The Rush Back to the Run
Dartmouth's Greg Patton personified a sea change in Ivy football
A new world will greet new Princeton Head Coach Bob Surace and the person Cornell eventually hires for its top football job in the coming weeks.
I'm not talking about fan support, Internet broadcasts, or even the A.I.
I'm talking about the Ivies' frenzied rush back to the running game.
And I'm talking about the old school, run it by committee, running game most of us have not seen since the 1960's.
For all the tradition and history in the Ivies, the Ancient Eight's football teams have often been football innovators.
Sometimes it was because of necessity. For example, Columbia was a much smaller school by enrollment back in the 30's, and finding a bunch a big linemen to run behind was always a daunting challenge on Morningside Heights.
So, Lou Little and company started using the pass a lot more than most teams ever thought of, and the results were often stellar. Sid Luckman and Gene Rossides were pioneers of that passing game.
A little more recently, Ivy teams in the 1970's started using pro-style sets with an emphasis on the pass as it became harder to recruit marquee running backs to the league.
That passing trend reached its zenith in the late 1990's when teams like Brown and Penn used aerial attacks in almost hyperactive fashion.
But something has happened just over the last two or three years in the league.
Compared to 2008, the total rushing yards by all eight Ivy teams was up almost 16% in 2009. Rushing attempts were up 6%. And only one team, Yale, failed to rush for 1,000 yards or more as a team. In 2006, FIVE of the eight Ivies didn't cross the 1,000 yards rushing mark as a TEAM.
And yet, not one Ivy player rushed for 1,000 yards this season. Yes, injuries had something to do with it as Columbia's Ray Rangel and surely Dartmouth's Nick Schwieger seemed poised to at least come very close to 1,000 yards before they went down. In the end, Harvard's Gino Gordon had the most total rushing yards at just 632.
But in general, the Ivy teams are running more often, running for more yards, and using more players to do it.
It starts with the quarterbacks. At one point or another during the 2009 season, Columbia, Dartmouth, Penn, and Princeton all featured QB's that ran the ball 15 or more times per game. In Columbia's case, that was true in all 10 games of the season.
Running QB's were almost extinct in the Ivies as this decade began, but now they seem all the rage. The fact that almost all the new running QB's suffered injuries at one point or another doesn't seem to have changed attitudes about this new trend just yet.
Of course, the teams that were able to use the QB position to effectively run and pass had the most success. He battled injury all season long, but Columbia fans got an unpleasent up-close look at how dangerous Penn's Keiffer Garton was as a total package as he had his best passing day of the season in the Quakers 27-13 win over the Lions.
Columbia enjoyed the flip side of that equation against Brown in week 10 when Sean Brackett ran for 171 yards and threw for 151 yards and a TD in the Lions 28-14 season-ending win over Brown.
The best running day for any Ivy QB in 2009 was turned in by Dartmouth's Greg Patton who ran for an incredible 243 yards and two TD's in an OT win over Cornell in Hanover.
Will Princeton's Surace and Cornell's new man buy in to this running by committee and running QB trend? I think they may have little choice as it's almost obvious that recruiting issues are a big force behind this move right now.
It looks like the Ivies are still able to find good crops of offensive linemen and even talented running backs are out there and available.
But finding a durable, 25-30 carries a game back who can avoid major injury seems the rarest of all players in the Ivies right now. Unless you want to give up on the run completely, if you're an Ivy coach you're looking for lots of different backs and a QB who can make things happen with his feet.
We'll see if this trend continues in 2010.