To head coach Pete Mangurian, the glaringly obvious issue in the football team’s 37-14 loss to Monmouth on Saturday was the offense’s utter lack of consistency.
“Literally plays that are run absolutely perfect followed by one that is almost unrecognizable. That’s the part that’s just so frustrating,” Mangurian said on Wednesday. “We don’t even string together plays where all 11 guys do exactly what they’re supposed to on every play. … That’s why sometimes it looks good, sometimes it looks absolutely awful.”
After looking back over the film, the Light Blue coaches determined that there wasn’t anything in the Monmouth game that the team had not been prepared for and hadn’t worked on during the week of practice beforehand.
“Now the next question becomes, do you have to change the way you work on it? That’s always something to think about,” Mangurian said. “But we just didn’t respond in a game situation to the things that we had practiced.”
And if there’s one spot in which that irregularity has clearly plagued the Light Blue the most, it’s the offensive line. While the five up front have been able to create some space for senior running back and co-captain Marcorus Garrett—who is averaging 8.0 yards per carry through two games—pass protection has been a blatant problem.
The Lions rank last in the league with 11 sacks allowed, five to Fordham and six to Monmouth—by far the highest total out of all the teams. The sum of sacks allowed for the other seven Ivy teams is 12.
Mangurian said that technique and communication have been problems on the offensive line and called the unit’s inconsistency “troubling.”
“Not a matter of getting overpowered, it’s a matter of getting out of position,” he said. “Not doing the little things right at times, which is a big problem and will be a big problem this week playing these guys.”
“But I’m not pleased with our overall play,” Mangurian added.
Pass protection is not just an offensive line problem, though, as plenty goes into making a precision passing game, such as the one Columbia runs, effective. Mangurian said that there were times on Saturday where sophomore quarterback Trevor McDonagh had good protection, but he either held onto the ball for too long, or the receivers weren’t getting open. When that happens, players have a tendency to ad-lib their assignments instead of running the play exactly as called.
“People start to change what they’re doing because of the moment and how things are going, and you can’t do that,” Mangurian said. “Routes run shorter, or routes run quicker—if it doesn’t fit together, it creates indecision.”
The way to work on this problem is to break down everything in the passing game during practice and then build it back up.
“You take apart the components—the protection, the reads, the routes, the technique of running them, all those kinds of things—and you work on those pieces, and you put them back together and hope that you’ve improved,” Mangurian said.
One potential bright spot on the line is first-year Kendall Pace. The rookie started at left tackle against Monmouth and figures to get the nod against Princeton on Saturday—he’s listed as the No. 1 left tackle on Columbia’s two-deep.
“He played the whole game and he had some plays that could’ve been better, but overall I thought he played well,” Mangurian said. “He’ll improve. Kendall Pace is going to be a really, really good player.”
For now, though, Mangurian is still trying to find the right combination of linemen that gives the Lions their best chance of winning a game.
“Right now it’s kind of a revolving door because nobody is putting out there the kind of performance that you could say, ‘I’m going to hang my hat on you, and you’re going to lead us to the promised land,’” Mangurian said.
“There’s no waiver wire out there,” he added. “This is who we’ve got. We’re not going to get any more.”