Will Marist pose a threat?
So what do the brave Red Foxes bring to the table Saturday?
This is a team willing to start its season with five straight road games against five sure-to-be-favored opponents. But as much as I admire that, I don't think Marist will give Columbia much of a run for its money this weekend.
Marist's biggest problem is its size. The Red Foxes sport a starting offensive line with an average weight of just 259 pounds per player. They have a starting tight end this week who is just 180 pounds. Despite that, the team is still averaging 114 yards rushing per game, but most of those yards have been gained after the games have been decided as Marist has been outscored 73-13 in the first half. In short, if Columbia cannot control the line of scrimmage against this undersized MAAC team, it won't be able to do it against anyone else this season.
Marist has been running the ball by committee ever since 2005 starter Obozoua (Bo) Ehikioya was injured last year. Ehikioya still gets on the field pretty regularly, but he hasn't made an impact so far this year. I'm a little more concerned with the speedy Keith Mitchell, who resembles Fordham's Xavier Martin a bit and we know what Martin did to us last week.
I also think Marist QB Steve McGrath is talented and thrives under pressure. But I expect him to be under a lot of it, especially from Phil Mitchell and Drew Quinn. And despite playing from so far behind all year, the Red Foxes are only averaging 169 yards passing per game.
Defensively, Marist does not seem to have the kind of weapons to stop Craig Hormann and Austin Knowlin from having a field day. They're allowing 237 yards passing per game, have not yet intercepted a pass, and have just 10 passes broken up after three games.
The big question is whether the Columbia running game will be able to get some traction Saturday. Marist is giving up 153 yards rushing per game, but they have faced some seriously strong running teams like Lafayette... so that's not too bad. It would be a tough blow to the offensive line's confidence if Jordan Davis doesn't at least come close to a 100-yard day.
Marist's special teams are pretty good. Their best best weapon is kickoff specialist Chris Collins, who is nailing touchback after touchback despite the new kickoff rule pushing the tee back to the 30.
Columbia is a 14 1/2 point favorite in this game, and while the Lions may indeed win by that much or more, I'm not exactly sure the team will look entirely different in the game. Last year's 24-0 win over MAAC power Iona featured a strong defense, (two defensive TD's), and a struggling offense... the same thing we saw just about every other week during the 2006 season for Columbia.
One thing I do hope Marist improves on over Iona Saturday is fan support. Iona brought virtually no one to the game last year and that was depressing considering how close their campus is to Baker Field. I don't think Yom Kippur is much of a concern for most of the Marist student body, so perhaps they will make the trip.