Columbia-Princeton Keys to the Game
Time to tame the Tigers
Every year since 2002, the Princeton game has been the truest test of how good or bad the Columbia football team really is.
Last season was no exception, the Lions took on the eventual champion Tigers at Wien Stadium and were beaten in every aspect of the game. But because they never gave up and their defense remained tough, the final score was a respectable 19-6 instead of the 43-3 drubbing a much less resilient Lions team suffered at Princeton in 2005.
Last year's Lions would play most of their remaining seven games the same way; plugging away on offense with little success, while staying resolute on defense. That M.O. finally paid off in the final two games with wins over Cornell and Brown and the Lions went 5-5 on the year.
Before the Princeton game you may have mistakenly rated the 2006 Lions offense too highly. And based on the Georgetown game alone, who could have thought that the Columbia defense couldn't hold on to big leads. Neither of those assumptions were true, and the Princeton game made that clear.
Coming into this year's Princeton game, you might think the Lions defense just can't stop the run. You might also think that Jordan Davis has a shot at getting a 1,000 yard season of his own. Both may be true, both may be way off the mark. But I do expect to be a lot closer to knowing for sure after tomorrow.
Princeton is a huge favorite based mostly on their win last week over highly-rated Lafayette on the road and the fact that the Tigers are defending Ivy champs playing at home. But there are questions they have to answer too.
To beat them, Columbia MUST:
1) Stop the run... or at least contain it. I don't think the Lions needs to hold Princeton under 100 yards rushing, or even 120 for the game. The key is to simply force the Tigers to pass once in awhile and test Foran against what has been an impressive Columbia pass rush so far this season. The shuffling the coaches have been doing with the lineup is partly because they want to try new things to hold the run and partly because of some injuries, but somebody is going to have to start making plays.
My impression was that the Lions defense did much better against the run in the second half against Marist, but that's not quite true. Marist ran the ball 58 times, (I don't count sacks as running plays, even though the NCAA does for some reason these days), for 307 yards. That's 5.2 yards a carry. The first 41 carries netted 226 yards, (5.5 yard avg.), while the final 17 runs went for 81 yards (4.7 yrd avg.). That's just not enough of an improvement in my book or anybody else's.
Princeton main runners, tailback R.C. Lagomarsino and fullback Rob Toresco, aren't going to win any Bushnell Cups, but they are hard-nosed, (no pun intended R.C.), guys who don't quit or fumble very often. Neither has been tackled for a loss yet this season. Meanwhile, the speedy sophomore Kenny Gunter could see a lot of action too. And finally, Tiger QB Bill Foran can run and the Princeton coaches script a good number of option plays for him every game.
It's a huge challenge, but there are some bright spots. Despite all their runners, Princeton really isn't setting the world on fire on the ground. And I think that Columbia will defend the option better than straight ahead running anyway, so if the Tigers want to give us more time to react to running plays, let them do it.
2) Stop the Run... With the Run
One great way to stop the other team from running all over you is to do the exact same thing to them first. Columbia's offensive line and Jordan Davis had a breakout game against Marist last weekend, and now it's time to prove that they can be a credible threat against an Ivy opponent too. I don't expect Davis to run for another 177 yards, but if he can get four yards a carry, and the Lions can get some quality runs for fullback Pete Stoll and backup tailback Ray Rangel too, we could control the clock against the Tigers. Before we focus too much on stopping Princeton's run, let's see if they can stop US.
3) Test that Tiger Secondary
I don't expect to find huge weaknesses in Princeton's younger secondary, but it HAS to be less effective than the unit led by the now-graduated All-Ivy tandem of J.J. Artis and Tim Strickland last season. Austin Knowlin needs to create problems for the Tigers with crossing patterns and deep routes all day. And I sure hope the Lions coaches will abandon the little passes in the flat to Knowlin that have flirted with disaster every time.
It might also be nice to make Princeton pay for giving up on Nico Gutierez. As this article tells us, the Tigers shied away from the promising young Lion WR after his ACL injury his junior year. If Knowlin can draw a crowd in the defensive backfield as he usually does, I expect there to be plenty of opportunities for Craig Hormann to hit Tim Paulin, Taylor Joseph, Troy Evangelist, Jamal Russell, and Gutierez with key passes. He's going to have to do that to keep the Princeton defense honest.
4) Don't Get Caught in the Circle
Princeton senior wide receiver Brendan Circle has an uncanny ability to get open deep down the field. He never matches a ton of catches; just enough to kill you at a key moment. I'm not sure if Eugene Edwards or Grant Jefferson will be drawing the Circle assignment on most plays, but either way they need to make sure he doesn't win the game for the Tigers.
5) Make Something Happen on Special Teams
Princeton may be stronger on offense and defense than the Lions, but perhaps Columbia can even the playing field with a big return or two. Knowlin is always a threat to break one and we may see Gutierez get a few chances as well on punts or kickoffs.
I like our chances to finally block a kick this weekend as well.