After two losses against nonconference opponents, Columbia football (0-2) will start its Ivy season in New Jersey against Princeton (1-1).
With the Light Blue scuffling offensively, head coach Pete Mangurian was specific in what he’d like to see on Saturday.
“If I had to put it in one word, I’d say precision,” Mangurian said in a phone interview on Thursday. “This game is not about being close or eight to 10 yards, or 10 to 12 yards, it’s about being 10 yards.”
“It’s being exactly where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there and being precise,” he said.
Sophomore quarterback Trevor McDonagh will get his second start for the Light Blue. Last week against Monmouth, McDonagh finished just 11 for 33, passing for 108 yards and an interception. He was sacked six times, which Mangurian said had to do not only with the offensive line’s performance but also with McDonagh holding onto the ball too long.
“You can’t wait until the guy is open. You have to throw on anticipation,” Mangurian said. “But you can’t throw on anticipation unless you have complete confidence that the guy is going to be exactly where he’s supposed to be.”
This week, the Lions will be going against a Princeton defense tied for fourth overall, third against the run, and seventh against the pass in the Ancient Eight. Mangurian said Columbia will have to use a balanced attack to keep running lanes open for senior running back and co-captain Marcorus Garrett.
Still, the Princeton defense is a physical unit that can pose issues for its opponents. One of those issues is defensive lineman Caraun Reid, who hasn’t recorded a sack yet but has a tackle for loss and two quarterback hits.
“I think they’ve got a lot of confidence, and I think they’ve got a great player. This No. 11 [Reid] is a problem,” Mangurian said. “They don’t do a lot, but they do what they do, and they do it very well.”
On offense, the Tigers are second in the league in both total and rushing offense. DiAndre Atwater and Brian Mills have split carries almost evenly at running back—22 carries to 20, respectively—while Connor Michelsen and Quinn Epperly share quarterback duties. Michelsen has thrown the ball more, going 38 for 60 with two interceptions in two games, while Epperly has thrown the ball just 14 times. Epperly rushed for four touchdowns last week in Princeton’s 50-22 drubbing of Georgetown.
Princeton may not have a marquee wide receiver, but Mangurian said the Tigers don’t necessarily need one. Armed with a big offensive line, they spread the field and play a lot of different groups of personnel.
“They’re plenty talented and plenty fast, and they’ve got so many things that they do that once you make a mistake, they’re good enough to take advantage of it,” Mangurian said. “And you have to choose whether you want to try to defend all the stuff that they do, or do you want to defend the concepts that they’re running in and not get caught up in the minutiae.”
Charged with the task of keeping Princeton off the board, the Light Blue defense has been one of the bright spots in the young season—especially the play of sophomore defensive tackle Niko Padilla. He leads the Ancient Eight with four-and-a-half tackles-for-loss, and has recorded a half-sack as well.
“Niko Padilla loves to play football, and he loves to do all of the things that it takes to be a good football player,” Mangurian said. “Defensive tackles are hard to find, and people notice it when they’re good. Princeton’s got some too. But we’re proud of Niko and the way he’s playing, and he’s going to continue to play hard for us.”
Though the team had another 48 hours before kickoff to prepare, Mangurian said he told the Lions after Thursday’s practice they were ready.
“They’ve done the work, they’ve prepared, they’ve worked hard—we’ve got to go play. We’ve got to quit worrying about what’s going to happen if we don’t play well,” Mangurian said. “We’re going to go down there and play as well as we possibly play, and I really believe if we do that, it’ll be enough.”
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Princeton Stadium.