Coming off its biggest win in the tenure of head coach Bob Surace ’90, the football team (4-2 overall, 3-0 Ivy League) will put its undefeated Ivy League record on the line against Cornell (3-3, 1-2) this Saturday in Ithaca, N.Y.
Princeton, which stands alone atop the Ivy League for the first time in over half a decade, will look to carry over momentum from last week’s huge comeback victory at home against Harvard. The thriller saw the Tigers storm back to put 29 unanswered points on the board in the final 12 minutes of the game to overcome a 20-0 halftime deficit.
Sophomore quarterbacks Connor Michelsen and Quinn Epperly combined for 287 yards and four touchdowns in a breakout performance for the passing game. They distributed the ball well, with eight different players catching passes. The receivers, led by junior Roman Wilson, who was on the end of Epperly’s game-winning 36-yard bomb, will try to continue their strong play against a Cornell secondary that has struggled to contain passing offenses so far this year. The Big Red has given up 275.5 passing yards per game, placing them last in the conference.
The Tigers are currently riding a four-game win streak, their longest stretch without a loss since the 2006 season. Their only loss that season came at the hands of Cornell in a 14-7 heartbreaker. Princeton will attempt to avoid falling prey to Cornell in a trap game, as they did that Ivy League championship season.
Despite having a losing conference record, the Big Red should present a stiff challenge for Prince -ton. Cornell, led by quarterback Jeff Mathews, boasts one of the league’s most potent passing attacks. Mathews is fourth in the nation — and leads the Ivy League — with 354 passing yards per game.
Mathews’ favorite target, wide receiver Luke Tasker, has dominated defensive backfields this year, posting 134 receiving yards per game on an average of 8.7 receptions. These numbers are good for second and fourth in the nation, respectively, and lead all Ivy League pass catchers by a wide margin.
Before facing Harvard, Princeton’s defense was stifling, holding opposing offenses to 94.4 rushing yards per game and 211.6 passing yards per game in the first half of the season. However, its secondary struggled to keep up with Harvard’s offense, as Crimson quarterback Colton Chapple picked apart the Tigers’ defense for 448 yards and five touchdowns. He added 82 yards on the ground, to go along with Treavor Scales’ 104 rushing yards.
“It seemed, every third down, we were an inch away,” Surace said after the game. “We just couldn’t get that stop and get off the field.”
All eyes will be on the Tigers’ back seven this week, as freshman cornerbacks Anthony Gaffney and Matt Arends try to lock down the Big Red receivers. Gaffney currently leads the Ivy League with three interceptions and he will have to capitalize on any errant throws from Mathews, who has tossed six picks this season.
Cornell is currently last in the league with a paltry 50.7 rushing yards per game, so the Tigers’ defense will need to focus more on the pass than the run. Expect Princeton to rely more heavily on a four-man rush and drop more players into coverage.
Princeton’s defensive line will also try to get back on track after sacking Chapple only once, which came on a desperate play as the clock ran out on the first half. Led by senior lineman Mike Catapano, who has seven sacks, and Caraun Reid, with four and a half, the Tigers have recorded 20 sacks through six games. They will try to apply constant pressure to Mathews, who has been sacked eight times in three Ivy League games this season.
Overall, Princeton’s defense must regroup and solidify after a rough outing against Harvard. The bright spot from that game for the Tigers’ defense is that it dominated Harvard’s offense in the fourth quarter to help spark the comeback. Cornell has been susceptible to turnovers this season, so expect the Tigers to force a few takeaways like they did against the Crimson, forcing two fumbles and an interception.
While the defense focuses on Cornell’s passing attack, the Tiger offense will need to spread the ball around and balance the run and pass effectively.
The game will kick off at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Original URL: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2012/10/26/31631/