Friday, October 30, 2009

5 Keys to the Game: Yale

A quick glance at the game notes for the Yale game confirms that we can expect a very different-looking Columbia team on the field tomorrow.

Ray Rangel is injured and the new starter will be, (according to the notes), junior Zack Kourouma. We already know that Alex Gross and Owen Fraser remain out on defense. Nick Mistretta and Chris Paruch have been moved up to the top of the depth charts at their linebacker positions. Andy Shalbrack has been moved from his safety position to a starting corner spot. The list goes on...

In short, make sure you grab your FREE program when you get to Wien Stadium so you know who's who... you'll thank me later.

With these personnel issues in mind, and the emotional challenges facing the team after these last three games, I want to emphasize that the biggest key to the game may be the one I don't list below: heart.

How much heart will this team show tomorrow and through the rest of the season? They've taken some stomach punches lately with one tough loss after another and now a raft of injuries to so many key players.

The 26 seniors on this squad, healthy or not, need to step it up and make sure despair does not creep into the lockeroom or the sideline.

Yale is a beatable team, and I like the idea of the players visualizing how good it will feel to defeat the Elis against all this adversity.

And winning would mean a nice victory on national TV.

Okay, back to the field:

1) Harass the Yale O-line

Nick Schwieger was already a very talented running back before last week's game vs. the Lions, but Columbia's inability to adjust to his runs made him an absolute hero. The weak offensive line at Yale has made their offense stall week after week, and Columbia cannot let this unit suddenly shine tomorrow. QB's need to be rushed and blitzed, running backs need to be harrassed, etc.

2) Establish the Pass

I think Yale's defensive strength, which is considerable, centers on their front seven. The secondary has yet to be really tested, except by Lafayette and the Leopards had the most successful day against the Elis that anyone has had all year. Connecticut native Austin Knowlin needs to give the Yale pass defenders fits tomorrow, 'nuff said.

3) Protect the Sidelines

Yale will be looking to test starting corners Shalbrack and Ross Morand along with new outside linebacker starter Chris Paruch. To me, this means lots of running and pass plays to the sidelines, which is something Yale actually tried against the Lions a lot last year with mostly good results. If Patrick Witt starts and plays most of the game at QB, look for him to take off for the sidelines on runs early and often. H-back John Sheffield will probably try to make something of his height advantage outside the numbers as well.

4) First, Do No Harm

The Lions kicking game has been a decided weakness, but there's degrees of weakness and degrees of disaster. Sure, Columbia hasn't been getting crucial field goals and even PAT's, but eliminate the bad snaps and blocks on the punts and you take points off the board from the other team. A missed kick or a short punt is one thing, but blocks and snaps over the kicker's head are worse. Take your pick, but I think the choice is clear.

5) Do Something Really Different... All the Time

The Lions are already going to show Yale some new players, but I think a key to the game will be trying some plays the Elis haven't seen as well. Yale has a good enough defense to react to surprises well, but no one's perfect.

Robert Hutchins, Hero of the Sloth

Weekend Reading Material

Check out this piece today in the Wall Street Journal about who the powers in college football were 100 years ago. Much of the article focuses on the University of Chicago, but the Ivies are also mentioned.

My favorite exerpt is the famous quote by the University of Chicago president who killed that school's once-storied football program:

"When I am minded to take exercise, I sit down and wait until the mood has passed."

-Robert Hutchins

Sounds like the perfect recipe for obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc. All the things that are exploding across the country right now. Thanks, Bob!


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