Tuesday, January 09, 2007

And We Don't Have Playoffs Because...

This is the first time I've ever published my photo on this site, but somehow people have begun to recognize me as the "Columbia football blogger" when I attend basketball games on campus. It's a nice feeling, as absolutely everyone has been complimentary. But now I feel like I have a lot of people that I can't let down. All in all, I'll take the added responsibility.

One person who recognizes me is a highly-placed official in the athletics dept. who has asked me to keep his name a secret. He is always very nice, so I'm happy to comply. He came up to me at the basketball game last Saturday to tell me his take on why the Ivies don't participate in the I-AA football playoffs. He said someone from the Ivy presidents office told him that while the Ivies are willing to allow more games for big-time playoff tournaments like basketball and soccer, they feel the lower-tier level of the I-AA playoffs isn't worth the compromise. I thanked him for the info, (and by the way, he did not endorse or denounce that opinion), but didn't bother to point out the incredible "Catch-22" nature of that position. The Ivy presidents are the ones who decided to make football "lower tier" as they say, and now they're punishing their own programs for being "lower tier." It's like a person who breaks a guy's leg and then goes on to make fun of his victim for having a broken leg.

Needless to say, I don't think the "lower tier" nature of the I-AA playoffs is the real reason. Once we find out what it really is, maybe we'll have a chance to craft a real rebuttal... but maybe that's what they're trying to avoid in the first place.

Spammers Aren't Welcome

I've been allowing anyone to anonymously post comments on this blog since I started, but the spammers are getting in and I've been wasting too much time deleting their comments. So, from now on everyone will have to register first. Of course, you can remain anonymous by choosing your own special user name, etc. And I'm not going to make you give out any personal info. I hope the added security doesn't scare anyone away.

Now on to our regular business. This is the second installment of a continuing series looking at the 2006 seasons of some of Columbia's key returning players. On November 28th, I focused on QB Craig Hormann. Today, let's look at starting tailback Jordan Davis and his up-and-down sophomore year.

Davis' stats, even for a sophomore thrust into a full-time starting job behind a weak line, are pretty ugly. In the preseason, I had said that Davis needed to gain 600 yards in 2006 to have an effective year, but he finished with just 507 yards and 3.3 yards per carry. More disturbingly, he had no rushing touchdowns at all.

In many ways, as Davis went, so went the Lions. That 600-yards- for-the-season goal I set for Davis would have translated to 60 yards per game. And in the games where Davis ran for 60 yards or more, Columbia was 4-1. The one loss came at Yale, where Davis ran for exactly 60 yards. The one win where Davis didn't get 60 yards was at Brown, where he had 59 yards rushing. So, it's clear that the 60 yard mark is truly a watershed for him.

It's also clear that Columbia does not necessarily need a 1,000-yard rusher to succeed. Offensive coordinator Vinny Marino has crafted a complex playbook that relies mostly on the pass. When the Lions running game was at least competent, those schemes worked.

As a receiver, Davis was a decent weapon with 29 catches for 199 yards and one touchdown. But this is not the area where Columbia really needs Davis to improve.

And stats don't tell the whole story, because Davis played key roles in a number of games. Three of the Lions five wins were close games that very much relied on clutch Davis runs.

1) In Columbia's 23-21 win over Georgetown in week 2, Davis put together his best performance of the season with 95 yards on 27 carries. More importantly, his longest run of 17 yards came during the Lions final scoring drive of the day which resulted in the field goal that iced the game.

2) In the 21-14 win over Cornell in week 9, Davis had a season-best 4.7 yards per carry. Many of his best runs came in the second half when the Big Red was making a comeback and desperately needed to stop Davis to get control of the clock.

3) In the 22-21 season-ending win at Brown. Davis had only 59 yards, but averaged 4.2 yards per carry. His 9-yard scamper on 4th and 1 at the Brown 21 clinched an easy field goal attempt and played a huge role in the exciting win. Davis also caught a TD pass in that game for his only score of 2006.

On the down side, two of Davis' fumbles were key components of the losses at Penn and at home against Dartmouth. His fumble deep in CU territory at Penn took the air out of the Lions sails, and he coughed up the ball on the very first play from scrimmage against the Big Green and Columbia never recovered.

Getting Some Help

Most Columbia-watchers believe the decision to move freshman Pete Stoll into the starting lineup at fullback for the last two games was the biggest reason why Davis was so effective versus Cornell and Brown. And there's certainly a lot of reasons to believe that. But another reason was Cornell and Brown just weren't that good against the run all year, and Davis was able to capitalize on that. Either way, the Lions need a more consistent running attack next season no matter how strong the passing game is.

But it's hard to say we need a new tailback when it's clear Davis hasn't had the chance to play a full season behind an effective run-blocking offensive line. And so we come again to the absolute necessity of improvement on the O-line. If Columbia has another season where the pass is its only real offensive weapon, 2007 will be a disaster.

If nothing else, Jordan Davis has proven himself to be a fierce competitor in his first two seasons at Baker Field. It's clear we'll need more from him in his last two seasons if the Lions want to improve overall. Whether he'll face any real competition for his starting slot won't be clear until we get some more recruiting info. His current back-up, Ray Rangel, showed some promise as a freshman in 2006, but not enough to get excited about. What should get Columbia fans excited is thinking about how good this team could be with a real running attack.


At Wed Jan 10, 08:14:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Glenn W. Magnell said...

Jake, I don't have anything of value to add to your blog...but, just wanted to tell you what a terrific service you're performing for those hardy few that call themselves Lion Fans!!

At Wed Jan 10, 10:41:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...


Thanks so much. Your comment makes it all worthwhile!


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