Tuesday, November 06, 2007

This is the Game (One year later)

Brian Evans slayed the Cornell secondary on Saturday, is it Austin Knowlin's turn next? (CREDIT: Dartmouth Athletics)

A year ago today, the 2006 Columbia football team had pretty much reached its low point of the season. After starting the season with a strong 3-1 record through four games, the Lions lost four in a row and were 3-5 heading into the Cornell game.

Despite the streak, and Cornell's superior record, I called for the team and the fans to recognize the huge chance the Cornell game afforded the Lions to get back in the saddle.

And Columbia's resulting 21-14 victory against the Big Red did just that. The team got its "mojo" back and took that into the Brown game the following week and pulled off another win in Providence.

Could the same thing happen again this year? Well, the Lions are now 1-7 instead of 3-5, so unfortunately there's much more to salvage than there was last season and there just isn't enough in the Cornell and Brown bag to do that.

Also, while the fourth loss of the four-game losing streak in 2006 against Harvard was not exactly a close game, (the Crimson won 24-7), Columbia moved the ball much better in that game than they had in previous weeks and there was reason for hope. This week's 27-12 loss to Harvard was not a total embarrassment, but the same problems the Lions have been having all season, especially not stopping the run, reared their ugly head again and again.

On the other hand, Cornell and Brown again seem to be the most "winnable" games on the Ivy schedule, (even if they do happen to be at the extreme tail end of the season). And there is something about finishing the season strong that gives fans lots of hope and smiles for the very long off season.

But as weak as Cornell seems after losing by 28 points at Dartmouth Saturday, the same Dartmouth team that squeaked out a win over our Lions three weeks ago, the Big Red may match up better against Columbia than you'd expect. Here's why:

1) Cornell was forced to use current WR and former QB Stephen Liuzza as its signal-caller after starter Nathan Ford went down with an ankle injury on Cornell's first possession. Liuzza is an extremely dangerous runner, and a scrambling QB can absolutely slay this Lion defense.

2) Cornell plays us at home this year, and while the Big Red are not as dominant in Ithaca as they were last year, they are playing much better there than on the road.

3) Cornell's Randy Barbour seems like a serious threat on the ground if he stays healthy. He may be as talented as any running back the Lions have faced all year, and our track record against even mediocre backs has been awful this season.

BUT... Columbia can still win. The Big Red are mistake-prone this year and the Lions are hungry enough for a win right now that they should be able to capitalize. Plus the Cornell pass defense was just shredded by the Big Green on Saturday, and one can only imagine what Austin Knowlin and co. could do to them.

Things often change radically from year to year in the Ivies, but just like 2006, THIS IS THE GAME.


At Tue Nov 06, 04:29:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hormann holds onto the ball too long! That's why we are being sacked so many times. He should throw it away if he doesn't have an open receiver. But I think that he does have open receivers. He just doesn't get rid of the ball quickly enough. Combine that with his total lack of mobility and defensive coordinators will keep coming at him all day.

At Tue Nov 06, 06:45:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hormann held the ball too long a few times but the problem was that the O line played terribly. I am a old O line guy and that is where I like to focus my attention during the game. These guys just aren't strong. They get muscled by the pass rushers and they don't push anyone off the ball. This was a winnable game. In the third quarter, the D actually got tough and played with some fire. They forced Harvard to punt three possessions in a row when the score was 20 to 6.

They got the ball back and the O did absolutely nothing with it. In fact, the better the D played, the worse the O line played. The O line blocking was awful. CU responded with three punts of their own. It went downhill from there. Granted, the play calling didn't help. Harvard's D was playing pass all the way. CU did little to keep them honest: screens, roll outs, draws,etc.

These guys are at least a year's worth of time in the weight room away from being really competitive. The D guys are not strong enough either. I've been around strength athletes all my life, these guys simply aren't strong.

At Tue Nov 06, 06:49:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger dabull said...

It's really a shame that the team could not pull out the wins at Princeton and Dartmouth when the opportunity was there because it would put the season in quite a different light. The team is playing so many youngsters and I'm hopeful it will pay off eventually that these guys are getting seasoned now. I actually think the defense showed slight improvement against two best teams in the league, at least for the first half in both games. Maybe they are not yet physically mature enough to make it hold up for a whole game. I will keep the faith and my Christmas wish is to find a big nasty 290 pound New York lovin fool to play nose for Lions. Maybe big Carl Constant next year can be the big plug we need there and we can move Mitchell out to the end where he can do his thing as a pass rusher.

At Tue Nov 06, 07:42:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I hope dabull's Christmas wish is granted, size does not mean success at nose in the Ivy League. Quick, strong, nasty noseguards can have great success. Attitude and leverage are extremely important. As much as I hate to recognize Yale players, a former Yale noseguard, Zingo (sic) is one of the best the DL the Ivies ever produced and he weighed less than 200lbs. I remeber being shown his films to study his technique long after he played his last game.

At Tue Nov 06, 08:56:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No question this will be a high-scoring game. After all, Cornell gave up 59 points to a Dartmouth offense that is not nearly as good as ours. We have a much better passing game than Dartmouth with a strong-armed quarterback in Craig Hormann and several outstanding wide receivers including Austin Knowlin, Nico Guittierez, Taylor Joseph and Tim Paulin. Throw into the mix the speedy Josh Williams after his 38 yard reception against Harvard and our passing game is as good as anyone in the League. If we get a decent game from the offensive linemen and running backs, the odds are that we will score plenty of points. As far as the defense goes, I think it is "Ready" for a big game against Cornell.

At Tue Nov 06, 08:59:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All you had to do is go to a few basketball games last year and you could see that our linemen weren't strong. Adding 30 or 40 pounds means nothing if it's just from stuffing carbs and not really working in the weight room. Our guys don't seem to have much muscle mass. And strength is a key to line play. The shocking thing to me is that our head coach played offensive line for Minnesota and was a two year starter. Why isn't line play something that he can teach our guys? And if they just aren't strong enough, then where is our strength coach in all of this. I remember how pumped Jake was when the new weigths were posted at the start of camp. And based on those numbers alone we did look much bigger on the OL and the DL. But the type of strength we need to play in this league is Michael Quarshie type strength. And we don't have anybody in that category, while Harvard and Yale each have a few. So where do we find these guys? Right now the real difference between us and the elite teams is in two areas: we don't have a great running back, or at least nobody has shown that he is the next J Reese, and more fundamentally, we have not developed interior linemen who can block on offense and clog holes on defense. We have excellent wide receivers, decent running backs, good linebackers and very good defensive backs. Our special teams are mediocre, and our TE play has been nonexistent, with the exception of the freshman who has shown me that he can catch. But unless we get some strength up front we will continue to struggle.

At Tue Nov 06, 09:46:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here are some reflections from the parent of a graduating senior. While the record is disappointing, this is not the same Columbia football program from four years ago. Few if any players have left the team for non injury reasons. What if a few more of the players who came in the fall in 2004 were here and contributing? Some players were starting in their second year. My observation of Ivy League football is that those teams who are in the hunt have big offensive and defensive lines and at least one powerful running back.
I have noticed many on this space rave about the freshmen and contribution and how they would like to see more freshman get playing time. For NW it is a great recruiting tool to lure outstanding athletes to get immediate playing time. However you want your program to be in a position that maybe only 2 or 3 freshmen would be impact players. I am told that Yale only travels two freshmen. But for the Columbia classes of 2010, 2011 and 2012, be encouraged. I really believe NW knows what he is doing. As soon as he came on board he rearranged the home schedule, and as it turned out, those non conference wins created some excitement. This year some on this site were predicting from 5 to 8 wins. NW was very careful in choosing his words for this season, He hoped to be in the middle of the league. That may not happen but it was reasonable. Wins over Dartmouth and Princeton were games that got away and the final two games are winnable.
It is a testament to the coaches how they are able to keep these guys competitive, despite being physically out manned every Saturday.
The only way to change the losing culture on campus and gain respect around the league is to win some games. Be encouraged, those days are coming sooner than later.

At Tue Nov 06, 10:38:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said words from the parent of a graduating senior. I think that we will see better days to come. Ten years ago Yale was the doormat of the league. NW inherited a disaster; he knew the turn around would take 3 or 4 years.

At Tue Nov 06, 10:40:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop comparing Columbia to Dartmouth. The Green offense is better than Columbia, after all they scored more points than our offense did. Let the Lions play their game and see what happens. Dont forget that we are 1-7 and talking like we're better than other teams is absurd now.

At Tue Nov 06, 10:56:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the guys with O-line experience, how much of it is strength and how much is technique? One of the old saws of college football is that it takes two years to make a high schooler into a competent college lineman. Part of that is physical maturity and part (depending on the quality of coaching at the HS level) is skill and experience. I know the coaches are starting the frosh Gaston, for example, because of his strength, while being aware he does not have college level skills yet. One thing I'll be looking for in the next two games, as last year, is how much this year's game experience is reflected in the younger guys' play.
As for offensive variety -- again, this is a question for the more experienced O-line guys -- if the line is getting steamrolled, can you run the traps, delays and screens that normally are used to keep the defense on its heels? The offensive coaching staff is experienced. They must know how to design and implement a greater variety of plays, and to take advantage of an aggressive rush. Isn't it likely they are constrained by the shortcomings of their personnel?

At Wed Nov 07, 01:42:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A lot of people who are well intentioned don't realize how hard it is to develop an offensive lineman. In the NFL, for example, the brightest group of players are the offensive linemen. It requires smarts and great athletic ability. And on top of all that, it requires both size and strength. It's no surprise that the left tackle is the second highest paid position in the NFL.


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