All season long head coach Al Bagnoli has generally praised his group’s effort after every game, win or loss. Saturday’s loss proved to be an exception to that trend, as Bagnoli was disappointed with the effort.
While it was the first game in recent memory where Columbia did not have a player lost to injury during the game, the Lions did not produce an effort worthy of victory on any level.
There were certainly some positive takeaways, as Zachary Miller noted in his game story. The performance of first-year quarterback Ty Lenhart—the team’s fourth starter at signal caller of the year—was one such highlight in what was otherwise a difficult day for the Lions.
Ultimately, the Light Blue struggled to capitalize on numerous instances where it secured excellent field position, and while the Lions gave up three long touchdowns through the air in the first quarter, the offense’s lack of execution during numerous opportunities to score ultimately doomed the team’s shot at any sort of comeback.
Add in some crazy wind and the fact that the former Columbia defensive backs coach Jonathan Poppe—now at Harvard—helped Harvard head coach Tim Murphy break down the Lions’ personnel, and you have an all-around clunker for the Lions.
Lenhart shines amid bevy of injuries
Lenhart has been no exception to the injury trend, as he was pressed into action as the starter after missing last week’s contest due to a head injury. For a first-year, he performed admirably in difficult conditions and on the road against a veteran Harvard defense.
Outside of two poor throws that resulted in interceptions, Lenhart generally looked comfortable inside and outside of the pocket. On his lone touchdown pass of the day, Lenhart scrambled to his left and found junior wide receiver Kaleb Pitts wide open in the back of the end zone. Although it was the first passing touchdown of Lenhart’s career, he was able to use his most valuable asset to make a much-needed play: His legs.
Bagnoli has praised Lenhart as a runner all season long, remarking before the season that Lenhart was perhaps better as a runner than last year’s short-yardage quarterback sophomore Josh Bean. While the plan was only to use Lenhart as the short-yardage option, with injuries, Lenhart accrued valuable experience that will pay dividends going forward if he is ever named the full-time starter.
Lenhart’s completion percentage wasn’t great (20-for-39), but against a weaker offense, that probably gets the job done. He may have the next two weeks against Brown and Cornell to improve upon that as well, because it’s unclear as to whether Bean will return this season.
Lions win the field position battle, but cannot do anything with it
When a team loses a game 52-18, you don’t expect that they won much of anything. However, while it won’t add anything to the win column, the Lions secured tremendous field position all game long.
The Lions began drives in Harvard territory five times, and only came out with nine points. Conversely, Harvard tallied 14 points on the two drives it had that began in Columbia territory.
That… is not very good.
In the second quarter, Columbia had three straight drives start inside the Harvard 40 and scored just six points after the first drive resulted in a failed conversion on fourth down. The second drive resulted in a rare miss from senior kicker Chris Alleyne, and the third drive resulted in a touchdown, and a failed two-point conversion.
While it likely wouldn’t have made a difference, the Lions’ execution in the red zone continued to be poor. It is one thing if the team starts in its own territory and drives into the red zone and is unable to execute. But the fact that Columbia has had numerous opportunities on drives starting in opponents’ territory and has failed to score has unfortunately for the Lions prevented them from overcoming most of the Ivy League.
About the wind
Going into the game, the weather forecast was precarious. The week before, the Lions had survived a nor’easter to edge past Yale at Wien Stadium. This week, the weather was up to no good again, with swirling winds making it incredibly difficult for both teams to get anything going offensively.
In addition to garbage flying all over the field, field goal posts wobbling, and referees’ hats flying, one of the benches on the Columbia sideline nearly flew away in the wind.
It was heinous, but it was fun.
Could Jon Poppe have made a difference?
Harvard head coach Tim Murphy admitted after the game that while he did not want to take anything away from the players who won in dominant fashion on Senior day, defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator Jon Poppe helped prepare Murphy with an analysis of the personnel for Columbia.
Poppe spent the last three seasons patrolling Columbia’s sidelines as a defensive backs coach and head recruiting coordinator. Before that, Poppe was at Harvard for five seasons. The point is, Poppe knows each of these teams very well.
Poppe coached senior safeties Landon Baty and Ryan Gilbert for three years, coached junior corner Ben McKeighan for two, and sophomore corner Will Allen for one. He knew them well, could have easily helped Murphy and Harvard offensive coordinator Joel Lamb break down the opposing defense.
While this may seem conspiracy theory-esque, it is safe to say this probably wouldn’t have made a difference for Columbia in this game. The fact is the team was outplayed and outcoached, with Harvard leaving little doubt in the end that it was far and away the better team on Saturday.
The good news for the Lions is that the next two games are winnable. Brown and Cornell have spent a majority of the season dwelling near the bottom of the Ivy League standings, and Columbia has an opportunity to finish 3-4 in the Ancient Eight in a year where injuries robbed them of a chance to compete before Ivy League play even started.
For Columbia to finish 6-4 in a year with so many injuries has to be considered a win for Bagnoli and company. Then again, while the team will lose some solid senior contributors in Baty, Gilbert, senior linebacker Sean White, senior defensive lineman Mike Hinton, senior kicker Chris Alleyne and senior long snapper Patrick Eby, the team will return a majority of its players. The future is bright for the Lions, as I’ve asserted all season.
But Bagnoli, the players, coaches, and alumni alike will have to wait until next year for the search for an elusive second-ever Ivy title.
Look for sports editor Christopher Lopez’s analysis on Monday mornings after each football game this season. To read more coverage, head to columbiaspectator.com/sports/football.