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Poor Special Teams Play Disadvantages Columbia Against Towson
Twice in Saturday’s game against Towson, the Columbia football team was able to put touchdown drives together only for the momentum to swing back to the Tigers on the ensuing kickoff. Kick coverage was an issue for the Lions in their loss on Saturday and also in their season opener, so it’s something the team will need to address before its Ivy opener on Saturday against Princeton.
On Saturday, Towson’s Hakeem Moore had two huge kick returns following Columbia’s touchdowns, one of them setting up the Tigers’ winning touchdown. In the second quarter, after the Lions’ first touchdown, Moore returned the kickoff 60 yards to the Columbia 34-yard line, and the Tigers later scored a field goal on that drive. In the fourth quarter, his 39-yard return to the Columbia 44-yard line put the Tigers in position to win the game.
The Tigers averaged 27.8 yards per return against the Lions, a number which arguably should have been larger. On the first kickoff of the game, Moore couldn’t handle the ball and had to dive on it for no gain. Discounting that botched return, the Tigers averaged 37 yards per return on their other three kickoff returns.
Week one against Fordham was worse, as the Rams averaged 31.5 yards on four return attempts. For the season, the Lions are allowing an average of 29.6 yards per return, which dwarfs their own total of 17.4 yards per return. This means that on the average kickoff that doesn’t result in a touchback, Columbia’s opponents are starting their drives about 12 yards closer to the end zone than the Lions. This fact obviously weighs heavily on how deep the kicks are getting, but in general it has held true this season that opposing teams have had better starting field position than the Lions when receiving a kickoff.
The biggest issue is either that the Lions’ kickoff team Lions is not hustling down the field fast enough or that Jon Rocholl’s kicks are getting down the field so fast that the Lions can’t keep up. Most likely it’s not just one of those factors but a combination of the two. On Saturday, Columbia elected to have Rocholl try using low squib kicks to neutralize the effect of the rain and possibly the Towson returners. That gave Towson’s return men a chance to move up, scoop up the ball in better field position, and begin the return.
Poor kick coverage has put the Light Blue at a disadvantage in terms of field position and also with respect to momentum. Fordham’s superior kick return numbers didn’t lead to any points in Columbia’s season opener, but as stated earlier, they had a big effect in the game against Towson. The shift in momentum from scoring a touchdown to defending a short field may not be on the stat sheet, but it definitely plays a role in the game and in the minds of players.
With Ivy play mere days away, the Lions will need to remedy their kick coverage issues before they hurt their standing in the Ancient Eight. Princeton may not be putting up numbers as high as those that Towson and Fordham did—the Tigers are averaging 20.1 yards per return—but if Columbia gives the Tigers the opportunity, there’s no doubt that they’ll take advantage of it.
Poor Special Teams Play Disadvantages Light Blue
By Matt Velazquez, The Columbia Spectator