A year ago, the Lions failed to snap a seven-game skid when they fell to Yale, 16-13, in a game that was dubbed the Snow Bowl. The football team’s losing streak stands at five games this time around, and the Yale team it will face is not quite the squad that tied for second in the Ivies last season.
Just last week, Yale was a front-runner for the dubious title of worst team in the Ivy League. After winning its opener against Georgetown, the Bulldogs (2-4, 1-2 Ivy) lost four straight games. They were 0-2 in conference play, having suffered a pair of blowouts at the hands of Cornell and Dartmouth, and were preparing to face a perennially competitive Penn team that was 2-0 in the Ancient Eight.
But Yale managed to pull off the upset and goes in to Saturday’s game in a three-way tie for fifth in the conference. Meanwhile, the Lions suffered their second-straight heartbreaker after once again surrendering a fourth-quarter lead, remaining winless in Ivy play.
While neither team is a heavy favorite, Columbia (1-5, 0-3 Ivy) will need to be at the top of its game in order to prevent Yale from building on its momentum thanks to its impressive win over Penn.
Stopping the run will be huge for the Lions. Yale’s average of 183.2 rushing yards per game is the second-highest in the Ivies, behind only Harvard.
“They live with that running game, there’s no doubt about it,” Columbia head coach Pete Mangurian said.
The Bulldogs boast a pair of talented running backs offensively in Mordecai Cargill and Tyler Varga. Varga has 515 rushing yards on the year, while Cargill has 323. Both average around five yards per carry.
Quarterback Eric Williams, who may or may not play on Saturday due to an injury he sustained last weekend against the Quakers, has also contributed a good deal on the ground, posting 169 rushing yards thus far. Even wide receiver Derek Russell, who has 14 carries and 70 rushing yards, has seen some action on the ground.
Largely on the strength of their ground attack, the Bulldogs boast the third-highest third-down conversion rate in the conference, as well as the third-highest scoring offense in the Ancient Eight.
But defensively Yale has had its share of problems. The Elis rank next to last in total defense, and last in scoring defense. A lot of these defensive struggles have come on the ground, as the Bulldogs have given up an average of 180.3 rushing yards per game.
If the Lions’ ground attack can get off its feet this weekend, it would provide a significant boost to the rest of the offense, especially in the wake of last Saturday’s performance. Columbia struggled to establish the run, and the offense was never able to get into a groove like it did against Penn the previous weekend.
“I don’t care what anybody says, you’ve got to keep running the ball,” Mangurian said, discussing his team’s performance against Dartmouth. “You cannot become one-dimensional. And we kept running it, and it wasn’t pretty, but the pass protection—until the two-minute drive—got better because they’ve got to play the run.”
A good game from junior running back Marcorus Garrett could be crippling to the porous Yale run defense in and of itself. And if things start clicking on the ground, it will make things easier for senior quarterback Sean Brackett, who struggled last weekend after posting his strongest performance of the year against Penn.
For the last two weeks, though, it has not been offensive execution that has ultimately doomed the Lions, but rather last-minute defensive collapses. Regardless of what happens, the Lions will need to be at the top of their game from start to finish and leave nothing on the table.
“We just need to finish the game and play like the team we want to be for all four quarters,” freshman corner Travis Reim said. “Don’t play good for one half, and then be a completely different team for the second half and just give up the game. We need to finish.”