Assuming you’re still alive to read this, I have some good news. No, not that classes are cancelled for Tuesday, although a person can dream. But on Saturday, Columbia’s football team put together one of the best offensive performances I’ve seen in my time here—and, for the first time since 2001, we beat Yale in football.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a column criticizing the offensive game plan. And I’m thrilled to report that my initial fear that we were going to average about eight points per game is going to be wrong. It took seven games, but we’re getting a sense of the scheme that Pete “the Man” Mangurian wants to run.
The offensive attack is, unsurprisingly, a variant on the offense that the New England Patriots have liked to run for many years. Lots of short passes, primarily curl routes to the sidelines and crossing patterns over the middle, based on timing; using the pass to set up the run; and using the running back as an outlet valve in case of emergency.
After a few weeks, everything finally clicked on Saturday. What’s making the scheme work? I think we’ve collectively been underrating the skill of our group of wide receivers. Chris Connors, Connor Nelligan, and Jake Wannamaker—a freshman, a sophomore, and a sophomore, respectively—combined for 23 catches for 265 yards. Even that impressive statistic doesn’t describe the way they played, with a minimal number of dropped passes, strong catches going over the middle, and an ability to pick up yards after the catch. If these guys continue to develop, this could be a legitimately scary group next season.
The scheme is also giving quarterback Sean Brackett a chance to show that he can, in fact, throw the ball. Brackett got into a rhythm and had by far his best day as a passer. And freshman QB Trevor McDonagh, getting his first collegiate action, gave us hope with a few sharp passes that we’ll be in good hands when Brackett fades off into the real world next year.
There are still some issues. Based on my observations, there’s only one running play in the playbook—give it to junior Marcorus Garrett and have him run straight up the middle. Repeat ad nauseam.
The problem with this approach is that we have a small offensive line, so it’s tough to get any push up the middle. And when we’re within our opponent’s five-yard-line, it’s literally impossible to score a touchdown with this play. Note that our two touchdowns from this position came from a quarterback draw and a dump-off to Garrett in the flat.
But it seems churlish to complain too much, after an entertaining game that snapped a five-game losing streak this season and a decade-long streak against Yale.
Perhaps the most important takeaway is that the conservatism of earlier games was mercifully absent this weekend. The Lions went for it on fourth-and-one at the Yale one in the first half, down 7-5. Some might say that we should have taken the field goal and the lead there. But I like the call for two reasons. One, it shows that we’re going to take some chances in order to get as many points as possible. More importantly, though, it shows that Mangurian and the coaching staff trust their players to execute in key situations.
The fact that we didn’t actually convert doesn’t matter. What matters is that the team is beginning to develop a sense of belief in their capacity to make plays and get wins. When Yale scored a go-ahead touchdown with 7:30 to go, when Luke Eddy’s field goal attempt was pushed just wide left, when Yale converted a third-and-one with two minutes to go, it all felt horribly familiar: a third consecutive week of suffering.
But the team never gave up—a forced fumble, a beautiful drive, and a tough defensive stop secured Columbia’s first Ivy win of the year.
The Lions are starting to execute the new system successfully and realize that they can play with anyone. And they’re going to need it in Cambridge next week, against a legitimately skilled Harvard squad. If we learned one thing this week, though, it’s that you can’t count them out just yet.
Peter Andrews is a junior in Columbia College majoring in history. He is an associate copy editor for Spectator.