Monday, October 24, 2016

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.

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