With high hopes for its running backs, the football team will head to the Big Apple on Saturday in an attempt to jump-start what has so far been a season of heartbreakers. Despite falling just short in each of their first two games, the Tigers (0-2) have displayed more ability than was expected of them and have reason to believe that this weekend’s game against Columbia (1-1) could be the beginning of a turnaround.
Princeton’s only victory last year was a 24-21 win over the Lions at Princeton Stadium. True, the team held on to win in part thanks to then-freshman Chuck Dibilio, but Princeton has not done a bad job of filling the gaping hole left by last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
As always with the football team, there is a complication: Sophomore Will Powers, who played well against Georgetown, and senior Akil Sharp, who compiled solid yardage against Lehigh this season, left last week’s game with injuries. However, both are expected to play in Saturday’s game. Fans can also expect to see plenty of freshman running back DiAndre Atwater, who surprised Georgetown last week after Sharp and Powers went down. Atwater ran the Hoyas ragged with 92 yards and a touchdown in the second half, and he had two more long runs called back by penalties.
Sharp is listed as the starter on the Tigers’ depth chart, but all three will likely get their share of carries this week. “I don’t even know why we list a starter,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 told the Princeton Football Blog. The backs may be stepping up at just the right time to take advantage — Columbia gave up 250 rushing yards to Fordham tailback Carlton Koonce last week.
The Lions, too, will be looking to pound their opponent on the ground, as running back Marcorus Garrett has had well over 100 yards in both games. Princeton has allowed 134 rushing yards per game, and the defensive line, led by senior Caraun Reid, will have its hands full trying to stop Garrett from having another big day. Senior linebacker Andrew Starks has been hot so far, with a league-best 27 tackles in two games, and shows no sign of cooling down. Both he and Reid had sacks against Georgetown, but that was not enough to save a shaky secondary that has surrendered an average of 232.5 yards through the air.
A strong day on the ground will be key for the Tigers, as there are still some kinks to work out under center. Sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen has won the starting job and proved himself capable against Georgetown with 143 passing yards, but he still has a long way to go to join the ranks of the league’s elite passers. Michelsen has encountered problems that can be expected from any playcaller new to the starting job, overthrowing some receivers and taking six sacks in two games. Snapping has been an occasional issue, most notably late in the second quarter against Georgetown when an errant snap sent the ball into the end zone and the Hoyas recovered it for a difference-making score.
Surace was optimistic that both Michelsen and fellow sophomore Quinn Epperly, who received limited playing time at quarterback in each game, will continue to improve.
“It seemed that we were in rhythm more in the pass game,” Surace said after playing Georgetown. “And I expect those guys to pass the ball. We’ll work on that.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/09/28/31295/