Columbia-Penn: 5 Keys
1) Stop the Penn Run
Columbia made amazing strides at stopping the run in 2008 compared to a pourous 2007 season. We're not back to 2007 levels, but the Lions are giving up way too many yards on the ground so far this year. I attribute most of that dropoff to the absence of Owen Fraser, who is again not listed on the two-deep for tomorrow's game. But the rest of the team must step up.
I expect Penn to use its many running weapons all over the place tomorrow. After M.A. Olawale, Penn's Keiffer Garton is the best running QB in the Ivies. Freshman RB Lyle Marsh has lived up to his advanced hype, and incumbent starter Michael DiMaggio is dangerous when he's healthy. Junior Bradford Blackmon is a better weapon coming out of the backfield as a pass receiver, but he always seems close to breaking runs to the outside.
Bruce Flemming and Chris Groth will have to play even better trying to plug up the middle in Fraser's absence. In normal weather conditions, I'd say the Quakers would try to pound it outside to test sophomore Evan Miller who will play in place of the injured Alex Gross, (Coach Wilson made the announcement that Gross has undergone season-ending surgery this week). But with a wet field making cutbacks difficult, look for more straight-ahead running all day. Philadelphia native Marc Holloway will play a big role in stopping that avenue as well.
The key to stopping the Penn run is getting into their backfield and disrupting things before the backs can get a head of steam. With the Quaker passing game not that strong, the Lions may be able to send more blitzers to do just that.
2) Bring all the Offensive Weapons
I don't care about the rain and wind, this Columbia team can pass and run and do that with a myriad of players. Olawale's arm is strong enough to deliver bullets in the wind and the Columbia receivers can get open even on a wet field. Meanwhile, the Lion offensive line should still be able to make room for M.A. and Ray Rangel to run, and the Quakers may not be prepared for the more well-executed option plays Columbia has been running this season.
Yes, Penn's defense is strong and maybe the strongest Columbia has seen all year. But is it really that much stronger than the Lafayette defense? Actually, the Quaker "D" is a lot like the Leopards defense with a great front seven that hits hard. The Lions had their way with that defense during long stretches of that game last weekend.
3) Watch for Penn's Tricks
I think the Quakers may try to mix things up with a few long passes early in the game. Columbia's corners Calvin Otis and Kalasi Huggins can't be caught napping, or creeping up too far to stop the run when they do.
4) Don't Get Hurt on Special Teams
Penn's super safety and kick returner Chris Wynn is expected to play tomorrow, and he needs to be contained. Columbia's improved protection for its place kicks and punts needs to continue. All Lion PAT's and short field goals HAVE to be made.
5) Finish Every Tackle and Don't Stop Pushing Until the Whistle Blows
Wet and rainy games have a way of producing missed tackles and other sloppy plays. The antidote to all that is pure determination. The Lions need to embrace the elements and look like a bunch of crazed animals out there for 60 minutes.
The Sports Network's Brett Kahn is predicting a 21-17 Columbia win.