Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Option on the Option

Olawale scores vs. Dartmouth (CREDIT: Columbia Athletics)

A few days ago I wrote about the Ivy League's apparent shift back to running QB's. It's not the whole league by any stretch, but the trend is catching on.

Of course, no discussion of Ivy League football and running QB's in the modern era can exclude the name of Mike Cavanaugh '96. For all of the 1994 season and most of the 1995 campaign, Cavanaugh was at the helm of a potent Columbia offense that made historic strides and every possession so exciting.

The 1994 season saw Cavanaugh and a very talented passing QB named Jamie Schwalbe '95 sharing the QB duties. While the Lion defense was evolving into a strong force, (this was Marcellus Wiley and Rory Wilfork's breakout year as well), it was the shuttle offense Columbia used that season that kept them in games week after week.

The high point of the year was a two week stretch when the Lions first whipped Yale at the Yale Bowl 30-9, and then edged Princeton 17-10 at homecoming. Columbia was inconsistent during the final weeks of the season, but the week nine 38-33 win over Cornell when both Cavanaugh and Schwalbe played flawlessly, clinched the first winning season for the Lions since 1971.

After Schwalbe graduated and Wiley sat out the 1995 season, many predicted that Cavanaugh and Columbia would suffer a terrible year. But the Lions came out strong with a thrilling 28-24 win over Harvard to start the year and 24-14 win over Penn a few weeks later that ended what was then the longest winning streak in college football.

But a broken leg in the week seven loss to eventual Ivy champ Princeton ended Cavanaugh's career and Columbia's hopes for another winning season. Ironically, Cavanaugh injured himself on a passing play, not during one of his gutsy runs that made people worry so much about injury.

That history has to be on a lot of Lion fans' minds as we head into the 2009 season with a QB like Millie Olawale who is definitely the most talented runner from that position that we've seen since Cavanaugh. Olawale's injury in the Brown game has to make everyone who wants him to take all the snaps week after week to at least take pause. Another consideration is Austin Knowlin, who may have to fight harder to make an impact with a running QB rather than a down the field passer under center.

On the other hand, who can deny that the Lions offense seemed to come to life from the moment Olawale came into the Dartmouth game and helped seal that victory? And it does seem like the coaches are finding lots of new ways to get Knowlin's hands on the ball, whether it's with direct snaps, screen passes, shovel passes, and of course punt and kick returning.

So what would be your call if you were in charge of this offense?

1) Let Olawale take all the snaps, run like crazy and see if anyone can stop him?

2) Have Olawale and Shane Kelly, Jerry Bell, Paul Havas, or any of the other QB's use a shuttle system and resurrect the magic of 1994?

3) Some other option?

None of us is actually a coach, and still it's an agonizing decision. If I had to choose I'd say I'd like to try option #2 to see if it works, but then be ready to go back to option #1 if it doesn't. The problem with that is it takes a while for Ivy teams to get used to new systems and it might be very unfair to ditch a shuttle system before week 5 when things really settle in.

It's questions like these that should make the spring game even more interesting to watch this season than usual.

40 days to go...


At Tue Mar 10, 05:20:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I woul duse a wildcat formation with both MA and Kelly in the backfield at teh same time, unless MA shows more consistency as a passer. Or I would use MA as a running back. The Spring game will be a good oppportunity to see if MA is 100%. I also want to see what Havas and Bell have. I was at that '95 game at Princeton. It was a beautiful day, except that the winds were incredible and Cavanaugh was unable to throw into the wind. He was a great player. In fact, before he broke his leg some scouts thought that he might be able to play on sundays, although not as a QB. He was also a great punt returner. His injury just killed us.

At Tue Mar 10, 07:42:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not everyone is going with the option QB.

Cornell and Dartmouth both have terrific option-type quarterbacks on the roster and both have chosen to go in another direction. Cornell's Stephen Liuzza and Dartmouth's Tim McManus are mirror images of each other, whippet-quick guys who can hurt you on the ground or in the air. But for some reason neither has gotten much of a shot.


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