Coming off yet another disappointing season, it is clear that the football team must improve in many different ways in order to become relevant in the Ivy League again. The defense is looking to prove that it able to step up to the task.
Last year, the Princeton defense ranked sixth in total defense in the Ivy League. However, the team’s pass defense was the big weakness as the Tigers ranked last in the league, giving up just over 90 more yards through the air then Dartmouth’s top ranked pass defense. The rushing defense, however, is ranked third and could be even better with senior defensive linemen Mike Catapano and Caraun Reid back.
Head coach Bob Surace ‘90 mentioned during the team’s preseason press conference how improving the pass rush will be an important part of improving the pass defense.
“Watching the guys we have up front, our pass rush has been a lot better,” Surace said.
“We’ve been improving the way that we approach the pass rush — Cat [Catapano] went to the Chuck Smith camp over the summer and developed some different pass rush moves, and he looks incredible doing it,” Reid said. “We’re focusing on our different approaches to the pass rush, rather than changing anything we do schematically.”
These two players will be a huge part of improving both the pass rush and the run defense. Reid was second in the league in tackles for a loss and third in sacks last year. Catapano was a great complement to Reid on the opposite side of the defensive line, tied for eight in tackles for a loss and tied for seventh in sacks.
“When you see teams that have had success at different levels, and when you watch LSU and Alabama, those teams play. They got guys up front that are just difficult to block; the year before Auburn had that, and it made the defense a lot better,” Surace said, emphasizing the importance of a good pass rush. “It makes your life more difficult when they can get a four man rush and play zone coverage.”
In terms of Reid and Catapano specifically, Surace was confident in their ability to put pressure on opposing teams.
“You have to game plan to play those guys,” Surace said. “It’s hard when you got two because you can’t slide the line both ways.”
Surace also seemed optimistic of the team’s linebacker group, lead by senior Andrew Starks. Starks led the team in tackles last year with 80 despite missing a game. He also ranked fourth in the league in tackles per game. Another player that might be the key to an improved performance from the linebackers is sophomore Garrit Leicht.
“Our linebackers’ drops last year were not very good. Garrit Leicht has had his hands on the football more times this year than our linebackers combined in the previous two years,” Surace said. “It’s a huge step for him because in the spring the light wasn’t coming on and now that thing is on really, really bright.”
Creating turnovers was another thing that the defense really struggled with last season, creating only eight. Princeton not only ranked last in the league, but also had fewer than half as many as the next best team. If Leicht can play like he has in practice, he may be the one to solve that problem.
The last way the team hopes to improve its pass defense, Surace said, is, “Our secondary and alignments, and being able to challenge receivers.”
He also mentions that a good test for the secondary will be the first game against Lehigh.
“Right off the bat we face maybe the best receiver in FCS football [in Lehigh receiver Ryan Spadola],” Surace said.
If the defensive line and linebackers are able to successfully create more pressure on the quarterback as the team expects, then the secondary should have a much easier time being able to hold the opposing receivers at bay. The Tigers were seventh in the Ivy League in time of possession last year, meaning that an improved offense that can stay on the field longer could help out the defense by giving the players more time to rest throughout the game.
“We expect to dominate the league,” Reid said. “Last year, we came pretty close in the rushing aspect; in the passing aspect, we weren’t where we wanted to be. But everywhere, we need to improve, as a unit, we need to be more together, create more turnovers and do what Princeton defense should do.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/14/31101/