Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Ivy Power Rankings

1) Dartmouth

The Big Green keep the top spot because they still have played the tougher overall schedule.

2) Columbia

The Lions overcame a lot of personal demons by beating Penn last week, setting up the biggest game the program has faced since the de facto Ivy championship game at Cornell in 1971.

3) Princeton

Columbia should be very grateful they don't have to play the Tigers again. Even without John Lovett, this still looks like the best offense in a league with some good offensive teams.

4) Yale

Beating Holy Cross in week 5 is not the same as beating them in week 2. It's hard to tell how good the Elis are now after defeating a Crusader team that quit on Head Coach Tom Gilmore, leading to his firing on Monday.

5) Harvard

It still seems to early to count the Crimson out. But Harvard is simply not getting great play from its quarterbacks.

6) Penn

The Quakers still have some potent weapons. But they too are plagued by inconsistency at QB.

7) Cornell

The Big Red sure made their win over Harvard look like a fluke by losing to a mediocre Bucknell team at home.

8) Brown

This is the worst the Bears have looked as a program since 1992.

A Message from Marcellus

Those shoulder pads deserve their own zip code

Dear Fellow Lions,

WE ARE 5-0!!! The last time we accomplished such a feat, I was a 21-year old, a lean 250 pounds, team captain in '96, feeling an all-time high of pride in Columbia and my teammates. This week, that feeling is back. This 2017 team has made national headlines, and I couldn't be prouder of everyone who has contributed. 

I'm feeling the wave of energy all the way on the west coast, and I don't want it to go away! Let's help push this team to 6-0 like we were in '96. We can all do our part this week to keep building on what we've started. That's right, I'm talking about Columbia Giving Day. 

Coach Bagnoli has brought exciting leadership to Columbia, and any conversation you have with him would make you want to get back on the field. Since we can't, let's do what we can. Let's give the players, coaches, and everyone else involved the standing ovation they deserve for their 5-0 start, by making a gift today for Giving Day

CU Football is where it should be this week: on top of the Ivy League!

Roar, Lion, Roar!
Marcellus Wiley '97CC

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to Beat Us

If you were a Dartmouth coach, what would you be focusing on from Columbia's first five games in hopes of ending the Lion winning streak this Saturday in Hanover?

Trying to be completely honest about where CU's strengths and weaknesses truly are, I'd do the following five things, (and yes, this is a bit of reverse psychology and I hope the Columbia coaches are planning countermeasures to each):

 1) Start out going 100 mph

Columbia has officially played two road games already, but that's not the whole story. For the Princeton game, the team did not make any overnight travel. And the Marist game was an overnight trip, but Marist is only an hour or so from campus. The Lions still had to play on foreign turf and deal with opposing fans, (although the crowd at Princeton was especially thin and the Marist crowd was taken out of the equation fast), but getting to sleep and stay in your own room is a big way to cut down on road weariness.

Not this time. Not only is this a real road trip, but it's the longest by far for the team this year and the longest ever for all the sophomores and freshmen who have never ventured further than Harvard for a road game.

If I were the Dartmouth coaches, I'd test to see if the Lions are fully awake as soon as possible. Onside kick to start the game? Possible. Total blitz package on Columbia's first offensive possession? Absolutely. Deep pass or trick play on offense on the Big Green's first drive? Yes.

2) Test the other corner

Marist and then Penn just missed on at least four deep balls to receivers that were open against Columbia DB's not named Cameron Roane. While Ben McKeighan and the other corners have played well, they're at least sometimes beatable if the opposing QB can deliver the ball accurately.

3) Use the TE to test CU's tacklers

It doesn't look like Dartmouth uses big senior 255-pound TE Stephen Johnston as a very frequent passing target, but he does have three receptions this year and one for a TD. The Lions do a very good job of covering opponents' top receivers, but they've also shown some problems wrapping up bigger receivers along the sidelines.

4) Penalties are better than home runs

In most Ivy games, when a receiver gets open deep, there is still less than a 50% chance that the eventual bomb of a pass will be completed. But Columbia is getting really good at achieving an insanely high percentage of completions on passes that travel 30+ yards in the air. To avoid the big TD play and to disrupt the Lion rhythm, Dartmouth shouldn't be shy about taking a few 15-yard pass interference penalties when and if their DB's get burned.

5) Run Heneghan late

Expect Columbia to not expect Dartmouth to run QB Jack Heneghan in key situations. I think he could make some big gains, but it would be foolish to tip that hand too early in the game. From the late 3rd quarter on, the Big Green coaches should put in a running package for him with designed QB draws.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Last Looks

One of the adjustments Columbia fans are going to have to make as long as the Lions continue to play this well is putting an end to focusing on any individual win and looking at the bigger picture.

So, let's take a few more victory lap observations about Columbia's fantastic Homecoming win over Penn before focusing entirely on the showdown with Dartmouth in Hanover this Saturday:

Hill Country

Remember this guy?

Again, since day one of 2017 we've known that this season rides mostly on QB Anders Hill's shoulders. So far, he is delivering in a big way:

-Hill is now 8-5 as a starter and owns a six game winning streak at QB. Since the 1996 team that started 6-0 featured two different starters because of injuries, (Bobby Thomason and Paris Childress), this is either the longest winning streak for a CU starting QB since Gene Rossides '49 won six straight beginning with the 1947 historic win over Army, or the longest winning streak for a starting Columbia QB since Cliff Montgomery '34 racked up six straight wins. The sixth win was Montgomery's final game as a Lion... the 1934 Rose Bowl. The reason we don't know is that reliable starting lineups for each game during those team winning streaks so long ago are not available.

-Hill has now delivered three wins at QB where the Lions were either behind or tied with under two minutes left in regulation.

-My favorite QB stat is 3rd down passing, and Hill on 3rd down vs. Penn was 8-for-10 for 70 yards, five 1st downs, two TDs, (including the 24 yard game winner), one INT, and three sacks.

For the season on 3rd down passing, Hill is 28-for-36 for 323 yards, 19 1st downs, five TDs, two INTs, six sacks and an 8.9 yards per attempt average.

-Overall this season, Hill has 1,365 yards passing, an incredible 8.4 yards per pass attempt, 13 TD passes and five INTs.

Columbia is indeed a resilient team this year, stepping up in the face of tight games and/or late deficits three times this season already. But when you have a long passing game that succeeds with the regularity the Lions are enjoying, you're going to be able to come back and win games against some steep odds. We've known Hill is a good long ball passer since we first saw his highlight reel tapes, and this resiliency thing begins and ends with him.

The Coach

-Head Coach Al Bagnoli is now 10-15 at the helm of the Lion program. He's reached 10 wins eight games faster than Norries Wilson and 29 games faster than Ray Tellier.

-Bagnoli has now defeated every team in the Ivy League at least once.

-Bagnoli is now just one win away from becoming the fastest to achieve a winning record in a season for a Columbia football head coach since Lou Little did it in his first year at CU in 1930.

The Fans/Game Experience

-The official attendance for the game was just over 13,000, but the key factor was how the crowd stuck it out during Columbia's weak start and how LOUD it got down the stretch. Early morning drizzles and some uncomfortably humid weather may have been the only things keeping it from getting much closer to 15,000 in a 17,000 seat stadium.

-The next home game is on 11/4 vs. Harvard, which could be a shoo-in for a sellout if Columbia and the Crimson are still very much in the Ivy title race by then.

Wainwright's Time

-WR Josh Wainwright now has 1,053 total yards receiving through one and a half seasons as a Lion. As impressive as that is, he still needs 488 more yards this year to match Austin Knowlin 10's, 1,541 yards through his first two seasons on the team.

-Wainwright's 538 yards receiving this season puts him just 462 yards shy of the Columbia single season record of an even 1,000 held by Don Lewis '84 who set that mark in 1982.

Comeback History

-The last time Columbia came back from two or more scores down in the 4th quarter to win was the 2011 season finale against Brown when the Lions came back from 21-7 down to force OT and win it 35-28.

Linebacker Emergence

-Michael Murphy's big game Saturday got a lot of deserved attention, but freshman Justin Woodley is making more of an impact week after week even as just a 3rd down specialist at the LB position. Sean White was officially listed as a starter Saturday, but I'm pretty sure he was out for the entire game and mostly replaced by Parker Tobia. But after all three of Columbia's 2016 LB's graduated, this area of the team was an understandable question mark. Now it looks like a strength filled with underclassmen.

Secondary Concerns

-5th year senior CB Denzell Hill was reinjured against Penn and we'll have to see if he's back next week or beyond.

-For the second straight week, Columbia's opposing QB's consistently overthrew open receivers who had beaten the Lion coverage. Whether those overthrows are just the result of poor QB skills, WR timing disrupted by the CU DB's, or just plain luck is probably only clear to the Columbia coaches studying the tape. But look for Dartmouth and the rest of the Lion opponents to see if they can't connect where Marist and Penn failed.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Resurrection on the Hudson

Columbia 34 Pennsylvania 31 (OT)

Why Columbia Won

The Lions shook off an extremely poor start and they finally got their potent passing game going while their defense began creating turnovers. WR Josh Wainwright had his finest game of the season, hauling in 10 catches for 193 yards and two TD's including the game winner in overtime. QB Anders Hill was able to shake off an early hard luck interception and five sacks to get hot just in time. And the defense forced four turnovers in the course of just 18 minutes of game clock time from the middle of the 3rd quarter to the middle of the 4th.

Why Penn Lost

The Quaker offense and defense flamed out simultaneously, and at just the worst time. And while the offense finally came back to life late in the game, the defense never recovered its ability to cover the Columbia long passing attack.

Key Turning Points

-With just over 11 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Penn followed a pick-six of backup QB Ryan Suitt, (who was in for just that one play after Hill lost his helmet the play before), with a pop up on-side kick recovery at the CU 27. But after getting one 1st down to the Lion 15, safety Landon Baty forced a Justin Watson fumble that LB Michael Murphy recovered at the Columbia 15. From that point on, the Lion bleeding stopped.

-Still trailing 21-7 with 14:40 left in the 4th quarter, LB Justin Woodley picked off a Penn pass and the Lions took over at the Penn 39. On the next play, CU executed a double flea-flicker play that eventually ended in a Hill pass to Wainwright that netted 20 yards. All of a sudden, the Lion offense had come back to life. Six plays later, the score was 21-14 after goal line QB Josh Bean took it in on 4th and goal for his second TD of the game.

-Penn went three-and-out on their ensuing possession and Columbia took over at the Lion 41. On the only play of the drive, Hill found Wainwright with more than a step on the coverage and streaking down the west side of the field for a 59 yard TD pass and a tie game.

-On Penn's ensuing possession, Woodley grabbed his second interception of the game and set the Lions up with the ball at the Quaker 19. Six plays later, TE Rory Schlageter somehow kept Hill's seven yard TD pass from hitting the turf, and Columbia had its first lead of the game at 28-21 and 4:11 left in regulation.

-Penn's offense woke up after that, scoring on a 80-yard drive to tie the game and then netted a 41-yard FG in OT to retake the lead at 31-28. But after two lackluster running plays that gained a total of just one yard, Hill found Wainwright open just inside the middle of the end zone for the winning 24-yard score and 218th Street turned into Electric Avenue.

Columbia Positives

-Resilience isn't a stat in the box score, but the Lions have about as much of it as a team can have. Columbia absorbed a flurry of Penn's punches and never gave up.

-Wainwright's heroics mostly came with his fellow sensational sophomore WR Ronald Smith on the sidelines after he took a pop early in the game from a couple of Penn defenders. But he continued to get open even when it became evident he was going to be the lone deep threat.

-Despite the terrible start, the Lions out-gained Penn in total yards, had more 1st downs, won the time of possession battle, and held the Quakers to a 35% 3rd down conversion rate.

-Columbia committed only three penalties on the day.

Columbia Negatives

-The Lion pass protection was totally inconsistent, breaking down for long stretches of the game. Meanwhile, the Lion pass rush was mostly non-existent.

-The Columbia running attack is also still too spotty to give Hill the relief from the pass rush that he needs.

Columbia MVP

WR Josh Wainwright's career day wasn't just about getting open. He made key adjustments on at least two major catches in the game, including the game-winner. He stepped it up even when the Quakers must have known he was the most likely option late in the game.

While Wainwright was the clear MVP, LB Michael Murphy had a monster game with 12 tackles and 4.5 tackles for a loss for a huge total of 24 yards lost. His read and tackle of Watson on a Penn screen pass in OT went for a seven yard loss and effectively blew up the Quaker chances for a TD in the extra frame.

Woodley was also a force, playing on mostly 3rd downs only. In addition to his two interceptions, he had a key tackle for no gain and a QB hurry.

What's Next

The 5-0 Lions head to Dartmouth to take on the 5-0 Big Green next week. Not only are both teams undefeated, but Dartmouth is also an uncannily resilient team with dramatic comeback wins four weeks in a row.