Sunday, April 22, 2007

Back to Basics

JoJo Smith grabbed the first INT of the day (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics Dept.)

Blue Team 30 White Team 28


Today's spring football game, played under sunny skies and increasingly warmer temperatures, had a little something for everybody. But mostly it was a clear sign that Columbia's 62 returning sophomores, juniors, and seniors need to spend plenty of time in the offseason concentrating on the basics.

The contest was played more like an actual game than I expected. Quarterback sacks were allowed, and running time was only used in the second half. The biggest changes were no blitzes or kickoffs, and punt returns were fair catches only. Head Coach Norries Wilson was patroling in the middle of the field the entire game.

Another thing that looked familiar was that for the most part, the defense dominated. There were three defensive touchdowns, and neither quarterback came close to throwing for 200 yards.

With some exceptions, the blue team was made up of Columbia's first team offense and second team defense, while the white team was the first team defense and second team offense. But in the first half, it was the white team offense that looked sharper with two sustained drives for touchdowns to go with two defensive scores and a 28-14 lead at the break.

At times, rising sophomore QB Jason Pyles looked very sharp at QB for the white team. He had a big weapon in tight end Troy Evangelist, who emerged as one of the biggest stars of the game. On the first scoring drive of the game, Pyles found Evangelist for a pair of 14-yard gains, the second one for a TD.

With the score 21-14 white team, Evangelist did it again with a 23-yard catch and run on a 3rd and 12 to set up another score before the half.

Another nice development for the white team was the play of Ray Rangel, who looked good running and catching the ball out of the backfield. He brought an injury-free quickness to his game this afternoon that we didn't get enough of a chance to see in 2006.

M.A. Forces It

While he ran the ball extremely well, M.A. Olawale's first chance to really show what he could do as a passer was a disappointment. His first pick was actually not a forced pass but a floater in the endzone that JoJo Smith grabbed to end what had been a decent blue drive. His next two interceptions were balls Olawale never should have thrown, and they both resulted in white TD's, the first on a 32-yard INT return by Andy Shalbrack, and the second a 23-yard pickoff return by Mack Loughery for the score.

The Turning Point

With the white team leading 28-14 early in the second half, Pyles found Evangelist for a big 26-yard pass to get out of a hole at their own three yard line. But a personal foul penalty negated most of the gain and the white team offense never seemed to get it going again. Three plays later, the white team snapped the ball over Pyles head out of the end zone for a safety to make it 28-16.

The blue offense finally got into the groove two possessions later when Austin Knowlin busted a reverse down the west sideline for 28 yards and first and goal at the four. Two plays later Jordan Davis scored and the PAT made it 28-23 with about 30 minutes of running time left.

The two teams traded a couple of punts before Olawale went to his bread and butter running abilities to win the game for the blue team. Starting at his own 48, Olawale ran the ball four times on the drive, getting the final four yards for the winning TD. The 52-yard march did feature a nice 14-pass to Jordan Davis and an 11-yard toss to Jamal Russell, but Olawale clearly felt more comfortable running the football.

Overall Impressions

You have to be careful not to put too much positive or negative stock in the spring game. The players are coming off just a couple of weeks of practice after a five-month layoff and the game is not for keeps.

Craig Hormann looked like he was getting around pretty well during the day. He used crutches some of the time, but not the whole time. I'm beginning to believe that he will be ready to play by the start of the season.

Justin Masorti was not in spring practice, but I was told he will be back in the fall.

That said, it's clear the Lions need to work on the basics. Both teams were penalized too much, and comitted costly turnovers. M.A. Olawale needs to be allowed to run most of the time and work more on his passing and decision making in practice.

But one offense, I was mostly impressed with the play of Evangelist, Jordan Davis and Ray Rangel. Austin Knowlin only caught one ball, but he was the victim of a number of errant passes thrown by Olawale. He did have a big presence on the field with that big run on the reverse and the crowd he drew on almost every play.

Defensively, a number of last season's backups looked good. Conor Joyce was in on a number of plays, along with Eli Waltz, Corey Cameron, Lou Miller, and Drew Abeyta.

Pyles threw the ball pretty well, and should be at least considered as a backup after today.

Bayo Aregbe played well, with four solo tackles.

Ryan Mettee did not play.

David Brekke looked good in his new role at linebacker, making a key interception for the blue team and a few other nice tackles. He also seemed pretty happy with his performance when I eavesdropped a conversation he had with his dad after the game.

Jon Rocholl missed a tough 49-yarder that had the distance but was wide left. He was a monster punting the ball though with 3-out-5 kicks inside the 20 and great hang time on every boot. He looked ready to play.

Some of the rules were manipulated by Wilson to get a better look at certain game situations. He took a "coach's mulligan" a couple of times in the final few minutes by stopping the running clock. Those moves just served as a reminder that this was still practice and everyone is ultimately on the same team.

Both offensive lines looked pretty tired by the end of the game. Without any real backups, and the weather getting warmer, it was a struggle. Overall, the conditioning situation still seems good.


Two different sources are now telling me the incoming freshman class boasts a whopping 37 players! That would put the roster at 99 players, which should make it a lot easier to keep 90+ players on the squad for the entire season.

147 days until opening day!


At Sun Apr 22, 10:19:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

no thoughts on the offensive line play? it seemed to be at issue last season, just wondering what people thought.

At Mon Apr 23, 02:08:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It seemed fine, but hard to have an intelligent opinion without having access to film. Also, there was no blitzing.


At Mon Apr 23, 04:13:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is the story about Masorti? Why no sprin gpractice?

At Mon Apr 23, 04:54:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It was a personal matter re Masorti.

At Mon Apr 23, 08:28:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

O-line looked serviceable on saturday. The film would be great. When they showed the shotgunset in the second half with the split backs I was excited with Olawale back there they have a lot of running options from that formation. Partain is a solid, experienced anchor in the middle, DiBernardo will be solid at tackle and Seiler got enough regular season reps last year to step up and play. Brune and Veldman also looked bigger and stronger. More running options and threat at tight end will also improve our running game!

At Mon Apr 23, 11:03:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the very detailed report, Jake. One very favorable sign for the Lions is the strong defensive play of several freshmen who did not see much action last fall. Vaughn Hodges was outstanding at linebacker and Mack Loughrey returned an interception for a touchdown. Tony Knox, Jared Morine, Josh Williams and Grant Jefferson all looked good on "D" This freshman class is really remarkable for its defensive skills. Also, did you notice that Michael Siebold had four PAT's. Jon Rochall is a tremendous kicker, but it's nice to know that we have a strong back up.

At Mon Apr 23, 08:54:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

Agreed on all counts. Siebold's biggest value will be if he can boot some kickoffs for us next season, but PAT's are a start. His punting was decent, but not good enough to spell Rocholl for those duties.

I think the competition for the open starting slots on defense will be fierce. Something that Columbia is not used with our usual depth problems.

At Tue Apr 24, 08:27:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, great game summary. I guess the weather was better this year as well! Do you know when they'll formally announce the new freshman class? This could be the biggest roster in some time. Hats off to Coach Wilson and his staff for taking the next step in not just having a team but developing a program, expectations and (hopefully) ultimately tradition.

At Tue Apr 24, 09:15:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hopefully, the group of 15 or so unnamed recruits will include a couple more talented running backs, one or two outstanding wide outs, and several big, tough interior linemen. If it does, then I think Columbia Football will be ready to rumble this fall.

At Wed Apr 25, 01:52:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The strength coach is already paying off. the boys look bigger and stronger now than last season. a little summer lifting and who knows!?


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