Sunday, June 30, 2013

Moment #83: Reim's First Pick

After narrowing the score to 14-10, Fordham late in the 1st quarter, the Lions looked to continue pushing the momentum their way.

And that happened quickly when, on the first play from scrimmage after the Columbia TD, freshman corner Travis Reim made a spectacular play to intercept a long pass from Ryan Higgins at the Lion 33.

This was the first time we really got a chance to see what Reim could do last season. He ended up with 30 total tackles, two interceptions and four passes defensed. After the season, he was named Columbia's Rookie of the Year for 2012 at the awards dinner.

Reim also was a fine kickoff returner, with seven returns for 150 total yards and a good 21.4 yard average. His longest return was for 49 yards.

Reim is a very important piece to the Lions 2013 any way you look at it. Even though he's only a sophomore , he's the most experience player at corner right now.

If Columbia is lucky, he'll follow the footsteps of a corner like Dartmouth's recently-graduated Shawn Abuhoff, (or even come close to being as good a player as he was). Reim doesn't have Abuhoff's total speed, but he's cut from the same kind of cloth. They're about the same height and weight, came from super good high school programs, and Reim could become Columbia's #1 defensive back and returner like Abuhoff was for Dartmouth for most of his four years in Hanover.

But stardom aside, Reim needs to have a good season for the Lions to succeed this fall.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Moment #84: DiNovo’s Big Play

After Carlton Koonce’s 92-yard run gave Fordham a 7-3 lead, the Rams came right back on their next possession and marched 70 yards for another TD thanks mostly to a series of runs by Koonce.

With Fordham now solidly in the lead at 14-3, the Lions offense woke up with one of its most spectacular plays of 2012.

A roughing the passer penalty set Columbia up with a 1st and 10 at their own 40. On that play, QB Sean Brackett rolled out a little to his right and found WR Louis DiNovo outside the numbers on a little short pass.

But thanks to some speedy running by DiNovo and great blocking up field by his fellow receivers, the short pass turned into a thrilling 60-yard TD pass to put the Lions right back in the game at 14-10.

DiNovo finished 2012 with 11 catches for 156 and that one TD. He seemed to get lost in the shuffle of the other up-and-coming WR’s like Chris Connors and Isaiah Gross before Gross’ week 3 injury.

I wasn’t sure where to put DiNovo on my own projected depth chart, but Head Coach Pete Mangurian did say he has a chance to beat out the younger receivers for playing time if he puts in a big effort.

I still think the top four WR’s coming back in 2013 are Conor Nelligan, Gross, Chris Connors and Jake Wanamaker.

Breaking in for playing time against those four is going to be tough enough, but then throw in guys like Ryan Flannery, Scooter Hollis and Andrew Dobitsch and DiNovo has a real fight on his hands.

But competition is a good thing and when you realize guys as good as DiNovo are going to start 2013 on the bench, you have to feel good about Columbia’s unusually stacked receiving corps.

Friday, June 28, 2013

3rd Down Passing: NFL Caliber?

Jeff Mathews

Continuing my look at how the returning 2013 starting QB’s in the Ivies did on 3rd down in 2012… I look now at the player many of us, (myself included), believe belongs in the relatively early rounds of the 2014 NFL draft: Cornell QB Jeff Mathews.

Mathews has a great arm, but I was surprised to see how he did on 3rd down last year.

He was 42-85 passing on 3rd down for just a .494 completion percentage.

Those 42 completions netted 555 yards, that was an impressive 6.5 yards per attempt.

But after that, the stats get pedestrian again.

His passes were good for just 28 1st downs, getting the chains moving just 32.9% of the time he threw on 3rd down.

He threw for 2 TD’s on 3rd downs, was intercepted three times, and was sacked four times for 37 total yards lost.

I believe Mathews has the talent to be in the NFL, but does he have what it takes to be a winner?

That’s not clear as of yet.

On Monday I'll take a look at how both of Dartmouth's returning QB's, Dalyn Williams and Alex Park, performed on 3rd downs in 2012.

Carlton Koonce takes off

Moment #85: The Blowback

When you fail to score on golden opportunity after golden opportunity, sooner or later your opponents will make you pay with points of their own.

And that’s what happened with about six minutes left in the 1st quarter of Columbia’s week two game at home against Fordham.

After the Lions failed to even get one 1st down after starting a possession at the Ram 43, a good Paul Delaney punt pinned Fordham at their own eight yard line.

Two plays later, Ram RB Carlton Koonce was speeding down the west sideline for a spectacular 92-yard TD run giving Fordham a 7-3 lead.

It wouldn’t be the last time the Lions would be punished for missing offensive opportunities in 2012, but in a game that was ultimately decided by just one touchdown, it resonated the most.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

3rd Down Passing

Long-time readers of my Columbia blogs know that I consider a QB’s 3rd down passing stats to be very, very important.

Yesterday I pointed out that Sean Brackett’s 40% completion percentage on 3rd down last year was a major problem. He also only passed for a 1st down 28% of the time on 3rd down plays.

So how did the rest of the QB’s in the Ivies, specifically the ones returning for 2013, do on 3rd down?

Patrick Donelly

Starting with Partrick Donelly, the wildy underrated QB at Brown, I will list the stats of each of those returning starters each day for the next week or so.

Donelly on 3rd down was 50 for 88 (.568) passing, for 526 yards (5.9 YPA), 31 1st downs, (35.2% of his total attempts went for a 1st down), had two TD passes on 3rd down and one INT. He was also sacked five times for 43 yards lost on 3rd down.  

In short, Donelly was damn good when it really counted and that’s why Brown was damn good in 2012 and stands a great chance of remaining so in 2013.

TOMMOROW: Cornell’s Jeff Mathews

Moment #86: A Fumble Leads to More Futility

I know, I know.

It’s just tedious to rehash every Columbia failure to score in 2012 when it had possessions starting inside opponent territory.

And I know coaches like to publicly denigrate statistics and individual moments in games in favor of saying things like: “the only stats that count are wins and losses.”

In the big picture, that’s of course true. But it’s those individual moments that bring you wins and losses and I can GUARANTEE you the Lion coaches have studies each of these events even more meticulously than I am.

And if they can find a way to overcome Columbia’s maddening tendency to avoid even getting a field goal despite great field position last year, we’ll have a recipe for more wins in 2013.

So with the Lions still leading 3-0 with 3:30 left in the 1st quarter, Columbia got another golden opportunity when Fordham’s Chris Watkins never got the handle on a carry and Malcom Thaxton recovered it for the Light Blue at the Ram 43.

Three plays later, the Lions were punting… again.

And Columbia was about to find out that missing scoring opportunities don’t just hurt the offense they hurt the defense too.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Moment #87: 40 yards to Nowhere

With the Lions leading 3-0 after their first possession against Fordham, the defense came up big with a three-and-out punctuated by Josh Martin’s nine yard sack of Ryan Higgins back to the Ram eight yard line.

After the punt and nine yard return by Alec Fisher, Columbia was set up nicely again with a 1st and 10 at the Fordham 40.

But a two yard run by Marcorus Garrett was followed by two straight incomplete passes by QB Sean Brackett, and the Lions had to punt.

While Brackett was one of the most athletic, gutsy, and emotionally-positive QB’s in Columbia history, his inability to ever become a high percentage completion QB was a big reason the Lions didn’t win more of the 32 games he started.

The problem began at the end of his sophomore year, after he suffered a shoulder injury. His passes just weren’t as accurate after that. He also suffered from the graduation of rock solid TE Andrew Kennedy in 2011 and the breakdown of his decent pass blocking protection his senior year.  

Brackett never became a QB who was too prone to INT’s, but his ability to find his receivers in crucial moments faded down the stretch of his career.

In 2012, that was a big reason why Columbia was dead last in the league in 3rd down conversions at just 31%. The Lions were dead last in 4th down conversions too, at 14%.

In this game against Fordham, Brackett was an alarming three for ten passing on 3rd down plays for just 49 yards.

For the season on 3rd down, Brackett completed just 38 of 95 passes, (40%),  for 401 yards (just 4.2 yards per attempt), for 27 1st downs, four TD’s and three INT’s. He was also sacked 16 times on 3rd down for a total loss of 89 yards.

It’s not likely that Columbia will get the Sean Brackett complete talent package of passing, running, and gutsy combo with its next starting QB. BUT if the next Lions starter hits 60% of his passes, we could see a significant improvement on 3rd down and through the entire offense. 

Sean Brackett

Moment #88: Another Turnover, More Points Left on the Table

You didn’t think that moving to the second game of the 2012 season in our top 100 moments countdown was going to mean an end to the “missed opportunities trend… did you?

Because that painful scenario reared its ugly head once again right off the top of the week 2 contest at home against Fordham.

Luke Eddy’s opening kickoff never quite got into the hands of Ram returner Jared Crayton. As Crayton made one last effort to grab the ball, Columbia’s Jeremy Mingo knocked him away and then Brian East fell on it right at the Fordham 10,

The Lions looked like they had it made in the shade to start the game, but these were the 2012 Lions, a team that scored a grand total of just 43 points on 19 offensive possessions that started in opponent territory.

And so it continued in this game: two runs netted Columbia four yards and set up a 3rd and goal at the six. On that play, QB Sean Brackett hit WR Connor Nelligan in the back of the end zone, but the officials said he didn't get a foot down. Eddy then had to trot on to the field for the 23-yard chip shot FG which he made without a problem.

In a game that ended up going down to the wire, those four points Columbia left on the table would end up playing a big role.

Luke Eddy

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Second Coney Island?

Writer Cole Thompson has tracked down the interesting history of Baker Field before it was Baker Field.

In this piece, thankfully filled with fantastic photos, Thompson describes how the plot of land that is now Columbia’s athletic complex was once planned to be an amusement park and bathing beach much like Brooklyn’s Coney Island. The name was going to be “Wonderland Park.”

But the deal fell through and banker George Baker donated money to Columbia and the university used it to buy the land.

Thompson’s piece also helps find the missing piece in the puzzle known as the “Columbia Oval,” which I first wrote about in January of this year.

Thompson reproduces a newspaper ad that puts the Oval up for sale. You can see it below:

Moment #89: Waller and Olinger Put it on Ice

In Moment #94, Columbia LB Mike Waller was the hero with a drive-killing interception.

In Moment #97, Columbia LB Zach Olinger was the hero with a touchdown-saving forced fumble.

In Moment #89, and the final moment from the 2012 season opener against Marist, Waller and Olinger would combine to finally preserve the Lion victory.

After the apparent 76-yard TD pass to Anthony Calcagni was called back, Marist still kept about half of the gains from that play and was set up with a 1st down and 10 at the Columbia 39.

The the CU defense kicked it into another gear.

In 1st down, Waller and Shad Sommers held a Red Fox run to just two yards. On 2nd and 8, Malcom Thaxton almost intercepted Chris Looney’s pass. On 3rd down, another Looney pass fell incomplete.

Out of field goal range and needing to go for it, Marist then was so flustered that it committed a 5-yard delay of game penalty setting up a 4th and 13 at the Columbia 42.

Looney then tried a pass near first down territory in the middle of the field, but Waller got a hand on it and tipped it into the arms of Olinger for an interception.

Sean Brackett and Marcorus Garrett took over from there, burning off the final 3:08 of the game with six runs and one safe pass to Isaiah Gross before the final kneel down to end the game.

Mike Waller with two young fans

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Moment #90: A Major Stroke of Luck

The ol’ yellow flag hasn’t been Columbia’s friend over the years, and there were plenty of times in 2013 when the refs came out to bite us in questionable ways.

But late in the season opener against Marist, with the Lions clinging to a paper-thin 10-9 lead, a most fortuitous flag flew through the air at the most fortunate time.

After a three-and-out possession by the Lions, Marist took over at its 24 following a solid 42-yard punt by Paul Delaney.

On the very first play, Red Fox QB Chris Looney hit start TE Anthony Calcagni in full stride for what looked like a 76-yard TD.

But then the flag along the west hash mark became visible.

It turns out after Calcagni made the catch, one of his teammates committed a holding penalty that wiped out more than half of the gain.

Marist would have to settle for a 1st down at the CU 39 with four minutes left.

For the record in 2012, the Lions finished near the top of the Ivies for fewest penalties with 54 for a total of 459 yards. Columbia’s opponents were much more heavily penalized with 71 flags against them for 597 yards, second best in the league.

But it’s TIMING that really counts with penalties, and we’ll address that issue as this top 100 moments of 2012 review marches on through the summer.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Moment #91: Childress Blocks Crucial PAT

After the Lions squandered a super chance with a possession that began at the Marist 28, the Red Fox offense predictably woke up when it began its ensuing possession on its own 20.

A ten-play drive, mostly passes, gave Marist a TD and all it needed was a PAT to tie the game at 10.

Then junior defensive lineman Wells Childress came in to save the day.

Childress got his hand on the extra point attempt and it flip flopped short of the cross bar.

The lead, and what would eventually turn out to be the game, was preserved.

This failed PAT would turn out to be the first of just two unsuccessful extra point attempts by Columbia opponents all season long. It also turned out to be the only one that mattered.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Some Times Posted


The official start times for one of Columbia’s home games is now listed on the official department website.  It’s the 10/19 Homecoming contest against Penn and the start time is 1:30pm. Four of the five road game times are listed there too, with the match up against Princeton remaining the only road question, (but I suspect that will be either a 3pm or 6pm kickoff).

Mark your calendars accordingly. 

Cover of the program from Columbia Homecoming, 1958

Moment #92: Another Golden Opportunity Wasted

We’re only at moment 92, but the recurring theme of the Lions wasting fantastic field position chances is already getting old.

Get used to it as we review 2012, and let’s hope we forget it during the 2013 season.

But with 12:36 left in the 4th quarter and Columbia leading 10-3, the Lions began a possession at the Marist 28 after Alec Fisher was interfered with on a fair catch.

Two runs by Marcorus Garrett netted a respectable five yards and set up a 3rd and 5 at the Red Fox 23.

But on that play another recurring theme of 2012 occurred; QB Sean Brackett was left without enough pass protection and he was sacked for a six yard loss back to the 29.

Unlike his predecessor, Norries Wilson, Head Coach Pete Mangurian often opted to punt in situations where the Lions faced a 4th down inside the opponent’s 30 yard line.

In this case, Paul Delaney wasn’t able to keep his kick out of the end zone and Marist got it back at the 20. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Moment #93: Niko's First Sack

Niko Padilla

Today marks 93 days until the season kicks off. And it turns out that moment #93 is brought to us by Columbia's #93, Niko Padilla.

In 2011 Columbia's defense only netted 21 QB sacks, something the new coaching staff wanted to make a big improvement on for 2012.

Padilla was one new face who helped Columbia get part of the way to that goal.

With the Lions still clinging to a 10-3 lead, Marist began its first possession of the 4th quarter after a CU punt at its own 27.

A false start and then a holding penalty made it 1st and 24 at the 13, and them Padilla bust through the middle for an 11 yard sack pinning the Red Foxes at their 2. Marist had to punt the ball away two plays later.

Padilla finished his first Columbia game with three total tackles and his first season with 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks. As a time, the Lions slightly improved with 27 total sacks in 2012.

A big part of the Lions' chances for 2013 ride on Niko's shoulders, and this was his first burst of glory.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Treasure Trove

Sid Luckman on the cover of life, 1938

Many thanks to Big Green Alert blog master Bruce Wood for posting the link to this amazing website  that has several game highlights from Columbia football games from as early as 1934 and as recently as the 1961 Ivy championship season.

My favorite clips were the 35-14 win over Dartmouth at Baker Field in 1961, and the Sid Luckman-led 20-18 win over Army at West Point from 1938. Take a few minutes and check out this amazing footage.

I wrote a summary of the 1938 game a few years ago on this blog. I reprint it below:

October 9, 1938

Columbia 20 Army 18

Sid Luckman made the most of his final chance to defeat the mighty Cadets with a stunning come-from-behind performance in front of 25,000 fans at West Point. It wasn't only the fact that Columbia came back, it was the way Luckman and the Lions did it. 

Why were the Lions on the road again? With the Yankees back in the World Series, (this time against the Cubs), the October matchup between the Lions and the Cadets was once again slated for relatively tiny Michie Stadium. Baker Field actually held about 32,000 to 35,000 back in those days, but for some reason they agreed to head up the Hudson yet again. The Yanks actually were in the midst of the World Series in 1936 and 1937 as well, and in those years the games were against the New York Giants, making the Polo Grounds unavailable as well. Getting the game in at the Stadium in 1936 just five days after the Yanks had wrapped up the series against the Giants in six games must have been a challenge to the grounds crew. 

Less than three minutes into the game, good ol' Woodrow Wilson had done it again for Army. He faked a pass and then scored on a 48-yard run for a 6-0 lead. Minutes later it was 12-0 after Columbia fumbled the ball away on its own 10 and the Cadets quickly converted for another touchdown.

The Lions showed some life early in the second quarter, when they capped off a 65-yard drive with a Luckman TD pass to John Siegaland the score was now 12-6. But Army stormed back with a 67-yard drive and another TD for the 18-6 lead. The only downside, it seemed, was that like Columbia had a year before, the Cadets had missed all three of their PAT attempts. Just as it did in 1937, that would be a key to the game. 

But Columbia had to come back first, and that didn't seem likely when Army stormed out of the gates and drove the ball down to the Lions 38 before Luckman intercepted a pass to end the threat. 

Another interception in the fourth quarter gave Columbia the ball at the Cadet 42 and then Sid went to work. He marched the Lions straight down the field and hit the extra point after a one-yard TD run by Gerhard Seidel to make it 18-13. 

Army responded with a 55-yard drive all the way to the Lion nine before the Cadets were forced to try a field goal that missed. 

Columbia took over at the 20, but chances still seemed pretty slim for the Lions. In those days offenses were too one dimensional for teams to pull off long drives. Marches of 70 yards of more were extremely rare. But Sid Luckman was a multifaceted offense all on his own. 

First, Luckman nailed Art Radvilas for a 27-yard pass before getting sacked for a 10-yard loss back to his 37. Luckman found Siegal for 18 yards and two plays later, he hit Radvilas for a 23 yard strike that ended up putting his receiver in the hospital after the Army defenders crashed in to him at their 19. Luckman then rushed the ball twice for a gain of four and then a loss of six before hitting Siegal again for 18 yards and a first down at the three. Seidel took it in from there and with five minutes left, the Lions had their first lead of the day. 

After losing two straight heartbreakers in 1936 and 1937, the Lions would not be denied in 1938 and the 20-18 lead held up. 

For Sid Luckman, it was to be his greatest victory in a Columbia uniform. 

When people talk about Columbia-Army, they usually focus on the miracle Lion win in 1947 at Baker Field that ended the Cadets record unbeaten streak. But the 1938 game was no less impressive, especially since it came at West Point.

Moment #94: Olinger Helps Lions Dodge a Bullet

After Columbia settled for a FG to take a 10-3 lead over Marist midway through the 3rd quarter, the Red Foxes began an impressive drive at their own 16.

After nine plays, Marist had a 1st and goal at the Columbia 1 and a tie game seemed like a foregone conclusion.

But when RB Calving McCoy attempted to crash into the end zone, CU linebacker Zach Olinger crashed into him instead. The ball came loose and Josh Martin fell on it for the Lions right at the line of scrimmage.

It was a huge play for Columbia, not only preserving the lead but also grabbing back the momentum in the game.

It was just the first of 14 opponent fumbles Columbia recovered in 2012 which led the Ivies by a country mile, (Dartmouth was second with 10). 

Zach Olinger #55

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

NY All Star Game Tonight

NY All Star Game Tonight

Just one incoming Ivy player will be a part of tonight’s annual Empire Challenge HS football all-star game which features players from New York City and Long Island high schools.

That one player is incoming Princeton DB James Gales, (he played RB in high school), and he is listed as an RB on the game roster. Columbia offered Gales a spot in this year's class, but he went with the Tigers. 

UPDATE: An updated roster from Newsday names 2 more players from Long Island who are going to Cornell.

The first player is some who is actually listed as a recruited freshman for Cornell football, Lawrence High School's Islam Mohamed, a 6-4, 270 pound offensive lineman.

The second player the Newsday roster says is coming to Cornell is Scott D'Antonio, a 6-1, 175 pound linebacker from Garden City HS. He is not on Cornell's recruited list, but he could be walking on, playing another sport, or not planning to play a varsity sport in Ithaca. Most likely lacrosse, where D'Antonio was also a star player for Garden City.

UPDATE #2: Besides Gales and Mohamed, a few other players in tonight's game could be lining up against Columbia in the coming years. Fordham freshmen-to-be George Dawson and Kyvaune Brammer and Monmouth's incoming frosh Lekeith Celestain. Dawson is a 6-2, 190 pound WR out of Cardinal Hayes HS, Brammer is a 6-3 linebacker from Brooklyn Tech, and Celestain is 6-1 CB from Holy Cross HS.

The game is being broadcast live on MSG Varsity. Coverage begins at 7pm.

I am very biased about this, because this game is played about 10 minutes from my house, but I’d love to see more Ivy bound players in this game every year. It seems like most of the Long Island and NYC-based players give this game a pass.

Columbia’s sole incoming frosh eligible to play in the game is Jared Katz, the 6-2 DB Head Coach Pete Mangurian had some very high praise for in his official write up. But Katz is not playing.

Katz's St. Anthony's team has long been the best Catholic HS program in New York. It's not in the class of a Don Bosco or Bergen Catholic on New Jersey, but it's pretty good. 

Katz's heroics to help St. A's reach 24 straight wins back in 2011 are probably the highlight of his HS career.

Scheduling Times

Columbia hasn't posted its home game times for the coming season yet, but some of the Lions road game kickoff times are set:

Week 1 at Fordham kickoff is 1pm

Week 3 at Princeton is still TBA, (the rest of Princeton's home schedule is set with start times at 1pm with the one exception being the home opener that kicks off at 6pm. My guess is that this game will either go at 3pm or 6pm and NOT the standard 1pm time).

Week 6 at Dartmouth kickoff is 1:30pm

Week 7 at Yale kickoff is 12 noon, (this will probably be a game televised on YES)

Week 9 at Cornell kickoff is set for 12:30pm

Moment #95: A Big Rarity Leads to another Golden Opportunity Missed

Marist's Jason Myers had a real life horror moment

After the Lions took a 7-3 lead early in the 3rd quarter, Columbia got a great chance to add to the lead in the oddest of ways.

On 4th and 14 from the Red Fox 18, Marist lined up to punt the ball away. But the snap was very low and punter Jason Myers went to the turf to field it. The problem was he let his knee touch the ground while he possessed the ball and the play was blown dead right at the four yard line! It’s a kind of play I’ve never seen before in college football, but it gave the Lions the ball inside the Marist five.

However, Columbia’s inability to take advantage of good field position continued and the postscript to this usual good fortune was a chip shot field goal by Luke Eddy for a 10-3 lead.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Preseason Scrimmage?

The Internet chat boards are buzzing about a possible Columbia-Lafayette scrimmage on August 31st. I haven’t heard any official word about this and also don’t know where the game would be played.

This would be the first preseason scrimmage for the Lions since 2010. I took Columbia’s decision not to schedule scrimmages that last two seasons as a negative development, so this could be considered somewhat as good news for us.

Incidentally, 8/31 is a full three weeks before our regular season starts at Fordham but just one week before the Leopards begin their regular season at home vs. Sacred Heart. 

Moment #96: Marcorus Takes it In

It's hard to fairly state how good a 2012 season Marcorus Garrett had for the Lions.

With 957 rushing yards on just 208 carries, he logged the #3 best single season rushing total in CU history.

And he got started right away.

In the 1st half of the season opener alone, Garrett already had 60 yards rushing. But he was just getting started.

Columbia got the ball first at its own 13 to start the second half against Marist, trailing 3-0. Nine plays later, the Lions had a 1st and goal at the 10 and just let Garrett take over. His first carry went for nine yards, and the he ran the ball in from the one on the very next play to give Columbia its first TD and lead of the new season.

Garrett would finish the game with 115 yards on the ground and two catches for another 14. It was the first 100 yard rushing game for a Columbia RB in 17 games and the first 30-carry game by a CU rusher in 12 years.

Marcorus Garrett

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Moment #97: Waller's First Big Save

The preseason pundits will justify their usual decision to place Columbia last in the Ivies with lots of talk about the graduation of Josh Martin and the turnover at the QB position.

No matter that most of them will be unaware that Stanford transfer Brett Nottingham is joining the team at QB or that the powerful Seyi Adebayo is coming back for a 5th year on the D-line... but until we start winning, we're not going to get much respect from the pundits anyway.

Martin is definitely a loss, but I am just as concerned about the losses of two of Columbia's three 2012 starters at linebacker.

Those two former starters were Mike Waller and Ryan Murphy, who both graduated last month.

Waller didn't take too much time to prove his worth at the beginning of last season.

With Marist already leading 3-0 midway through the 2nd quarter, the Red Foxes began a drive at their own 22. About two minutes later Marist had a 1st down at the Columbia 11.

One play later, Waller made his first big play of the year. He got in front of a Chuckie Looney pass and picked it off at the Lion 5 yard line, saving what looked like a sure scoring drive. The interception was especially gratifying since another pickoff by Marquel Carter just a few plays earlier had been called back because of a roughing the passing penalty.

It was the first of what would be three picks on the season for Waller and one of many big plays to come.

Mike Waller, #21

Friday, June 14, 2013

Moment #98: Gross’ Circus Catch

Yesterday’s moment #99 was dedicated to Seyi Adebayo’s brief flash of glory before he suffered a season-ending injury.

Today’s key moment of the 2012 season is eerily similar.

WR Isaiah Gross got our attention well before he joined the team as a freshman last season. That’s because he de-committed from Yale to become a part of the 2012 Lions recruiting class. He also looked darn good in highlight videos.

Then his stock soared during a preseason Twitter Q&A, (yes, Twitter… oh, the irony), with Head Coach Pete Mangurian when Mangurian compared Gross to Cornell’s great WR Joe Splendorio. Splendorio was, hands down, the best player Mangurian coached during his three seasons at the helm in Ithaca.

It didn’t take long for Gross to show the reasons behind all the hype.

Early in the 2nd quarter with Columbia facing a 2nd and 13 on its own 31, QB Sean Brackett rolled to his left and aired out a long ball along the east sideline… but it looked like it was a little too long for a wide open Gross to grab. Looks can be deceiving. Gross went fully horizontal and somehow secured the ball before it hit the turf to complete a spectacular 46 yard play to the Marist 23.

Gross would only be able to play in two full games all year for the Lions, so this was really just one of all too few glimpses of what he could do. But it was still one of the most memorable and exciting moments of 2012. 

Moment #99: Adebayo’s Big Sack

(Okay, so I made a bit of a screw up with my chronological order yesterday and listed the Sean Brackett fumble first, even though it actually occurred a few minutes AFTER the moment I’m about to describe below. Sorry about that.)

Seyi Adebayo’s sheer athleticism has been amazing to everyone on campus ever since his first visit to Columbia.

So it was understandable why so many people in and around the program were excited to see what Adebayo could do as he slowly improved each year going into his senior season in 2012.

On Marist’s second possession early in the season opener, we all got a glimpse of what could have been.

On 3rd and 8 at the Red Fox 22, Adebayo burst through the line and brought down Marist QB Chuckie Looney for an eight yard loss.

But it was to be Adebayo’s one and only sack of the game and the season. Later in the game he tore his ACL while he was on punt coverage and was lost for the rest of the season.

Who knows what a healthy Adebayo could have done to help the Lion defense in 2012, but thanks to a very strong recovery in the offseason, Adebayo does look ready to pick up where he left off and then some during this 5th year of eligibility.

He’s one of about 3-4 Lions who are really under the radar coming into the season and will not be considered by the pundits when they make their preseason predictions. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

100 Top Moments of 2012

Today marks 100 days until the 2013 season kicks off.

Each day until then will be used to mark the 100 most important moments of the 2012 season. The moments will be listed in chronological order as they occurred during the season. 

And these are not all "good" moments. They are the 100 most important moments of the season and the ones that give us the best idea of what 2012 was really about. 

Of course, I will report any other important news that comes up during this time and publish extensive previews and predictions for the upcoming season.


Brackett Fumble Puts Lions Down Early

With the score still 0-0 about midway through the 1st quarter of the opener against Marist, the Lions began their second possession of the game deep inside Red Fox territory thanks to a personal foul penalty on a fair catch by Alec Fisher at midfield.

Beginning at the 35, the Columbia drive began well with a 15-yard run by Marcorus Garrett.

But on the next play, QB Sean Brackett was caught behind the line of scrimmage and fumbled the ball away. Marist took over on their own 23 and promptly began a long drive that ended in a 28-yard field goal and a 3-0 Red Fox lead.

Sadly, this moment would be the first of a pattern that would plague the Lions throughout 2012. Columbia started a total of 19 possessions inside opponent territory in 2012 and came away with a total of just 43 points on all those possessions. That’s way short of even averaging a field goal per possession.  It was a maddening issue, because on so many occasions it negated a great defensive play to force a turnover or a super kick return by the special teams. 

UPDATE: For those of you who are curious, Columbia's opponents started a total of 20 possessions inside Lion territory last year and came away with 64 points. Obviously, that's better than a field goal per possession average. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

One Who Got Away

David Drummond 

Google’s Chief Legal Officer, David Drummond, is in the news a lot today because he’s leading his company’s pushback on the NSA surveillance program.

And seeing Drummond on TV a lot lately has more than a few longtime Lion insiders feeling a little down about what might have been.

You see, Drummond was all but signed, sealed, and delivered to the Columbia football program way back in 1982. Our good friend, Don Jensen ’73, helped to recruit Drummond out of the Monterey Peninsula. He was perfect for the Ivies, a graceful WR with good grades and class.

The coaching regime under then Head Coach Bob Naso liked what it saw and brought Drummond to campus that summer of ’82. But problems with helping to get him a summer job and/or campus housing left Drummond disillusioned. He left by the end of the summer and ended up playing for Santa Clara. Later, he got his JD at Stanford.

It’s not like Drummond became an All-American player, and of course Columbia has plenty of football alumni who are now prominent corporate all stars. But it’s always a shame when red tape kills a good match like that would have been.

Columbia’s football program is not perfect today, but it does a MUCH better job with this kind of stuff nowadays. Incoming freshmen and returning players who want to stay on campus or near campus for the summer are almost always accommodated within the rules.  

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Targets

Grant Gellatly 

The Ivy League has had a nice allotment of top receivers in recent decades. And a good number of them have made it to the NFL, albeit at other positions.

The talent looks good at the wide receiver position at a lot of the Ivy schools this season. The two players who make 1st Team All Ivy at WR are going to really have to earn it.

But 1,000 yard receivers are still a rarity, and they may be again this year.  Let’s look at the top contenders to hit that mark in 2013:

-Cornell’s Grant Gellatly almost hit the 1,000 echelon last year with 940 receiving yards. And now, he’s the most experienced WR returning to play in QB Jeff Mathews super-charged air attack. Gellatly may not be the best overall WR in the league, but the senior is the best bet to hit 1,000.

UPDATE: I just learned that Brown's Tellef Lundeval will be back for a 5th year for the Bears. That makes him a strong contender to be the statiscal WR leader in the Ivies. Last season, he had 72 catches for 718 yards... but just three TD's. 

-Columbia junior Connor Nelligan is the leader among returning Ivy wide receivers in receptions per game, (6.2 last year). He was the Lions top go-to target last season, but with a new starting QB coming in this season, things could change. My bet is that Nelligan will remain Columbia’s top receiver in the total catches category, but I’m not so sure he’ll improve that much on his 682 yards from last year because of the crowded list of talented Lion receivers.

-Penn’s Conner Scott, has an outside chance to get to 1,000, but only if Quaker QB Billy Ragone throws the ball a lot more in 2013. Scott is another great athlete who means a tremendous amount to his team and hitting 1,000 yards isn’t really something that’s necessary for him and the Quakers to have a great season.

The other strong wide receivers returning include Dartmouth's Ryan McManus, Yale’s Cameron Sandquist, and Princeton’s Roman Wilson.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Running to the Top

Yale's Tyler Varga may be even busier in 2013

100 Top Moments on the way…

As we approach the 100 day countdown to kickoff, I will be using each of the 100 days to describe the 100 top moments of the 2012 season.

I took a break from the 100 top moments feature last year to give new Head Coach Pete Mangurian a clean break from the previous coaching regime.

But I consider looking back at the 100 moments from the previous season to be the most informative tool for understanding what the team did last season and where it is coming into the fall.

Just as a reminder, the 100 top moments will not be listed in ascending or descending order, (doing that would unfairly straddle the readers with a bunch of less exciting moments all at the end or the beginning of the count). Instead, they will be listed in chronological order.

So, we’ll start he countdown this Thursday, when we are exactly 100 days before kickoff, but I just wanted to get everyone prepared for what to expect right now.

Top Running Backs Returning

Last week,  I wrote about the familiar rarity of top-level impact defensive tackles in the Ivy League.

The second big rarity are 1,000-yard running backs. And right on cue, the only 1,000-yard rusher from 2012  -- Harvard’s Treavor Scales – is gone to graduation.

But there is what I would call an unusual amount of potential 1,000-yard rushers returning this season.

Columbia’s Marcorus Garrett is one of the leaders of that group. A 1st Team All Ivy selection last year, Garrett had a breakout season in 2012. Only Scales rushed for more yards overall and Garrett also had the longest run from scrimmage in all of the Ivies. Garrett’s impressive work in the weight room this offseason makes him even more dangerous.

Yale’s Tyler Varga, who played in only eight games last season in his first year with the Bulldogs, is the man most Ivy pundits are watching the closest. The Canadian college transfer averaged 117 yards per game and scored eight TD’s. Varga was pretty much all of Yale’s offense last year, and he can’t logically be expected to continue to shoulder that entire load… but maybe “logic” isn’t what we think it is in Varga’s case. He still averaged fewer than 25 carries per game last year and he shared a lot of the running duties with the now-graduated Mordecai Cargill. So, one could argue that Varga will be asked to do even MORE in 2013. And in that case, he looks like a good bet to get to the 1,000 yard mark.

Another big contender who failed to play in all 10 games last season is Dartmouth senior Dominic Pierre. Pierre netted 830 rushing yards in nine games played, but he really only was healthy for eight full contests. He averaged five yards per carry and scored nine TD’s. He was basically a 20-carry-a-game back in 2012, and would give the Big Green a big push if he could be durable enough to up that to the 25 carry area.

If the three players mentioned above all get to the 1,000 yard mark, it would be a very rare achievement league-wide to have more than two thousand yarders. I consider them to be the top three contenders for the mark. But don’t sleep on some of the other players who I think could do it this season.

-Penn’s 5th year senior Lyle Marsh certainly has the ability to be a top runner, but injuries have really slowed him down since he burst onto the scene in early 2009. Another factor running against him is his QB and fellow 5th year player Bill Ragone is likely to take his usual big share of the carries away from him.  Another issue is the return of another 5th year senior in Brandon Colavita. All three of these Quakers are talented, but too injury prone for me to think that Penn won’t run the ball by committee in 2013… much as it did in 2012, 2011, 2010, etc.

-Princeton’s Will Powers had a very strong sophomore campaign in 2012 and may get a significant upgrade over his 11 carries per game average last year.   But don’t forget DiAndre Atwater, the explosive freshman Tiger who made a big impression in just four games played last season before his injury. Powers or Atwater could get to 1,000 yards, but I don’t think both will and it’s possible they’ll each take enough of the running load that they’ll both end up in the 800-yard neighborhood.

-Another player I’m not sleeping on is Cornell’s Luke Hagy, a very talented runner who isn’t likely to get a full chance to show his stuff while Jeff Mathews remains at QB for the Big Red. But new Head Coach David Archer is promising to use the run more this season and that’s good news for Hagy. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Respect has to be Earned

Bruce Wood’s Big Green Alert blog today reveals that the Lindy’s Magazine preseason Ivy preview has the Lions picked for dead last in 2013.

As I have written many times before, we have to be prepared for no respect from the pundits this year, (or any year, for that matter).

Columbia has a tough schedule, faces the two Ivy teams it defeated in 2012 on the road this time, and the guys following the league have no way to quantify the impact Brett Nottingham will have on the team, (heck… a lot of them probably don’t even know Nottingham is coming here at all).

I think most readers of this blog are made of skin thick enough to handle these kinds of predictions. We know Columbia will never get the benefit of the doubt and/or preseason respect until the Lions put together 2-3 winning seasons in a row.

To date, CU hasn’t had a winning season in 17 years now.

As for the rest of the predictions, I certainly agree with the 1-3 choice. Penn and Harvard are always a safe bet as 1-2 in the league, and I also think Dartmouth is poised to continue its 2012 momentum with its talented QB’s, running back, and linebackers.

My only real quibble is with Brown at 5th. With a very talented returning 5th year QB in Patrick Donnelly, and Phil Estes still breathing, I would still consider the Bears to be a contender.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Getting the DT's

Niko Padilla and his mom

I’ve written many times that the rarest of rarities in the Ivy League is the 1,000 yard rusher and the second rarest of rarities is a dominant, big defensive tackle.

There may be a slight change in that trend this season as there are more than the usual allotment of just 1-2 dominant DT types. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

The best DT in the league, and the best one to come down in quite a while is Princeton’s 5th year senior Caraun Reid. At  6-2 and 305 pounds he is currently without peer in the league in size, ability and effectiveness. No one else at the DT position in the Ivies seems to come close this year.

Columbia’s best hopes for filling that role seem be on the shoulders of sophomore Niko Padilla. I’d say he’s still about 10 pounds shy of where he needs to be to be the ideal DT, but he could get there by the fall.  And frankly, he’s already as good as any of the non-Reid DT’s returning this season.  

Remember, Padilla was recruited and offered by Army, Yale and given a scholarship spot at Central Arkansas. This is not a stretch to see him as even a 1st Team All Ivy this or next year. And Coach Mangurian really oozed with praise for Padilla in his spring assessment.

Harvard’s Nnamdi Obukwelu needs to make a significant step up to get anywhere near Reid’s league, but he has the goods. At 275 pounds and with speed, he already was one of the top DT’s last season and he’s one the of best 3-4 returning players at the position. He was an All Ivy 2nd Team awardee last season.

After that, the cupboard seems a little bare… as usual.

Of course, an incoming frosh could make a move like Columbia’s Owen Fraser did as a frosh in 2008, (sadly, Fraser was chop-blocked in the 2009 opener and was never the same), and this seems like a year when there are enough DT vacancies up and down the league for a freshman to get into the mix.

But it’s just hard to understate how big an impact a strong DT has on an Ivy League defense. Such a player is a real definition of a game changer.

If Padilla steps up, there are few things that would help the 2013 Lions more than that. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Columbia & the Ivies on Display

Please don't forget to  write a strong but POLITE email to Harris at and CC her deputy Carolyn Campbell-McGovern to make sure our voices are heard.

Watching Columbia compete this past weekend in the NCAA baseball regional was an amazing experience.

The Lions played competitively in all three games against the best scholarship-laden programs in the country.

The 13-inning win over New Mexico on Saturday night may have been the best moment in Columbia sports in a decade.

Congratulations to super Coach Brett Boretti and the entire team for what was an outstanding year.

Of course, what happened this weekend only strengthens my argument and everyone’s argument for allowing our Ivy football champions to participate in the FCS playoffs.

This past weekend was thrilling for the fans, earned Columbia and the Ivies valuable nationwide exposure, and was the proper reward and recognition for the players’ efforts. Denying that to the football teams because of some bogus reasons, including the, “this won’t increase our fan base” excuse is insulting and silly.

Focusing on just the quotes that Ivy Executive Director Robin Harris DOES admit to saying to the Harvard Crimson, I want to clarify something important that she and many others got wrong.

Here, again is the key quote:

“I think our fans care about Ivy League football,” she said. “Rivalry games are going to draw the most fans [to] a given game, and whether or not a team is going on to the FCS playoffs, I don’t think is going to [have an] impact.”

There’s a lot wrong with this statement, but I want to focus on a technical mistake Harris made because it’s something I deal with every day as an executive producer of TV news.

There are two ways to improve TV ratings: 1) Get more NEW people to watch your show and 2) Get your EXISTING viewers to watch your show LONGER.

Both of those things increase ratings an equal amount. A viewer deciding to up his time watching your show from 15 to 30 minutes counts the same as TWO separate new people watching for two different 15 minute “quarters.”

And that’s a key point Harris and the others need to understand about the Ivy fan base.

If our champions would be allowed to play in the FCS playoffs, it may not create a bunch of new fans out of the blue, but it WOULD encourage a lot of fans to come to and watch MORE games. They would be more likely to attend a game where their team has a shot to win the title or play the spoiler for another team seeking to get the title and the FCS playoff ticket. Of course, the champions’ fans would watch and go to the FCS playoff game. And in a 10 game season, even just one added game would represent a 10% increase in fan attendance and interest. There have been a few Penn and Harvard teams over the last 15 years that I am very certain would have won at least ONE FCS playoff game had they been given the chance. So, in those cases, that would have been a 20% increase.

And don’t tell me that Harris and the League don’t want more exposure. They worked hard to get this new deal with the NBC Sports Network. They’ve streamlined the online subscription process to get more games to existing fans. And they’ve split the MVP/Bushnell Cup award in two, made the nomination process public, and put together a web-streamed live award presentation event  for the winners.

But again, the real reason to make a big deal about this is to make sure what the fans and players want is not misrepresented in public again.

So let’s be clear:

The fans want FCS playoffs, the players want FCS playoffs, and the most influential football alumni want FCS playoffs.

Harris and the Ivy presidents should either make this happen or at least do us the courtesy of being honest and admitting that they are opposing what nearly 100% of their supposed constituency want.