The football team’s final chance to avoid its first winless season since 1987 will come on Saturday at home against Brown (5-4, 2-4 Ivy) for Senior Day.
It’s an all-too-familiar spot for the Light Blue (0-9, 0-6 Ivy), which went 0-9 in 2011 before winning a double-overtime thriller against the Bears in Week 10.
But the biggest difference in 2013 is the Columbia offense’s utter inability to put up points, as the Lions have scored just four touchdowns through six games of Ivy play. Though the offense was able to move the ball against Cornell’s defense last week, Columbia head coach Pete Mangurian told Spectator on Wednesday that the same inconsistencies that have plagued the Lions all season reared their ugly heads inside the red zone last week.
“It’s always something,” Mangurian said. “And we’re not going to change the standards of the plays that we’re running because they’re simple, fundamental football plays. Until we learn to execute, it really doesn’t matter what we do.”
One of the problems that the Light Blue has faced is drops. Mangurian said that the players are constantly working on catching the ball with their hands, but have reverted to catching the ball with their bodies during games.
“Trust me, it’s the moment in the game, because in practice we don’t see as much of that near as much as we do in the game,” he said. “It’s the pressure of the game and doing things exactly right. And that will improve with experience and more work.”
One of the things that goes along with offensive execution, though, is the play of the quarterback. Last week, sophomore Trevor McDonagh completed 20 of 41 passes for 292 yards and an interception. Mangurian said McDonagh will start again on Saturday and must throw the ball with assurance to be successful.
“When Trevor plays with confidence, Trevor is a good quarterback,” Mangurian said. “I can tell by watching him throw it whether he’s got it or not. You can just see it in his mechanics and his demeanor and the things that he does.”
With two of its defensive linemen among the top five in the league in sacks, Brown will present a challenge for Columbia’s pass protection. Brown ranks second in the Ancient Eight in overall sacks with 30. Defensive end Michael Yules is second in the league individually with six, and John Bumpus is tied for third with 4.5.
“It’s not just them—I think they’re the beneficiary of having three or four other guys around them that can create pressure, too,” Mangurian said. “I think those are the guys that make the plays, but those sacks are always set up by a lot of stuff.”
And on offense, the Bears have one of the more talented quarterbacks in the league under center. Patrick Donnelly ranks second in the Ancient Eight in completion percentage, second in yards passing, and third in touchdowns. The Bears offense also sports the Ivy League’s leading rusher in John Spooney, who has 984 yards on the ground in just eight games.
One of the young Lions going up against that attack is sophomore linebacker Mark Cieslak. In his first chance for extended action last week against Cornell, Cieslak finished with 12 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.
“Mark Cieslak is what we’re trying to be,” Mangurian said. “He works hard. He’s prepared. He’s tough. He competes in every situation. He’s earned his opportunity, and when his opportunity came, he was ready.”
As it is the final game of the 2013 season, the Lions will honor their seniors before the start of Saturday’s contest. Mangurian said that he would also get all the seniors on the field at one point during the game.
“I feel bad for them that it hasn’t worked out for them better. They deserve better,” Mangurian said of the senior class. “There’s a million reasons why all these things happen, but we live in a bottom line world and the bottom line is we did not play well enough or consistently enough to win.”
“When we finally get to where we want to go, these guys will understand the part they played in it,” Mangurian added. “And we’ll make sure that everybody remembers that they were part of it when it happens because they’ve earned their spot. And I’m sorry to see them go.”
Kickoff is slated for 1:30 p.m. at Robert K. Kraft Field. The game will be televised on Fox College Sports network.