“I would just say that [in order to win] we must work hard and limit the mistakes that we make because we’re both two very sound football teams,” freshman running back DiAndre Atwater said. “If we can get some takeaways and force them to make mistakes and prevent our takeaways and mistakes then I’m pretty sure we’ll get the win.”
The turnover battle will be a very important part of the game as the Leopards (3-1) have forced 11 interceptions compared to only three for the Tigers. However, Princeton’s quarterbacks have thrown only one interception, compared to four for Lafayette.
On offense, converting red zone opportunities to touchdowns has been an ongoing problem for the Tigers as they finished last season with only a 33 percent success rate in that regard. They have not been much better this year, improving their success rate to 42 percent — tied for sixth in the Ivy League. The good news for the Tigers is that the Leopards’ defense has been very suspect in the red zone, allowing a touchdown on all but two of their opponent red zone possessions, equating to a 78 percent conversion rate.
“I need to personally stop missing some of those throws and be more consistent,” sophomore quarterback Connor Michelsen said. “The big thing is that we need to make sure that when we’re in the red zone we score touchdowns.”
The Tigers should have an easier time finding their way into the red zone thanks to last week’s Ivy League Rookie of the Week and freshman cornerback Anthony Gaffney, who leads the Ivy League in kick-off returns, averaging just under 30 yards per return as well as having a touchdown on the opening kickoff last week. He also recorded two interceptions against Columbia, which resulted in Princeton already matching its interception total from last year with three.
“Getting the ball in better field position so consistently when we have Matt Costello running back punts giving us good position, and Anthony Gaffney returning kickoffs gives us something really good to work with as an offense,” Michelsen said. “[Also], when you have as strong of a defense as we have this year with all those guys who are so great at what they do, it gives you a little bit of confidence to know that you have this stout defense behind you. It makes you feel very comfortable and that’s great when they’re not letting up very many points, which is awesome.”
The Tigers’ defense currently leads the Ivy League in both points (14.7) and yards (315.3) allowed per game, giving the offense more and better opportunities to put up points. Last year, in contrast, Princeton surrendered 32.5 points per game, finishing the season ahead of only one other team in the conference.
“As long as the defense keeps playing as hard as they’re playing, we’re guaranteed to get them some points,” Atwater added.
Atwater has played a large role for the Tigers since filling in for injured running backs senior Akil Sharp and sophomore Will Powers. Despite playing in one fewer game and being tied with Powers for second most carries on the team, he is by far the team’s leading rusher. Although the team still plans on using all the running backs it has at its disposal, Atwater can be expected to be a major player.
“My approach hasn’t really changed just because our coach always tells us to be ready because at any moment it could be our time to go in the game like what happened against Georgetown. My approach hasn’t really changed, I just try a little harder to pay attention in practice to what their defense is going to be doing. I know now that I have a legitimate chance to make an impact in every game,” Atwater said.
The game will be Saturday at 6 p.m. and will be the last non-Ivy League matchup of the season for the Tigers. The following week, they will return home from a two-game road trip to face Brown.
“I say [this game] is huge because we’re trying to get some momentum going into Ivy League play,” Atwater said. “We’re trying to get everything clicking and start rolling on all cylinders so we can go play Brown with some momentum and some confidence and just know what we have to do to win.”
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/05/31388/