In what’s become an all-too-common narrative this season, the football team’s offense once again struggled mightily in its 21-7 Homecoming loss to Penn (3-2, 2-0 Ivy).
The numbers for Columbia (0-5, 0-2 Ivy) have been grim all year, and Saturday was no different. The Lions recorded just four first downs in the game—two passing, one rushing, and one by penalty, while the Quakers had 25. It was also the second game of the season in which the Lions failed to record a third-down conversion, as they went 0-13.
“It starts with me. I have to play more consistently,” first-year quarterback Kelly Hilinski said after the game. “I’ll get the most blame and I’ll get the most praise, and I’m taking the blame for today.”
Hilinski said that Columbia’s lack of first downs stood out to him on the scoresheet, but the raw numbers don’t even tell the entire story. The Lions recorded three of those first downs on their second and third drives in the first quarter.
They didn’t convert another until their second possession of the second half, when Hilinski drew the Quakers offside with a hard count.
“That’s not good enough,” Hilinski said of the four first downs. “And it starts with my decision-making and my play-making ability.”
On the season, Columbia has recorded just 50 first downs—an average of 10 per game—ranking last in the Ancient Eight. Penn, which ranks seventh, has 94 first downs. Princeton leads the league with 147 converted first downs—an average of 29.4 per game.
But third-down conversions have also been a glaring problem. The Lions also rank last in the conference in that category, having made just nine of 66 attempts—13.6 percent. Brown ranks seventh at 35.8 percent, and Harvard leads the Ancient Eight at 46.8 percent.
“You can’t be 0-13 on third down. Kelly jumps at four first downs, but that’s because you’re not converting on third,” Columbia head coach Pete Mangurian said Saturday. “Ten guys can’t do it right and still be successful—it doesn’t work that way. Everybody has got to do their job.”
As for Hilinski’s performance, Mangurian called the first-year a hard worker but said he did things a more experienced quarterback wouldn’t have done in his first collegiate start.
“He hit a deep ball early—a designed deep ball—and then he got enamored with the deep ball,” Mangurian said. “He doesn’t have the luxury of sitting around and watching. He’s in the fire so he’s got to do it. But I think you see glimpses of what he can be.”
“But the bottom line is, this is college football and he’s never played college football before,” Mangurian added. “And he’s going to get better. He’ll get better quick.”
Despite having many young players at skill positions on offense—first-year wide receivers Denzel Hill and Cameron Dunn were on the field for most of the offensive sets—Mangurian said that youth and inexperience can only be an excuse for so long, and that those younger players have executed plays, but everyone must become more consistent.
“It’s not like it never happens and we’re asking for something that never happens. We do it right and then we don’t do it right,” Mangurian said. “It’s not a matter of, ‘Can we?’ It’s a matter of being focused, and competitive, and disciplined, and hardened enough to do it in every situation. We’re not doing that yet.”
As the Lions head into the second half of the 2013 season, getting consistent strong play out of everyone will be key to having enough success to win games.
“Going forward, it starts with me and it goes down to the line, it goes down to the receivers—it’s a whole team,” Hilinski said. “It’s not just offense. It starts with the defense, and they played a hell of a game. So did our line, so did our receivers. But like I said, we have to make the plays when the plays are there to make.”
“I’m like everybody else. I want to win,” Mangurian said. “We’re not going to take the shortcut. We’re going to do it the right way and continue to work.”