after an interception return. He, fellow freshman Justin Masorti and sophomores Drew Quinn and Philip Mitchell are the nucleus of a very good-looking future for the Lion defense.

Other Notes...

I listened to the entire game on WSNR 620AM and I thought the coverage was excellent. Whatever weaknesses play-by-play man Jerry Reeco and color man Rick Mantz had in the early season have been smoothed over. Mantz especially brings some good football smarts to the table, and he has taken advantage of the access he's been given to Columbia practices and brought them to the listener. I know the kids at WKCR feel they were shafted by the University's decision to go with SNR in addition to the student broadcasts, but they should just try to learn from these guys whenever they can.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Columbia-Penn: Keys to the Game

Columbia is now an 11.5 point underdog at Penn

Both the Lions and the Quakers come into this game at Franklin Field at 3-1, but much has been made of Columbia's strength of schedule, or lack thereof. But while the Lions' opponents have a combined record of 7-14, Penn's foes are a similar 7-13. The "big" difference is Penn played Atlantic 10 powerhouse Villanova and two decent Patriot League opponents in Lafayette and Bucknell while Columbia took on MAAC bottom-feeder Iona and two weak Patriot League teams in Fordham and Georgetown. On the other hand, Columbia had to face a much stronger Ivy opponent in Princeton than Penn did in its lone Ivy game against Dartmouth. In truth, the Quakers have not really played an extremely tough schedule either.

But none of this really means anything to anyone other than the folks trying to figure out point spreads. Whatever the level of competition, there are some things we know about Columbia and Penn, and some things we're still not sure about.

Key #1: Stop Sandberg

Columbia's defense has played excellent football in each of the four games leading up to this Saturday. They've been particularly strong against the run, shutting down Fordham star James Prydatko, keeping Princeton's multiple runners from blowing them away, and slamming Iona last week with negative-16 yards on the ground. It seems that Columbia does best when facing a team with one "main man" kind of runner, and while Penn does get some other guys involved in the running game, this is Joe Sandberg's show. Sandberg is better than any of the runners the Lions have faced already this year. But he can be stopped. Dartmouth shut him down two weeks ago, and while Villanova gave up a 74-yard TD run by Sandberg, they held him to 20 yards on his 14 other carries in the game. If Sandberg has the kind of big games he had against Bucknell and Lafayette, Columbia won't have much of a chance to win. If they can hold him to 60-90 yards or less, the Lions have a fighting chance.

Key #2: Pressure Irvin

Penn sophomore QB Robert Irvin has a lot of talent and is doing well considering his lack of experience. But he's had some weaker games, especially against Villanova, when he went 11-for-24 for just 84 yards and two interceptions. Columbia must pressure Irvin to see what he's made of, and the secondary must be ready to pick off as many passes as possible. If Irvin has a break-out game, then it can't be because Columbia left him alone.

Key #3: Show Up on Offense

The Lions have faced some good defenses this season, the best being the Princeton Tigers who basically shut them out in a 19-6 loss. Penn's defense is not as good as Princeton's, but it is strong. That's bad news for a Columbia team that has been struggling as mightily as a 3-1 team can. The Lions cannot expect the defense to set them up with the ball in the Penn's red zone all day, and that means Columbia must put together some big drives to win. The good news is the Quakers do seem to have some weaknesses in their secondary, and the Columbia coaches have started to use multiple-receiver packages to flood the defensive backfield. Lion QB Craig Hormann has yet to have a very sharp game, but he's been good at protecting the ball and making the big mistakes that costs the Lions games. Penn's run defense is better, but not as good as Princeton was against the rush, and that means there may be one or two opportunities for Jordan Davis to make some plays. However, it's more likely that Columbia will have to use some reverses and direct snaps to Austin Knowlin to get somewhere on the ground, and there could be a few other tricks up the coaches' sleeves here. Trickery might be the only thing that can get the Lion running game going.

Nothing will happen for Columbia's offense if the offensive line isn't able to keep the Quakers out of the backfield. The Lions' biggest offensive lineman is still a little hurt, and Penn's front seven is a bigger group than Columbia has faced all season. Converted defensive lineman Usche Osadebe got his first start on the offensive line last week, and it appears he's having a better time of it as a pass blocker, but his continuing learning process needs to speed up so he can be the force on the line the CU coaches believe he can be. Meanwhile, Columbia's multiple receivers need to get open, and more importantly, hold on to the ball. The Lions also need to cut down on penalties. While Columbia has been penalized infrequently this season, it seems like every flag has come at critical moments on offensive drives. The Lions need to be more disciplined, especially when it comes to holding penalties.

The Lions offense can be effective, especially if Hormann and the speedy frosh wide receiver Knowlin can get into a groove. But anything more than 17 points scored by the offense in this game would still be a pretty big surprise. So in short, Columbia needs to be surprising tomorrow.

Key #4: Win the Turnover Battle

Columbia has been fantastic at forcing fumbles and intercepting the ball. Penn has been surprisingly fumble-prone and Irvin will throw at least one interception just about every game. Columbia runners have been very sure-handed and Hormann has been doing a little better at avoiding the interceptions. But grabbing turnovers has become a big part of the Lions offense, and while Columbia can't count on Penn fumbles and interceptions to lead to points, it's likely the Lions won't win without a defensive touchdown or a gift-wrapped touchdown given to the offense thanks to a Penn turnover.

Key #5: Take Advantage of the Intangibles

It's Fall Break at Penn and that means Franklin Field will be pretty empty and quiet. Columbia needs to keep it that way and make the Quakers feel like the road team.

The Lions also have to try to take advantage of a Penn team that is still likely to think it's playing the same old Columbia. An early score won't be enough; the Lions have looked good in first quarters against the Quakers before. This will be about Columbia showing toughness and attitude for the entire game.


This Penn team is not the type of Penn team we've become used to seeing under Head Coach Al Bagnoli, but it's by no means a bad team. And I don't think they're going to have another 5-5 season. The Quakers may even become dominant sometime next year if Irvin matures and Sandberg improves even slightly for his last season.

For some reason, Columbia Coach Norries Wilson thinks one team will have a high-scoring game, but I can't agree. These teams are both aggressive defensively and no one should expect to see a major let down for either team. Penn and Columbia will probably get about three scores each, and the winner will be the team that gets more touchdowns than field goals. That team will be Penn.

Prediction: Penn 21 Columbia 13

Brown (+14) at Princeton

The point spread seems a little high, but Brown barely beat the Tigers last year at home, and that was when Brown was good. This year the Bears haven't been able to run the ball in any of their games except the opener against Georgetown, and that's the only game they've won this season. Princeton's stingy run defense won't break and that means erratic Brown QB Joe DiGiacomo will need to win this game on his own. He can't.

Prediction: Princeton 27 Brown 14

Lehigh (+3) at Yale

This Yale team is another strong offense with a questionable defense and the wheels are going to come off a little bit this weekend. Lehigh QB Sedale Threatt will have a big day in what should be a shootout.

Prediction: Lehigh 37 Yale 31

Lafayette (+11.5) at Harvard

Lafayette has been the unfortunate punching bag for a lot of Ivy teams this year. The three Ivies the Leopards play just happen to be the three best teams in the league. Nothing changes for Lafayette this week in the won-loss column, but I suspect the frustrated Leopards will give the Crimson a tougher fight than expected.

Prediction: Harvard 34 Lafayette 27

Holy Cross (-6) at Dartmouth

Dartmouth is still looking for its first win, but in all fairness the Big Green have endured a very tough schedule so far. The Crusaders are just playing some very good football right now and they are coming off an impressive win over Brown.

Prediction: Holy Cross 27 Dartmouth 17

Colgate (-2.5) at Cornell

Colgate is reeling a little after its overtime loss at home to Princeton. The Big Red are optimistic that QB Nate Ford has finally broken himself in as a passer after his strong game against Harvard. Expect a close game, and the Raiders will pull it out in the final minutes.

Prediction: Colgate 24 Cornell 21

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Scouting the Quakers

Another year, another season where The University of Pennsylvania Quakers are contending for the title. It's basically been the case since Al Bagnoli became the head coach in 1992.

But a closer look shows that for the second year in a row, there's something different about these Quakers, something less invincible. And it's not the tragic suicide of reserve player Kyle Ambrogi in the middle of last season. What it is, quite simply, is that for the third straight season, Penn is without a top quarterback.

For most of Al Bagnoli's career, he has had the luxury of a great starting quarterback at the helm. Two were highly-touted transfers from Division I-A programs, Matt Rader from Duke and Gavin Hoffman from Northwestern. After Hoffman came 2003 Bushnell Cup winner Mike Mitchell.

But since Mitchell graduated in 2004, Penn's QB's have been noticeably weaker. Pat McDermott did a solid job, but he never was the guy who could beat you on his own. And the current quarterback Robert Irvin just doesn't seem like that guy either. This does not mean McDermott or Irvin are bad by any means, it's just that Rader, Hoffman and Mitchell were so good, that perhaps Penn fans, Penn players, and even Penn coaches, began to take it for granted that the team's quarterbacking would always be spectacular. That assumption was a much bigger factor in Penn's rare non-winning season last year than anything else. And it appears it still is the Quakers' Achilles heel.

Whether that weakness will be enough to give Columbia or anyone other than Harvard or Princeton a good chance of beating Penn this season is debatable. Penn still seems like the third or second best team in the Ivies, thanks to a number of weapons, especially on defense. If the Quakers catch Harvard on a bad day next month, they could still win the championship. That's how good Bagnoli, the defense, and some other stars like tailback Joe Sandberg are.


Let's start with the defense, which is better than the stats indicate, even though those stats aren't too bad. Penn has eleven sacks and 33 tackles for a loss overall. Those numbers aren't spectacular, but the Quakers are bending and not breaking on defense a lot this year. A good example of that was the opening game at Lafayette, when Penn was out-gained by the Leopards, but still won 21-11. Lafayette racked up 417 yards of total offense, but still scored just one TD. And turnovers weren't the culprit; the Leopards coughed it up just once. The Quakers simply got tougher when Lafayette got close to their goal. That's been the m.o. they've maintained for the rest of the season. Sometimes that can be dangerous, because aggressive defenses usually have more success, but Penn is working this angle quite well.

There are some stars to mention here. Senior defensive lineman Brian Fairbanks is a playmaker with three sacks and eight tackles-for-a-loss overall. Junior Joe Anastasio is the best linebacker, leading the team with 34 tackles and he has five-and-a-half tackles for a loss and a sack. Sophomore Tyson Maugle seems to be the best of the defensive backs as he has three interceptions and five other passes broken up this season. But for the most part, this is a good team defense that plays that way. To beat this unit, an opposing offense has to avoid getting comfortable with what works between the 20-yard lines and be ready to mix it up once it gets into the red zone. Penn may be more vulnerable to some razzle dazzle.


Penn is led on offense by standout tailback Joe Sandberg. He's had two 100-yard+ games this season and two sub-100-yard performances, but in one of those non-100-yad rushing games he scored on a 74-yard touchdown. He'd be a legitimate candidate for the Bushnell Cup right now if it weren't for his surprisingly unspectacular performance against Dartmouth two weeks ago. In that game he had just 65 yards on 22 carries against a Big Green defense that has not really been able to stop any of the other rushers its faced all year. It's possible Sandberg just had an off day, but that game has to give the Penn coaches some cause for concern. Meanwhile, the offensive line seems to be superb. The Quakers have given up just four sacks all season and Sandberg and the backup runners seem to have enough room to run most of the time.

Quarterback Robert Irvin's weaknesses aren't huge, but as mentioned earlier, he's not the kind of QB who can beat you on his own. He's on a pace to throw for a ho-hum ten TD's passing and ten interceptions this season, and like Sandberg, his performance against Dartmouth wasn't exactly awe-inspiring. It will be interesting to see how Irvin performs with a steady pass rush in his face; something he's been able to avoid dealing with most of this season.

The wide receivers are coming along. What looked like a serious weakness at the start of the season is now something of a strength. Junior Braden Lepisto seems to be the best of this bunch, as he has 18 catches for 304 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Matt Carre has 19 grabs for 215 yards, and senior tight end Chris Mizell, (who played his high school ball a stone's throw from Wien Stadium at Horace Mann in the Bronx), has been a good target this season with 12 catches for 128 yards.

Special Teams

Kicker Derek Zoch is pretty reliable from 35 yards in. But he's not a deep field goal threat, and my guess is the Penn coaches would not want to see him being forced to win a game for the team. Punter Anthony Mellilo is solid.

Penn's best strength on special teams is punt and kick returning. Greg Ambrogi is averaging more than 13-yards a punt return, and he had one 60-yarder for a touchdown against Villanova. Tyler Fisher, Sam Shepherd, and Lepisto are all proficient at kickoff returns, but it seems like Shepherd is the best among them. One gets the feeling that Penn will severely hurt some opponents at some point this season with a big kick return or two.

Overall: This is still a great team and a great program. Any points about weaknesses this or last season are only in relation to how strong the team was before 2004. At this point in the season, it appears the Quakers are straddling the fence between returning to greatness and slipping a little back into the pack. The win against Lafayette seemed like the work of a championship team. But the win over Dartmouth was okay, but not impressive. And the victory over Bucknell and the close loss to Villanova did not tell us much. It's not clear if the Columbia game will tell us anything completely definitive, but we will learn more.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ivy Week in Review

Yale 26 Dartmouth 14

Dartmouth failed to build on its decent performance against Penn the previous week and only briefly challenged the Elis in this game. Dartmouth made in 19-14 at the end of the third quarter, but Yale drove 89 yards down the field on the next possession for the final score of the game. Mike McLeod had a monster game, with 198 yards on 33 carries and both Yale TD's. Eli QB Matt Polhemus had an unspectacular, but mistake free game. Dartmouth QB Mike Fritz had a strong game against the Bulldogs questionable secondary, going 16-for-21 for 211 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. But the Big Green running game was non-existent again, totaling just 98 yards for the day.

Impressions: A week after holding Penn's star runner Joe Sandberg to just 65 yards rushing at Penn, Dartmouth surrendered big numbers to McLeod at home. Either Sandberg isn't nearly as good as McLeod, or this Big Green defense is a little erratic. Yale still hasn't faced an Ivy team with a really strong offense, and the good news for the Elis is there aren't any other than Harvard. But Princeton's offense is getting there and might be ready to torch the Bulldogs by week nine. Until then, Yale's biggest challenge will be keeping the offensive machine going.

Harvard 33 Cornell 23

For the second straight week, Harvard's Clifton Dawson was held just under 100 yards rushing. But the Bushnell Cup favorite still torched the Big Red with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the game. The best news for Cornell is quarterback Nate Ford had his best game passing, going 20-for-33 for 309 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The bad news is Luke Siwula was stuffed for just 49 yards on 15 carries. Harvard QB Chris Pizzotti continued his solid play backing up the suspended Liam O'Hagan with 15-of-24 passing for 231 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Impressions: There's no real reason to suspect Harvard still isn't the team to beat in the Ivies this year. The pass defense may have been a little sloppy, but it's also possible Cornell QB Nate Ford is finally getting comfortable. But the Crimson were ahead 33-10 in this game before two later touchdowns from the Big Red. This Saturday's game at Harvard Stadium against Lafayette should be a good tune-up for the big contest at Princeton on the 21st, (that game will be on YES).

Princeton 27 Colgate 26 (OT)

A very, very impressive road win for the Tigers. Colgate's strong rushing defense stuffed the Princeton ground game, but QB Jeff Terrell responded with the best game of his college career, going 17-of-32 for 293 yards, one touchdown, and most importantly, NO interceptions. Brendan Circle had a strong game at receiver with four big catches for 114 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown. Colgate is not an easy place to win, and the Tigers have got to be happy they survived with their undefeated record intact.

Impressions: Terrell is starting to look like the best quarterback in the Ivies. He's not spectacular, but he has now shown that he can win games on his own, and that's more than any other current signal-caller in the league has done. Princeton is still too fumble-prone and the running game is suspect, but this squad should be good enough to give Harvard a good run for their money in two weeks. But for now the Tigers have to contend with a short week as they face Brown at home this Friday night.

Holy Cross 35 Brown 30

How the mighty have fallen. Yes, Holy Cross is an improved team this year and a legitimate Patriot League title contender, but the Crusaders lanced the Bear defense and stuffed their running game in the win. Brown trailed 28-10 late in the third quarter before falling short in a furious comeback. Brown QB Joe DiGiacomo threw for some big numbers, going 28-for-51 for 401 yards and three touchdowns. But he also threw two interceptions, (he seems to throw two per game no matter what), and one of them led directly to a Holy Cross TD. And the 44 yards rushing Brown notched on 24 carries is an astoundingly bad stat.

Impressions: Brown is going to struggle to stay out of the bottom four of the Ivies this season. The defense is surprisingly weak and the running game is just not there. They have a chance to redeem themselves against Princeton on Friday night, but I just don't see it.

Penn 34 Bucknell 24

This game was not as close as the score indicated, but the improving Bison played without their starting QB. Joe Sandberg rushed for 112 yards on just 12 carries, but the big story was Robert Irvin's big day at QB. He went 23-of-33 for 304 yards and three touchdowns. He still had two interceptions, but the key was Irvin and Sandberg racked up big yardage after they both had sub-par games against Dartmouth the week before at Franklin Field. Wide receiver Braden Lepisto had his best game with seven catches for 140 yards including a 72-yard TD. One item of concern is that the Quakers fumbled the ball five times, but they lost it just once. The defense was very strong with four sacks and just 217 total yards allowed.

Impressions: Bucknell was not exactly a serious test for Penn, but a road win is a road win, and Irvin probably got a big shot of confidence just at the right time. Penn does need to do a better job of cutting down on turnovers, or some of the more opportunistic Ivy teams will take advantage as Dartmouth almost did two weeks ago.

Congratulations Coach Wilson!!!

I just read that Columbia Head Coach Norries Wilson and his wife Brenda had their second child, a daughter named Trinity Renee, on Monday. She has an older brother Cecil who is one and-a-half. I didn't even know they were expecting. Congratulations all around!

Notes on the Game Notes

Last week it was rumored that freshman standout Justin Masorti would be getting the start against Iona, but it didn't happen. However, the just-released two-deep for this coming Saturday's game against Penn lists him as the starter over fellow frosh Lou Miller at inside linebacker. Masorti and fullback Pete Stoll were the top two most-touted recruits on this squad, and while we haven't seen Stoll yet, Masorti has made big plays in every game. I've written in the past about how much Masorti reminds me of Lion defensive standout Des Werthman. But he's not the only young star on this defense. If they can avoid injuries, Masorti and fellow freshman Andy Shalbrack, and sophomores Drew Quinn and Philip Mitchell should make up the nucleus of an even better defensive unit in the coming years. We shall see.

Usche Osadebe is listed as the starter at left guard again. Daniel Palmer may be recovering slowly from some minor injuries, or perhaps there are some other factors involved.

A bigger surprise is highly-touted sophomore tight end Troy Evangelist is not on the two-deep at all. I've been surprised that he hasn't seen any passes thrown his way, (maybe one, but I'm not sure), but considering his 6"6, 248-pound frame, this is a bit of a let down. It's possible he's injured, but there have been no reports on that. It's possible he just needs more time to learn the position.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A History of Silence

Columbia's recent history against the Quakers has been embarrassing, even when compared to some of its general futility against other Ivy squads. The Lions haven't beaten Penn since a 20-19 overtime squeaker at Franklin Field in 1996. They did get their 1997, 24-7, home loss to the Quakers erased by forfeit at the end of the season when Penn star Mitch Marrow was retroactively declared ineligible... but I could never count a forfeit as a win.

Since then, there have been very few games that have even been close. The funny thing is, all the close games have been at Penn, while the Quakers have pretty much ruined every odd-number year Homecoming game since 1999. (Note the CU Athletic Department: STOP SCHEDULING PENN AS THE HOMECOMING OPPONENT!) The Homecoming losses to the Quakers since 1999 have been by an average final score of 38-12.

But the close games in Philadelphia have really only been close by a relative measure. The 1998 game at Franklin Field was scoreless for most of the first half, with the Lions delivering some memorably punishing hits on Quaker runners and receivers. But, the offense never showed up, and the defense finally faltered in a 20-0 loss. The 2000 contest featured some nice offense by Columbia, but little defense in a 43-25 loss. The 2002 game was a rout and the 2004 game was another defensive battle that was close until the fourth quarter as Penn won 14-3.

But while the Quakers seem to have lost a step since winning their last Ivy title in 2003, I still think this game will serve as a true measuring stick for the Lions' abilities. This has been the case since 1994, when Columbia lost to the eventual champion Quakers 12-3 in a game most everyone noticed because the Lions held Penn without a touchdown. I was at that game and I'll never forget how so many Penn fans came over to me to remark how impressed they were with Columbia's defense. Of course, the Lions went on to posting a 5-4-1 record that year, their first winning season since 1971.

A year later, the feisty Columbia squad beat the Quakers 24-14, handing Penn its first loss in more than a year. At that point, everyone knew the Lions were a legitimate title contender, but three weeks later against Princeton, starting QB Mike Cavanaugh went down with a broken leg and the season was over. Then, that thrilling OT win the following year became a cornerstone of the 8-2 1996 campaign.

Columbia hasn't had a winning season since then, and our futility against Penn has been a big reason why. Harvard and Brown have recently become pretty steady powers in the Ivies, but Penn is the constant. Penn is the team to beat year after year. If you can beat them, you can beat anybody. If you can play them close, you're probably not that far away.

Is this Defense Real?

And so now the Lions must prove their 3-1 record is not just a result of favorable scheduling and home field advantage. We know the offense is struggling, and will probably not have a breakout game against Penn's strong defense. But is the defense as good as it's looked so far? Columbia is giving up an incredible 11.7 points a game, and if you subtract the two points from the safety coughed up by the offense, the Lion "D" is only allowing 11.2 points a game. They're yielding a very impressive 155 yards passing per game and a respectable 108 yards on the ground per contest.

But the deeper you look at the numbers, the better it gets. Columbia has forced 15 turnovers, (compared to just five giveaways of our own), grabbing seven of its 14 forced fumbles and picking off eight passes. The Lion defense has 12 sacks, 33 tackles for a loss, and has allowed opponents to score when they get into the Columbia red zone just six of eleven times. This despite losing the time of possession battle by an average of more than two minutes a game. And remember, four of Columbia's eleven starting defensive players are freshmen or sophomores while just about all the reserves, who see more frequent action than any team in the league, are freshmen and sophomores. Defensive Coordinator Lou Ferrari is doing an excellent job keeping these kids motivated and in "learning mode." Columbia has had some great defenses in the last 20 years, but with the exception of the 1996 team, I have never seen a Lion defense that was as strong and never let down over 60 minutes week after week.

But all these defensive superlatives have come at home, and three of the Lions' opponents came in with very questionable offensive attacks. Penn's offense is definitely the weaker of the two units for the Quakers, but Penn has a better overall offensive player than the Lion defenders have faced all year in Joe Sandberg. I'll have more on Sandberg later this week, but stopping/containing him is the biggest challenge yet for the Lions "D."

But this game is more about Penn itself. Columbia is facing the mystique of Franklin Field, the dominance of Head Coach Al Bagnoli, and the challenge of its first road weekend. Victory is always the goal, but at the least the Lions need to play four tough quarters and make Penn feel lucky to win. The last time they did that was 1994, and the beginning of the best three consecutive years Columbia football had enjoyed since the mid-40's.

More Notes from the Iona Game

A few items about the 24-0 win over Iona last Saturday that didn't make it into Saturday's post:

1) I got a chance to see both squads make the long walk from the fieldhouse to the stadium before the game. Iona's guys were completely silent. Columbia's team was mostly quiet with a few players yelling out things like "This is our house," and "We have to teach them a lesson," from time to time. I noticed that Chad Musgrove started mugging for the cameras when he saw a few people with cameras taking some shots. He looked like he knew he was going to have a big game and he did.

2) Usche Osadebe got his first start on the offensive line. I've written a lot about how Osadebe made the big switch from defensive line star to the O-line, only to fail to crack the starting lineup. It's hard to say how well he did, and I think he mostly got the start because Daniel Palmer was a little injured, but I was happy to see Usche in there.

3) Austin Knowlin made a nice play on the one-yard TD pass that gave the Lions a 7-0 lead. The pass from Hormann was basically a screen, and Knowlin needed to make a shifty little move to get in the end zone. When he first caught the ball, I honestly thought he was going to be tackled at the one.

4) Columbia ran a play early in the game where they used four wide receivers and stacked three of them on their right side. Then Jordan Davis took the ball and ran around the end behind those blockers for an eight yard gain. I thought we would see that play again, but we didn't. I wonder if that was something they were trying out for the Penn game and wanted to keep under wraps as much as possible.

5) The Lions play-calling at the end of the first half was a little weird. The drive started at the Columbia 46 with 59 seconds left. Columbia then went with six straight pass plays, but none was to the end zone. Luckily, the last pass was dropped, otherwise, time may have run out before Rocholl's 42-yard field goal as the gun sounded.

6) Late in the second quarter, freshman linebacker Justin Masorti made a super play. On 3rd and eight from the Iona 31, Gael quarterback Michael Biehl tried to run to his left along the west sideline. Masorti ran all the way across the field and sacked him for no gain. It was the kind of play the great Lawrence Taylor used to make for the Giants. Masorti was one of the last guys who should have made that tackle, but he did. He is fast and strong, and it looks like whatever they put in the water in his hometown of State College, PA is still running through his veins despite his new address on Morningside Heights.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Columbia-Iona Analysis

Columbia 24 Iona 0

Why Columbia Won

The defense just wouldn't have it any other way. They stuffed Iona time after time and scored two touchdowns of their own in the second half to put the game away. Because of six sacks and a bunch of other tackles for a loss, the Gaels posted an astounding negative-16 yards rushing. Meanwhile, Columbia's offense failed to put Iona away on several occasions, but it did protect the ball; turning it over just once while the defense recorded three takeaways.

Why Iona Lost

Their offense never got anything going. Their two deepest penetrations into the Columbia side of the field, a drive to the CU 39 in the third quarter and another to the 38 early in the fourth, ended in interceptions. The second one was picked off by Chad Musgrove and returned 75 yards for a TD. The Gaels defense played strong, especially against the run, but the offense never took advantage of the opportunities given to them by the "D."

Columbia's Stars

He's come close to winning my MVP award every game so far, and this time I'm finally giving it to senior tri-captain Adam Brekke. Brekke had two sacks and shared in another tackle for a loss to lead the team with 10 total tackles. He was the guy guessing right all day as he directed the defense to its fourth straight sterling performance. Coming in a close second was senior lineman Darren Schmidt who had one-and-a-half sacks and fell on a fumble in the end zone forced by week one and week three MVP Drew Quinn to give CU a 17-0 lead. Chad Musgrove also was in the running for timing the Gael QB Michael Biehl's pass perfectly and returning his interception down the west sideline into the south end zone with grace. Justin Nunez, Andy Shalbrack, and of course, Drew Quinn also had standout games.

Columbia's offense provided some solid, if not spectacular, performances. Junior QB Craig Hormann had his best game of the year, going 22-of-37 for 215 yards with one TD and one interception. The pick was not entirely his fault, as Iona defender Reggie Dorsainvil simple took the ball away from Lion receiver Tim Paulin. The INT actually led to a Columbia touchdown, since it gave the Gaels the ball at their own three and five plays later Quinn forced the fumble that Schmidt fell on for the score. Hormann seemed more poised and his arm looked strong. However, he faced the lightest pass-rush of the season as the Gaels recorded no sacks and rarely pressured the QB.

Nick DeGasperis was a big bright spot as he came back from injury to snag seven passes for 84 yards. His best moment came on a 3rd and 16 play from the Iona 28 when he got wide open and made a catch at the Gael five and held on after a massive hit from Dorsainvil. Jordan Davis had a mixed game, but he got back on the 600-yards-for-the-season pace with 64 yards on 18 carries. He also had two nice runs called back on Columbia penalties.

Jon Rocholl missed his first field goal of the year, but it was a tough 44-yard kick into a pretty strong wind. He nailed a 42-yarder later in the game and was perfect on his three PAT's. He punted mostly well, but did have one or two weaker kicks than usual. Patrick Huston reached the end zone on one of his kickoffs, but Dorsainvil, (there's that name again!), returned it to the Iona 28.

Columbia's Weaknesses

Coach Wilson was happy with the pass blocking, but the offensive line did not do enough to get the Lion running game going. There were Gael defenders in the backfield on too many Columbia running plays to mention. Iona is a defensive power in the MAAC, but the MAAC is much weaker than the Ivies. Penn and the other stronger defensive teams on the Lions' remaining schedule must be licking their chops looking at our ground game. Something has to change. Either Columbia needs to execute its existing plays better, or it needs to try new ones.

Atmosphere at the Game

The overcast weather kept getting better and better until it felt like a late-summer day by the fourth quarter. Only a little more than 4,000 people showed up, but the crowd was pretty vocal with their "thunder sticks" and because so many kids were in attendance on Columbia's "Staff and Family Day at Baker Field." Many of the same carnival attractions from last weekend's Homecoming celebration were set up again this week in the pre-game picnic area. I actually watched most of the second half from the Athletic Director's box as a friend of mine invited me up. It was nice, but I missed the roar of the crowd at times. If Columbia pulls off the huge upset at Penn this coming Saturday, I expect to see a nice crowd for the Dartmouth game at home on 10/21.