Monday, July 10, 2017

Home Run Derby

In honor of tonight's Major League Baseball Home Run Derby, I want to take a time out from the opponent previews to point out something that has to be a top goal for Columbia Football this fall: The home run ball. Or as we call it in this sport: big plays.

In game after game last season, losses and wins, the otherwise very solid Columbia defense gave up huge plays that were often more about dumb luck than blown coverages. But whatever the cause, the Lions need to make these spectacular plays more of a rarity in 2017 if they want to climb the ladder in the standings.

Here's a look at the key home run-type plays that plagued Columbia last season.

-In the week one 13-9 loss to St. Francis, a 72-yard TD pass early in the 4th quarter made the difference in the game. St. Francis QB Zach Drayer threw the ball in the middle of the field to WR Kamron Lewis, who had Columbia CB Cameron Roane all over him in excellent coverage. Luckily for the Red Flash, Drayer's pass was a little overthrown and off to the left. That allowed Lewis to tip the ball to himself and then he broke Roane's tackle to take it in for the score. It was a fluky play, pure and simple.

-A week later at Georgetown, the Hoyas took an early 7-0 lead on a 44 yard home run ball TD pass to WR Michael Dereus. Want to know how rare that was? Dereus only gained 34 more total receiving yards all season long and did not score another TD.

-Even though Columbia beat Wagner in week four, the Seahawks hit two home run balls that almost sank the Lions. The first was a little screen pass to RB Matt McKinnon that turned into a 47 yard TD and gave Wagner a 10-3 2nd quarter lead. The second was a 25 yard completion on 4th and 10 during Wagner's final possession that kept Seahawk hope alive.

-In week five at Penn, the Lions were playing eventual Ivy co-champion Penn extremely tough and trailing just 7-0 in the 3rd quarter when WR Justin Watson took a little sideline pass and sneaked all the into the end zone for a 46 yard TD as it appeared the Columbia defense thought he went out of bounds. It was a huge and odd play.

-In the Homecoming win over Dartmouth a week later, the Lions gave up two killer home run plays to the same player. With 5:14 left in the 2nd quarter, QB Jack Heneghan found WR Hunter Hagdorn for a 65 yard TD. Hagdorn had a half step on Columbia CB Jared Katz, but the pass was just perfectly placed so that Hagdorn never had to break stride. Then with the Lions leading 9-7 and less than two minutes left in the game, Heneghan found Hagdorn open again on 4th and 10 from the Dartmouth one when Hagdorn somehow got open in the middle of the field.

-The follow week against Yale, the big home run ball was actually given up by the offense. In a scoreless game Columbia had been statistically dominating up to that point, CU RB Alan Watson fumbled the ball and it was returned for a 61 yard TD by Yale's John Herubin.

-Late in the 2nd quarter in week eight against Cornell, the Lions had a disastrous streak of bad luck. First, the refs incorrectly ruled that Watson fumbled the ball out of the end zone on a play that would have made it 21-7, Columbia. Predictably, just three plays later Cornell QB Dalton Banks found WR Ben Rogers streaking down the east sideline for a 47-yard game-tying score.

There were more huge plays of course, but the ones listed above were the real killers, even though four of them took place in Columbia wins. In many ways, they were each like Hail Mary plays that are so low percentage no team should be allowing more than three or four of them per season.

It should be noted that in the season finale against Brown, the Lions made that their best game of the year in no small part because they did not allow any Bear home run balls. An early blocked punt that set Brown up at the CU 2 yard line resulted only in Bear field goal. And when Brown brought in scrambling QB Nick Duncan to confound the Columbia pass rush and pass defense, he made some great plays but did not burn CU for any big 25-plus yard gainers. It was a great display of containment and making sure small mistakes didn't become big mistakes, etc.

In 2017, the Lions need to get their heads more into the game at crucial moments. Otherwise, three or four wins will be the most they can hope for.

1 comment:

Big Dawg said...

It would also be refreshing to finally see a few "home runs" of our own, which have been sadly lacking for a long time.