Sports | Football

Columbia red zone and third down execution still work in progress

When Light Blue football (1-2, 0-1 Ivy) took the field Saturday afternoon, the team knew Princeton (1-2, 1-0 Ivy) would present a physical challenge. With an up-tempo offense and a stout defense, the Lions knew exactly what they would be up against when the clock struck 12:30 p.m. for the opening kickoff.

The problem was, from the time the opening whistle blew, the Lions seemed overmatched in nearly every facet of the game.

“We didn’t stand up to them,” head coach Pete Mangurian said. “We were honest with them about what kind of team this was, and what they were capable of doing. Physically, what they were, what they were capable of doing. And we didn’t stand up to them.”

Special teams were undoubtedly a problem for the Lions in the game, but when it comes down to it, the offense just didn’t execute. In the first quarter, the Lions went three-and-out in two of their four possessions. The other two lasted five and six plays, but all four resulted in punts.

The Light Blue’s most successful drive came on its first possession in the second quarter. Senior quarterback Sean Brackett completed four of his five passes on the drive, while junior running back Marcorus Garrett had two rushes of seven yards. Garrett also caught screen passes of 10 and 21 yards, the latter of which advanced the ball to the Princeton 16.

Yet even after establishing that rhythm, the Lions failed to put the ball in the end zone. After Garrett’s first-down run of seven yards to put the ball on the Princeton nine-yard line, the Lions, with Garrett, tried to pound the ball up the middle on second and third down. Apparently, having its back against the wall was the only way to wake up the Princeton defense, as the Lions didn’t advance the ball any further and were forced to settle for a field goal.

This was the fourth time this season the Lions have had to kick a field goal from the red zone. In general, red-zone offense has been problematic for the Light Blue. The team currently ranks seventh in the league in red-zone scoring, converting five of the eight chances into points.

But four of those five scores have been field goals. The only red-zone touchdown the Lions have scored came in the first game against Marist, where Garrett pounded the ball into the end zone from the one-yard line. The three other red-zone chances have ended with one interception and two fumbles.

The Light Blue’s offensive struggles don’t stop there. Third down has been a problem in all three games for the Lions, and it was especially apparent on Saturday. The Lions were just 3-17 on third down conversion attempts, 1-7 in the first half and 2-10 in the second half. The numbers are similar to those in the Lions’ loss against Fordham last week, where the team went just 5-18 on third down.

After the game against the Rams, Mangurian said that inconsistency on first and second down lead to the poor third-down numbers, as it’s hard to convert third and long. But the Lions will have to improve on their third-down numbers as they currently rank last in the league in that area—they’ve converted just 13 of 51 attempts.
Mangurian spoke frankly about the Lions’ struggles after Saturday’s loss about how they need to be corrected.

“We just found out who we are. And that’s the truth,” he said. “...And we’ve got to face it, we’ve got to fix it, and we’ve got to continue to move in the right direction here and not let all the excuses that have engulfed this program for years make it okay, because it’s not. It’s 33-6. That’s the truth. And we’re going to have to face that and fix it.”

sports@columbiaspectator.com

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