Colgate offense will test Green
Celebrating their first win of the season last Saturday, the Big Green were wise enough not to look at the schedule for fear it might spoil the party. Dartmouth's reward for knocking off Lafayette is the chance to play Colgate, the best team the Patriot League has to offer and the one of the best offenses the nation has seen this year.
In the past two weeks, Colgate has been using its high powered offense to burn Ivy League teams with the same ease and effectiveness General Sherman displayed in burning the South in the civil war. Leaving Harvard and Yale in their wake, the Red Raiders racked up 69 points against their two Ancient Eight opponents, winning the two road games by a combined 41 points. There is little to indicate that Dartmouth can avoid a similar fate.
While Dartmouth is the best defense Colgate has faced all season, the best the Big Green can hope for is to slow down the Red Raider attack that averages 480 yards a game fourth in the nation. To recognize the disparity in the two team's offensive attacks, one need only to look at their success running the football. Colgate's fourth leading rusher has more yards on the season than the entire Dartmouth team.
"Colgate is probably the best offense we will face all year," Head Coach John Lyons said. "They run the football extremely well and can also beat you through the air throwing the ball. Overall, they have very few weaknesses. We have our work cut out for us."
Though winning is important, tomorrow's contest, regardless of the outcome, should provide the Big Green with a measuring stick against Harvard and Yale, if not the rest of the Ivy League. With Yale coming to town next weekend for Homecoming and Harvard arriving in Hanover two weeks later, a close loss for Dartmouth would indicate that the Big Green should be competitive against those two Ivy League squads. Colgate is the final non-league contest for the Big Green and the last chance to work out the kinks in the offense that have plagued Dartmouth all season long before entering Ivy League play.
"Most importantly, we need to show consistency for an entire game," Lyons said. "We have played well at times this year, but have yet to put it all together in one game. Hopefully we can play consistently against Colgate and give ourselves a chance to win the game."
After showing a dramatic improvement against Maine two weeks ago, Big Green quarterback Mike Coffey '99 took two steps back in the win over Lafayette. Aside from throwing his first interception of the season, Coffey seemed to press at times, looking for the big play rather than dumping the ball off or throwing the ball away to avoid the sack. Dartmouth only has one passing touchdown all season. On the bright side, Coffey has looked strong running the option.
Red Raiders quarterback Ryan Vena has captured the Patriot League most valuable player award for the past two seasons and is showing no intentions of giving the hardware back. Vena's 277 yards per game is eighth in the nation in total offense. He has accounted for eight touchdowns on the season and has thrown a touchdown pass in 20 consecutive games. The Big Green defense must pay attention to both his arm and his feet.
Dartmouth was finally able to run the ball last week, picking up 119 yards on the ground. Tailback Eric Davis '99 carried 28 times for 98 yards, but the difference was the return of fullback Bob Bunn '01. Bunn added 35 yards on dive plays up the middle and was able to open up holes for Davis. The Big Green rushing attack still ranks last in the nation averaging just 45 yards per game, but the Big Green attack should pick up steam now that the entire backfield is healthy.
The Red Raiders boast one of the finest running games in the country, averaging 258 yards per game on the ground. Using both an option attack and straight ahead power running, Colgate has worn down opposing defenses with the running game to set up the play-action passing game. The main culprit has been halfback Randall Joseph and his 84 yards per game, but Colgate's strength is its depth. Four Red Raiders, including Vena, have over 150 yards rushing on the season.
A new receiving threat seems to emerge every game for the Big Green, but unfortunately, the previous threats pull disappearing acts. Fifth-year senior Forest Wester demonstrated his ability to run after the catch against Lafayette, picking up 51 yards on just two catches. Expect Coffey to look for Wester down the field in zone coverage. But just as Wester, who is the fastest player on the team, came on, tight end Adam Young '99 regressed. The talented tight end dropped catchable balls over the middle and must return his level of play earlier in the season. Damon Ferrara '98 has big-play capability, but Coffey has been unable to get him the ball.
There is no doubt who the go-to-guy is for Colgate. Senior Corey Hill is closing in on every Red Raider receiving record and has now caught passes in 35 straight games. Hill has hauled in 24 passes in four games this season at a clip of 105 yards per game but has yet to face a secondary the caliber of Dartmouth's. Colgate's other wideout, R.J. Gregory, has put together a fine season as well with 19 catches for 309 yards.
The Big Green developed a cohesiveness that lacked in previous games. In both the first quarter and overtime, Big Green backs had gaping holes to run through as the line blew Lafayette's front four off of the ball. Although Coffey was sacked four times last week, most of the sacks were coverage sacks as the line gave him time to throw the ball most of the afternoon. Dartmouth was much improved in the penalty department last week as the front five eluded stupid penalties.
Colgate's offensive line has been dominant all year, allowing the Red Raiders to pile up acres of yardage. The Red Raiders 480 yards per game is due in large part to the blocking efforts of their line, which have blown opponents off of the football.
Without a doubt, the Colgate offense will be the sternest test Dartmouth's front-seven will face all season long. The defensive line needs to key in on two factors: stopping the run and keeping Vena inside the pocket, limiting his ability to scramble and make plays. The Big Green are giving up almost 200 yards per game and have allowed a 100-yard rusher each of the first three games. But numbers can be deceiving because not only has the defense been on the field all game, but they are giving up only 13 points a game, 10th in the nation.
Colgate's run defense has been strong, limiting opposing offenses to just over 100 yards a game. If Dartmouth is unable to run the football, the Big Green must be able to fend off the Red Raiders pass rush to give Coffey time to throw the ball down field. That should be possible since the Red Raiders pass rush only generated one sack against Harvard and Yale in the past two weeks.
The linebacking corps must continue to be the play-making unit for the Green defense. Colgate has been turnover prone all season long (3 turnovers per game) and that should play into the hands of Steve Varney '00 who leads the teams in both forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Varney and tri-captain Jon Gibbs '99 are the team's two leading tacklers. For Dartmouth to have any chance at a victory, those two must make at least 10 tackles each.
Except in the loss to Connecticut in the opening week of the season, the Colgate defense has not been tested. The Big Green offense needs to exploit the linebackers of Colgate, keeping them off-balance with the option and misdirection plays, keeping them out of the running lanes. Colgate's backers are good, but not the caliber of the Big Green's unit.
Dartmouth's secondary has been the strongest unit on the entire team for the first three games. Despite off-season changes, the Big Green is 10th in the nation in pass defense, having given up only 125 yards a game and limiting opponents to a grand total of one touchdown pass. Brad Eissler '01 has adjusting nicely to the ball-hawking role with two interceptions on the year. Tom Reusser '00 and Brad Verber '99 will have their hands filled with the Colgate wideouts.
Colgate's secondary has made big plays but has been lenient in their pass defense. Strong safety Jesse Boyd has two interceptions this year and free safety Tom McCarroll made a career-high 15 tackles against Yale last week. However, the Red Raiders rank near the bottom of the Patriot League in pass defense and allowed both Connecticut and Yale over 250 yards through the air.
Just as it has been in previous years, the kicking game remains strong for the Big Green. Kicker Alex Csizinsky '00 nailed a game-winning field goal last week against Lafayette, and Wayne Schlobohm '00 is fifth in the nation in punting, averaging 45 yards per kick. The return has struggled for the Big Green, but should get ample opportunities to improve this weekend.
Colgate has broken two long punt returns, including one for a touchdown, and consequently is averaging 18 yards per punt return. The field goal unit has not been tested however, as Colgate has only kicked two field goal attempts all season. To have a chance in this ballgame, the Big Green must dominate special teams.
The Red Raiders posses too much offensive firepower for Dartmouth to win this game. Dartmouth proved they could contain high-octane attacks two weeks ago at Maine, but even Maine does not have the weapons to match Colgate's explosiveness on the ground and in the air. Dartmouth's only chance is to control the ball for over 35 minutes and keep it out of the hands of Vena and the Colgate offense. But Dartmouth's offense has struggled all year and even a porous Red Raiders secondary won't cure the woes. Despite the return of the characteristic power running attack, there are just too many question marks on the offensive side of the football for the Big Green.
Final Score: Colgate 27, Green 10