In 2011, Lions fans made a great deal was made about Columbia football’s struggles in the third quarter. After being outscored by nearly 100 points in a 10-game season, it made sense that people would look at that jarring number and wonder how this could happen. Much of the blame was placed on Norries Wilson’s poor halftime adjustments (or lack thereof).
Through four games, the Mangurian era has seen a much different run of play in the third quarter, with the Lions outscoring their opponents 20-10, their highest scoring of the four quarters so far. Unfortunately, the Lions are now struggling immensely at the start and end of the game. In the first and fourth quarters combined, the Lions have been outscored 67-10, with the team yet to score in the fourth quarter this season. Since it is October, let’s put this in baseball terms: The Lions are more or less starting Ubaldo Jimenez and tapping the Mets’ bullpen to close out the game.
Although the Lions are coming out strong after halftime, they have come out flat in the first quarter of every game. On Saturday, in their first road game of the year at Lehigh, the Lions did nothing to quiet the raucous crowd. Ten minutes into the game, Columbia was already down by 14 and had turned the ball over twice. Against Princeton, the Lions could not recover after allowing the Tigers to return the opening kick for a touchdown. Although the Fordham game began with Columbia forcing a turnover, they still trailed 14-10 at the quarter break, marking the only time so far this year that Columbia has scored in the first quarter.
The inconsistency from Sean Brackett and the passing game becomes evident watching this team in its opening quarters. Marcorus Garrett’s performance withstanding, the inability of the offensive line to protect Brackett, Brackett’s inability to make proper reads/throws, and the receivers’ inability to make easy catches has doomed the Lions.
Far too often, the Lions have been driving in the opening quarter, but stall out due to the failures of the passing game. Nothing exemplifies this better than Columbia’s first drive on Saturday. After giving up a TD on Lehigh’s first possession, Brackett had the offense inside Lehigh territory, on the verge of equalizing. Instead, he tried an unnecessarily dangerous pass in the left flat on first down that was intercepted and led to a Lehigh touchdown two plays later.
As much as some would like to blame the offensive line and receivers for Sean Brackett’s struggles this year, his decision making has clearly regressed. This is not only hampering Columbia’s ability to start games aggressively, but it’s also destroyed the team’s ability to get back into games like they did many times last season.
As bad as the first quarter has been through the first 40 percent of the season, at least Columbia has been able to put some points on the board. The same cannot be said for the fourth quarter, where Columbia has been outscored 29-0 thus far. Part of this is because of the predictability of the offense when trailing. The Lions’ only fourth quarter lead this season was against Marist, where they never trailed. In the three subsequent fourth quarters, the Lions have not had so much as a tie game for the offense to work with. Obviously the Lions have been pass-reliant in these situations, allowing the opposing defenses to tee off on an already shaky offensive line, leading to every comeback attempt falling short or not getting started in the first place.
Columbia has had to replace Mike Stephens and Kurt Williams at wideout, along with Kyle Stupi and Jeff Adams on the offensive line. Everyone should have expected the passing game to take a hit. What no one could have seen is just how sharply Sean Brackett has taken a step backwards this season. When I spoke with Pete Mangurian before the Lehigh game, he urged everyone to look past the ugly completion percentage numbers while they try to understand the struggles with the pass.
There have been plenty of drops to go with the plays where protection has broken down so quickly that Brackett has to throw the ball away or has been hit as he throws. However, this alone does not cover all of Brackett’s faults. With a chance to beat Penn for the first time since the last Yankees/Orioles playoff series, Brackett and the passing game must step their game up coming out of the gate and going into the final gun. If they cannot, a four-game losing streak and calls of the same old Lions that Mangurian has so desperately tried to shoot down will greet them on Homecoming.
Sam Tydings is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a sports broadcaster for WKCR.