Columbia football (2-5, 1-3 Ivy) has won two games. In neither one did the Lions score a touchdown.
On Oct. 8, Columbia outlasted Wagner, 15-13. The Lions defense conceded a mere 12 first downs and held the Seahawks scoreless after halftime. Meanwhile, the offense totaled five field goals.
Two weeks later, Columbia beat Dartmouth at home, 9-7. Again the defense proved ferocious, limiting the Big Green to one third-down conversion on 17 tries; again the offense proved anemic.
“They’ve won two games like it was 1955,” Harvard coach Tim Murphy said. “They believe that they can gobble up receivers with their man coverage. And they’re good.”
Even in the grind-and-grit world of Ivy League football, the Lions defense stands out. The team tops the Ancient Eight in passing defense (193 yards per game), and senior linebacker Gianmarco Rea leads everyone in tackles.
In four of six weeks, Columbia has held opponents to fewer than 20 points. The Lions have done so through an old-school recipe: lots of man coverage spiced with occasional blitzes.
Everyone knows how the Columbia defense will play. The sole suspense lies in how the Crimson offense will respond—and whether that response will be enough to keep Harvard (6-1, 4-0 Ivy) in first place in the Ivy League.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” said sophomore wide receiver Justice Shelton-Mosley. “They have a lot of upperclassmen now…. I thought [Jared Katz] was one of the best corners in the league last year. He’s a real good player, and he’s back.”
As fearsome as the Lions defense has proven, the offense has proven equally feckless.
Every team in the Ancient Eight averages more than 20 points a game—except Columba, which puts up 13. Harvard has posted three times as many touchdowns (27) as Columbia (nine); in fact all Ivy League competitors have at least doubled the Lions’ touchdown total.
Look only at the Lions defense, and you wonder why the team hasn’t steamrolled teams. Look only at the offense, and you wonder why Columbia hasn’t disbanded its football team.
On Saturday, when the Lions visit Harvard Stadium, the Crimson will almost certainly find the end zone. The program has scored points in 185 straight games, and in 2016 Harvard averages over 29 points a game.
Moreover, the Crimson enters this weekend with an offense that, while still tender, looks as healthy as it has since mid-October.
After missing the Holy Cross game, Shelton-Mosley grabbed 12 passes for 159 yards in the last two games. Senior quarterback Joe Viviano remains mobile, and a trio of rushers—namely junior Semar Smith, sophomore Charlie Booker, and freshman Lavance Northington—contributed to a 194-yard rushing attack.