Football: Immovable Princeton defense takes on unstoppable Harvard offense
The football team is set to face its biggest challenge of the year in its biggest game of the year when it hosts defending Ivy League champion Harvard on Saturday. The Crimson (5-0 overall, 2-0 Ivy League) has won its last 14 games, dating back to last season, and is looking to beat Princeton (3-2, 2-0) for the sixth straight time.
The Tigers are riding a winning streak of their own, albeit a smaller one at three games, making them one of three undefeated teams in conference play, along with Harvard and Penn.
If the Tigers come out of Saturday with an upset victory, they would have the best path among Ivy League teams to claim the conference title for the first time since 2006. Princeton can draw confidence from the fact that last year’s matchup was among one of the closer ones for the Tigers, as they only trailed by a field goal in the fourth quarter before surrendering two touchdowns in the final 10 minutes to the eventual conference champion.
The game’s biggest matchup pits Princeton’s defense, which ranks second in the Football Championship Subdivision in points allowed per game, against Harvard’s offense, which is ranked third in the FCS in points per game. The Tigers’ defense has looked especially good against Ivy League opponents, allowing a total of two field goals and zero touchdowns in two conference matchups so far this season.
The Tigers’ biggest challenge will be stopping Harvard’s senior quarterback Colton Chapple, who has amassed 13 passing touchdowns and five rushing scores as a dual-threat quarterback through the first half of the season. Chapple ranks seventh in the nation in combined passing and rushing yards per game.
“Harvard’s offense is one of the best offenses we’ll see all season, and they’ve been putting up big numbers,” senior linebacker Andrew Starks said. “We’re just going to have to continue to watch film, continue to study our assignments and do a good job of playing sound football.”
One key to the game will come when Harvard’s defense faces third down. A major reason the Tigers have been successful lately has been their ability to force their opponents to punt, as the Tigers have held their opponents to just over a 20-percent success rate on third downs throughout their win streak. Harvard has been excellent in these situations, however, boasting the best third-down conversion rate in the conference at 50 percent.
While the big focus of the game will be on the battle between the Crimson’s offense and the Tigers’ defense, the hosts will also have to put up points to beat such a talented opponent.
“They do have a great offense, but they also have a great defense, and it’s going to be a challenge for us,” senior receiver Shane Wilkinson said. “We have to do whatever it takes to move the ball, like last year. Whatever they’re going to give us, we’re going to take it.”
The Crimson defense has also performed well throughout the season, ranking just behind the Tigers in points and yards allowed. However, Harvard allowed 31 points to Brown in its Ivy League opener, a team that Princeton held scoreless last weekend.
The game will be shown on ESPN3 and will be Princeton’s third nationally broadcast game so far this season. It also serves as the annual homecoming matchup for the Tigers, adding even more excitement to the most meaningful game the Tigers have played under head coach Bob Surace ’90.
“I think that’s exciting,” Surace said. “You love to see the community, and the support, and the pride of the University in the program.”
Harvard and Princeton will kick off Saturday’s game at 1 p.m.
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