BY JAY GREENBERG
It was in part because their running game was on the bench with leg cramps Saturday that the Tigers, with a golden opportunity to put Penn in a two-score hole midway through the fourth quarter, disastrously threw the ball into the end zone on first down.
Both Akil Sharp and Will Powers were receiving attention on the sidelines and Di Andre Atwater wasn’t dressed, leaving 5'5" Dre Nelson, who had just broken a tackle for an 18-yard run: Jonathan Esposito, who hasn’t carried the ball since the second week of the season; and Brian Mills, who hasn’t carried it all season after an aborted switch to defensive back; as the only options for grinding time off the clock while making it a two-score game.
But the Tigers had run for only 125 yards to that point while Connor Michelsen was on the way to adding 272 to the 543 for which he had thrown the previous two weeks. It’s not just because of injury that the Tigers have become a passing team but because opponents for some reason still seem to think they are a running team.
“Like Cornell, Penn was forcing us to throw and we were doing it efficiently,” said Coach Bob Surace Sunday. “It’s about the (defensive) numbers when they are playing that many guys in the box.”
The Tigers were in field-goal range. And a ten-point lead was better than a 7-point lead, of course. But Princeton already had botched two kicks, one because of a high snap by Jason Tiemeier that Tom Moak couldn’t get down, one because Tiemeier’s low velocity wobbler caused Nolan Bieck to have to hesitate in his approach, a factor in a low kick being blocked. “We have to get this fixed,” said Surace.
In the end zone, Roman Wilson was open, as he had been most of the day but Michelsen threw the ball off his back foot only as far as the goal line, where it was intercepted.
Michelsen’s other two picks in the game were both tips, as was one in Cornell, albeit that one thrown a little behind Wilson.
|Will Powers '15|
Up 19 against Brown, the Tigers shut down their passing game in the second half against Brown and were content to punt the ball because their defense was dominating. That’s not the case anymore. And with no workhorse back like Chuck Dibilio, and offensive coordinator James Perry’s play calls having produced 37 and 35 points the previous two weeks, the Tigers weighed everything.
It’s always the wrong call when it doesn’t work. But only good execution can make a call the right one.
WOUNDED TIGERS: DT Caraun Reid, who sat out Saturday with a head injury, did a walk-thru Sunday and if he doesn’t suffer any setbacks, may be a full go by midweek.
Di Andre Atwater, whose slowly healing ankle injury is a re-aggravation of an old high school injury, is not running with much burst and remains doubtful for Saturday at Yale.
Tight end Mark Hayes, who suffered an arm injury throwing a block that sprung Powers’ remarkable 30-yard touchdown reception (made two guys miss and dove for the marker), is questionable as the week begins. And RT Kevin Mills (knee) is doubtful for Yale but still possible for Dartmouth, which would be his final collegiate game.
|Caraun Reid '13|
LUCK DEPT: There were dropped balls (two uncharacteristically by Wilson), a drive-killing facemask penalty on Joe Goss and the underthrow on the game-changing interception. And the bottom line is that Penn, a loser in the statistical battle, made the plays in the end to give it the 28-21 victory and a one-half share of the Ivy League lead going into its game with Harvard Saturday.
That said, Surace didn’t think the Tigers were especially fortunate. “A swing pass off a short drop trying to beat a blitz, that’s occasionally going to be batted down, but I’ve never seen one land in the hands of a defensive lineman for a touchdown.” said the coach. “Penn had two tipped interceptions in one game, that’s something that happens every couple years.
“And I thought it was a grey area on the [Alex Polofsky] unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (that kept Penn’s winning drive alive). “He’s hustling to make the play on a guy who has a chance to make the sticks. If you look at the film, it doesn’t look like Alex could see the (dropped ball) was on the ground.
“We have to find a way to overcome, though. The bottom line is we had a chance to put a team away two weeks in a row with the ball inside the 30 and didn’t do it. We have to do a better job of decision making.”
|Roman Wilson '14|
GASOLINE RATIONING DEPT: “I’m not thinking about anything but winning the next game.” said Surace as the Tigers go for their first sweep of Harvard and Yale and therefore their first bonfire since 2006. “Although there was a picture of me in The Prince lighting one (in 1988).
“I don’t look at it like your focus is on the bonfire, I look at it like everything good will come out of beating Yale. We have to focus on getting our house in order and making the one, two or three plays we haven’t made the last two weeks and get a win.”
“I didn’t see a player out there where I can say the effort wasn’t there. Fundamentally we did good things, but just have to keep the team confident. We have a young group but I don’t think it’s a fragile one.”
Surace praised the pass rush (two sacks) in the absence of Reid, wasn’t as happy with the tackling, especially in the first half. “Too many times trying to bring (Lyle) Marsh (19 carries, 104 yards) down from the side, not head on,” said the coach. “Yale is pretty much a running team because of quarterback injuries. We have to do a better job. The draw play (that Jeff Jack took 17 yards untouched for Penn’s first touchdown) was a very good call by them, and Billy Ragone, who ran for 83 yards hurt us a few times too. On (Ragone’s untouched 17-yard winning touchdown run) our (outside contain) guy didn’t get off his block. I’ll leave it at that.”