Football will host Dartmouth this Saturday, eyeing its first Ivy win of the season and first Homecoming victory in 16 years.
The Light Blue’s (1-4, 0-2 Ivy) 35-10 loss at Penn last week was a tale of two halves, where its defense allowed just seven points in the first half, only to let Penn’s explosive passing attack score 29 points in the latter period.
In the wake of that loss, the Light Blue will face perhaps an even tougher challenge through the air in Dartmouth (3-2, 0-2 Ivy), which touts a passing attack that averages 48 more yards per game than the Quakers. Despite graduating four-year starting quarterback Dalyn Williams, junior signal-caller Jack Heneghan has stepped up to lead a high-volume Dartmouth attack.
“It’s a little bit surprising because they graduated a four-year starter, and the other guys really didn’t have a lot of snaps,” Bagnoli said. “[Heneghan] really has done a nice job in a short period of time. … It’s a little bit better than I would have thought if you would have asked me this five weeks ago.”
While Dartmouth boasts a strong passing game, its Ivy record has taken a hit so far this season, compared to that of 2015, when it finished with a share of the Ancient Eight title.
The Big Green graduated five defensive Ivy first-teamers from a unit that finished the conference season first in yards and points allowed. This season, it’s relenting 382 yards per game, over 100 more than it averaged last season.
“[Their defensive players] don’t have 500 or a thousand snaps under their belt like the other kids did,” Bagnoli said. “They’re not quite as seasoned, but they’re athletic kids. ”
In order for the Columbia offense to take advantage of the fresh faces on Dartmouth’s defense, Bagnoli notes that the offense will look to generate more big plays. That might come more easily this weekend, as first-year wide receiver Josh Wainwright returns to the gridiron after sitting out against Penn with a leg injury.
The Austin, Texas, native leads the Light Blue in receiving yards per game with 54, over 20 more than his closest competitor’s. The first-year will likely figure heavily into the game plan
given that junior quarterback Anders Hill attempted 34 passes against the Quakers, his greatest number of the season.
“We’re trying to get the ball up the field a little bit more,” Bagnoli said. “We made two or three plays that were big-play drives, and we missed two or three plays that would have been one-play drives.”
During the Light Blue’s 2015 Homecoming game, their opponent made most of the big plays, as Penn dismantled the home team 42-7. The Lions opened the game with a touchdown, but that would be their last in the eventual rout.
But their matchup against the then-undefeated Big Green last year went down to the wire, 13-9. And while the Light Blue defense held strong in Hanover to stay within one score, it couldn’t muster a score in the final moments against the top-ranked conference foe.
But Bagnoli is quick to point out that this year’s Big Green team isn’t so similar to last season’s, with a new quarterback at the helm and many fresh faces on defense.
“They were a whole different team last year,” Bagnoli said. “It’s a little bit of apples to oranges … but the common denominator is [that] they have good players.”