One would expect the Big Green football team (2-3, 1-1 Ivy) to be riding high after beating the Holy Cross Crusaders last Saturday for the team's second-straight win. However, the team's two-game winning streak is a double-edged sword for head coach John Lyons' squad.
On the one hand, according to preseason All-American tight end Casey Cramer '04, a winning streak can give a team "more confidence. Knowing that you can win, and having that extra bit of belief in yourself can definitely step up your level of play and the people around you."
On the other hand, however, according to quarterback Brian Mann '02, the last two weeks' results won't mean much come kickoff time on Saturday at Wien Stadium, site of Dartmouth's game against the Columbia Lions.
"We all realize that what has happened to us recently is over," said Mann. "Columbia is not going to care what has happened to us the past few weeks."
The Lions could quite easily have reason to care, though, should Mann maintain the form that earned him Offensive Player of the Week honors from the Ivy League, the ECAC and Don Hansen's National Weekly Football Gazette last week. Against the Crusaders, Mann completed 18 of 28 passes for 233 yards, including two touchdown passes to wide receiver Jay Barnard '04, and ran for an additional 84 yards and two scores.
Since a 49-14 loss at Pennsylvania on Oct. 5, Mann has presided over a balanced offense that shocked Yale with a powerful ground attack two weeks ago, then produced nearly as many yards on the run as in the air against Holy Cross. Mann has been able to lead Dartmouth's offense into the end zone partly by putting the ball in the hands of a talented trio of juniors.
On the ground, running back Michael Giles '04 has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the last two games, including a 164-yard outburst on 34 carries against Yale. Meanwhile, with 36 and 35 catches, respectively, both Barnard and Cramer are on pace to break Dartmouth's single-season record for receptions, currently held by John Hyland '94, who caught 63 passes during the 1993 season.
The Dartmouth defense has been nothing to sneeze at, either. Free safety Clayton Smith '05 leads the Ancient Eight in tackles with 64, while cornerback Richard Efem '03 made the IvyLeagueSports.com "Honor Roll" last week after recording a team-best 10 tackles against Holy Cross. Efem hopes to have a similar performance as he returns to his hometown of New York to take on the Lions.
At Columbia, however, the Dartmouth defense will face a quarterback who has plenty of tricks up his sleeve. Lions signal-caller Steve Hunsberger completed 19-of-28 passes, ran for a touchdown, and caught a 21-yard pass in last Saturday's game against Penn. The junior has completed 105 passes this season and is on track to become only the second Columbia quarterback to complete 200 passes in a single season (John Witkowski had a pair of 200-completion seasons for Columbia in 1982 and 1983).
The rest of Columbia's offense, however, was hardly at Hunsberger's level against the Quakers, as the team tallied a measly 10 yards on the ground at Franklin Field, eventually losing 44-10. However, the Dartmouth players know that it's possible to bounce back from a devastating loss to Penn, having done so themselves over the past two weeks. To prevent a similar comeback by Columbia, according to Cramer, Dartmouth needs to "play hard-nosed relentless football."
"Don't let Columbia get any breathing room," said Cramer, "and they won't get a chance to come back."
According to Mann, however, Columbia's recent struggles mean little to Dartmouth's approach to Saturday's game. "We only need to worry about us," said Mann. "If we play the way we are capable of playing, and only worry about the things that we can control, we will be okay."
Given the way that the Big Green has shown itself to be capable of playing, Mann makes a fair statement, one that the team will have a chance to prove correct at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday at Columbia's Wien Stadium.