Saturday, November 22, 2014

A 41-10 Loss to Dartmouth Has to be a Siren Call for 2015

BY JAY GREENBERG

In will be a long 42 weeks for Princeton to reflect on being overmatched by all three of the teams that took the Ivy League race to Week 10. But the reality is the Tigers need every working day of it.

It won’t take any re-dedication to get them back into contention for the title won outright this season by 10-0 Harvard, just more luck with injuries and more development, particularly along a young and talented defensive line. 

Expectations for 2014, mostly fueled by having an incumbent league offensive player of the year returning at quarterback, proved too high, especially considering the entire defensive front had to be replaced, but there is nothing wrong with keeping that bar elevated. Greater standards once lifted this program from a 2-18 start by this regime and it certainly can again from 5-5, but confidences have to be built and so does depth.

Perhaps only against Colgate, a non-league contest lost by a point, would one or two plays have brought the 2014 Tigers another win. Otherwise, they won the games where in talent and in record they were superior and lost the ones – like Saturday’s 41-10 defeat by Dartmouth on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium-- where they simply weren’t good enough. 
Princeton Was Able Control the Game in the First Half, But Ultimately Let it Run Away in the Second Half

“We can make all the excuses, but a 5-5 fourth place team is what we are in a really good league,” said Bob Surace. “And we have to really improve on a number of things.”

Back to the weight room the players will go the Monday after Thanksgiving while Surace hits the road recruiting and pondering what has to change.

“As we move forward and get some time to think about what we have to do better, on the list is getting our guys to be more exact,” said the coach.
The Tigers Posted A Season-Low 125 Yards Through The Air On Saturday

“You can throw all the excuses -- we were injured or there was an officials call -- but the bottom line is a lot of those explosive plays we gave up, turnovers we weren’t able to force, I didn’t get our standards up to the level needed against teams as tremendously talented as these teams.

“We played two tremendous teams in Dartmouth and Harvard and a very, very good one in Yale.”

Princeton had the weapons on both sides of the ball to play with them all a year ago. But an entire D-line graduated before a returning first-team all Ivy offensive lineman, Spenser Huston, was lost for the season; the best running back (DiAndre Atwater) missed three games; and the most dynamic downfield threat (Seth DeValve) was absent for eight while Quinn Epperly sat out three contests and limped his way through the finish line.

With no defense-stretching downfield threat, and Epperly’s run-reads compromised by his health, the offense that broke Ivy League records a year ago was reduced to bubble screens, throwbacks, quick outs and shovel passes that this season would produce five or six yards at best on most occasions. The smoke and mirrors worked a lot better when Princeton had big play threats and when well-coached athletic defenses like Harvard’s and Dartmouth’s had not had one more year of Princeton's film to study to learn not to be fooled.

“They were a little banged up up-front, too (Princeton lost starting offensive tackle Britt Colcolough in the second quarter),” said Dartmouth defensive end Evan Chrustic. “A lot of their stuff relies on people biting on fakes and stuff like that so you have to make sure all 11 guys are on the same page.”

The Big Green, which held Princeton to 228 total yards, only 125 in the air, was too smart to bite and too big, strong and quick to move.

“We obviously were compromised a lot on the offensive line against that defensive front, but it was even tougher sledding than I expected,” said Surace. “We lost the line of scrimmage today, that’s very disheartening.

“We always have had trouble with them because they are big and strong but the athleticism they showed in their pass rush the last few weeks has made them the equal, if not better than, Harvard.”

The Tigers longest pass play Saturday was a 21-yarder from Connor Michelsen to Matt Costello. The longest run was 20 yards by Joe Rhattigan.  

“We lost the battle of explosive plays week after week,” said Surace. Without DeValve and with Epperly far less than his best, Princeton needed all three downs to move the chains and nine or ten almost perfectly-executed plays to score. It was awfully tough sledding.

Surace and his staff can coach exactness for two hours of every practice and they do. But the speed to break plays on offense was gone and despite opportunities, few game-changers were made by the defense, particularly against the better offenses.

Dartmouth’s superlative quarterback, Dalyn Williams, had to lead Bo Patterson, stride for stride with Jakobi Johnson, perfectly to produce a 58-yard touchdown pass on the first possession, but once again a play wasn’t made on the ball, a year-long recurring pattern that went well beyond a nickel back like Johnson. 

On Dartmouth’s second touchdown, Ryan McManus was lost in the back end of the end zone on what appeared to be a blown coverage, after Williams had all the time he needed to inevitably break that coverage down. The first of freshman Kurt Holuba’s two sacks of Williams was one of very few this season that didn’t result from a blitz.

That was the season in nutshell: Not enough pass rush, begging too many blown coverages, leading to third down and fourth down and red zone conversions. The secondary, which returns every starter in 2015 that performed so much better in 2013, must improve on what they showed in 2014 and Surace vowed it would.

“We lost (free safety) Phil Bhaya (to graduation),” said Surace. “I probably didn’t account for that as much as I should have.

“He was tremendous getting them organized back there. We weren’t as organized back there as we should have been.

“That unit has so much pride and guts. We will get that fixed, no question in my mind.

“We knew the defensive line was going to be young. That group is going to be tremendous next year. They are such a good group of workers, my expectations are sky high for them and we will be back to the days when we were really good up front on the defensive line.”

Harvard, Dartmouth and Yale all got better this season. Princeton regressed in many areas, one of them being good fortune. The Tigers, incredibly healthy a year ago, probably were pushing their luck.

“Last year we played Yale without Varga, this year they had him and we were missing some guys,” said Surace. “You can go on and on and on but you have to find a way to overcome that.

“At the end of the day nobody wants to see excuses. Whether it’s building a deeper team or getting guys more reps from the beginning of camp, it’s all those things.”

There is a lot with which to look forward, perhaps some consolation to the seniors who at least leave with a ring on their fingers, the best memento possible for their huge roles in elevating this program to the point where 5-5 was a huge disappointment.     

“It’s emotional now because of them,” said Surace. “Guys like Mike Zeuli (16 tackles, two for losses Saturday), Quinn, (Connor) Michelsen, Connor Kelley and Will Powers and the list goes on and on, they have given their all for this program.

“For what they have given to it, the disappointment is mostly for them.”

jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com    

Thursday, November 20, 2014

What Princeton Must Do to Beat Dartmouth

1) Limit Dalyn Williams. It starts with keeping him in the pocket, not that he still won’t beat you with decision making that is as good you ever are going to see in college football. Williams’ touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio for his three seasons is better than 4-to-1. He throws a pick only once every 77 passes.

“He is so accurate, throws the deep ball well and is good in the read-run game, too,” said Bob Surace.  “He’s just exceptional.”

2) Make the Big Green fumble. Well, all the above said, that does seem like the only way Princeton can win the turnover battle.  Big Green has fumbled 15 times, but has only lost six of those. The Tigers have turned it over just 14 times -- seven interceptions, seven fumbles -- in nine games, numbers you can live with, generally, but maybe not this week. Even a couple giveaways by Princeton is going to make it that much harder to win.

3) Sweat the Small Stuff. A year ago the Tigers’ record-breaking offense could suffer a minus play as barely an inconvenience. This season Princeton needs three well-run plays to move the chains, which has virtually eliminated any margin for breakdowns or penalties. Red Zone success remains strong, but more drives are stalling on the way there.

Tyler Roth '17
As nice a guy as is directional punter Brendan Sofen, if we see him Saturday, that means the Tigers offense must have fizzed in Dartmouth territory. Princeton must finish because Williams will.

4) Run the Ball. The Big Green defense does not easily break but it does bend, so we will likely see the usual Princeton array of bubble screens, quick outs and flips. Those always are a lot harder to defend on third-and-three than on third-and-nine, and perhaps even more so this week, because Dartmouth, getting an increasingly good pass rush without blitzing, will most often drop its linebackers into coverage. Whatever the physical status of the Tigers’ running back corps is this week, Princeton has to size up.

5) Be Special. Not only did the kicking unit mishaps result in two easy scores against Yale, but both Nolan Bieck and Tyler Roth have suffered ebbing distances on kickoffs and punts. Conditions have been a factor. Forecast is for a dry, virtually windless, day and a better showing on special teams.  


jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com  

A Wired Zeuli Reaches the Wire

BY JAY GREENBERG

The next distraction that divides Mike Zeuli’s attention will be the first.

From sideline to sideline, nothing -- not a knee reconstruction, not two position switches, and certainly not blockers -- ever seemed to get in his way over four years at Princeton. Thus any reflections on his desires for finally beating Dartmouth, at last ending a season with a win, even at ending his career with a win, will wait until Sunday, before Zeuli promptly shuts those thoughts down again on Monday. That day, he and Garrit Leicht have interviews for jobs at a New York City bank.

“Four years did go fast,” Zeuli concedes. “But I’ll think about all that stuff after Saturday.”

There is only view trough the tunnel where, at 1 p.m. will run out one of the best linebackers in 146 years of Princeton football. Nothing ever has been more important to Zeuli than the next play.
Few Tigers Ever Have Possessed Zeuli's Motor

“He is a one-track-mind-type-of-guy,” says Leicht, who has shared with Zeuli the middle of Princeton’s 3-4 defense, a dorm room, and four years of helping turn the program around.  “Whatever he is into, Mike is all in.

“Sometimes he is so focused you ask him a question and he doesn’t answer. But when he relaxes, he’s all-in on that too. 

“He has the stupidest laugh. I can hear it a mile away.”

Turns out, you can hear Zeuli coming, in addition to seeing him coming, not that it has made any difference towards stopping him.

“They need two guys to block him; they call out [to watch him] but he just runs though people, refusing to be blocked,” said Jim Salgado, Princeton’s co-defensive coordinator. “It’s not like he runs the fastest 40 yard dash, but somehow, someway, he ends up making plays.”

Zeuli has 14 and one-half tackles for losses this season, four more than anyone else in the Ivy League.  Nine tackles Saturday will put him at 200 for his career and one more sack will raise his four-year total to 10. Not bad for a once 185-pound safety and still an undersized 225-pound middle linebacker. And certainly attention-calling to a likely nomination – along with incumbent winner Zach Hodges of Harvard -- for the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year.

“I haven’t seen anybody else even close,” says Princeton offensive coordinator James Perry, who watches Ivy League defenses on film for a living -- for four years a pretty good living considering he never had to game plan against Zeuli.

"He's physical, he's aggressive, he tracks the ball well," said Dartmouth Coach Buddy Teevens. "He is outstanding and I am glad he's a senior."

Somehow, Bob Surace doesn't feel the same way.

 “I have coached a lot of places, at a lot of different levels, and he matches anyone I ever have coached in intensity,” said the Princeton head coach.  “You have to limit his (practice) reps because the collisions he causes are like smashing up against a wall 40 times a game.

“One of the more fun things was watching Mike and (Yale running back) Tyler Varga (the likely runaway offensive Bushnell Cup winner) go at it Saturday. Mike had three tackles for a loss and Varga broke some too. It was two great warriors going at it.

“Mike doesn’t say four words. All he does is play. It’s such great leadership when somebody comes out with that work ethic every day.”

It was love at first sight.
Mike Zeuli '15
“On film we had liked him and when he came to camp (as a rising high school senior) he was first at everything,” said Salgado. “If there was something he didn’t know, he did everything he could to figure it out.

“I remember that day he asked me, ‘What can I do to get better?’ I said,  ‘You have to learn how to use your hands.’ I came out for the afternoon practice and he was out there alone, hitting, hitting, and hitting the sled.” 

This sort of behavior manifested itself at an early age, as one would expect. “He couldn’t stand losing at anything,” said Mike’s father Steve. After suffering his first-ever wrestling loss, Mike, age eight, stood under the bleachers refusing to go home until they got him another match and he won it.

He took the same attitude to the classroom, enrolling in Advanced Placement classes at Cherokee (Marlton, N.J) High School, competing against more gifted students and more than holding his own.

Zeuli drew interest from most of the Ivies, William and Mary (Dad’s alma mater) and a walk-on invitation at Stanford. Largely, because of his size, there were no athletic scholarship offers from BCS schools. Then again, increasing that size had never been an off-season priority because with wrestling and lacrosse on his plate, there never really was an off-season.

“I think the schools most interested realized he could put on 30-40 pounds, although I don’t know if Mike did.” said Steve.

He ultimately chose Princeton over Penn because on his visit, Zeuli liked the people both running the program and playing in it, and because Penn wanted him to play fullback (as he also did in high school) when Zeuli was a defensive guy at heart. He also thought that Princeton, coming off a 1-9 first season under Surace, might provide a chance to play sooner and indeed, during his freshman year, Zeuli got onto the field only to suffer an ACL tear against Yale.
Jim Salgado

By now, do you think anybody had to drag him to rehab? 

“Knowing the full extent of his injury, it was as bad as Adrian Peterson’s,” said Steve. “I thought he would miss his whole sophomore season.

“But Mike said, “If Peterson is going to play this year, I am going to play this year.”

And he did, earning a starting job at safety until he got too big to play there, before Zeuli got moved to Sam (outside) linebacker. After he proved too good to play there, The coaching staff decided it was a waste not to move Zeuli to inside linebacker and let him run from the middle to both sides, which he reached quickly and obsessively.

“I told our younger guys when they came to camp this year that if there is somebody you want to emulate on this team, it’s him.” said co-defensive coordinator Steve Verbit.

Zeuli says the example was set for him was by Steve Cody ’12, although nobody either at Princeton or at Cherokee remembers any role models really being required. 

“Mike is a legend at Cherokee,” said defensive co-coordinator Steve Verbit, who has been recruiting New Jersey since the 1980s. “He wants to be great fundamentalist, wants to be a great technician.

“Some people talk a good game about wanting to be a great one but won’t put in the time and effort to do the little things. Mike is willing to do absolutely everything it takes to be an outstanding player.”

He will continue doing that at the next level, if somebody lets him. It can’t hurt that two Princeton grads – defensive linemen Mike Catapano and Caraun Reid – have been drafted into the NFL the last two years, but can’t help that Zeuli does not have measurables being sought.

“Cody, before [a broken leg] was a legitimate NFL prospect,” said Verbit. “He weighed about 245 and he was fast.

“Zack Keasey (’05) got five years in the NFL after they switched him from linebacker to fullback. He was only 5-11, but he weighed 240 and benched about 430-440, so he had some freaky statistics.

“By the end of the year Dave Patterson (’96) won the Bushnell, and he weighed 186 pounds. He had the most unbelievable hip explosion, when he struck a blow it was almost like a keg of dynamite and it was hard to understand how he could do it.

“Senior year, at Penn, he [Patterson] hit the quarterback two or three feet out of bounds on their side of the field, which resulted in a personal foul, yet nobody came near him again, the ultimate sign of respect. He was a warrior, played in pain, never missed a game, but he wasn’t big enough to play in the NFL and Mike’s size is against him, too. The guys at his position are really freaky statistically in how big and strong they are nowadays and how fast they run. 

“It’s a different breed, but I would be surprised if somebody doesn't at least get Mike to mini camp next year. The scouts who have come through, I tell them, ‘You are never going to miss bringing a guy like him to camp.’ Sometimes they think if you recommend a guy as a camp player they might embarrass you, like, ‘Who recommended that guy?’ But this is the kind of guy a coach loves to have in camp. If he gets there he will be a tough cut. He may have some initial shortcomings in speed and strength but in coachability and energy level, he will be fun to have around.  

“He certainly is one of the most outstanding defensive players we have had here, no question about it.”

Steve Verbit
Zeuli says he will think about trying to play on Sundays, starting this Sunday. It’s hard to imagine him not taking a shot, but Steve Zeuli says whether his son does or not, ultimately he’ll find something else to drive him.

“Whatever is the next page in his book, he will be successful,” said Dad. “As both an observer and his father, we are extremely proud of him but we don’t tell him very often because it has to come from him. 

“He has to do what he loves. One of the last things I tell him every Friday night, is just have fun. When you are having fun, it’s a whole lot easier.”

Among those four words Surace laughs that Zeuli doesn’t say -- or among the first anyone would use to talk about him --  “easy” is not one of them. Whatever his next mania, it will not likely find him, but more likely will be hunted down like a guy with a football.

“If something matters to me, or I am given responsibility, I try to follow through as well as I can on it,” Zeuli said.  “I would say I am not as outwardly intense about school where I have to be focused and not crazy."

“But I do get super competitive in dumb stuff like video games. That’s kind of who I am. “

TIGER TAILS

Tigers are seeking their first win over the Big Green since 2009, Roger Hughes’ last game as coach. Even after a 2-18 start under Surace, Princeton is at least .500 against every other Ivy team during his era. Saturday's game will be streamed live on ESPN3/Watch ESPN. . . .Matt Costello, fourth on the all-time Princeton reception list with 148, need six to catch Chisom Opara ’03 for third. Connor Kelley, tied for eighth, needs three receptions to pass Brendan Circle ’08 for seventh.

The season ends Saturday, but coverage will continue in the coming weeks with Sunday's banquet, our annual review of the plays and players of 2014, plus Bob Surace's individual tributes to the seniors. 

jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com

Monday, November 17, 2014

The First Thing to Play For Also Is The Last

BY JAY GREENBERG

Princeton’s seniors have never beaten Dartmouth. What’s more, should Yale upset Harvard Saturday, the Tigers can deny The Big Green a share of the Ivy League title perhaps even more painfully than when Princeton’s opportunity to win it outright last year was spoiled in Week 10 at Dartmouth.

Then, too, a 6-4 season is a winning season, 5-5 only a non-losing one, a difference in more than just nomenclature. The Tigers already are assured of having gone three years without a losing season for the first time since 2004-6 but haven’t had consecutive winning ones since 2005-6. Since the program wants to build an image of ongoing success, this is one more thing to play for on Saturday, particularly for seniors playing their final games after having huge roles in the turnaround.

But Bob Surace picked apart the film of Saturday’s 44-30 loss at Yale to find better reasons than any of the above to defeat Dartmouth.

“Play our best game, that message never changes,” said the coach. “All the other distractions like senior day, or worrying about league races, none of those things should affect us.

“Our focus should be to tighten things up. We played hard Saturday, the film bore that out, but we’ve learned that just playing hard and physical isn’t always good enough. We need to be more exact. Against explosive players we can't afford to have miscommunications, like having a loss on a running play where some guys go the wrong way or giving up a big play when a defensive back slips on a double move. 

Bob Surace '90
“When we have opportunities for seven points and end up punting, at the end of the day those are the difference. A couple of times we wanted to take (downfield) shots and had pass protection breakdowns.

“We had some great (offensive line) surges where we came off the ball and got five, six, seven yards and at times had good pass protection. But it was just too inconsistent. At the end of the day we had one explosive play -- one 20-yard plus pass (to Connor Kelley) and against a team as good as Yale, that’s not good enough.

In addition to three sacks, two of which preceded Princeton punts, Yale had 10 other tackles for losses.

“Struggling to get explosive plays like we are, a negative run or a personal foul makes it more difficult to continue a drive," said Surace.  

“It’s frustrating when you go to a third-and-11, or have a good (defensive) call and get a free rusher and still don’t disrupt them enough.” 

Perfection is elusive, but it is painfully late in the season to be seeing these mistakes coming  in more than just trickles.

“You don’t want to see it any point,” said Surace. “But they are especially more bothersome because offensively we are struggling to get explosive plays.”

So, like the week following the rout by Harvard, this one will be spent sweating the small stuff. Of all the things to play for in Week 10, playing well remains No. 1.

You don’t worry about the frame before you paint the picture. And the value of the picture is all in its detail, no matter where you might seek external motivation.

“Everybody has their own chips on their shoulder,” said Surace. “For some guys it might be something you wrote in an article, or that they weren’t recruited by a certain school we are playing.

“For some guys this will be about this being their last game. But if guys need to be fired up by those things, I think their focus is on the wrong stuff. At the end of the day it has to be playing your best game to beat Dartmouth. And to do that we are going to have to play better than we did [Saturday].”

THE FIRST DETAIL.  . .

. . . in that regard is not giving Dartmouth quarterback Dalyn Williams time to pick the Tigers apart, as did Yale’s Morgan Roberts in the 44-30 loss Saturday at the Yale Bowl. A year ago Williams produced four touchdowns and a 28-24 win despite the best game defensive lineman Caraun Reid '14 ever played for Princeton. And this year the Tigers aren’t bringing that level of heat.

"Our pass rush (against Yale) was at times good,” said Surace. “But I would like to have seen us disrupt them more.

“There are way too many times where we are close and don’t get our hand up, which makes it too easy for the quarterback to throw.

"I will say when we did get to Roberts he was outstanding. There were a number of times where he just subtly slid one way or the other and then delivered the ball right on time and accurately.

"Williams will be different. He will escape the pocket. You have to not give him big areas or lanes to run the ball in.  He just makes great decisions all the time, when to throw it on time and when to scramble out.”

PREDICTABLITY DEPT

Granted, knowing what’s coming doesn’t necessarily make it stoppable, case in point being the physically compromised Quinn Epperly going six-for-six on Saturday – three of them for touchdowns -- on third-and- fourth-down short-yardage situations.

“He was gutting it out,” said Surace. “It’s amazing he is playing at the level he is.”

Quinn Epperly '15
“We played hard, a lot of guys did. Mike Zeuli (12 tackles, three for losses) was great again.”

BREAKDOWNS DEPT

Possessing Tyler Varga, the Bushnell Cup frontrunner for Offensive Player of the Year, Yale wasn’t going to totally abandon the run like Brown and Penn unsuccessfully did against Princeton. But even with Varga getting 26 touches (for 137 yards) Roberts threw for 405 yards against the Tiger secondary.  

“We’re just not consistent enough,” said Surace. “It’s like the offensive line, you can block your guy every play but you give up a sack and it’s not a good day.  

“There were too many big plays. I know we were committed to the run, had extra guys in [the box], but there were also some third downs where we were in cover two (deep) and we didn’t play as fundamentally as well as we could have.

“They ran a lot of corner routes, where we really struggled and a number of their plays were down the middle, which was also very concerning.”

The Tigers will have one final opportunity in the 2014 season to correct their form and finish the regular season victorious for the first time in the Surace Era.

jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Yale Has Too Much to Stop as Tigers Are Eliminated from the Ivy Race, 44-30

 BY JAY GREENBERG

NEW HAVEN – Maybe, just maybe, if Yale doesn’t score twice in just over three minutes as a result of two second-quarter Princeton punting misplays, the Tigers aren’t chasing the uncatchable the rest of the day.

True to the form of its solid first eight games, Saturday the Tiger rushing defense made even the best running back in the Ivy League, Tyler Varga, work 26 times for his 139 yards while Princeton was moving the ball for 386 yards and repeatedly converting in short yardage, including three times on the goalline.

In the third quarter, five yards away from a touchdown that would have pulled it to within a score, Princeton suffered a fumble off a low, but catchable, snap to Epperly, followed by Nolan Bieck’s first field goal miss in 12 attempts this season. 

So yes, there were chances and mistakes. That said, it’s hard to argue that any particular play doomed the Tigers to their 44-30 loss, not after Princeton gave up 405 passing yards -- a whopping 15 yards per completion -- and Yale wound up with 7.1 yards per every play it ran.

It might have been worse, too, but for some Bulldog drops. But it was bad enough.

“Big plays,” said Matt Arends. That’s what’s happened all season, and that’s what we have to work on.”

Arends made a big play himself, an interception that set up Princeton’s second score, producing a 14-7 first quarter lead. But it was the only turnover produced by the Tigers, who didn’t get a single sack or really much pressure all game, leaving Bulldogs repeatedly open for throws over the middle and along the sideline.

Matt Arends '16 (#7) Returned an Interception for 23 Yards Deep Into Yale Territory
A few times the ball was right there for a play and Tiger secondary members didn’t turn to make one. The end result was that on the 52nd week anniversary of a rout of Yale that clinched a share of the Ivy League title, this year’s Tigers (5-4, 4-2 Ivy) were eliminated from the race by an offense that is challenging many of the offensive records Princeton set a year ago.

“They have a very balanced attack, which makes them difficult to defend against,” said Arends. “They’ve got three very good running backs and dynamic wide receivers.”

Varga broke away only on a 30-yard third quarter touchdown run although another touchdown of his was called back on a holding penalty. But Yale completed five passes of 29 yards or more while the Tigers managed just one of more than 20, a 27-yard catch by Connor Kelley. To move into position to score four touchdowns Princeton showed ample weapons, but Yale had bigger ones, starting with Varga, who forced a lot of preoccupation by the defense that made his teammates even more dangerous.

“I watched all the games on film and this probably was the least efficient game he’s had,” said Surace. “Matt (Arends) got picked by the umpire [the official standing at the center of the defense] on the long touchdown run, maybe that would have been [just] a 10-yard gain.

“That was a pretty good job by our defense containing him. I don’t know how many times we hit him in the backfield and he still got four yards.

“Credit to him. He’s really good.”

So, even in a compromised physical state, remains Quinn Epperly, the player who likely will cede the Ivy League offensive player of the year award to Varga,

“Yeah, I’m hurting right now,” Epperly admitted. There is no overstating the amount of courage and resolve it took for him to score three touchdowns Saturday. 

The Bulldogs knew Epperly was coming on scoring runs of seven, one and six yards and still couldn’t stop him. The six-yarder he finished with five Bulldogs -- in this case turned miniature ones -- on his legs.

 “That (game by Epperly) was one of the gutsier efforts,” said Surace, who lost Di Andre Atwater again in the second quarter, punt returner Max Lescano in third, and, for a time, Connor Michelsen to a bloody nose that sent Epperly limping onto the field for another series.

Yet, understandably, he still beat himself up for the dropped snap that stalled the drive that preceded Bieck’s 29-yarder that clanked off the left upright.

“I muffed the (slightly low) snap and we left some points on the board, which makes it even more frustrating to lose when it should have been a different game,” said Epperly. “We had chances.”

In reality, the only game that the Tigers could have won Saturday was the kind that the last score wins. But that became problematic long before the dropped snap and the clank off the upright.

The Tigers were up 14-10 on James’ Frusciante’s tough touchdown catch just inside the goal line and Epperly’s 7-yard jaunt around the end (with a bulldozer block by Ryan Peloquin) when the Yale punt rush essentially collapsed the three-man wall in front of Roth. Marty Moesta got to the ball and Jaeden Graham fell on it in the end zone to put Yale ahead, 17-14.

Then, on the next series, a sack of Michelsen helped force a three-and-out, a high, but probably catchable, snap by Pat Hall went through the hands of Roth, forcing him to retreat, pick up the ball, turn, run and punt it out of bounds for just seven yards.
Connor Michelsen '15 Hung Tough in the Pocket All Afternoon
“We’ve been playing so well on special teams for the majority of the year,” lamented Surace. “That gave their offense a short field, and that’s not really how you want to play.”

With the help of a drop in the end zone by Deon Randall, Yale only got three points that time. But after Epperly’s one-yard touchdown run got Princeton back to a 27-21 deficit, the Bulldogs used the scant 59 seconds before the half to get three more, then built the lead to 37-21 when Varga ran out of Dorian Williams’ grasp to catch a 13-yard touchdown throw from Yale Quarterback Morgan Roberts early in the 3rd quarter.

Roberts was on the mark more than his 27-for-42, two touchdown and 405-yard statistical day suggested.   In just three fewer attempts, Michelsen had 202 fewer yards, which was a reflection of the difference in the weaponry at the opposing quarterbacks’ disposals, more than was any screw-ups by Princeton or lack of resolve.

“One of our keys to victory was to stop the run,” said Arends. “We came out and we were physical on the line of scrimmage so from our perspective our defense was solid.”

It won Princeton the presumed critical battle. But the Tigers could not claim the war. 

Over 23,000 Were On Site For the Final Home Game in the 100th Year Anniversary of the Yale Bowl
jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com

Thursday, November 13, 2014

What Princeton Must Do to Defeat Yale

1) Contain Tyler Varga. The Tigers have dodged him for three years because of his injuries, but their luck has expired. A monster with 18 touchdowns, averaging 6.5 yards per carry, has escaped the training room. “He is a great player having an historic year,” says Bob Surace. “I’ve never seen a guy who gets hit in the legs like this and keeps his balance so well.

“He runs mean, keeps his feet going to get extra yards and this year he has added a really good spin move in the open field. To say he is (only) going to rush for 40 yards (Saturday) is unrealistic.”

Mike Zeuli '15
The Tigers, who have held opponents to 87.9 yards per game rushing, will likely put extra guys in the box little more than usual. Yale has significant passing threats that must be heeded as well.  So the tackling, generally good through eight games, has to be better than ever, with four arms being better than two. The four-yard gain can’t turn into eight and the 12-yarder turn into 20.

2) Pressure. Young defensive line had its best game against Penn and needs better still, because quarterback Moran Roberts, a 69 per cent passer, can’t get time to hit perhaps the best wide receiver tandem – Deon Randall and Grant Wallace – Princeton will face. Tigers dare drop more guys in coverage only at the expense of Varga running wild, so corners can’t get frustrated and give up big plays while linebackers and safeties are bringing the heat. This could be a signature day for Mike Zeuli's football career if Princeton emerges from the Yale Bowl victorious.

3) Win the turnover battle. The Tigers did last week, finally.

4) Throw. Yale's defense, particularly young in the secondary, is allowing 271 yards per game passing. The Tigers passed a gut-check on their running game on the final drive against Penn and need that balance every week, but obviously the way to beat Yale is to throw the ball well. This contest will not be won in the twenties or maybe not even in the thirties.

5) Kick well. For whatever reason, Nolan Bieck’s kickoffs and Tyler Roth’s punts were short last week, negating an advantage the Tigers have had virtually every game this season. It will be better that a Yale team averaging 42.9 point per game needs to go 80 yards for a score, not 50 or 60.

Jay Greenberg

jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com





Good Hands Pass The Mantle

BY JAY GREENBERG

There will be at least 260 catches and 2905 receiving yards walking out of FitzRandolph Gate in May, plus the two quarterbacks who threw virtually all of them. Still, with two season-defining games to go, the only looking back being done by Connor Kelley and Matt Costello is for the ball.

Already they are seeing the future at their positions, which is quite the not-quite-going-away present for two top-ten receivers in the program’s 145-year history. The huge role they played in the program's turnaround, plus examples they set on the practice field and weight room already are paying Princeton football forward.
James Frusciante '17

“Comparisons have been drawn between James (Frusciante) and me at similar (sophomore) ages,” said Costello.  “It’s been kind of cool to have someone you can connect with and help guide them through their career.”

Even more than cool, it has been necessary during the absence of Seth DeValve for five of the last six weeks. Since Costello subsequently went down two weeks ago in the first quarter at Cornell and then was used sparingly against Penn, Frusciante has 11 catches.

While he was becoming a go-to guy, sophomore Trevor Osborne fought through interference at Cornell to catch a 43-yarder from Connor Michelsen. And Scott Carpenter has been good for 16 catches and a touchdown as the starting Tight End for all eight games.  

You don’t need to look in any crystal balls, only watch sophomore Chad Kanoff at practice delivering them softly and precisely to the other precocious underclassmen to see the future. 

“It is a thing of beauty,” says Carpenter about a Kanoff ball, but in the meantime it is all hands on deck, sophomores and seniors included, Saturday at Yale, where the Tigers are going to need grab yard, upon yard, upon yard to outlast a Bulldogs team challenging a few of the Ivy League offensive records the Tiger receiving corps helped establish in 2013.  

It was a season ago, really, that this legacy really began to be passed.

“Working out of the slot, I never really was called upon to do much blocking in high school,” said Frusciante. “So just getting here and being able to watch Roman Wilson (’14) all year working releases off linebackers and running great routes, I took what he did last year and tried to do it this year.”

Carpenter’s role model was Des Smith ’14.
Scott Carpenter '17
“I watched how he communicated with the offense and how calm he was, [he] could tell the tackle what he was doing,” said Carpenter. “Des understood what the call was. 

“He was at a 400 level of football whereas I’m probably at the 200 level, even after making exponential progress. You have to get to the 400 level so you can know every aspect of the defense.”

With five minutes to go last week against Penn, Carpenter knew enough to reach back and catch a Michelsen pass for nine huge yards that started Princeton’s clock-killing drive. If that ball goes to the ground, it’s second-and-ten and the Tigers’ probability of having to kick it away to the Quakers for one more chance, multiplies, well, exponentially.

“A super play, turning his body like that, a catch Scott was not making last year,” said Coach Bob Surace. 

Like his two predecessors, Smith and Mark Hayes, Carpenter won the job with his blocking, but he is a more gifted pass receiver, perhaps headed for a more featured part of the game plans then Hayes and Smith, who caught 15 and 14 balls respectively their senior seasons. 

“He has a little more natural pass receiving skills than his predecessors,” said Tight End coach Andy Aurich. “He has very good hands and can adjust to the ball well.”

So can Osborne, who fought through an interference call for that big one against Cornell, displaying his potential to not just stretch his body, but the field, an element lost with Wilson’s graduation.

“[Osborne] is not to going to time a 4.4 [40 yard dash] but he's very explosive when he runs,” said Surace.

It’s amazing how much faster you can start when you don’t have to stop and think about where you are going.

“I'm more of a once-I-get-going kind of guy,” said Osborne, who tops out at 4.6 speed. “When I have to go for the ball is when I focus full-speed ahead.

“When I run forties, I always have a little bit of a mental block, like 'Oh gosh, I have to have the right form.'  In a game, I’m just going for the ball."

It may be a little fast to declare Osborn the next Trey Peacock '11, but Costello says the bulb going off in the kid’s head can light more matches between his toes.

“You know, I think part of him maybe not being so quick off the ball is more Trevor figuring out what he has to do (after the snap),” Costello said. “Once he gets confidence in himself, he’s lights out. 

“He runs fast, and goes up and competes for balls. He is going to be a good receiver in this program for the next couple of years.”

Even more are coming. Freshman Reinaldo Maristany (5-10, 155) obviously wasn’t recruited for his bulk and Junior Isaiah Barnes (6-4, 205), who missed his freshman year with an ACL tear, is closer to gaining the coaching staff’s trust.
Wide Receivers Coach Dennis Goldman

It’s not complicated: There is a lot to learn and when you do, you play. Osborne’s performance at Cornell followed what Kelley called one of the best weeks of practice he ever had seen.

“From Day One, Frusciante has had an excellent knowledge of what to do,” said receivers coach Dennis Goldman. “He is very dependable, with excellent quickness and can catch anything.

“If there is indecision, you play slow. Trevor kind of understands what to do now, so he is playing a lot faster. He has good speed, certainly can run by a corner.

“We snap it fast, play after play; no time to stop and think. As soon as Maristany learns what to do, he’ll play more and more. Isaiah has shown he can be physical. He can block, and he is catching it better with a better understanding of what to do, so there has been some improvement.

Even out on the perimeter, if you can’t – or won’t – block you are not allowed to play Princeton football. Osborne, a safety in high school – Princeton was the only recruiter that offered him the choice of playing offense – doesn’t look at blocking as a chore, but a privilege.

“I think there is a culture among our wideouts of being physical, not being afraid, something we rely on a lot,” said Michelsen. “It starts with the seniors and has trickled down to the younger guys. They are committed to blocking, not just pass catching.

“These guys have done a great job of stepping up the last couple weeks. We’ve got a lot of talent.”

TIGER TAILS

This is the 137th meeting in the second longest running rivalry in college football (Lehigh and Lafayette will meet for the 150th time this year). Princeton has won the last two but Yale, who leads the all-time series 74-52-10, has won eight of their last 12. . . .This is the 100th year of the Yale Bowl, and the 50th meeting there between these two schools. The Tigers are 22-27 in New Haven. . .The 12:30pm game will be shown on Ivy League Digital Network and heard on WPRB (103.3 FM) and WPRB.com.

jaygreenbergsports@gmail.com