Dartmouth notebook: If it could go wrong vs. Lions, it did

  • Dartmouth cornerback Robert Crockett III reacts after a play during a game at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / report for america photographs — Alex Driehaus

  • Dartmouth wide receiver Paxton Scott catches the ball while Columbia linebacker CJ Brown attempts to block the pass during a game at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

  • Dartmouth quarterback Derek Kyler looks for a pass during a game at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H., on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 10/23/2021 9:54:55 PM
Modified: 10/23/2021 9:54:56 PM

HANOVER — The Dartmouth College football team was not only beaten soundly by Columbia on Friday at Memorial Field. The Big Green beat themselves as well.

The Lions played lights out all game and earned the 19-0 shutout victory. But Dartmouth did itself no favors throughout the evening, with costly mistakes sprinkled into many key moments.

Here’s a look at what went wrong for the Big Green in their first loss of the season:

Self-inflicted errors: Dartmouth committed eight penalties for 60 yards. The Big Green actually avoided any flags in the first quarter. But from the second quarter on, they committed bad penalties in critical situations.

Four of the defensive fouls gave Columbia first downs, with three coming on third or fourth down. One was an illegal formation penalty on a punt. The offense committed the other three, two of which were on the important opening drive of the second half.

Dartmouth trailed, 13-0, at that point, and a touchdown drive would’ve completely changed the game. But a clipping penalty on sophomore tight end Jace Henry put Dartmouth in a first-and-25 after a completion for a first down.

The Big Green rallied from there and faced a key third-and-3, when junior quarterback Nick Howard ran for a first down. But Dartmouth was flagged for illegal formation, which made it third-and-8. An incomplete pass and a punt ensued.

So it wasn’t only that Dartmouth committed more penalties Friday than it had in any previous game this season. It’s that five of the eight flags were game-swinging moments.

No answers for Columbia D-line: The Lions were able to get into Dartmouth’s backfield more consistently than any Big Green opponent had to date.

Columbia officially recorded one sack and two quarterback hurries. But the Lions’ pass rush forced Dartmouth fifth-year quarterback Derek Kyler out of the pocket often. Kyler is a good runner but hasn’t had to make those throws on the move very often this season.

The pressure undoubtedly impacted him, as his timing and accuracy were a bit more off than usual. Though Kyler’s 194 passing yards were his second-most of the season, that figure is largely owed to increased volume because of the game situation. His 45 pass attempts were also a season high, far eclipsing the previous mark of 29. And he completed 53.5% of his passes, a season low. He also threw his first interception of the season.

Columbia defensive lineman Mitch Moyer said after the game that pass rush was a key aspect of his team’s game plan.

“Kyler, he’s a heck of a quarterback. Great completion percentage, makes high-percentage throws, is really accurate and makes smart decisions with the ball. So we knew in order to win, we’d have to pressure him, make him uncomfortable, make him scramble a little bit. And try to make him do things he’s not necessarily comfortable with,” Moyer said.

The Lions also bottled up Dartmouth’s rushing attack. This wasn’t the first time the Big Green have struggled in the run game upon which they lean — Yale also limited Dartmouth’s runners. But their outputs were even lower against Columbia.

Howard led Dartmouth in rushing with 23 yards. Kyler picked up 13. Senior running back Zack Bair added 11 yards on just two carries, and junior back Noah Roper chipped in eight yards on three carries.

The Lions consistently closed any lanes for Dartmouth runners. They had nowhere to go. And it forced Dartmouth into more obvious passing situations.

Offensive strategy didn’t work: Dartmouth’s offense is normally reliant on its ground game. The rushing numbers were down on Friday, but the Big Green seemed to abandon what had worked well for much of the season even before the game situation required it.

The running backs, Bair and Roper, combined for five total carries — by far the fewest for Dartmouth running backs this season. Before Friday, the lowest number was 16 running back carries against Sacred Heart.

Bair missed the previous game at New Hampshire and didn’t practice much during the week, so his smaller role is understandable, but Roper rushed for over 100 yards with Bair out. Dartmouth began throwing more, and calling gimmick running plays for wide receivers, earlier than normal on Friday.

Kyler is typically capable of leading drives through the air. Dartmouth’s short-pass game was very effective in the first half of the season. And Columbia’s secondary did well to mostly shut it down.

But the reluctance to make intermediate or deep throws hurt Dartmouth on many occasions. Kyler was almost always looking for the short option on third downs, and those receivers were often short of the sticks. The Big Green ran 13 third-down pass plays, and just three of them were completed for first downs. Three were completed short of the line to gain.

This wasn’t anything new for the Big Green. They consistently throw short of the stick on third down and rely on the pass-catchers to pick up yards after the catch to get a first down.

The strategy had worked out so far this season, but it leaves little to lean on when a defense shuts down runs and short throws as well as Columbia did.

“It’s hard to believe that’s what we put on the field tonight,” head coach Buddy Teevens said after the game. “It was a bad performance, and we’re better than that. But I don’t take anything away from Columbia. They played hard, they played consistently, they did not make mistakes. I give credit to the coaching staff. Those guys outplayed us from start to finish, period.”

“They outcoached us, too.”

Seth Tow can be reached at stow@vnews.com.




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