The football team will try to get the bitter taste of last week’s 69-0 blowout loss to Harvard out of its mouth as the Light Blue (2-6, 1-4 Ivy) takes on Cornell (4-4, 2-3 Ivy) in the third Empire State Bowl.
With the team coming off two weeks of extraordinarily inconsistent play, Columbia head coach Pete Mangurian said that Saturday’s contest is a big game for the Light Blue.
“It’s a home game. It’s the seniors’ last game here. It’s our last home game of the year,” Mangurian said. “Probably the biggest thing about this game is that it’s coming off the last game. So this will be some indication of what kind of resilience and toughness we’ve built. Is that an aberration? Or is that who we are?”
That’s what the Lions will try to shake off this week when they face the league’s most prolific passing attack from Jeff Mathews and the Cornell offense. Last year’s Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, Mathews has 2,611 passing yards, which is nearly 500 more than anyone else in the league.
“He’ll hit guys that are well covered, and he’ll eat you alive with guys that aren’t,” Mangurian said of the opposing quarterback. “And there are usually some throws that you don’t think a guy can make—this guy can make them all.”
One of Mathews’ strengths is his ability to spread the ball. Big Red wideouts Luke Tasker, Grant Gellatly, and Kurt Ondash hold the top three spots in the Ancient Eight in receiving yards.
“Nobody matches up with those guys—that’s why they’ve got so many yards,” Mangurian said. “It’s a timing passing game, and you’ve got to disrupt the timing.”
To do that, Columbia will need to get pressure on the quarterback with the front seven, as well as to jam the wide receivers on the line of scrimmage before they can get out on their routes.
“The two things go together,” Mangurian said. “You can’t hit them, let them go, and he’s standing there—he’ll get you. So you hit them to buy time to make him move, and hope you can disrupt the timing enough to make it effective.”
Mangurian added that the secondary must be disciplined enough to be in position on every play, as Mathews has the arm to throw it from the hash mark to the opposite sideline—a difficult throw for any quarterback.
Stopping the high-flying Cornell offense will in part be the offense’s job as well. After turning the ball over six times last week, the Lions will need to control the ball and time of possession in order to keep Mathews off the field.
“There’s a lot of ways to do that,” Mangurian said. “You can eat the clock, but you’ve got to convert on third down. You’ve got to run it—the best way to take time off the clock is run the football.”
With junior running back Marcorus Garrett in the backfield against the Cornell defense, the Lions should be able to do just that. The Big Red rank last in the league in total defense, giving up 467.9 yards per game, and surrender league-worst averages of 279.6 passing yards and 188.2 rushing yards per game.
Because of the disparity in the team’s play the last two weeks, Mangurian said that no matter which way the game goes, the Lions will confirm something about who they are as a team.
“If we play poorly, we’ll validate playing poorly last week,” he said. “If we play better, then we’ll validate the fact that last week was an aberration, and that’s not who we are.”
“That’s what’s really at stake here more than anything else.”