The Lions of Spring (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics/Gene Boyars)
Here at "Roar Lions Roar" we don't like to mince words, and the following detailed account of the Spring Game is filled with some strong opinions about the team from a long-time fan and alum.
Honest assessments from loyal fans are important to all of us, and I am EXTREMELY grateful for the following account of the game and the outlook for the squad in 2008.
So without any further ado:
"The weather cooperated with Columbia's annual spring football game on Saturday -- warm and sunny, with a slight breeze. And interest in Columbia football has certainly grown. Several hundred fans were in the stands, many times more than those who used to watch the spring contest before the Wilson era. With no competing events on adjacent fields, the focus was only on Columbia football. And more than the weather buoyed fans' spirits. Word rippled through the home stands before play began that the heavyweight crew had upset Yale and the baseball team had won the first game of a doubleheader in Ithaca. Perhaps that was a good sign.
On Kraft Field, the Blue team -- comprised of the first team offense and the second team defense -- defeated the White Team -- the second team offense and first defense defense -- by a score of 14-7. The defensive line played for both teams. More important than the score, however, was what the intrasquad game indicated about whether the Lions would rebound from a last year's disastrous 1-9 season. While it is important not to read too much into what was essentially a glorified practice and key players were held out due to injuries -- quarterback Shane Kelly, tight end Troy Evangelist, defensive end Matt Bashaw, and wide receiver Nico Gutierrez -- the afternoon gave some early, though mixed, answers to the questions about the squad as it seeks to improve.
What Offense Will They Use?
Little changed from last year. The Lions ran multiple formations, with the tailback featured and a lot of short passes to the backs. On Saturday, as last year, the offense seemed to lack continuity. Such reliance on a single position -- the tailback -- usually requires a big durable rb and a dominant offensive line. Columbia has neither, though Jordan Davis (who has appeared to bulk up) and Ray Rangel are solid contributors. FB Pete Stoll is big and fast for his size, and should be used much more to take the pressure off the other two.
What Defense Will They Use?
The staff used a classic 4-3 alignment on Saturday, which seemed to work better at stopping the run than last year's controversial 3-5. Coach Wilson said the Lions will still go with 3-5 in certain situations. Miller, Garza, Loughery, Mitchell, Stotler and England all saw action on Saturday on the defensive line. Not a deep group, but should be improved.
Who Will Play Quarteback?
Hard to assess without Kelly taking the field. Olawale is an electrifying athlete whose passing has improved, though he has far to go before he is an accomplished Ivy passer. It is imperative that the staff use his rushing skills, probably at tailback. This is a good example of Columbia using offensive schemes that do not suit its personnel. Corey Clare, almost an afterthought last year, has made great strides in camp, according to Coach Wilson. (He was 7 for 12 for 40 yards). Paul Havas (13-of-25 for 101 yards and one interception) moves well and has a nice touch on his passes. He lacks experience, however, and threw an interception in the end zone that cost the white team a TD. This is an area of major concern and someone will have to step up for the Light Blue to have a decent year. No one has yet.
Who will compliment Austin Knowlin?
Nico Gutierrez, the obvious answer, was injured and did not play. Taylor Joseph is fine as a third receiver. Josh A. Williams saw time and has good potential. Nate Anshuetz and the versatile Jason Pyles also saw time.
Will the Offensive Line be improved?
Probably, though still an area to worry about, especially on pass protection. DeBernardo, Gaston, Seiler, Brune, Sanford, Constant, Veldman, Britzius, and Kipp were among those who saw time. Lipvovsky and Prentice Robinson are also in the mix.
How is the rest of the Defense?
Solid. Gross, Moretto and Quinn have talent and played well at linebacker on Saturday. Vaughn Hodges and Marc Holloway will back them up. The secondary also looks good, with potential All-Ivy Andy Shalbrack at and Adam Mehrer at strong safety. Calvin Otis, Jared Morine, Craig Hamilton and Chad Musgrove played a lot at corner, though Musgrove reportedly was injured. The others who got time in the secondary included Augie Williams, Dan Myers, and Kirk Weller,
Will anyone take over at Tight End?
A solid position with Andrew Kennedy, Clif Pope and Cody Steele, who caught a TD pass from Clare. The talented Troy Evangelist was again injured. Look for the coaches to go to the tight end position much more frequently, especially if another wide receiver to draw attention from Knowlin does not emerge.
Will the special teams be improved?
Jon Rocholl had a 55-yard punt and handed PAT duties. It is too early to tell if he has become more consistent. Mike Siebold and Bil Mazur did adequately in relief of Rocholl. The team desperately needs an effective kick returner (Does Travis Chmelka have any eligibility left?)
It is unfair to put too much emphasis on a single spring game, but here goes: the 2008 Lions will be improved, especially on defense, where an ill-conceived defensive philosophy alone may have cost a win or two last year. Almost every aspect of the offense, however, needs work. The squad does not appear to have the horses at quarterback, running back or on the lines to match up with what expected to be the class of the league this year (Harvard, Yale, Brown). Columbia's recruiting is much improved in recent seasons, however, and coaching staffs that turn around losing programs typically begin to show results in years 3-5. Thus, a move up to 3-4 or 4-3 in the Ivy League should be considered a successful season. More talent in the incoming freshman class is reportedly on the way.