Dartmouth football plays at Columbia's Homecoming
New York, New York is a wonderful town when Dartmouth is up and Columbia's down.
As Big Green football heads to the Big Apple this weekend, that is exactly the case. Dartmouth vanquished favored Holy Cross last weekend while Columbia was walloped by Penn.
The teams enter the contest with identical 0-2 Ivy marks, part of a three-way tie with Brown in the basement of the League standings. But the Big Green (1-4) come off the high of their first win of the season while the Lions (2-3) were big losers, 43-25.
"I think it helps us," said Dartmouth Head Coach John Lyons in an interview yesterday. "We got over the hump."
Despite last weekend's success and a near miss against Yale a week before that, Dartmouth's season has not been a stellar one to date. The team opened with a 42-24 home loss to Colgate and then dropped a pair on the road, 42-21 to New Hampshire and 48-14 at Penn.
In all of those games the story was the same: the offense played very well at times but turned the ball over and the defense couldn't stop giving away long gainers through the air.
In the 24-14 defeat at Yale, the story played out again with the slight variation that the defense made some stops. That trend continued against Holy Cross as the defense not only kept the Crusaders from going deep but also forced several first-half turnovers that the offense converted into touchdowns.
"One of the real keys was defensively we came up with some turnovers early in the game," Lyons said. "That gave us a lot of confidence."
"Defensively we didn't give up big plays," he added.
Meanwhile, the offense continues to play spottily, as exemplified by the performance of quarterback Brian Mann '02 against Holy Cross. In the first half, Mann completed 17 of 23 passes for 208 yards and four touchdowns.
In the second half, as Mann noted at the post-game press conference last weekend, there were "a lot of incompletions."
In that period Mann threw six for 14 for 52 yards and two interceptions. The Big Green scored merely a field goal, but their first half outburst was more than the defense needed to clamp down on the Crusaders.
Against Columbia, the defense may face a tougher task, and the offense will have to minimize its mistakes.
West Side Story
In three home games at Baker Field on Manhattan's Upper West Side, Columbia has scored 114 points while allowing 75. The first thing this statistic says is that the Light Blue can score on offense.
Running back Jonathan Reese is the Lion King. He currently ranks first in the Ivy League in total offense with 197.2 yards per game, and he stands second in the Ivies with 146 rushing yards per game.
Reese is also the League's leading kickoff returner with a cool 33-yard average. In other words, this guy's good.
"We have to do a good job against him -- try to cut down on the big plays he can create," Lyons said. The defense will "try to get [Columbia] in passing situations and hopefully play good coverage."
Last weekend, Penn was able to take Reese out of the game by building up a big lead and forcing the Lions to throw. It would behoove the Big Green to follow that lead, though it's not a foolproof plan.
After all, Columbia has finally found a good starting quarterback after blundering through last season with three mediocre ones. Junior Jeff McCall has emerged from the fray to throw with 60 percent accuracy and for nine touchdowns in five games.
Receivers Doug Peck and Jarel Cockburn have hauled in the majority of McCall's passes. Peck has 22 catches for 279 yards and two touchdowns. Six of Cockburn's 20 catches have gone for scores.
The Lions have failed to score fewer than 22 points only once, in an ugly 12-10 loss at Bucknell on Sept. 23. Their 43- and 47-point outbursts at home against Fordham and Lafayette are a few of the many unusually high scores posted by Ivy offenses this season.
With Reese and a capable passing offense, the Lions are a threat.
On the Town
But Holy Cross possessed a more multi-faceted attack, and the Big Green defense stopped it cold. Whereas the Crusaders could alternately line up five wide receivers or three running backs, Columbia plays a much more conventional offense, which the Big Green should be able to defend.
"They're similar to Holy Cross in that they're primarily a one-back offense," Lyons said. But "they don't get into the multiple receiver looks that Holy Cross gave us."
Columbia also does not possess the same deep threat as the ones that burned the Green's inexperienced defensive backfield in the first four weeks of the season.
On the other hand the Green haven't defended the run so well, allowing 187.8 yards per game halfway through the season. This will be the most crucial part of the defense's performance Saturday.
The Big Green can't let Reese go to town.
The Dartmouth offense has the George Steinbrenner-esque quality of being successful but still making you mad at times.
Even in scoring 31 points last weekend, Dartmouth did not reach its maximum potential. After all, 28 of those points came in the first half after the defense had provided good field position with turnovers or stops deep in the Holy Cross side of the field.
In several of its games, Dartmouth has been able to score early but not late. In others, it has been the reverse.
The catalyst is Mann.
"When you look at him last week, he played a great first half," Lyons said. "In the second half he forced a couple and that hurt him. If he continues to play like he did in the first half, we're going to have success moving the ball."
Mann ranks in the middle of the Ivies in most categories. For the season, he has completed 59 percent of his passes for 844 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions.
Mann missed the last quarter of the Colgate and Penn games and all of the UNH game due largely to injury. His replacement, Greg Smith '02 also played well though inconsistently.
The offense's diversity is further improved with the emergence of Aaron Pumerantz '02 at running back. Despite averaging just over three yards a carry last weekend, Pumerantz has run well since becoming the full-time starter. He averages 4.5 yards per carry.
"Aaron ran very hard last week," Lyons said. "He didn't have any long runs but he had a bunch of good, hard runs against a good defense."
Wide receiver Damien Roomets '02 stands out among the offensive skill players. He ranks second in the Ivy League in receptions and yardage, with 40 grabs for 462 yards. Matt DeLellis '02 and Matt Davis '03 have complemented him with 23 catches between them.
"Our quarterbacks are going to a lot of different guys," Lyons said. "I think spreading it around has been very helpful."
The not-so Fantasticks
After losing to Penn by 18 points last weekend, the Lions were trying to remember that time in September when they'd similarly demolished Fordham by 17. In neither game did the Lions' defense put up much of a fight.
Columbia is allowing 26 points per game largely because it allows 215 passing yards per game. The defensive backfield has been unable to catch up to the defensive line, which has held teams to a respectable 140 rushing yards per game.
Luck be a lady
This game will come down to one intangible and several smaller aspects of the game though.
First, this contest is Columbia's Homecoming.
"So they'll be excited to play," Lyons pointed out.
He said any emotional advantage the Big Green bring in because of their win over Holy Cross will be gone near the start of the game.
Second, with the teams so evenly matched, this contest could hinge on turnovers and special teams.
Last year, Columbia scored twice after blocking punts. A week ago, Holy Cross blocked a Dartmouth punt.
Furthermore, Columbia boasts superb punt and kick returners.
"We're very concerned going into it because they blocked two of our punts last year," Lyons said. "We have to do a real good job with our coverage teams."
If the Big Green win the turnover and special teams battles, they will break the two-year losing streak they have against Columbia. If not, they'll sink further into last place in the Ivies.