Thursday, July 29, 2010

Alternative Realities

Owen Fraser's return is a big reason to be upbeat about the season (CREDIT: Columbia Atheltics)

I’m excited about Columbia’s chances in 2010 because of three key reasons:

The talent level remains at historically high levels for this team, especially at key positions like quarterback and offensive line.
A number of key players injured in 2009 are coming back this fall.
Most of the rest of the league looks relatively weak.

The only thing this team needs to prove is that it has, or can get, is the killer instinct to win the kinds of close games the Lions have lost in the last two seasons.

Speaking of the losses of the past, what are the three things that most contributed to the fact that the enormously talented 2009 Lions finished 4-6 rather than 7-3 or 8-2 or even 9-1?

In other words, if we had a time machine, what three things would we change about last season to make us big winners?

1) M.A.’s Stealth Injury

After a bit of a sloppy start, Columbia was starting to look good in the crucial Homecoming matchup against eventual Ivy champ Penn when QB M.A. Olawale got injured… most likely on a sack and forced fumble by Jake Lewko in the second quarter.

The bigger problem was, no one really knew he was injured at the time, and M.A. stayed in the game. The result was the Lion offense stalled in the 27-13 loss.

A week later, M.A. was still hurt… but we didn’t know it. My co-broadcaster Jerry Recco and I looked at each other in amazement as Olawale underthrew pass after pass in the 28-6 loss to Dartmouth. That’s when we suspected something was up.

Those suspicions were finally confirmed a week later, when Sean Brackett got the start against Yale. But who knows how the Columbia season could have ended if Olawale had stayed healthy, or at least really knew the extent of his arm injury right away?

Thankfully, Olawale healed enough to make his exciting relief appearance in the Cornell game and pulled out the 30-20 victory in that contest. But even in that appearance, Olawale was underthrowing passes.

Columbia suffered a myriad of other devastating injuries in 2009, (see item #3 below), but the Olawale injury and its stealth nature really burned the Lions and definitely was the major reason for two straight losses in the middle of the season.

2) Rough Calls

The one call most Columbia fans remember, and get angry about, came at the end of the first half against Lafayette when a Lion TD pass was negated on what seemed like a phantom illegal motion call.

The bad news is I did eventually get a long look at the tape of that play and Ray Rangel was indeed leaning forward well before the snap. It was actually a good call.

BUT… the refs did do quite a bit to cost Columbia that 24-21 loss in Easton. A pair of pass interference calls against Ross Morand were dubious, including one on the final Leopard drive that gave Lafayette a 1st and goal at the CU 3.

Another bad call was the placement the linesman made after Leon Ivery’s big 75+-yard run that ended inside the Yale one. I say it ended inside the one, but for some reason the refs placed the ball at the 2 and on the outside hash. Instead of just bulling the ball past the goal line, which they most likely would have down had the ball been placed properly, the Lions handed the ball off for an outside run by Zack Kourouma. Kourouma fumbled on a hard hit by Adam Money and Yale recovered. A TD there, and the game would have been over.

3) Owen, Alex and Ray

Losing Owen Fraser in week one hurt. Losing Alex Gross in week four hurt more. And losing Ray Rangel in week 6 capped a horrible year for injuries on Morningside Heights. The fact that the Lions remained competitive after each of those losses is amazing. But it’s hard to believe Columbia’s crucial run defense stats wouldn’t have been a lot better with the help of All Ivy stars like Fraser and Gross. Rangel was on track for a 900-yard rushing season before his foot injury at Dartmouth.

Every team deals with injuries, and I’m not saying Columbia had much more than the rest of the league. But there’s no doubt the Lions 2009 injuries cost them games and a winning season.


The previously TBA game at Penn on October 16th is now scheduled for noon. That’s an early start folks, 12:00.


At Thu Jul 29, 12:44:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jake, it was Yale's outstanding linebacker Paul Rice, not Adam Money, who put the hit on Kourouma that caused the disastrous fumble. And I don't think we should blame the refs for that one, Rice made a great play.

At Thu Jul 29, 07:16:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Off topic: the baseball roster on the CU board still doesn't list any frosh. Anyone know anything about our baseball recruits?

At Thu Jul 29, 07:29:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

coWe have had an outstanding baseball recruitng season. There have been bits and pieces, including a letter frorm Coach Boretti to that effect. PS, th e refs gave Lafayette that game. worsst case of home cooking I have seen in almost 50 years of watching Columbia football. The last drive was a disgrace.

At Thu Jul 29, 08:43:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re Owen Fraser, having seen him close up he has the physique of an NFK inside backer. I think he has the strength and athleticism to play the Will position instead of getting doubled teamed on every play.

At Thu Jul 29, 09:24:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous said " athleticism to play the Will position instead of getting doubled teamed on every play"

I think double team will only help us. If Owen and a much lighter (supposedly 275) faster Groth (double teamed almost every play last year) who stayed at school to train this summer stay healthy. Both were out at Dartmouth and it showed.

At Thu Jul 29, 10:30:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fraser and Groth are solid in the middle, but Bruce Flemming did a great job last year in Fraser's absence and he's a force as well. In fact, we have several other outstanding defensive linemen ready to mete out some punishment. The DL should be one of the strengths of the team.

At Thu Jul 29, 10:55:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Who was the very good looking pass rushing DE from Arizona who was a freshman last year, around 6'3" and maybe 220 or so, but very fast? He impressed me in some spot appearances.

At Thu Jul 29, 11:47:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

last year DE possibly #91
Seyi Adebayo

At Fri Jul 30, 10:11:00 AM GMT+7, Blogger cathar said...

Can anyone tell me why specifically Towson State, of all the teams in its conference, has become an occasional Lions opponent? I've never quite understood that one.

Have we ever considered playing Georgetown again, too? I always thought we'd set up home-and-home exchanges, but that doesn't seem to have been the case there. Nor did it with Duquesne, whom we played once some years back. I realize that with a 10-game season our options are somewhat limited (I believe both Towson and Central CT play 12 games, for instance), but, the city rivalry of Fordham aside, I think it'd be nice to have occasionally "unfamiliar" opponents pop up.

Also, what about the persistent rumors from a while back that, in lieu of post-season play, the Ivies will move to adding another game instead? That seems a strange choice in these days of generally declining Ivy football attendance (even as basketball seems to doing noticeably etter, at least at Columbia and Cornell), but....

At Fri Jul 30, 10:57:00 PM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This squad should win no fewer than seven games this season. Over the years, most long suffering Columbia fans have set our expectations low ...content to celebrate a couple of wins and some nicely fought defeats. But things are different now. We have skill and depth and have every reason to set a high expectation for our lads.

To our team: You are now expected to win. You can and should shoulder this higher expectation and deliver! The team that beat Brown last year can beat any opponent on this year's schedule.

On a personal note, I am not getting any younger. At 50, I only have so many more years to experience an Ivy Football Championship.

At Sat Jul 31, 12:16:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Townson's new head coach (this will be his second season), Rob Ambrose, coached at UConn with Coaches Wilson, Marino, and Nugai. This game was probably scheduled because of these coaching ties.

At Sat Jul 31, 05:43:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Jake - Thanks for reopening the Lafayette wound for me. I still contend the call at the end of the half was a non-call and the Lions got ripped. If there was a "leaning" (I contend there was not), you don't make that call at the end of the half, and you don't make that call if it is out of the play. It was a game changer for sure, and possibly a season changer for the Lions.

Have some fun this year with the team. I look forward to watching on line. Won't be able to come East this year. Keep doing a stellar job for the Lions.

The Neckman

At Sun Aug 01, 05:56:00 AM GMT+7, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There definitely was a "leaning," I watched it several times. A slight infraction, no doubt, but the ref was within the rules by calling it, which he did, I'm sure, before the TD pass was caught. Tough break for us, but hopefully we'll be eliminating those mistakes in the future.


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