Football: Princeton returns home to face Bears
The football team is looking for its third win of the season this Saturday against Brown. If Princeton beats the Bears, it would mark the Tigers’ (2-2 overall, 1-0 Ivy League) longest win streak since the 2006 season.
The game is especially important as the Ivy League standings currently have Princeton tied for first with Harvard and Penn. A win by Brown, who is currently tied for sixth place, would move the Tigers down at least into a four-way tie for third.
“It’s a real big game for us. We have a little streak going, so hopefully we can keep it rolling. Brown beat us really badly last year, so we’re hoping to get back at them,” sophomore tailback Will Powers said.
After uncertainty in the off-season when last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year Chuck Dibilio suffered a stroke in January, the offense is looking to keep the run game strong this week against the No. 2-ranked run defense in the Ivy League. Brown has only let up 96.2 yards per game this season and will be a good test for the combined efforts of the tailback trio of senior Akil Sharp, Powers and freshman DiAndre Atwater, who remain confident.
“We’ve got a good thing going right now with the running backs,” Powers noted.
Also finding success in the return game these past couple weeks, including a return for a touchdown by freshman cornerback Anthony Gaffney, the Tigers hope their special teams unit can make some more big plays. Princeton averages an Ivy-best 26.8 yards per kickoff return, compared to Brown’s league-worst 17.4 average yards.
“We’ve been working on kickoff returns a lot,” Powers added. “And [we’ve been] going after the punt return team as well, trying to get some [punts] blocked and good runbacks.”
The Tigers will look to continue to improve on their passing game. They are currently ranked last in the league, averaging only 157.2 yards per game, and are sixth in converting third downs.
However, the team’s main strength this season has been, and will likely continue to be, its defense. The Tigers lead the league in scoring defense, total defense, pass defense and interceptions. This is a major improvement, especially for the secondary, which finished the 2011 season last in the league, allowing 270.5 yards per game as compared to an average 208.2 yards this year.
Yet, the defense will face another test in addition to the Bears this week, battling injury as it did all last season. Sophomore cornerback Khamal Brown is currently in stable condition after suffering a head injury in practice Tuesday night, but he will miss the rest of the season.
“Khamal has made himself into such a great player and part of our defense, but he is an even better teammate and friend, and he will be very missed until he makes his recovery,” senior defensive lineman Mike Catapano said. “Our whole team and organization is rallying around him right now, and it is our job to make sure he knows that he has 100-plus brothers behind him every step of the way.”
Brown has started the past 13 games for the Tigers at cornerback and has anchored the often-shaky secondary, recording an interception against Georgetown earlier this season and leading the team to the top of Ivy League rankings in pass defense.
“I talked to Khamal yesterday, and I know we all, as well as he, have the utmost confidence in whoever will be taking the field at corner on Saturday, so I think we’ll be all right,” senior linebacker Andrew Starks said. “We have a number of other guys that will rise to the occasion in Khamal’s absence.”
Freshman Matt Arends is expected to be that replacement as the starter at cornerback this week.
The Tigers will also need to pick up their red zone defense, having failed to prevent their opponent from scoring after moving inside the red zone this season.
The Tigers take on the Bears in pursuit of their second league win and third win in a row this Saturday at noon at Princeton Stadium.
Staff writer Damir Golac