Tuesday, July 15, 2008

5 Easy Pieces

I want you to hold the chicken, hold the mayonnaise, and hold that line!

It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out why the Lions struggled in 2007. Failure to stop the run was the biggest problem, failure to sustain their own running game was the other main issue, and an unusual amount of injuries kept everything an uphill battle for the entire season.

There were five moments during the season... leitmotifs really... that frozen in time, give the observor the best understanding of what 2007 was all about. And they stood out so clearly, it was easy to pick them out at season's end.

Here they are in order of importance:

5) Austin's Late Score

September 15, 2007

Jack Coffey Field, Fordham University

Austin Knowlin had one of the most impressive seasons in Columbia history. The stats tell some of the story; he finished with 74 catches for 988 yards and 10 touchdowns. This on a team that scored just 18.4 points a game. His yardage total was just 12 yards shy of the Lions single-season record... and Knowlin was just a sophomore. In a league that was loaded with receiving stars last season, most of them upperclassmen, Knowlin was still named a 1st Team All-Ivy wide receiver.

Unfortunately, too many of Knowlin's scores came when the games were already decided in favor of Columbia's opponents. And that trend began in week one.

Trailing 27-3 against Fordham with 4:21 left to go in the game, the Lions took over at their own 6-yard line with time for one last drive. A 15-yard run by Jordan Davis got things going, and then five straight pass completions by QB Craig Hormann, the biggest a 25-yarder to Knowlin, put Columbia at the Fordham seven. Three plays later, even though everyone in the stadium knew the pass was going to him, Knowlin finally got open at the edge of the end zone and hauled in his first TD catch of the season. It was thrilling play, but it only made the final score look a little better at 27-10.

It was a scenario that would repeat itself several times throughout the season:

In week five, with Columbia trailing Penn 52-21, Knowlin made a nice move to get into the endzone for 19-yard TD catch.

In week seven, the Lions trailed Yale 28-0 with about four minutes left in the game when Hormann found Knowlin for an eight yard TD pass.

In week eight, and Columbia behind Harvard 27-6, Knowlin grabbed a nine yard TD pass from Hormann with just over five minutes left in the game.

In week nine, and the Lions behind Cornell 34-7, Knowlin went up high to make a great catch in traffic for an eight yard touchdown catch with just four seconds left on the clock.

Thus, five of Knowlin's 10 TD catches last season made little difference in the big picture. Hopefully, more of his scores will create a serious impact in 2008.

4) Craig Comes Back

September 15, 2007

Jack Coffey Field, Fordham University

Columbia may have finished 1-9, but an inspiring storyline that ran throughout 2007 was quarterback Craig Hormann's recovery from an ACL tear that happened in December of 2006. Craig worked very hard to get back in playing shape and "big moment #4" was when he made a dramatic and unannounced, (he was only listed as "probable" the night of the game), start in week one against Fordham. He ran onto the field excitedly after Columbia received the opening kickoff. On third down of the opening series, he threw his first pass of the season and it was good for 34 yards to Austin Knowlin.

It's impossible to know how much Hormann's injury affected him throughout the year. He made a number of dazzling throws throughout the season and became only the second Columbia QB to pass for 400+ yards in a game when he tallied 417 in the 59-28 thrashing by Penn.

But his already questionable mobility was hampered even further, taking an important weapon away from the offense. And unlike 2006 when he threw stunningly few interceptions, Hormann was picked off 15 times in 2007, something that played a key role in the losses against Princeton and Dartmouth.

3) The Defense Taketh... 2) The Offense Giveth Away

September 22, 2007

Lawrence A. Wien Stadium, Columbia University

For a team that went 1-9, here's a stunning statistic: Columbia's turnover ratio was only minus-four. They intercepted 11 passes, (opponents only attempted 260 passes all season, meaning the Lions picked off a healthy 4.2% of opposing throws), and grabbed nine of the 21 fumbles forced.

Columbia's 31-7 win over Marist was the only Lion victory of 2007. But a positive aspect of that win was noticeable throughout the season. The defense created key turnovers that gave Columbia numerous chances to win in several games.

The first key takeaway for the Lions came early in the Marist game after the Red Foxes had driven all the way from their 26 to the Columbia 22 on 11 straight rushing plays. Eight of those rushes were by Marist's Bo Ehikioya who gained 54 yards on those carries. Then Marist switched gears, giving the ball to Adam Hansen a couple of times before QB Steve Mcgrath tried to scramble on 3rd and 10. McGrath lost the handle on the ball and Andy Shalbrack was the Johnny on the Spot for Columbia, pouncing on the pigskin at the 13-yard line. Marist's opening threat was over, and the game was saved... BUT the offense failed to capitalize on this first Red Fox turnover, getting just one first down and then punting it away.

It started against Marist, but the defense's propensity to create turnovers that the offense did not make the most of was even more on display the following week against Princeton.

The defense did take matters into its own hands at first. Trailing 21-10 late in the first half, Shalbrack intercepted a Bill Foran pass at the CU 44 and took it all the way back for a touchdown. Unfortunately, the Lions would not notch another defensive touchdown until the final week of the season.

After Columbia took a 24-21 lead over the Tigers early in the third quarter, Lou Miller sacked Foran and forced a fumble that Shalbrack recovered at the Princeton 43. But the Lions offense went three-and-out and had to punt.

On the ensuing possession, Eugene Edwards intercepted Foran at the Columbia 48... again the Columbia offense went three-and-out after that.

The Lions inability to capitalize on those last two turnovers came back to haunt them. Princeton scored two quick TD's on the next two possessions and forced Columbia to come back.

And thanks to the defense, they had a chance. The Lions closed the score to 35-32 after a Jordan Davis option pass for a TD to Jamal Russell to cap a 68-yard drive.

Conor Joyce forced new Tiger QB Bill Foran to fumble on the ensuing possession at the Columbia 45 and it was Eugene Edwards who came up with the fumble again. But after Hormann hit Knowlin with a 17 yard pass, he threw an interception on the very next play and Princeton scored a TD on that possession to put the game away. This was a scenario that played out in similar forms in the losses to Dartmouth and Brown as well.

So while Columbia only had four more giveaways than takeaways, Lion opponents scored an eye-popping 98 points off of their 24 takeaways while Columbia scored just 33 points of its 20 takeaways. That's a killer margin and it killed the Lions week after week.

1) Xavier's Off to the Races

September 15, 2007

Jack Coffey Field, Fordham University

Columbia gave up a ridiculous 231 rushing yards per game. And the weakness was right up the middle, where so many Lion opponents had little trouble finding daylight. It all started in week one when Columbia gave up 323 yards on the ground.

The play that signified it all came in the middle of the second quarter with the Rams up just 7-0 and the game was still very much a game. Fordham got the ball at its own 38 after Jon Rocholl missed a 55-yard field goal. Three plays later, Ram freshman Xavier Martin took it right up the middle for a 51-yard TD run. Martin finished with 157 yards and three touchdowns, while fellow Ram tailback
Jonte Coven had 139 yards rushing. Columbia was basically abused by opposing rushing in similar fashion the rest of the year.

To be fair, things did get generally better as the season hit its close. In the final week of the season, Columbia gave up a much more manageable 119 yards on the ground against Brown. But the weakness was still glaring.

Columbia needs to hold that line in 2008 to make sure history doesn't repeat itself.


At Wed Jul 16, 11:06:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

2007 can be summed up as follows; non-existent run defense. Everything follows from that simple proposition. The West Va. 3 5 5 needs incredible speed to be successful, and we didn't have it last year. It worked two years ago because we had a few defensive studs and because it caught everybody flat footed. I would love to run it again but I don't know if we have the right personnel.

At Thu Jul 17, 09:55:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger DOC said...

33 points off 20 turnovers is an astonishingly low total. When your offense cant put points on the board
in situations that you only have half the field to travel it is demoralizing to the defense as well. I thought our lack of run game made us way too predictable offensively, leading to those infamous late Horrman INTs. I am looking forward to seeing us get more points off TOs in 2008.


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