When Columbia’s football team (1-1) takes on Princeton (0-2) in the opening Ivy League game of Pete Mangurian’s tenure in Morningside Heights, the Lions will have to beat the team that they see in the mirror.
Not only will the Lions be facing a team that resembles their own, but they will also need to eliminate self-induced inconsistency.
“I told our team, our mentalities are pretty similar right now,” Mangurian said. “They feel like they could’ve won the two games they played and we feel like we had an opportunity to be 2-0 also. So we’re all kind of fighting—they’ve got their demons, we’ve got ours.”
Inconsistency on offense has been the Lions’ biggest issue through the first two games of this season. The Lions have struggled mightily in the red zone, converting only one of seven opportunities into a touchdown. In addition, senior quarterback Sean Brackett’s passing inaccuracy—he has completed only 46.7 percent of his passes thus far—has hurt the rhythm of an offense which has had quite a bit of success running the ball.
“The big play capability is showing every once in a while,” Mangurian said. “But in the absence of that, you’ve got to execute eight, nine, 10, 12 plays consistently to drive the ball down the field and score. And we’re executing six, seven, and eight plays with consistency, and then doing something that derails you, and then you’re not capable of overcoming it.”
Mangurian said that for the Lions’ defense—which has forced the most turnovers (seven) and the second most sacks in the Ivy League (eight)—to continue its strong play, the players and coaches will need to adjust to the Tigers’ up-tempo offense.
According to Mangurian, Princeton’s speed at the line of the scrimmage poses a challenge. “Once every 24-25 seconds, they snap the ball. That’s fast,” “That puts pressure on you defensively to communicate what you’re going to run.”
“There’s a lot going on in a short amount of time. So that’s going to be our challenge,” he added. “... You’re a step behind, then you’re two steps behind, then you’re three steps behind, and all of a sudden you’re 10 yards behind and somebody’s running free in the middle of the field and no one’s covering him. So that’s what you’ve just got to be careful of—that you don’t let it control you.”
Special teams could also have a large impact on Saturday’s game. Princeton’s special teams play will test the Lions, according to Mangurian.
“This is by far and away the best special teams team we’ve played,” Mangurian said. “Not even close … certain teams put more of a premium on special team plays than others. And you can tell the ones that do. This one certainly does, there’s no doubt about it. When you watch them on film, they know what they’re trying to do and they’re good at it.”
While the Lions have shown flashes of brilliance in their coverage and blocking units, their kicking and punting will need to improve in order to convert on-scoring opportunities and win the field position battle.
“ [We] missed a field goal in each game,” Mangurian said. “When you have chances to score, you’ve got to score. I think we were hurt with the penalties with the return game. And you can’t have that in the return game, you’ve got to field the ball and have no penalties in the return game—whether it be punt or kickoff—because inevitably it puts you in bad field position.”
In their last four meetings, Columbia has beaten Princeton three times. After losing 24-21 last season, the Lions hope to get back on track when the game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. at Baker Field.