Monday, October 24, 2016

Will We See our Heroes?

For those of you who could not make it to the Homecoming win over Dartmouth and then were burned by the loss of the game feed on One World Sports, there's a chance a clean feed of the game will be broadcast on One World tomorrow at noon Eastern Time. It's definitely worth setting your DVR's just in case.

This is Familiar

Carm Cozza

I'll scout Yale as a team tomorrow, but looking at the program as a whole right now I have to say I'm getting deja vu listening to the angry voices coming out of New Haven. 

The Eli fans are furious, to put it mildly. Yalies have seen some tough years over the decades, but I can't remember a time when a coach who was brought in to turn around a struggling Yale team seems to have made it worse. 

For context, remember that Yale sort of hit bottom during the mid-1990's. Those were legendary Head Coach Carm Cozza's final years with the program and no one was going to push him out the door. Cozza went 17-33 over his final five years and even lost his last three straight contests against the Lions by a combined score of 64-26. When Jack Siedlecki replaced Cozza in 1997, the Elis began a respectable march back to competitiveness even though they never matched the kind of sustained excellence they did in Carm's heyday. After five years, Siedlecki was 26-23 and had an Ivy title under his belt. 

When Siedlecki finally ran out his welcome after the 2008, the controversial hiring of Tom Williams put Yale in a new spotlight. Williams will forever be remembered for a crazy fake punt call on a very long 4th and long play in his first game against Harvard in 2009. But he did get the Elis to a solid 7-3 record in his second year. Despite never beating the hated Crimson in his three years, Williams was let go because of some resume honesty issues more than anything else. 

Enter Reno, who was poached from Harvard where he was supposedly the Crimson's recruiting guru. It sure seemed like Reno was good at bringing in players by hook or by crook. Transfer Tyler Varga was the biggest treasure, but current senior LB Victor Egu made headlines when he ditched a Cal Berkeley commitment to come to New Haven. 

Yet here we are in the middle of year five and Reno is 21-25 and the team seems decidedly worse than it was when he took over in 2012. And like I said, the fans are angry and sounding a lot like Columbia fans did two years ago. They want Reno gone yesterday. 

I'm not sure exactly what went wrong for the Elis, but I do wonder about whether Yale now faces distinct recruiting disadvantages. New Haven isn't really a big city nor a rural area. And it's definitely not as exciting as New York, Boston, or Philadelphia. If you want a big city for college, Columbia, Harvard, and Penn are all better choices. If you want rural settings, Dartmouth and Cornell are better. And if you want a happy medium/suburban small town feel, Princeton is the best. I don't see where Yale fits in on that level. And it's usually true that when an Ivy team is struggling, recruiting is the biggest reason why. 

Some people laughed at me this summer when I suggested Reno would be fired at the end of this season. They're not laughing now. Yale's older football alumni are used to much better than this and they're not going to be shamed into silence. 

Short Week

With Columbia set to take on Yale at home this Friday night at 7pm, there's less time for fans to prepare, but the team will get in the requisite number of practices and prep. The fact that the game will be on national TV on the NBC Sports Network will add to the sense of urgency.

Meanwhile, the aftermath of the Lions win over Dartmouth on Homecoming has a lot of people making some new conclusions about the Columbia program now and moving forward. I'll try to consolidate and/or refute many of them in the following points:

-Generally, the CU defense is very good. And Defensive Coordinator Paul Ferraro deserves credit for a lot of this. I also give credit to linebackers coach Justin Stovall since that unit has been the most dominant. But Dartmouth's coaching staff was also very complimentary of the Lion defensive line, saying that it's much better than people thought it would be after all the key graduations last spring. That speaks well of the way D-line coach Darin Edwards prepared this crew in the spring and the first part of the summer and also is a credit to emergency D-line coach replacement Jim Schaefer who joined the staff when Edwards' health problems came up. But getting back to Ferraro, how much of his positives have been accentuated by the fact that he came back for year two of the Bagnoli era? A lot of CU coordinators have lasted less than two years in the recent past. And that makes me wonder if the Columbia offense would be doing better this year if last year's Offensive Coordinator Mike Faragalli were still around and the transition to the new offense was not still such an issue. Sometimes, continuity can be a big deal.

-Yes, the Lion defense is good. But it still is subject to some momentary lapses that can be lethal. Twice now in the last three games, the defense has allowed opposing teams to complete improbably long 4th down conversions that would have ended the game right there had they been defended better. Against Penn, the defense allowed two sloppy plays along the sidelines for TD's. This defense is very good, but it can be the kind of defense that wins games on its own -- like the 1996 Lions defense -- if it eliminates these rare weak moments.

-Let's get to the root of it: Columbia has now matched its 2015 win total with four games to play. Three of those games look entirely winnable, with two of them at home. It really felt like Columbia left at least three and maybe four wins on the table last year while CU's two wins were games where the Lions mostly dominated. Improving to 3-7 this season would mean not just one more win overall, but one more Ivy win. And it would likely also mean the Lions are keeping their composure more in tight games. They've already taken two absolute nail biters in the wins over Wagner and Dartmouth and dropped two of the same kind of games against St. Francis and Georgetown. That's the kind of even results normal teams can expect. So perhaps while Columbia is not yet a contender, the Lions have taken the truly giant step of becoming "normal."

-Saturday's win was proof of the old saying that if you play solid defense and don't turn the ball over you can win any game. Without turnovers, Columbia surely would have beaten Georgetown and probably would have beaten St. Francis. How would 4-2 feel like now as opposed to just 2-4? How many more wins will the Lions get going forward if they protect the ball?

-RB Alan Watson left the game late with what looked like an ankle or leg twist, but I saw him dancing on the sidelines just fine after the game. I expect him to play with no problems Friday night. But even more encouraging was the fact that the run blocking overall was much better Saturday. This would follow a pattern set last year, when the Columbia offensive line started to get much better at run blocking as the season wore on. If the Lions can outrun a run-based team like Yale, it will be a good night against the Elis.

-After Penn dismantled Yale this past weekend at the Yale Bowl, it's a little easier to feel good about how close Columbia played the Quakers at Franklin Field in week five. The Elis were never even remotely in the game while the Lions played Penn close for three quarters and held them to just seven points off of a turnover inside their 15 yard line in the first half.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Changing the Ending

Columbia 9 Dartmouth 7

Why Columbia Won

The Lion defense played its best game of the year, holding Dartmouth to 74 yards rushing, one for 17 on 3rd down conversions, and coming up with just enough on the final drive to keep the Big Green from taking the lead. The offense dominated time of possession by running the ball well and Columbia did not commit a turnover.

Why Dartmouth Lost

The Big Green offense never got much going, waiting for its final drive of the game to get into a groove that also quickly faded. And as the game wore on, the Dartmouth defense started to get worn down by the CU offensive line. Throw in a number of special teams failures, and the Big Green were rolling snake eyes almost all day.

Key Turning Points

-With Dartmouth leading 7-3 early in the 3rd quarter, a Big Green drive was extended by Columbia's second roughing the punter penalty of the game. But Dartmouth failed to get another 1st down on the the bonus series of downs and an eight-yard Ben Kepley punt gave the Lions the ball at their own 49. The ensuing CU drive included a 20-yard run by freshman QB Hunter Petlansky on 4th and one from the Big Green 31. Ultimately, the Lions settled for a FG and cut the Dartmouth lead to 7-6.

-Now trailing Columbia by 9-7 with 12:51 left in the 4th quarter, the Big Green began a drive at their own 32 and got down to the Columbia 33 before having to settle for a 50-yard FG attempt with a strong wind at their back. But David Smith's kick sailed wide right and the Lion lead held.

-Dartmouth's final desperate drive of the game began on its own one yard line and just 2:15 left in the 4th. An incredible 23-yard completion from QB Jack Heneghan to Hunter Hagdorn on 4th and 10 from the one got the Big Green going. The drive kept going until Dartmouth reached the CU 30 with 40 seconds to play. But three straight incomplete passes ensued, the third helped by good pass defense by Columbia LB Keith Brady. That forced the desperation 47-yard FG attempt that Smith simply could not get the distance one despite the strong wind in his favor.

Columbia Positives

-The Big Green did not have the best rushing attack in the Ivies coming into this game by far, but it was more than solid in its first five games. The Lion defense shut it down, especially primary RB Ryder Stone who finished with just 22 yards on 11 carries.

-Columbia's offensive line allowed just two sacks, and started to control the game as time went on with its run blocking. The Lions finished with a strong 154 yards rushing.

-Freshman PK Oren Milstein excellent again, missing only one FG attempt into the strong wind. He has now continued an amazing streak where the last 41 straight points scored by the Lions have been scored by freshmen.

Columbia Negatives

-The Lions continue to fail to score TD's when they get into the red zone.

-While the defense played its best game of the year, it still had a few breakdowns in key situations and gave Dartmouth improbable chances to win.

Columbia MVP

The official John Toner Homecoming MVP Award went to Milstein, and there's nothing wrong with that. But this game was won by the defense and the defense was again led by senior LB Gianmarco Rea with his 11 tackles and half a tackle for a loss and a QB hurry. Rea continues to lead the Ivies in tackles and he is my choice for MVP for the second week in a row.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Wet and Wild?

Dartmouth Big Green at Columbia Lions

October 22, 2016


Kickoff Time: 1:30pm, (note later start)

Game Time Weather Forecast: 50 degrees, showers, and increasing wind

The Spread: Dartmouth is favored by 12 points 

Columbia Game Notes

Dartmouth Game Notes


The game will be broadcast nationally on One World Sports Network. It is available on FIOS, but I'm not sure what other cable providers carry it. Check your local listings/channel guide. Superior audio commentary from Jerry Recco and Sal Licata is available on the Columbia Audio Network. 

Leading Story Lines

1) The weather could either be just a bit uncomfortable, the usual slippery game, or a wind and rain-swept mess. The last time Columbia beat Dartmouth was during a super rain and win storm at Wien Stadium in 2008. But the Big Green were also 0-10 that year.

2) Columbia comes with half a season left to achieve some form of visible improvement over last season. The Lions were a better team in the second half of 2015 and the better play did seem to start in their surprisingly close loss to the Big Green last year. So perhaps this too will be some kind of launching pad game. Meanwhile, Columbia hasn't won a Homecoming game since 2000, and the streak is starting to get noticed even by the younger fans.

3) Dartmouth may be looking for some sort of revenge after that 2015 game was definitely filled with lots of claims of dirty hits, etc. Big Green frustration over either the Lions stellar defensive play or perhaps some accompanying Columbia taunting led to a massive number of personal foul penalties that almost completely stifled Dartmouth's offense in the 13-9 CU loss. Much of the bad blood was between then-Big Green QB Dalyn Williams and the Columbia starting D-line. But many of the main characters in that game, including Williams, have graduated. But I wouldn't be surprised if Williams is on the Dartmouth sideline tomorrow.

Players to Watch

1) Columbia WR Josh Wainwright #13 is back from missing the Penn game due to injury. He could jump start the offense after it was obvious the Lions missed him on the field last week. But will the rain and wind play games with Wainwright's ball security issues?

2) Dartmouth LB Folarin Orimolade #9. "Flo" is a major pass rusher and all-around disruption specialist for the Big Green.

3) Columbia CB Jared Katz #21. With rain and wind likely to cut down on downfield passing, Katz may be called upon to help Columbia seal off the edges on stretched-out running plays outside the numbers. But if the field is too wet to rely on RB's making cuts, Dartmouth may try a super quick passing attack forcing Katz to play much closer to the line of scrimmage and fight through blocks.

4) Dartmouth RB Ryder Stone #32. The Big Green has been using him a little more lightly than I would have expected this season, but this kind of game in the expected rough conditions seems tailor made for him.

If, Then

-If the rain and wind really is a major factor, then both teams will need to get effective running gains from their QB's. Dartmouth's Jack Heneghan has run well this season. Columbia's Anders Hill has run well at times, but has been inconsistent.

-If Columbia's RB Alan Watson has success early on running it in between the tackles like he did against Wagner in the rain, then look for Dartmouth to adjust and force Hill to beat them with short throws.

-If the rainy conditions mess with Heneghan's strong passing yardage averages, look for the game to ride on how well the Dartmouth offensive line controls the line of scrimmage.