Saturday, September 29, 2012

Gaffney Electrifies the Tigers to 33-6 Rout of Columbia


BY JAY GREENBERG

NEW YORK -- As if to erase fears, two years old and fast building again, that another Princeton football season was going downhill fast, freshman Anthony Gaffney took the opening kick off at the six-yard line and headed upfield like a guy unencumbered by the past.

“We practice special teams a lot,” said Gaffney.  “And we felt we were ready for a big play. 

“I saw a lane open up and everybody held their blocks.”

Gaffney ran 94 yards down the left sideline untouched by any Columbia Lion, by consecutive 1-9 Princeton seasons, past any doubt that finally, the Tigers were going to have their day.

“Great way to start the game,” he understated.  Outrunning the last defender with his back turned to a Princeton bench going berserk with joy, Gaffney really had no idea just how great.

There remained 59:46, when much could go wrong for a team that too often has made a habit of it.  But not Saturday at Wien Stadium.  With a defense that held Columbia to only 39 yards rushing, that had two interceptions (both by Gaffney), that limited Columbia’s dangerous senior quarterback Sean Brackett to a couple of successful big first half screen pass gains that were desperate attempts to slow a relentless Princeton rush, the Tigers recorded their first win of the season with a cathartic 33-6 romp.

"It's one thing to say we can actually do it, another to go out and do it,” said Captain Mike Catapano.  “It just feels so good.

“That first play set the tone for the whole game, gets the juices going and takes some pressure off, too. Now, we can play our game.”

So far the Tigers have won just the one game they have the past three seasons, which they also had recorded by Game Three in 2010 and 2011.  One of their touchdowns was scored on the kickoff return, the other on a second touchdown pass in two weeks by holder Tom Moak (to tight end Des Smith) out of another bad Jason Tiemeier snap.

Despite the 33 points, a Tiger offense still prone to stopping itself on promising drives left on the field too many points that probably would have come back to haunt them against a better opponent. 

Then again, maybe not, considering the way a defense that held ranked Lehigh scoreless in the second half, that probably would have put away Georgetown but for a marginal roughing the passer call against Catapano on the excruciating final drive, performed here.  The Tigers played Saturday like a unit coming into full realization of just how good it can be.

Even after Coach Bob Surace called off the dogs and put in the second team, Elijah Mitchell recorded two sacks that foiled Columbia’s last possession.  The defense, that made Brackett throw under pressure all day, that forced Lion receivers into some hearing-footsteps drops, never let up.

For almost three quarters it appeared it wasn’t going to be permitted any letup, too.

The Tigers never got much running game going.  They also stopped themselves on 1) first-half drops by Shane Wilkinson and Seth DeValve, 2) on a false start, 3) on an interception at the Columbia 28 on a ball Connor Michelsen never should have thrown, one play after passing up a wide open Des Smith for a too-well covered DeValve in the end zone, and 4) a Di Andre Atwater fumble at the Columbia 23 killed another opportunity set up by the first Gaffney interception.

But behind Quinn Epperly, who replaced Michelsen after the early third-quarter interception, an 80-yard drive kept alive with a third-and-five completion to DeValve turned into the only real offensive touchdown of the day.  Roman Wilson, 10 yards behind the last defender, scored it on a 44-yard Epperly touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter.

Freshman kicker Nolan Bieck, inconsolable after missing his first three collegiate field goal attempts in the 21-20 loss to Georgetown, bounced back beautifully with a four-for-four from 34, 20, 29 and 24 yards. 

“I’ll admit for the first one I was a little shaky,” smiled Bieck.  “Once I got that first one out of the way...   

“One of the best attributes of a kicker, as they say, is a short memory.”

That also goes for long snappers.  After setting off a second “Fire!” drill in two weeks on what was supposed to be Bieck’s first attempt, (from 31) Tiemeier also fought off his yips.  One subsequent snap was a little high, but workable for Moak.  And the others were perfect, as they were to Joe Cloud for his punts, too.

“I called Jason over said ‘we’re going to need you,” said Coach Bob Surace. “ You are such a good player, take deep breaths, and settle down.  And he did.”

That would be one major anxiety the Tigers may have put behind them Saturday.  The secondary, too, seems to be a work in fast progress, which still leaves quarterback.

Not all the problems of Michelsen (11-for-19, 109 yards) were of his doing, but his first interception of the year – allowing Marquel Carter to jump a Connor Kelley sideline route -- was excusable only for the reason of the sophomore signal caller’s inexperience.

“We had a nice lead and probably were going to focus a little more on the run,” said Surace about the quarterback change.  “Quinn does such a good job on those [43 yards on six rollouts] and broke some tackles. 

“Other than the one [Michelsen interception] and one [Michelsen] threw incomplete [in the end zone with Smith wide open for a first down deep in Columbia territory] we made good decisions.”

The best one made was by a coach not hesitating to find ways to use a freshman who is the team’s best all-around athlete.  Gaffney jumped one route on one interception, was the beneficiary of a tip on the second, and had himself a day, as did all the Tigers at last.

Turns out, most of the fear of a third straight season again going very bad was in the stands, not on the bench.  “There actually were guys walking the sideline before the kickoff saying we were going to break one,” said Moak.

That said, the senior philosopher Catapano knows the difference between believing and actually doing. Nothing succeeds like success.

“I heard some of guys say at the end of the game how this feels so much better than two years ago on this field (a 42-14 Columbia route),” said Surace.  “For our seniors, there also was three years ago (a 38-0 Lion bludgeoning on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium).

“We have lost some tough games.  To get off to a good start, I thought there was a different look to our guys.

“[Assistant head coach] Steve Verbit sent me an email yesterday talking about Roger Bannister breaking the 4-minute mile.  So many years and nobody could do it and then he does and the next year [numerous other] guys break it. 

“There was a belief that started with Anthony’s kickoff return.  And then we kept shoveling, so good to see.”

TIGER TAILS

Atwater was poked in the eye on a fourth-quarter run, will be reevaluated Sunday, as will reserve guard Jack Woodall, who walked to the bus with an air cast on his foot.  . . Starting right tackle Kevin Mill was lost in the first half to what appeared to be a non-season-threatening knee injury.  “By the time the game was over, he was walking off the field faster than me,” said Surace.  . . . RB Akil Sharp, apparently not completely recovered from an ankle problem, never got on the field, yielding the starting tailback position to Will Powers (13 carries, 42 yards) . . . Joe Cloud nailed a 68-yard punt in the first quarter. . .  Tigers close the non-league portion of the schedule at Lafayette Saturday night.

Friday, September 28, 2012

It's About Time, Say Catapano, Reid


BY JAY GREENBERG

It is of little consolation to Mike Catapano that on Friday night he tossed and turned in a bed that was not entirely of his own making.

“Not too many of us slept too well, I don’t think,” said the Tiger captain.

“I mean, yeah, obviously I feel guilty about what happened.  The ref was going to make the call he was going to make.  But in my heart do I think I was really roughing the guy?”

Mike Catapano (photo by Beverly Schaefer)
Catapano, not THAT guy who would take a gratuitous shot that would put his teammates in a jackpot, was not intentionally roughing Georgetown quarterback Stephen Skon on the successfully defended third-and-three that would have gotten the Tigers off the field with 4:39 to go.  Catapano got pushed. 

Of course, the offense still would have had to make two first downs to run out the clock and, granted, all the kicking and snapping and fouling mistakes the Tigers had made earlier had left them vulnerable to the fates.  But if Princeton takes care of business against Columbia Saturday afternoon (12:30) on Robert K. Kraft Field at Lawrence A. Wien Stadium, fate will be out of business, unable to hurt Princeton at all.

“We played really well but the little things add up and they are coming back to bite us when it matters the most,” said Catapano ’13.  “That’s what it come down to.

“We were leading until the final 14 seconds so that’s the only 14 seconds that counts.   Got to figure out a way to fix the little things.  But overall I like the way we’re looking.  We’re making good strides.  We feel it, everybody around us sees it.  But it is time to start performing when it matters and getting wins.”

The Tigers outplayed 4-0 Lehigh, ranked 13th in the FCS poll, in the second half, but lost by three.  They made big plays against a very fast defense of Georgetown (2-1), probably unveiled a second freshman running back star in two years in Di Andre Atwater and still lost by one.  The Tigers may go 1-9 just like they did with Chuck Dibilio in 2011, unless they stop beating themselves.

Caraun Reid
“Every loss gets heavier and heavier,” said Caraun Reid ’13.   “It’s the worst feeling, I’ve said it a thousand times. . 

“We’re at the point we are saying enough is enough.  It’s finally time for us to reap the harvest.”

Princeton has a potentially dominant defensive line, anchored by Reid and Catapano, and a linebacker, Andrew Starks ‘13, who is running down running backs and quarterbacks like Steve Cody ’12, did before he suffered a broken leg.  The Tigers have what should be a solid offensive line, an army of good route-running receivers and plenty of depth and variety at running back, even without Dibilio, who is awaiting medical clearance to return in 2013.  They also are more athletic and experienced in the secondary, their most critical fix coming into this season.

But if it’s not one thing, it’s another.  The kicking game, which was the most reliable thing the Tigers had a year ago, broke down badly against Georgetown with poor snaps and three missed place kicks by freshman Nolan Bieck.  

“Georgetown missed three chip shots against Yale and the guy comes back and makes all three against us,” said Coach Bob Surace.  “That’s the nature of the position.

“Nolan has made a 50-yarder in practice [Tuesday], has a great leg, he just has to make one and get his confidence.

“I told him on the sideline after the second miss, we’re coming back to you, you have been doing this all your life.  You have a bad day, you come back and take another shot.

“Or, you score touchdowns.”

The Tigers have a sophomore quarterback working on the touchdown stuff.  Through two games Connor Michelsen is making the hard throws look easy and the easy throws look hard.  

“I’ve always been a very consistent passer,” Michelsen said.  “That was very unlike me (11-for-22, 143 yards in the Georgetown game).  I probably was taking the throw for granted too much, need to focus on every throw.”
Connor Michelsen (Photo by Beverly Schaefer)

The no-huddle Tigers want to play fast, but once the ball is snapped, need to have the game slow down for their young quarterback.  If that continues to happen, they should win some games.  No better time to start than Saturday against a team that impressed against Fordham a week ago and made enough mistakes (an apparent winning touchdown pass was nullified when senior quarterback Sean Brackett went over the line of scrimmage) to ultimately wind up disappointed.

Does that sound familiar?

“Which team is going to turn the corner here?”, challenged Catapano.   

The Tigers, losers by a combined four points to the teams that likely will finish 1-2 in the Patriot League, will only prove to be close to that corner if they don’t continue to trip themselves.

TIGER TAILS

INJURIES:  LB Alex Polofsky (thigh), G Max Coale (back), RB Akil Sharp and CB Khamal Brown all returned to full drills by Thursday's practice and are good to go for the game.  "The extra day after a Friday game really helps with guys who were nicked and on the bubble,” said Surace. 

LB Garrit Leicht (knee), RB Jonathan Esposito (foot) and S Jimmy von Thron (concussion) probably will still need at least another week.  

HE HAS STEPPED UP: Arguably, had LB Alex Polofsky not committed too soon on Skon before his pitchout that Dalen Claytor converted on fourth-and three on the final drive, Mike Zeuli would have had time to cut Claytor off before he turned the corner. 

Nevertheless, Surace is lauding the play of Polofsky, who in two games has 12 tackles, including one sack, while starting in Leicht’s place.  “I’m really pleased,” said the coach.  “He was going to have a role this year but for him to play just about every snap has been impressive.  He made a great play on his sack.”

THE HISTORY:  Tigers, behind 117 rushing yards by Brian Mills, held off Columbia 24-21 last year on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium for their only win of the season.  Princeton had lost the previous two meetings -- including the last visit to Baker Field 42-14 in 2010, when Brackett threw for five touchdowns – despite a 66-15-1 Tiger all-time advantage in the series.

What Princeton Must Do to Beat Columbia


BY JAY GREENBERG

1) Protect the flanks.  The big forces of the Columbia defense are ends Josh Martin and Ryan Murphy (who sometimes functions as a linebacker), a test of the Tigers’ strength in tackles Kevin Mill and Spenser Huston, plus tight end Mark Hayes.  After a struggling first half at Lehigh, protection has been adequate and holes have been opened for red zone rushing scores by Akil Sharp and Will Powers, plus an untouched 53-yard touchdown burst by freshman Di Andre Atwater.  But Mill has allowed sacks in consecutive weeks and had a false start, so there has to be more consistency.

Andrew Starsk
2) Get Into the Swing.  Sophomore Connor Michelsen, who will make his third start, has not thrown an interception and made a gorgeous deep completion to Roman Wilson against Georgetown.  Nevertheless, problems on the shorties against Georgetown were not confined to swing pass drops by Sharp and Wilson.  Michelsen had one drive-saving completion to Seth DeValve ’15 on fourth and-one in the fourth quarter, but with a plethora of possession-type receivers at his disposal and no proven deep threat, the quarterback must begin to convert more consistently.

3) It’s Not a Snap.  Heretofore reliable long snapper Jason Tiemeier had a bad game against Georgetown that he must not allow to grow into a bad season.  Center Joe Goss snapped the ball early twice on Michelsen, one damaging a red-zone opportunity, the other gift-wrapping a Hoya touchdown.  If you don’t want a sophomore quarterback and freshman kicker (Nolan Bieck) to develop debilitating issues between the ears, Princeton centers have to do a more automatic job of delivering the ball between their legs.
Greg Sotereanos

4) Pressure.  Linebacker Andrew Starks, with 16 tackles including one sack versus Georgetown, is playing like an All-Ivy candidate who can help Caraun Reid and Mike Catapano bring some serious heat.  Reid is seeing a lot of double teams, opening up opportunities for others, emergent nose tackle Greg Sotereanos included.  The more opponents have to worry about blocking these guys, the fewer receivers they can send out.  

5) Keep the Faith.  The Princeton secondary is more athletic in one spot and more tested in three others than a year ago.  Michelsen has a strong arm and with experience will prove to have a nice touch.  So, as team’s two biggest question marks mature, there is reason to believe Tigers will become a better squad as the season goes along, provided they don’t get worn down by failure.  This is a winnable game against a team that has demonstrated a lot of the same inconsistency problems as the Tigers.  Nothing will succeed like, finally, some success.



   

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Kingsbury, Sharp Probably Good to Go for Lions


BY JAY GREENBERG

None of the injuries suffered by the Tigers in the 21-20 loss to Georgetown Friday night should keep them out of Saturday’s game at Columbia (1-1).

What appeared to be a traumatic knee injury to the steady LB Tim Kingsbury was only a bruise that slowed him as the game went along.  Same with CB Khamal Brown, who had a leg problem that began to hamper him in the third quarter.  He was not on the field for Georgetown’s winning drive to a field goal, leaving two freshmen, Anthony Gaffney and Matt Arends, manning the corners.

Tim Kingsbury
RB Akil Sharp, who didn’t play in the second half because of an ankle problem, is expected to be back at starting tailback, despite the good work done by Will Powers on Princeton’s second-quarter touchdown drive, and by Di Andre Atwater on his electrifying 53-yard touchdown run in the second half.

“Akil was running on the sideline, but I didn’t think he was close enough [to be put back] into the game,” said Coach Bob Surace Sunday.  “He probably will be fine to go on Tuesday. 

“Will did an admirable job on that the drive, then had cramps. Di Andre stepped up and made some really good runs.

“I don’t even know why we list a starter, we’re going to need all those guys to continue to step up.  Akil played well against Lehigh and I don’t want to lose sight of that.  If freshmen emerge, it will take some responsibility off him and leave him fresher.  Even in games Chuck [Dibilio] ran for 150 yards last year, Akil and others were on the filed for 20 snaps.”

Middle linebacker Garrit Leicht, who was lauded by Surace for his ball hawking skills during camp, but missed the first two games with a knee problem, is expected to practice Monday.  “It will add to our depth,” said Surace.  “Alex Polofsky and Jess Patton have played very well in that spot.

“Harvard plays 20 guys on defense.”

Backup safety Jimmy von Thron still has concussion symptoms and had not been cleared to resume practicing.

ON SECOND LOOK:  Naked – and sore – eyes were hard on the killer penalties committed by Princeton Friday night, helping to ruin the upset bid.  But the video indicates that the Tigers were considerably less careless and more unfortunate than first appeared.

Mike Catapano, flagged for a third-down late hit that kept Georgetown’s winning drive alive, was pushed into quarterback Stephen Skon. The illegal block called on Taylor Pearson that called back the second of two big gain gains on shovel passes to Atwater was far from blatant on the replays.   And Anthony Gaffney had not been tackled when Elijah Mitchell’s block on a punt return was ruled a late hit.
Nolan Bieck

“I got on Elijah hard on the sideline,” said Surace.  “I’m going to apologize to him.”

Blame was mitigated, however, not eliminated.  “The officiating did not cost us the game,” said the coach.  

Indeed, the Tigers were again one play away from getting off the field on the final drive but Dalen Claytor gained the corner on a fourth-and-three.  Joe Goss’s hold on the first shovel pass to Atwater was in the open field and obvious, as was a Phil Bhaya facemask penalty.  And of course, snapping and kicking woes still played a too-large role in the Tigers’ heartbreak.

Jason Tiemeier had a bad snap on the failed extra point that followed Atwater’s 53-yard go-ahead touchdown, the field goal attempt that Tom Moak and Mark Hayes alertly turned into a first-quarter touchdown, and also one on a punt that Joe Cloud nevertheless got off.  But while Tom Moak had to reach for Tiemeier’s snap on Nolan Bieck’s field goal miss from 42 yards at the end of the half, the holder got the ball down cleanly, as he did for Bieck’s other two misses from 49 and 35 yards.
Jason Tiemeier 

“Actually Jason flinched before the snap on the extra point, something I had never seen him do before,” said Surace.  “We should have had a false start that could have saved us.

Brendan Sofen '15, who was battling with Bieck ’16 for the placekicking job until suffering a leg injury before the Lehigh game, is expected back at practice this week.

“But he hasn’t kicked in two weeks so I can’t imagine him in anything but an emergency role,” said Surace.   “[Bieck] hit the first one [from 42] well and missed only by a foot, and after that I think there was some lost trust leading to some lost technique. 

“We can rebuild that.  Nolan has started to become more consistent in practice.”

LEARNING CURVE:  Then there were the two bad exchanges between center Joe Goss and quarterback Connor Michelsen that resulted in the gift Georgetown touchdown and also caused the Tigers to come away with nothing after a fumble recovery had set them up at the Hoya 17 with 27 seconds remaining in the half.

The first snap, recovered by Georgetown Jeremy Moore in the end zone, was at Michelsen’s shoulder, not his chest, but he didn’t appear to be completely prepared for it.  And while looking over the defensive alignment, Michelsen was entirely not expecting the second. 

Kevin Mill
“The communication is on both of them,” said Surace. “That was two lost series and we have to get that fixed.”

Michelsen, who has not thrown an interception in his first two collegiate starts, made a beautiful throw beyond the linebackers and in front of the safeties on the second of two successful deep slants to Roman Wilson. But the sophomore quarterback struggled with some short passes beyond ones dropped by Sharp and Wilson on swing passes. 

“We have to make sure he is hitting a higher rate on the easier ones,” said Surace.  “I expect him to hit those 90-95 per cent of the time.

Michelsen was sacked three times, at least one of which was a coverage sack, during an unusually visible day for an offensive line.  It opened a huge hole on Atwater’s touchdown and got the job done when 10 of 12 plays during the Tigers’ 50-yard scoring drive in the first half were on the ground.

That said, right tackle Kevin Mill, the team’s most experienced and best lineman, was beaten cleanly on one sack and had a false start penalty that killed an opportunity created by the late second-period interception by Brown (Princeton’s first in six games).

“We were trying to draw them offsides [at third-and-two] and their guy flinched a little so I can see a little where Kevin was coming from, but he did false start,” said Surace.  “He’s a veteran guy, I don’t think that’s going to happen again.

“He had a clean [sack allowed] at Lehigh, too, but I expect him to shut that down.  He has a lot of pride and is a good football player.

BACK UP ON THE HORSE: “We have good leadership in our seniors, and a lot of improving, enthusiastic young guys,” said Surace about bouncing back from another fourth-quarter failure, surely the hardest one yet.  “Even when things weren’t going well, we came back and took the lead on the next series.

“But there has to be that next step, the hardest one, turning good things into wins.”







Saturday, September 22, 2012

Mistakes Kill Another Tiger Upset Bid, 21-20


BY JAY GREENBERG

Despite it all—bad snaps, missed snaps, three missed field goals, offensive line penalties that negated two huge plays, and a halting second half offense,—Princeton had a two-point lead and had Georgetown’s offense off the field. 

A third-and-three pass at the Hoyas’ 19 was successfully defended by Mike Zeuli along the sideline, and the clock was under five minutes. The lesser of Georgetown’s two bad options was a punt that would have given the Tigers a chance to run the clock out.

But Mike Catapano hit quarterback Stephen Skon late and Georgetown was given a first down and a reprieve.  The Tigers had one more chance to put it away, at fourth and three at the Princeton 48, but Dalen Claytor made the corner on a pitch for the first down, and the Hoyas, with Skon hitting Kevin Macari on consecutive slants against Anthony Gaffney, the freshman starting corner, methodically moved the ball and ran down the clock.

Matt MacZura’s kicked a 33-yard field goal and the Tigers in the stomach with 14 seconds left, sending them down to a 21-20 defeat that didn’t have to be.   

“I don’t know what it is,” said Coach Bob Surace, who has lost the first two games of this season by a total of four points, after his team was within a touchdown five times in the fourth quarter during a 1-9 2011 season. “ I’m going to have to start doing something differently in my religious life, it’s really disappointing.

“You have to make plays to win a game and we didn’t. I don’t know what happened at the end but we didn’t get them stopped.  We should have had them off the field.   And there were a million plays before that.”

The Tigers, who gave up a second-quarter touchdown on a snap that went through quarterback Connor Michelsen’s hands, who had gains of 47 and 23 yards on shovel passes to freshman Di Andre Atwater negated on offensive line penalties on Joe Goss (holding) and Taylor Pearson (illegal block), received one big fourth quarter gift—a hit out of bonds by Hoya defensive back Stephen Atwater that kept another stalled Princeton second half drive alive.

Atwater’s little brother Di Andre next broke off a 53-yard touchdown run down the sideline to put the Tiger up 20-18. But on the PAT, long snapper Jason Tiemeier made holder Tom Moak reach for the second time in the game—on the first Moak had alertly found Mark Hayes in the end zone for a touchdown—and freshman Nolan Bieck’s kick was blocked, leaving the Tigers up only two.

They had an opportunity to stretch it to five on a 60-yard drive aided by a critical Georgetown offside on fourth down, and Tiemeier’s snap was perfect that time. But Bieck missed from 35 regardless after failing from 50 and 42 earlier.

“I put [Bieck] in an adverse situation,” said Surace. “We lost trust because we didn’t snap the ball well and once we lost trust, we lost technique.

“Jason has done this for three years for us, don’t know what it was. But the ball was slipping out of his hands and it came back to hurt us.

“We didn’t have defensive offside, didn’t have false starts. Some of those holding calls they happen. But we overcame them I thought. Connor [11-for-22, 143 yards, playing every series but two] threw the ball so much better today. We were in more rhythm in the passing game.”

Atwater, getting all 15 of his carries (for 98 yards) in the second half, was impressive. So was a defense anchored by Andrew Starks (15 tackles and a sack) and Catapano (8 tackles and a sack) that didn’t allow a touchdown until Nick Campanella’s 7-yard run completed a 62-yard drive with 17 seconds remaining in the third quarter. But in the end that defense was on the field for a little too much of the game, especially after Princeton had to survive multiple mistakes to hold onto a 14-12 lead at the half.

Quick thinking by Moak on Tiemeier’s high snap as Bieck set up for a 27-yard field goal on the first Princeton possession was turned into an opportunistic touchdown as Moak found Hayes in the end zone. It went to 14-3 on a snappy 12-play 50 yard drive set up by a shanked Georgetown punt, Will Powers finishing off the drive with four straight carries, the last from the 2.

Princeton stiffened on a 15-play, 57-yard drive by the Hoyas when Khamal Brown broke up a third-down pass at the two and Georgetown settled for a 28-yard field goal. On both sides of the ball, the Tigers were playing with confidence..

But on a second-and eight at the Princeton 22, Joe Goss’s less-than-perfect snap near Michelsen’s shoulder went through the quarterback’s hands and when Powers appeared to hesitate to fall on the ball in the end zone, Jeremy Moore pounced on it for a Georgetown touchdown.

Caraun Reid preserved the two-point lead by blocking MacZura’s extra point. But after Quinn Epperly had replaced Michelsen for one series at 14-3, the Tiger offense had begun to sputter.

Two golden opportunities in the final minutes of the half were set up Princeton’s first interception in six games—by Brown—and an ill-advised attempted punt pickup by Rohan Williamson, which Spenser Huston jumped on at the Hoya 17 with 27 seconds remaining.

The Tigers came away with no points when Wilson dropped a flanker screen, Michelsen missed another snap, and Bieck’s first field goal attempt at Princeton—from 42 yards—was wide right on the final play before intermission.

Georgetown 2-1, which probably will finish 1-2 with Lehigh, last week’s Tiger vanquishers, in the Patriot League, made plenty of errors, too. But Tiemeier, who had snapped with few problems for three seasons, and Catapano, one of the team's best players relentlessly trying to will his team to a turnaround, made the killing ones.

“There’s no doubt a loss like this hurts,” said co-captain Starks.

‘We showed we have the capability of playing with teams like that. We have the capability to win games like that and I still have no doubt we will.”


Thursday, September 20, 2012

What Princeton Must Do to Beat Georgetown



BY JAY GREENBERG

1) Get defensive turnovers.  Tigers cashed one touchdown out of two muffed punts by Lehigh, but drought of interceptions reached five games (and three in last 11 contests).  Hoya quarterback Aaron Aiken threw three picks last week against Yale and has completed only 44 per cent of his throws over three games.

2) Get sacks.  Mike Catapano and Mike Zeuli were close on two big pass plays by Lehigh but earned no cigars.  So far the front seven is doing a better job against the run than rushing the quarterback, just like in 2011.

3) Play Fast and Grow Up Fast, too.  Connor Michelsen, with his first full half of college football under his belt, made a big-time throw to Roman Wilson on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter that gave Princeton a chance.  That opportunity drifted away when Michelsen badly missed an open Shane Wilkinson on third down and Tigers had to punt.  

4) Start well.  The Princeton’s offensive line earned a pass for its poor first-half by not surrendering another sack and opening 64 yards worth of holes for Akil Sharp in 12 second half carries.  Ultimately, it appeared these guys needed 30 minutes to get their legs against a team that had already played twice.  Over 60 minutes, things might be even tougher this week against a team that has allowed only 2.8 yards per carry.

5) Tebow Epperly.  Don’t know the quarterback plan for this week, but Quinn Epperly can make tacklers miss on rollouts.  He only received two series against Lehigh.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

There is More Than One Catch to This Schedule


BY JAY GREENBERG

If the Tigers’ non-conference schedule doesn’t kill their chances of having a winning season, ultimately they have to take the attitude that the three games will make them stronger.   

Lehigh, which held off a Princeton fourth-quarter comeback 17-14 Saturday, remains ranked 13th in the FCS poll.  Lafayette, which the Tigers will play in Easton, Pa. on October 6, upset Penn in the Quaker’s opener.  And Georgetown comes to Powers Field at Princeton Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday night (ESPNU) bearing no resemblance to the Hoyas that the Tigers signed up for four years ago.

“In a different way, they’re every bit as good as Lehigh,” said Coach Bob Surace about the 2-1 Hoyas, who last season recorded their first winning season (8-3) since moving into I-AA and the Patriot League in 2000.  “Lehigh is big and strong on defense; these guys are fast.”

Too fast to be an open invitation to a first win of the season.  The Tigers, trying to feel their way on offense with two sophomore quarterbacks and without a proven offensive game-breaker, have to continue to earn their way Friday night against a Hoya defense than has given up less three yards per rush, plus has a shutdown-caliber cornerback in Jeremy Moore.

Moore, who returned one of his two interceptions last week for a touchdown and recovered a fumble, may mean less for Princeton’s Roman Wilson ’14, who at Lehigh had a break out game of four receptions, a 23-yard end around, and a 2-point conversion catch.   But unless Moore is good enough to cover both sides of the field, the Tigers feel Hoya coach Kevin Kelly will have to name his poison, even if so far the poison doesn’t have a well-known name.

Until one running back, one receiver, and one quarterback steps up to star for Princeton, its depth of feeling of being close to a breakthrough, emanates from the depth at those positions.

Virtually shut down in the first half at Lehigh, Surace and offensive coordinator James Perry successfully stayed the course with running back Akil Sharp '13, leaving Will Powers only five carries, and Jonathan Esposito plus freshmen Di Andre Atwater and Dre Nelson with one carry total. Chuck Dibilio seized the workhorse role as the 2011 went along, so Sharp’s performance and durability may yet dictate the usage of all other options. 

Theoretically Wilson, probably the quickest Tiger receiver, could do the same, but his 5-11, 185-pound small frame likely will dictate otherwise.  In the absence of a Trey Peacock '11, who could stretch a defense, the more receivers the merrier.

“We decided we have six guys who can play,” said receivers coach Dennis Goldman.  “We have different groupings so all six can get in the game at different times. 

“Seth DeValve ('15) had one catch (at Lehigh) but actually had quite a few plays, about 28, whereas most of the guys had between 20 and 25.”

When DeValve’s knowledge of the position – he was a high school quarterback -- becomes nearly as big an asset as his size and speed, he could turn out to be a matchup nightmare.  Wilson has darting speed. Shane Wilkinson ’13, the reception leader with almost four per game a year ago, and Matt Costello ‘15, who made a 29-catch impact as a freshman, are both reliable route-runners and who won’t drop what’s thrown to them. 

Connor Kelley ‘15, an X factor who missed 2011 with a torn ACL, is big enough to create matchup problems in a league where tall corners are rare.  He has hands so soft they are put to use as a placekick holder and he can also block and run, all useful skills in the red zone.  Tom Moak ‘13, who wants to coach football when he graduates, already serves as Goldman’s de facto assistant, and has earned his way into the rotation. 

“We don’t have any big stars,” said Goldman.  “We have bring-your-lunch-in-brown-paper bags kinds of guys, they all work hard and pay very close attention to the technique of the position.

Alums, students, boosters, and blog writers, pay very close attention to the development of the quarterback, who will have to get better week-to-week.

“I was encouraged at Lehigh,” said Wilkinson. “I just know we’re going to get this offense fixed.”

Whether it is Michelsen or Quinn Epperly, the quarterback needs time both to throw and to develop.  When his protection got it going, so did Michelsen Saturday.

“Second half he was a whole different quarterback throwing the ball really well against a good Lehigh defense,” said Costello.  “I have a ton of confidence in him.

“I’m excited where he is going, it can only go up from here.”

The elevator holds six receivers comfortably. Costello and Wilson return kicks and other receivers cover them, which strengthens the special teams unit with first-string speed while building competition in the receiving corps and -- in the collective sense -- endurance.

“It helps to be fresh when you do get in,” said Costello.  “And we can give different looks.”

He didn’t men dirty ones at each other while waiting to get into the game.

“There is no pettiness,” said Moak.  “It’s like sis brothers working together pushing each other. 

“Everybody wants to be the guy.  One week it’s going to be Roman like it was last week, this week it could be Seth, Shane, anyone.”

The burden isn’t on Perry to quickly figure that out, rather more on Georgetown.

TIGER TALES

Middle linebacker Garrit Leicht (knee) ’15 is off crutches but did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday and therefore is doubtful for Friday night.  Alex Polofsky ’14 (“Did a good job running to the ball at Lehigh,” said Surace) remains the starter.   . .  Reserve safety Jimmy von Thron ‘15 is being evaluated for a possible stinger after a Tuesday practice collision.  Though feeling better, he wore a yellow vest at practice Wednesday and also is doubtful for the game. . .This is Princeton’s first game with Georgetown since 1923.  Georgetown has failed to score in the five meetings, but have bragging rights expired?  Probably not since Stephen Atwater, the brother of Princeton freshman running back, Di Andre, is a reserve defensive back for the Hoyas. . . Georgetown was 9-45 in its first five years under Kelly, including going winless in 2009.  “It’s a lesson for us that things will turn,” said Surace.





Monday, September 17, 2012

Tigers' Spirits, Bodies, Don't Betray Them


BY JAY GREENBERG

The Tigers, hardly beaten down by Lehigh’s dominating first half Saturday in Bethlehem, also were not beaten up.  Coach Bob Surace not only reported no injuries Sunday but hopes sophomore middle linebacker Garrit Leicht (knee) will be able to play Friday night on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium against 2-1 Georgetown.

“He came up to me on Saturday and said, ‘I’m ready to go next week.”
Garrit Leicht

“He’s a tough kid, but it’s a short week, so we’ll see.”

He Would Do it Again: After Surace decided against a chip shot field goal on a first-quarter opportunity created by Dan Freund’s recovery of Jason Suggs’ muffed punt on Saturday, Akil Sharp was snuffed on fourth down.  The Tigers wound up three points short in the 17-14 loss.

“My plan was to be conservative in most parts of the field and be aggressive in the red zone because Lehigh doesn’t give up big plays and a number of long drives would be hard against them,” said Surace.  “I felt we needed to score touchdowns and we needed just a foot.”

Sharp ’13 got the ball all four times in the series, which began at the Lehigh 16.  “We got six yards on first down,” said Surace.  “The second down (a one-yard loss) was the one that hurt us.

“Their defense was playing wide and Akil didn’t take it inside . I’m trying to stress to our guys they don’t have to feel like they have to be Superman, to take what’s there.  But there really wasn’t much there for him in the first half.

“He stuck with it and played really well in the second half (22 carries for 84 yards and two touchdowns).  Out of 22 plays, I think there were only two or three that we wished he had done something else.”

Greg Sotereanos 
Further Regrets: Just like in too many games in 2011, the Tigers stuffed the run (147 Lehigh yards) and surrendered big pass plays that set up the Mountain Hawks’ first-half scores.  

“Matt (freshman Arends) bought [quarterback Mike Colvin’s] pump fake on the double move on the first one (for 37 yards to Lee Kurfis to the Princeton five-yard line),” said Surace.  “It was a good throw under pressure (from blitzing safety Mike Zeuli '15).

“(Ryan) Spadola had the (45-yarder that set up the field goal) where we missed the tackle.  But the next play [31 yards to Josh Parria] you have to give that one to Lehigh.  That was like a Ben Roethlisberger throw (off his backfoot while in the grasp of Mike Catapano). [ Zeuli] thought [Catapano] had him and let up.

“But overall I thought our coverage was better.  The film showed (safety) Phil Bah played even better than I had thought.  We credited him with 15 tackles.”

Spenser Huston
It appeared that a Bhaya brain cramp on Colvin’s 27-yard completion to tight end Dylan Colgate on third-and-11 took away Princeton’s last chance to get the ball back.  But Surace said the safety was only following the linebackers’ call, and not a good one.  “I wasn’t the right situation to change it up,” said Surace.  “Live and learn.”

Go Figure: The statistics said Catapano and Caraun Reid had one tackle between them, (and one pass bat down credited to Catapano that should have gone to Reid). But the statistics lied about the quality of the games the two senior linemen played. 

“We had Mike with four tackles,” said Surace.  “He applied a lot of pressure, played really well.  And when we lined up Caraun on the nose, he was double teamed almost every play, which opened up things for some off the other guys.  Greg Sotereanos did a good job against the run as well.”

Sotereanos made the defensive play of the game on a third-and-inches at the Princeton 44 on Lehigh’s second possession, tackling Keith Sherman for a one-yard loss.  Lehigh chose to punt. “Really good penetration,” said Surace. “Greg is really coming along.”

So is left tackle Spenser Huston ‘15, who pulled from left tackle to open up the big hole off right tackle that freed Sharp’s 13-yard touchdown run.  “Spenser had about three really good blocks,” said Surace.

Not at the Improv:  The two series Quinn Epperly replaced Michelsen at quarterback were the planned number, according to Surace.  “Each week we’ll make decision for one or two depending upon who we are playing and their strengths," he said.  "I thought Quinn made the most of his plays at a time we really were struggling to maintain anything.”

Quick Scouting Report: “Very fast defense,” said Surace about Georgetown, which had three interceptions, one run back for a touchdown by Jeremy Moore in the 24-21 loss to Yale Saturday.  “Moore is an exceptional athlete and they really swarm.”

So will Atwaters to Powers Field at Princeton Stadium Friday night.  Princeton freshman running back DiAndre Atwater’s brother Stephen is a junior reserve defensive back for the Hoyas.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

Comeback Falls Short at Lehigh


BY JAY GREENBERG

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – There are no moral victories, Bob Surace Saturday reminded many of the same players who one year ago were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter of five Princeton losses.  In their 2012 season-opening 17-14 defeat to Lehigh, the Tigers, same as in 2011, didn’t get the stop in the end they needed, didn’t force a defensive turnover the entire game, and missed open receivers.

“As I told the guys, there are going to be good efforts,” said Surace. “For us to improve as a team it has to go beyond the good effort, to go from hanging in there to winning a game. 

“We gave ourselves a chance and we made some mistakes at the end and couldn’t get the ball back.”

Actually, the Tigers, manhandled so badly in the first half they were fortunate to be down 17-0, did get the ball back once after Akil Sharp’s second effort on a second-and-goal at the one and Connor Michelson’s 2-point conversion to a wide open Roman Wilson at the back end of the end zone cut the Lehigh lead to 17-14 with 4:54 to go.

The very highly-rated (13th) and apparently very nervous Mountain Hawks ran two timid runs for a total of three yards before Caraun Reid batted down Michael Colvin’s third-down pass at the line of scrimmage. With 3:15 left, Princeton had the ball back with enough time and enough momentum, just perhaps not enough experience at the quarterback position to get the job done.

On first down, Michelsen overthrew Seth DeValve over the middle.  On third down, the sophomore missed Shane Wilkinson badly on what would have been a first down at the Lehigh 45.  “Just missed, something I have to cut out of my game,” said Michelsen (14-for-30 for 103 yards), who played all but two Princeton series.

Surace decided to punt and the officials decided Mandela Sheaffer broke the plane of the goal line batting up in the air a ball he was attempting to down at the one.  From the 20, the Mountain Hawks, stuffed again on two runs by a Tiger defense that had been on the field far too much of the game to still be playing with such inspiration, finally had to throw on third-and-11, when it appeared safety Phil Bhaya lost tight end Dylan Colgate at the Lehigh 47 to kill Princeton’s hope.  A first down run by Colvin ate up the rest of the clock, much of the stomachs of Tiger fans still waiting for their team to make plays in the end.

That said, the Tigers had made enough of them earlier in the fourth quarter to turn around yesterday’s prognosis from dismal to intriguing.  After the offensive line was largely overrun (just 13 first-half rushing yards, and two surrendered sacks) and two lost coverages by freshmen defensive backs Matt Arends and Anthony Gaffney set up the Lehigh touchdowns by Zach Barket (5-yard) run and Keith Sherman (2-yard run), the Tigers came out in the second half looking no longer hopelessly overmatched.

Instead, they appeared like a team that needed a half to get their legs in its opener against an FCS powerhouse that already was 2-0.  A 24-yard end around to Roman Wilson sparked the Tigers first drive of the game, on the second possession of the third quarter.  Had Matt Costello been able to cradle a low, but catchable, first-down pass on a third-and-18 at the Lehigh 40, the Tigers might have had their first points then. 

“Anxiety or whatever (the last two seasons) would turn a 17-0 game into a blowout,” said Surace.  “I didn’t sense any panic this time.

“We came out in the second half and did a real good job getting some control of field position.”

The Tigers best, and maybe most important, player was punter Joe Cloud, (six for 44.3 yard average, long of 65, two downed inside the 20).  Lehigh had some drops -- even one by All-American receiver Ryan Spadola (seven catches for 102 yards) -- and eight penalties that helped keep the Tigers in the game, never mind that they didn’t get their initial first down until Michelsen hit Wilkinson with three minutes to play in the first half.

The Tigers squandered the first special teams turnover – a fumble recovery by Dan Freund  -- that set them up at the Lehigh 16 late in the first quarter.  The offensive line had no push and, when Surace decided against freshman Nolan Bieck attempting a chip-shot field goal, the fourth of four consecutive Sharp runs failed to pick up a first down.

“When you come to the sideline, you are supposed to have time to at least take a swallow of your Gatorade,” said Surace, about his overworked defense in the first half.  “But I didn’t yell (at the offense) at halftime.

“We have a young team.  In practice I’ve seen progress.  Actually I was harder on them after the game because I don’t want them to believe coming close against a very good team is good enough.”
  
Like at Harvard a year ago, when they also had seemed finished at the half, the Tigers gave it the old college try, even if it ended up being the same old story.

A first-down Michelson pass to Roman Wilson put the Tigers over midfield as the fourth quarter began and the Tigers began to feed Sharp, who ran for five, six, then 13 for the touchdown that got Princeton on the board.  

Nolan Bieck’s extra point was blocked and the Tigers, managing only one first down in the next two possessions, appeared to be finished until Lehigh’s Jason Suggs muffed a Cloud punt and Jonathan Esposito recovered at the Lehigh 28.

Sharp converted on one third down, Wilson another on a 12-yard catch that put the ball at the one, where, Sharp, on second down with second effort, took it in and Michelsen hit Wilson on that 2-point conversion like he had been doing it all his life.

Hope is a wonderful thing.  The Tigers say they never thought they were out of this one and played like it.  But at some point, preferably as early as Friday night on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium against Georgetown, Princeton has to turn belief into reality.  

Ultimately playing Hampton tough a year ago didn’t get the Tigers anything but more heartache the rest of the way.  We will only be able to look at Saturday as progress if they take the next step.

TIGER TALES

Surace, who planned all along to use both sophomore quarterbacks, on why he played Michelsen much more than Quinn Epperly:

“One of the two good things (in addition to just one penalty) I see on the stat sheet was that we didn’t turn the ball over.  I don’t want them looking over their shoulders each week.  We may have a different order in how we do it, according to how we are going to attack an opponent.  They are given specific plays they work on as they continue to progress as quarterback.”

One of nose guard Greg Sotereanos’s five solo tackles was on a third-and-inches in the first quarter, forcing Lehigh to punt . . . Safety Mike Zeuli all but got to Colvin on a blitz before his 37-yard completion to Lee Kurfis that set up the first Lehigh touchdown. . . Mike Catapano, who seemed to be in on a lot of stuff never mind his absence of an official tackle, hurried Colvin into a back-foot throw that he nevertheless managed to get to Kurfis at the 11 between Matt Arends and Zeuli.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Princeton Must Do to Beat Lehigh


BY JAY GREENBERG

1) Demonstrate from Game One that the secondary is drastically improved by limiting Lehigh’s Ryan Spadola, the best receiver the Tigers will face all season, to one big play at best.

Shane Wilkinson (photo by Beverly Schaefer)
2)  Get dominating games from Caraun Reid and Mike Catapano against a Lehigh offensive line unsettled so far by injuries and position switches.

3)  Run the ball effectively and win the time-of-possession battle against a team that can score from anywhere on the field.  

4) Turnovers always are the key, but especially so with young quarterback/quarterbacks who must effectively manage the game.  Linebackers and defensive backs were making plenty of plays on the ball in practice, now they have to do it for real.  Good as Reid and Catapano are, depth is still a big concern on the D-line, so Princeton has to get these guys off the field early a couple series each week.  Three interceptions were a poor total in 2011.


Matt Costello (photo by Beverly Schaefer) 
5) Make plays on third down and in the red zone.  There is depth of talent in the quarterback, receiving and running back corps so players will step up as the season progresses.  But to pull off an upset against a perennial playoff team -- and build belief the program is nearing a turnaround --  somebody has to show some confidence immediately. That probably starts with WR's Shane Wilkinson and Matt Costello, the closest thing to proven go-to guys the Tigers have on offense.




  


Big Cat Can't Wait to Let The Tigers Out of the Bag


BY JAY GREENBERG

Mike Catapano insists it is about time, largely because he is running out of it.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about [1-9] the last couple of years, to think about this school and the football tradition at it,” said the senior co-captain.  “And I have had it in my mind all along that I just can’t let it happen again.

Mike Catapano (photo by Beverly Schaefer)
“I really think that the seniors, all the guys, have really dedicated ourselves to changing the attitude and the work ethic.  There is a much better expectation here.  We know it and feel it, just haven’t been able to put it up when it counts.

“Two years with one win, nobody wants to do that anymore.  I think we all look into the guys’ eyes and feel like this team is going to win.  That’s what you need more than anything, a belief. We got all the talent, we work hard every day.  We’re ready to show it in the stat column and the win column.”

There would be no better place to start than in Bethlehem Saturday against 2-0 Lehigh, ranked 13th in the FCS coach’s poll, which is not nearly as high as Catapano rates the Mountain Hawks as a means to where the Tigers want to go.

”Starting off early with a great opponent is what we want to do,” he said. “You want to be the best, you’ve got to beat the best.  This game is a great way to set the tone for the season.

It did a year ago on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium, but not in a good way.  The 34-22 loss was the first of five in which the Tigers were within a touchdown early in the fourth quarter but couldn’t avoid mistakes or, in the end, get stops.

So there will be no progress credited during 2012 for playing good teams close.  Despite the loss of All-Ivy running back Chuck Dibilio for this season because of a stroke, the talent level of the Tigers continues to rise.  Next, they have to teach themselves how to win.

And that will start in Week One with a beleaguered secondary -- revamped around experience-hardened veterans Mandela Schaeffer ’13 and Khamal Brown ’15 -- demonstrating some desperately-needed improvement against the challenge of Lehigh receiver Ryan Spadola.

“He is a returning All-American, probably the best receiver in the FCS,” said Princeton Coach Bob Surace.   “Every NFL scout who stops here has just come from Lehigh so you know this guy is a really good player. 

“He really hurt us (nine catches, 214 yards, three touchdowns) last year.  His route running and body control are terrific and he has the ability at any point to take the ball in flight.  So our pass defense is going to have to face a terrific player right off the bat.

“[The secondary] has had a really good camp.  I’m happy about how we have run to the ball and tackled.  The communication back there has been spot-on.”

So has been the practice performance of a running back corps deepened by a more decisive Akil Sharp ’13, sophomores Will Powers and Jonathan Esposito, plus freshmen DiAndre Atwater and Dre Nelson.   Lehigh’s defensive strength is in its secondary, the Tigers are going to have to effectively run the ball to have a chance.

“Keeping the ball away, converting third downs will be a key,” said Surace.  “Everybody knows we lost Chuck, so how we respond to that is going to be important.”

Quinn Epperly
Asked, “Who is your quarterback?” the coach will not respond, because it is the only edge he feels he can take into an opener against a team that already has played twice.  But only the identity of the first quarterback for the first series is a mystery, not what sophomores Quinn Epperly and/or Connor Michelsen must do. Whoever emerges as the clear No. 1, it will be by limiting his mistakes while growing into a playmaker.

“There probably were only two practices where they were turnover-prone, where it looked like Bucknell (34-9 loss in Week Two in 2011), one mistake leading to another,” said Surace.   “The other practices have been really clean.  
Connor Michelsen

“It was unfair to (senior quarterback) Tommy (Wornham) last year because all the guys around him were new and he probably was trying to put too much on his own shoulders.  These [skill players] have a little bit of experience under their belt, they won’t make the route-running error or the blocking error that Tommy was beset with early in the year.”

That “little bit” of returning experience on the Princeton squad accounted for just five touchdowns in 2011, not a single interception on defense, and no field goals or points after touchdown.  Thus, as essential as will be game-in, game-out dominance from Caraun Reid and Catapano on the team’s clear greatest strength, the defensive line; a number of players from the last two promising recruiting classes will have to quickly complement 10 starting seniors and five starting juniors if the turnaround is going to start this season.  

Catapano says it will happen because it must.  He has only 10 games left.   

“I think people are going to be really surprised by us this year,” he said.  And like he said, the first -- and maybe largest -- opportunity to startle and amaze is Saturday against what probably will turn out to be the best team Princeton will play.

TIGER TAILS

Starting middle linebacker Garrit Leicht ’15 was still on crutches Thursday with a knee problem and has been ruled out for Saturday,  but there still is hope it is going to be only a one-week absence.  

“Alex (Polofsky ‘14) has rotated there all camp with Garrit and was going to play anyway, will just have to play a little more," said Surace. "It was very close between the two of them and Jess Patton (’15) has been back the last week and done really well.”

Brendan Sofen ’15 continued to wear a yellow vest at after a noticeable loss of power to his kicks as camp progressed.  The diagnosis is a tired leg, which means freshman Nolan Bieck will handle both the kickoffs and placekicking at Lehigh. 

“[Bieck’s] kickoffs are in the end zone,” said Surace.  “He is getting more accurate on placekicks, just has to keep getting more comfortable with the holder and snapper. 

“He played at a big high school (Fort Lauderdale, St. Thomas Aquinas) and had to kick some game winners for a state championship team so I think he’ll be fine with the pressure part.  It’s a new environment -- no tee, goalposts a little tighter, and every once in a while he goes a little wayward but he’ll keep getting more consistent.

“In my mind the competition will exist for three years with those two guys.  They are both good kickers who will push each other.”

Sofen did not attempt a field goal a year ago as backup to the 15-for-18 Patrick Jacob so the Tigers are losing nothing in game experience, just an option if the freshman struggles.

SILVER LINING: Since 2000, when the Tigers ended scheduling Cornell for the first game, they are 3-5 in openers against Patriot League teams, all of which had already played two games. 

“The thing it does is force us to practice well,” said Surace.  “There are no practices you can give up because they have had a lot more practices and games under their belt.  We have to be more efficient and the senior leadership has been good, setting that example. ”





Monday, September 10, 2012

No, Morrissey Doesn't Believe They are Blockheads


BY JAY GREENBERG

The Princeton offensive linemen’s best friend and worst enemy says they don’t have to read Princetontigersfootball.com to know what he really thinks of them.

“Off the field we have a really good relationship,” said Eddy Morrissey.  “I have had them to my house.”

Eddy Morrissey
There is no truth to the rumor the offensive line coach refused to cook the meat and served it as Steak Lehigh, then yelled at his guests without letup while they washed the dishes.  Never mind all the mean things the offensive line coach says to his guys, he believes that eventually not only are they going to make something of themselves in life, but beginning Saturday in Bethlehem, plenty of yards for the running back committee standing in for Chuck Dibilio.

“Never let up, I learned that a long time ago,” said Morrissey.   “They are good kids and smart kids, but they have been told how great they are all their lives so you have to constantly demand from them.

“They do respond.  It’s a good group.  I like where we’re going with it.”

Last year, in the red zone, too often these guys would go before the snap, which in turn would make Morrissey go ballistic.  It wasn’t all bad, though.  Dibilio ran for 1,092 yards and the pass protection generally was not an issue.   

Matt Allen and Kevin DeMaio have graduated, leaving right tackle Kevin Mill and tight end Mark Hayes the only senior starters.  Nevertheless, there still is starting experience at every starting position but at left guard, a job Taylor Pearson ’14 has apparently won over Jack Woodall ’15.  Left tackle Spenser Huston ’15, a potential monster, and right guard Max Coale ’14, both started the final four games last season, joining Joe Goss ’14, a two-year starter at center.

Mark Hayes (photo by Beverly Schaefer)
After working with Morrissey, any thinness of skin for this unit is not a concern Thinness of reserves, however remains a big question for a team that plays hurry-up and has been in an unfortunate rush to the training room the last few years.  So Morrissey and Head Coach Bob Surace really would like 12 good men, but for now are relieved to be starting the season with a decent nine, counting Hayes. 

Ryan Peloquin ’15 received first-unit practice time the first 10 days of camp while Goss was awaiting clearance from a summer bout with mononucleosis and Woodall gained some trust by pushing Pearson for the starting job.  Freshman Britt Colcolough, already running second string behind Mill, has eventual All-Ivy potential.

“I feel really good about our depth,” said Morrissey.  “I would like to have it shored up a little better at tackle but I like the competition going on there.

“I have just the one senior starter but still a lot of experience. If something happens to Spense, Taylor has some experience at tackle.  If something happens to Joe Goss, I can move over a guy over with some experience.  Colcolough, I’m not going to anoint him yet, but he’s coming along and has the body type you want.

“I have more depth than I’ve had since I’ve got here.  That’s not saying a lot, but it’s good. “

There is no damning with faint praise by Eddy Morrissey on a practice field, his players earn whatever morsels he throws them.  Their comfort level is his point of attack.
Joe Goss

“Taylor had a decent freshman year then I thought he took a major step back last year but he's really been good from spring through now,” said the coach.  “Spenser is really athletic, put on 35 pounds in the off-season and I’m excited about his potential.  Going against [Mike Catapano] and Caraun [Reid] every day has made him better, that’s really great for us.”

If Hayes, plagued by some ill-timed drops during an 11-catch 2011, doesn’t turn out to be the next Rob Gronkowski, Morrissey says blocking from the tight end position still be well taken care of.  Offensive Coordinator James Perry praises Hayes as “as good a blocking tight end as you can have in college football.

“I know there were moments we would like to get more productivity out of him in the passing game but we would like that across the board.,” said Perry.  “He has worked hard to do that.”

Hayes, according to Surace, never has been in better physical condition.  And the tight end unconditionally vows to catch whatever is thrown to him from now on.  

“Not confidence, concentration,” he says when asked about the problem.  ‘I was trying to run before I was sure I had made the catch.”

Hard to live with that, but to a degree it is understandable, anxious as the Tigers have become to score touchdowns.

“I think we all are sick of losing,” Hayes said.  “Everybody is flying around with more juice, everybody is having more fun in practice so that it never seems like it’s dragging on.  And more people out here know what they are doing.”

Kevin Mill (photo by Beverly Schaefer)
Essentially, that means making Akil Sharp, Will Powers, Jonathan Esposito, Di Andre Atwater and Dre Nelson look like more than just placeholders for Dibilio.

“Chuck was at his best because of his competitiveness,” said Goss.  “I’m glad to see that same quality in all our backs this year.  I don’t think we are going to lose a step.”

Big guys with fast first steps plan to see to that. 

“Without Chuck maybe it’s motivation to step up a little bit, never a bad thing,” said Mill, “but it doesn’t change our blocking scheme or the job we have to do.”

Certainly not, growls Eddie Morrissey. 

“Mill is our best guy,” said the coach. “So he’d better have a good year.”

If not, surely he will know about it.

TIGER TALES

Dibilio, taking a comparative literature course for two credits at Moravian University and pitching in as a volunteer assistant coach at his alma mater, Nazareth (Pa.) Area High School, has an early October appointment in Boston with Dr. David Greer, the neurologist who cleared Tedy Bruschi’s return to the NFL following his stroke.  Last year’s Ivy League freshman of the year, who watched practice Saturday, continues to thrive on aspirin, so far not requiring the blood thinners that would make playing a contact sport out of the question.

One doctor already has okayed Dibilio’s resumption of football.  He plans to re-enroll at Princeton next semester and has real hope of participating in spring drills.

“Everybody would feel better if they knew what caused my stroke (Bruschi had surgery on a hole in his heart),” said Dibilio.  “But they have run all the tests and some twice and it’s not likely now they ever will.”

Nevertheless, all limitations have been removed from his workouts and he appears to be in excellent physical condition.

More to Come: Our in-season coverage will be extended to three stories a week, including a game report to be posted hours after the game, a follow-up to be posted mid-day Monday and an advance, available Thursdays, on all upcoming contests.