NEW YORK — On Friday, football scrimmaged New Jersey’s Montclair State in what head coach Al Bagnoli described as an opportunity for the coaches and players to gain valuable experience for the season ahead.
After going 8-2 in 2017, football has finally established itself atop the pecking order of the Ivy League, and will hope to stay there this season.
That 2017 team was largely led by Anders Hill, CC ’18, whose dynamic quarterback play helped Columbia to its best season in 21 years. There were certainly other important factors to consider in the team’s success last year, but stability in the quarterback position factored heavily in football’s eight victories.
Now that Hill has graduated, a new generation of Columbia signal callers will await their opportunity to take the reins, as sophomores Josh Bean and Dillon Davis have emerged as the favorites to start week one in New Britain, Connecticut versus Central Connecticut State.
Both quarterbacks had opportunities to showcase their talents in the scrimmage. Bean took the field first, and though he had been utilized primarily as a short-yardage specialist a season ago, Bagnoli and offensive coordinator Mark Fabish both praised Bean’s pocket presence and his ability to improvise.
Two years ago, Spectator’s Austin Horn wrote about a new Columbia offense largely implemented by Fabish that emphasized ball movement and tempo. A huge component of the offense’s success lies in the quarterback’s ability to read the defense on various plays.
While the scrimmage was not an ideal environment to showcase the offense—perfected by Fabish over the past three seasons—at full strength (most of the starting wide receivers did not play), Bean connected on a few throws and allowed his offensive line to create a running lane when he needed it. As a sophomore, Bean has appeared to mature, moving from a reliable running option to a passing threat.
But while Hill’s confidence in the pocket was exceedingly obvious to even the casual fan, Bean did appear nervous on a few of his throws. For example, early on, Bean had a few opportunities to connect on some long passes on seam routes up the middle. While the ball was thrown in a perfect spiral, it either sailed long, or fell short. Accuracy on these deep routes was a strength of Hill’s, particularly when he could utilize the speed of junior wide receivers Josh Wainwright and Ronald Smith.
After Bean exited, Davis took command of the offense, appearing much more comfortable in the pocket, and executing on some throws all over the field. Davis, unlike Bean, did not see regular playing time a year ago, and therefore this was the first time he could run the offense in a legitimate setting.
Of the two, Bean was the most accurate, completing eight passes in 13 attempts to Davis’ six passes in 14 attempts, but Davis threw for more yards. This was due in large part to Davis’ accuracy on longer throws, which he completed with ease.
On shorter, easier, throws, on the other hand, Davis misfired on a few opportunities. Bean had an interception and a touchdown, while Davis had neither. Both were solid at times, and either could start. Bagnoli has not yet committed to a starter, and noted that the decision would likely not be made until a few days before the team’s Sept. 15 opener.
Defensively, Columbia will need to replace Cameron Roane, CC ’18, and Lord Hyeamang, CC ’18, who were some of the Lions’ best defenders a season ago, despite the lack of statistical dominance.
Leading the unit will be fifth-year senior Landon Baty, whose meteoric rise to becoming one of the premier defenders of the Ivy League was chronicled by Spectator’s Chapman Hughes ahead of the homecoming victory against Penn a season ago. Baty did not play in the scrimmage, but his presence alone seemed to inspire the unit.
In fact, most of the starting defenders did not play; as Bagnoli noted, the team could afford to rest the players as they recuperated from various “nicks and bruises.”
Defensive coordinator Paul Ferraro’s unit was very good a season ago and should be even better this year. While the offense is likely to take a bit of a regression due to the uncertainty at the quarterback position, the defense does not appear to have any glaring holes.
As limited as the sample size was, the defense only allowed five first downs and 3.25 yards per rush. That had to make Ferraro pleased, particularly because so many starters were sitting out.
The bottom line, and primary takeaway, is that Columbia’s lineup is a deep one. This is not the football of old, and with Bagnoli at the head, this season should be a positive one for the Lions. It remains to be seen how the team, no longer an underdog, will perform under the weight of high expectations.
Look for sports editor Christopher Lopez’s analysis on Sundays after each football game this season. To read more coverage, head to columbiaspectator.com/sports/football.