Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Scrambling Back to the Run

This could be the makings of an All Ivy QB

There's an old joke about a Rabbi who is angered to see all his congregants sending their children to the local private Friends Academy instead of Hebrew school. When he's accused of fostering anti-Quaker sentiments he says: "How can I be anti-Quaker? Some of my best Jews are Friends!"

I'm reminded of that joke when I see a transformation in the QB position in the Ivy League these days. It's more of a retro movement back to running QB's, (one that I have advocated for years... the pro-style QB thing just doesn't work for every team), and it could lead to the following exchange similar to the joke above:

Ivy Fan: Hey coach, why was there only one 1,000-yard rusher in the Ivies again this year?

Coach: Well, we're running spread offenses nowadays. This is not your father's Ivy football.

Ivy Fan: So, are you against the run?

Coach: How can I be against the run, some of my best passers are runners!

In the past, when I urged more of an emphasis on running from the QB position, I was shot down by other fans who noted the increased chances for injuries. I realize that's a real concern, but after seeing 20+ years of Ivy games where QB after QB forces passes instead of taking advantage of huge open field running opportunities, I'm happy for this change.

I'm also happy because I think Columbia's M.A. Olawale is the best of all the running QB's in the league. Penn fans may argue for their new signal-caller Kiefer Garton, but I think Olawale's athleticism speaks for itself. He's extremely fast for his size, and his size helps him bounce off or over most initial tacklers. His excellent scrambling played a huge role in both Columbia wins last season.

And here's a trivia question: Who ran for the longest gain from scrimmage in Ivy League football in 2008?

Answer: M.A. Olawale, 70 yards for a TD against Brown in week 10.

I'm convinced Ivy coaches are making this shift back to running QB's after years of seeing the tailback/fullback system fall on hard times, especially in the recruiting process. The BCS programs are simply carrying more running backs on their rosters and the result is we're seeing:

1) Fewer superstar backs in the Ivies, (the 1,000-yard rushers are becoming a rarer find than at any time since the 10-game schedule went into effect in 1980, and

2) The dominance of those few backs who are good is huge, (the healthy Mike McLeod at Yale two years ago was really unstoppable).

Whether this shift will be short-lived or a long-running era is hard to predict, but I have always loved the idea of a running QB who can hurt you in two ways. It's not what I want to see in the NFL where 350 pound defenders run at you at the speed of light, but at the college football level, it's a good deal.

What's also interesting is how many Penn fans, the ones who were the most vocally in favor of pro-style quarterbacking and who scoffed at my "risky" call for more running, are now converting to the same idea thanks to the success Garton had at the end of the 2008 season. Garton or no Garton, the consistent failure of the pure passing QB Robert Irvin to return Penn to the championship race after three seasons of trying, should have convinced them long before the middle of 2008.

It will be interesting to see how well opposing teams adjust to Olawale's and Garton's running in the coming season. It seems like when Olawale is confident on the field, no one can really stop him.

But whether Columbia succeeds with this model or not, I think this kind of offense is more exciting to watch. It certainly gives all the players, especially the offensive linemen, a better workout on the field!

The Countdown

Speaking of workouts, we're 200 days from the 2009 season opener, but just 46 days from the spring game and 23 days from the start of spring practice. We have a 300 day offseason this year, so we're only a third of the way through the wait, but by the time the spring game is being played we'll be about half way finished.

Some of the big schools, like South Carolina, have already started spring practice, or I should say they were SUPPOSED to, but those big tough BCS boys got a little scared of the cold weather.

I don't think the Ivy League would give any school that canceled a spring practice day a make-up day unless the weather was much worse than this.

Stan Responds!

For those of you who missed it, former Spectator sportswriter Stanley Waldbaum made a great comment on yesterday's post and I am reprinting it below. Thanks, Stan!

Jake, I hardly deserve the honor of being mentioned on your blog, which I do read every day and enjoy immensely. Only the Columbia players and coaches deserve the publicity. However, I was very fortunate indeed to be the Sports Editor of the Columbia Daily Spectator in 1961 when Columbia won its only Ivy League Football Championship. That was a great football team, and I cherish the memories. However, nothing would make me happier than to see this year's Columbia Football Team, under Coach Wilson, emulate the success of the 1961 Championship Team and bring another Ivy League Title to Columbia.

All Best Wishes.

Stan Waldbaum '62, Spring Valley New York


At Wed Mar 04, 04:39:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MA is just plain fast, and not just fast for his size. And he hits like a truck. He is basically the best runner in the Ivy League. And here's one for you: since MA never took a snap, or even stepped on the field during his sophomore year, will we have him back not just for next year but for two more years?

At Wed Mar 04, 04:56:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger dabull said...

There's no redshirting in the Ivies other then for medical reasons. The fact Olawale never played the previous season does not allow for another year of eligibility.

At Wed Mar 04, 05:15:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake that joke was so bad, i want my quarterback

At Wed Mar 04, 09:29:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is MA recovered from the injury he suffered in the Brown game?

At Fri Mar 06, 09:37:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, Asia's most recent blog is really off the charts. He is characterizing the incoming Penn class as the greatest recruiting class in the history of Ivy League football! How can he make a satement like that? Can there be any bais at all? Frankly I have looked at what we have coming in, and I think that our group is better than the group at Penn.

At Fri Mar 06, 09:45:00 PM GMT+7, Blogger Jake said...

The Penn faitful have to be getting more and more upset as this is the longest non-championship stretch for the Quakers since the program's resurgence in 1982. Five years and counting with no title.

Penn recovered from three straight very down years in 2008 and posted a decent 5-2 Ivy record. But the key problem for the Quakers, a very weak offense, is still there. Look at the Penn stats page and you'll see very anemic numbers from their running backs and wide receivers. Kiefer Garton is a good running QB, but all the focus on him as being the reason for the Quakers' better season is really unfair because the defense did the job all season long.

Bagnoli has done a very good job of continuing to reload on defense year after year, but ever since the graduation of QB Mike Mitchell after the 2003 season, the Penn O has just not been the same.

It's possible Penn someohow pulled out all the stops this year and recruited the heck out of the offensive skill positions. But those kinds of players usually don't get to play as freshmen. If Penn really did recruit the top quality kids Asia says they did, then there's no reason why a good number of them won't get playing time on the existing weak offense right away.

So in other words, unless you start seeing 3-4 frosh starting on offense by week 3 or 4, then someone is blowing smoke up our butts.

At Sat Mar 07, 02:03:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Our group of recruits looks promising, but when you look at running backs, all we have so far (that we know about) is Gerst, who is a good one but on the smallish side (5'8", 170). In that department we can't compare to the talent Penn has brought in. We're good at the other skill positions, but running back remains our Achilles heel.

At Tue Mar 17, 05:12:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have seen this Gerst kid from bergen Catholic...This kid does not play at 170...He plays more like 210...The coaches tell me in additon to the 4.4 40 he has a 325 bench and a 400 squat.


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