Football heads to Columbia in search of second win
After the football team lost 44-3 at Yale, nobody thought the season could get any worse After Dartmouth beat Cornell the following week, everyone thought things were looking up.
They were wrong.
Last weekend in Cambridge the Big Green lost to their despised rival Harvard 63-21, besting [or rather worsting] their margin of defeat at Yale by a single point. The loss dropped Dartmouth to 1-6, assuring the team of its second consecutive sub-.500 finish.
So what now? Well, the team plays its final road game of the season Saturday in New York City against Columbia before returning home for Princeton and Brown.
The Lions at least can sympathize with the Big Green's plight, having lost five of their seven games, including all four of their Ivy League contests. Columbia's two wins came against a very weak Towson team and in a freakish manner to upset Bucknell.
Just like Dartmouth, Columbia was a power in the League earlier this decade, but has fallen from the elite after losing key players to graduation and finding no replacements waiting on the sideline.
With three games remaining for each team, neither has a shot at any sort of title, except last in the Ivy League. Both are in the thick of the race for that dubious distinction.
So the game comes down to pride.
At the beginning of the season, Dartmouth's captains all spoke about restoring the winning tradition through a positive attitude. The team brought back helmets from yesteryear to remind players of what once was.
The helmets are nice, but now it's time for that pride to manifest itself. If not now, when?
Ray of sunshine
Obscured by the lopsided score last weekend was Dartmouth's best offensive effort of the season.
In the first half of the contest, the Green dominated time of possession and kept up with Harvard in gaining yardage, if not, in scoring points.
Dartmouth looked razor sharp on its opening drive of the game, scoring seven points before a fan could say 'road trip.'
Even after falling behind by 14 points, the team rallied with its passing game to get back into the game. Quarterback Brian Mann '02 enjoyed the finest half of his young career, completing 22 of 29 passes. He was an amazing 15 for 16 in the first quarter.
Dartmouth's receivers were able to catch short passes from Mann on their way to 10 first downs in the half.
However, the running game once again was stymied.
When the Green's aerial show was cancelled by Crimson defensive changes in the second half, Dartmouth's chances for victory came to a quick conclusion. Harvard pressured Mann, continued to stuff the run, and allowed only one first down in the last two quarters.
In their game plan, the Green made the important decision that if they are to win ballgames, they must live and die by the pass.
Although the team figuratively died last weekend, their new strategy should give them new life. After all, Mann showed poise and confidence in the opening half against a Harvard defense featuring eight seniors.
Against Columbia he should have an easier time for the whole game.
Being from New York, one might expect Columbia's defense to exhibit some rudeness and random violence. However, they have been as accomodating to opposing offenses as a relaxed Midwesterner in most of their games this season.
A weekend ago, lowly Princeton went off on the Lions, scoring 44 points in a career day for their quarterback, Tommy Crenshaw.
Prior to that, Columbia had allowed consecutive 41-point games to Yale and Penn. Their loss to Penn was on their Homecoming game.
Earlier in the year, Lehigh scored nine touchdowns on the way to a 63-13 win.
Obviously, Columbia has some holes in its defense.
Dartmouth fans will happily note that Crenshaw was not the only quarterback to enjoy a sparkling passing day against the Lions.
Perhaps Brian Mann will be able to build on his solid first half last week with a full game of completions and scores on Saturday.
Columbia's offense has got to be hungry since thus far it has been starved for points -- at least in comparison to its opponents' totals.
Against Towson and Yale, the Lions topped 20 points. Otherwise they have not scored over 15 in a game.
Their average margin of defeat is 16 points.
Part of the problem stems from shuffling quarterbacks in and out of the lineup.
Punter Ryan Kiernan [who played quarterback in high school], with one touchdown pass on a fake punt against Princeton, has almost matched the scoring output of the three real quarterbacks.
Mark Stoutenberg opened the season as the signal-caller, but has since given way to Jeff McCall and Mike Glynn. Apparently, McCall is the starter now.
His numbers include a 56 percent completion rate and four touchdowns against two interceptions. Having only thrown 100 passes, however, he is clearly not the weapon Harvard's Brad Wilford was a week ago.
Which means Columbia won't likely score 63 points.
Columbia's strength supposedly lies in its running game, but tailback Jonathan Reese only averages 3.7 yards per carry with three rushing touchdowns. Reese has also gained 251 yards receiving, but 20 percent of that came on the fake punt last week from Kiernan.
Columbia really does not pose a great threat on offense assuming Dartmouth's defense plays unlike it did at Harvard and Yale.
No sure thing
As has been mentioned ad nauseum, Dartmouth's defense is the strength of the team. Considering recent performances, perhaps this assessment should be revised.
In holding Penn and Cornell to respectable scores, the "D" showed it could keep Ivy opponents within shooting distance of the offense.
However, against Harvard and Yale an entirely different team came to play. The Bulldogs ran up the score in the second half, after the game had been decided.
What is perhaps more disturbing is that the defense could not stop an above-average Harvard offense in the opening quarter and throughout the game.
The Crimson scored on eight of their first 10 possessions, a figure even the best offense in the Ivy League could not recover from.
Will the defensive line, led by quad-captain Kyle Schroeder '00, be able to pressure the quarterback like it did against Cornell, when it had seven sacks of Ricky Rahne, or as against Harvard, when it did not touch Brad Wilford?
Will the linebacking corps of Steve Varney '00 and Gordon Quist '02 be able to stop Columbia's supoosedly sterling running game?
Will defensive backs like Tom Reusser '00 and Brad Eissler '01 see repeats of their worst games or their best?
Probably some of each.
This game has no importance in the Ivy League race. It will likely have low attendance and low media coverage.
But like all football games, it means something to the players and to the fans.
If you fit among these two groups, you will see (or listen to or read about) a hard-fought game with mediocre running and inconsistent passing on both sides.
Brian Mann has shown himself capable of completing numerous short passes, but has also turned the ball over in every game but one.
This pattern will likely continue against a hit-or-miss Columbia defense.
Columbia's newest quarterback seems less likely to make a mistake than Dartmouth's, and only slightly more likely to go deep.
Whichever team makes the fewest mistakes and the most big plays will win.
Now, I have been wrong two straight weeks in my predictions. Dartmouth fans should hope for a triple.
With the home-field advantage, I see Columbia taking out the Green for their first and only Ivy win of the year.
Prediction: Columbia 27, Green 17