Sunday, September 23, 2018

Week 4 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Columbia's 23-15 win over Georgetown Saturday.

1. Then and Now. Consider this: on September 24, 2016, leading by a comfortable 17-0 at halftime versus Columbia on Homecoming Day at Cooper Field,  hung on to a 17-14 win for its third straight victory to open the 2016 season.

Columbia had lost its fifth straight game, and left that game with a combined record of 2-30 over its last 32 games.

Two years later, Columbia led 23-0 versus Georgetown on Homecoming Day at Cooper Field, and hung on to a 23-15 win Saturday for its second straight to open the 2016 season.

Since that 2016 loss to Georgetown, the Lions are 13-7 and winners of 10 of its last 12. Over its last 23 games since that game, Georgetown is 2-21.

There's no one explanation why Columbia has soared and Georgetown has soured. Al Bagnoli has a lot to do with the Lions' resurgence, as well as a commitment by that school to end the stench of decades of bad football on Baker Field.

"We are all people who aspire to do the very best," said Columbia president Lee Bollinger when Bagnoli was hired. "We have done that throughout the athletics program, and we're going to do it in football," he said.

More than aspiring, Columbia is delivering. Georgetown aspires, too, of course. But 2 and 21 is not delivering.

2. Play of The Game:  From Jake Novak's Columbia football blog, "Roar, Lion Roar":

"With 2:15 left in the 3rd quarter and Columbia now ahead 13-0, PK Chris Alleyne was called on to kick a 46-yard FG when a Lion drive fizzled at Georgetown 28. Alleyne nailed the kick to keep his perfect season going and gave Columbia a crucial two-score lead." he wrote.

"On the ensuing Hoya possession, DE Daniel DeLorenzi strip sacked Johnson and Lion LB Michael Murphy recovered the ball at the GU 29. Three plays later and with Columbia facing a 3rd and 18 at the Hoya 37, Smith made a beautiful run after the catch for a crucial 25-yard gain to the Georgetown 12 with about 14 minutes left in the game. Three plays later, Columbia was up 23-0 and seemingly in the clear."

That Georgetown could mount a 15 point comeback in the fourth quarter is commendable, but how different would the final minute have been if they were down 16-15 instead of 23-15?  Johnson's fumble and the five play drive to open the fourth provided Columbia an unlikely but invaluable cushion to ride out of town with the win.  

Georgetown's eight fumbles in four games ranks them dead last in the subdivision for  fumbles allowed after week four. Brown has not allowed a fumble all season.

3. Rush Week: Want one reason why Georgetown is such a poor performer in games like this? It can't run the ball. Saturday's game saw the Hoyas carry 26 times for 25 yards against a Columbia rushing defense ranked fourth in the subdivision. Georgetown has dropped to 118th of 124 schools in rushing;  a small consolation, perhaps, that three Patriot League schools join Georgetown in the bottom ten, another sign how poor this conference is in 2018, with a combined out of conference mark of 5-20 through week 4.

A slight ray of hope lies across the field at Brown Stadium this week. The Bears have struggled to contain the run against better competition--it allowed 420 yards to  against Cal Poly and 237 yards versus Harvard. 

Can Georgetown resuscitate the run? If so, it needs a stronger effort out of its offensive line, one which can move the line of scrimmage and something it has not shown it can consistently do. Georgetown's longest run from scrimmage Saturday was six yards. And while it might seem like a tall order to a school who hasn't had a serious RB threat since Kim Sarin, Georgetown has to work the run game even if it won't succeed. Short of repositioning Khristian Tate to the backfield, it has to get more out of Jay Tolliver and Jackson Saffold if only to keep the Brown defenses honest. Harvard has three rushes of 20 yards or more on the brown line, including runs of 43 and 50 yards. 

4. Next Men Up: A shoulder injury to Michael Dereus in the Columbia game is bad news for a passing offense which has yet to reach expectations. Branden Williams figures to get additional defensive scrutiny Saturday following his 1221 yards versus the Lions,  but what can be done by the receiving corps?

Georgetown has five excellent wide receivers in its rotation (Williams, Edwards, Jackson, Tomas, and Springs), with Isaac Schley at tight end. It's tempting to ditch the run and let it all air out, but Johnson does not have the time in the backfield to do that because of the offensive line. If he does, however, let it fly...and not for five yards, either.

5. A Long Way from Georgetown: Buried in the online agate type of the week, a remarkable finish in Norfolk, where Old Dominion not only got #18 Virginia Tech to play at Foreman Field, they beat the Hokies 49-35. It was not only the biggest win in that school's nine year football history, but worlds away from 2009, when the biggest game on its schedule was a Oct. 31 game versus Georgetown, won by the Monarchs 31-10 before 19,782, what remains the largest crowd to see the Hoyas play in the modern era.

Blake LaRussa, from Bishop Sullivan HS in the Tidewater, threw for 495 yards in the win.

How much have these programs diverted in the intervening years...

So why did the Gobblers play in a 20,000 seat stadium in Norfolk? Former coach Frank Beamer once said that "If we have an opportunity to play schools within the state, we’re going to do that...That program has great potential. Old Dominion is located in a good market, and the high school football there is outstanding. They’ve got a chance to recruit very good players there."

“What coach Beamer did told people in the ACC it was OK to schedule us,” said ODU athletic director Wood Selig. “It did so much to help us transition our program.”

The ODU-Virginia Tech series will continue from 2022  through 2031, with home and away games throughout. ODU will be tearing down its 1930's era stadium after the 2018 season for a full rebuild by the 2019 season, and you can bet the west side won't be a pile of sand for the home opener.

Some clips from Twitter, which just goes to show what football can do bring a campus together.