The forward pass was legalized 101 years ago. The Bulldogs still have not caught on.
On the way to their best start in 26 years, the Elis have abandoned any semblance of a balanced offense. Of the 606 plays the Bulldogs have run this season, only 145 have been through the air. Last weekend’s game against Brown was particularly symbolic of the Bulldogs’ offensive imbalance — the Elis threw the ball only six times despite running over 70 total plays.
“It’s a nice offense to have,” Brown head coach Phil Estes said. “There’s probably not a lot of gameplan in their practices. It’s probably pretty basic. They’re going to run some stretch, some counter, and some bootleg with their quarterback. You have to try and stop it, and even if you stop one phase, you’re not going to stop every phase of it.”
Although the sloppy weather conditions against Brown prompted the Bulldogs to emphasize the run even more heavily, a strong rushing attack and a dominating defense have been the Elis’ bread and butter the entire season. The Bulldogs are averaging 306 yards rushing per game — six yards more than any Ivy League passing offense.
Most league observers would immediately point to Walter Payton Award candidate Mike McLeod ’09 in attempting to explain the Elis’ success on the ground. Although McLeod looks poised to break every meaningful Ivy League rushing record before graduating, the Bulldogs’ rushing attack has been a team effort.
Quarterback Matt Polhemus ’08 ranks fifth in the Ivies with 416 yards rushing — only 63 yards fewer than the entire Columbia rushing offense — and running backs Ricky Galvez ’10 and Jordan Farrell ’10 have been impressive coming off the bench. Galvez is ranked 10th in the Ivy League in total rushing yards, despite missing the majority of the past three games with a sprained knee.
The Elis’ backfield depth was on display against the Bears. Although McLeod picked up 151 yards on 25 carries in the first half, the cold weather aggravated the toe injury he suffered against Penn two weeks ago and forced him onto the bench for most of the final two quarters.
“It was a tough day — they were trying to ice his toe and keep it warm at the same time,” head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “What are you going to do?”
The Bulldogs more than made up for his absence. Farrell, who grew up playing in similar weather in Illinois, recorded 78 yards on 18 carries in the second half after not carrying the ball a single time in the first two quarters. Farrell also made the play of the game on an impressive 31-yard touchdown run that clinched the victory for the Bulldogs in the third quarter.
“People asked me when I was on the sideline, ‘Is this the worst conditions you’ve played in?’ and I said, ‘No,’ ” Farrell said. “When I was in my junior year [in high school], we went to the state championship game. It was colder and it was a little bit rainier. [Today] wasn’t too bad, but you could tell the kids who were from Texas and California.”
Ricky Galvez, who went to high school in Los Angeles, returned to action for the first time since spraining his knee but could not seem to find any traction on the muddy field.
“We gave Ricky the ball three times in the first half and there was a little bit of slipping and sliding,” Siedlecki said. “He’s a little guy and this isn’t his type of field to be playing on. Jordan seemed to have good balance and he was patient. He made a couple of cutbacks that were good plays, and he stayed on his feet. He wasn’t up on his toes and slipping — he ran hard and did some really good things.”
Farrell’s touchdown run came two plays after a 37-yard scamper by Polhemus was called back on a holding penalty. The senior quarterback was a threat on the ground all day, finishing the game with 17 carries for 69 yards. Not surprising, Estes pointed to Polhemus as the gamebreaker.
“I thought Polhemus was the difference in the game,” Estes said. “You try to stop a guy like McLeod or Jordan or whoever it is in the backfield, and they run a counter with the quarterback. We didn’t do a good job containing him.”
The Bulldogs will look to continue their success on the ground against Princeton on Saturday. The Tigers have given up 125.8 rushing yards per game so far this season.