Last year's Princeton team found itself the victim of some bad luck, losing several close games, including its Ivy League opener against Columbia. This year's team seems to have found an effective solution to that problem: Blow its opponents out. In their Ivy League opener Friday night, the Tigers (3–0 overall, 1–0 Ivy) dominated Columbia (2–1, 0–1) on the road, winning 45–10.
Understandably, head coach Bob Surace ’90 was satisfied with the way his team is playing.
“I thought we had a terrific week of practice,” he said. “Our mindset and our focus were outstanding.”
For the second consecutive week, Princeton got off to a less-than-ideal start, with Columbia returning the opening kickoff 91 yards to the Tigers’ seven-yard line.
“That’s two weeks in a row where we didn’t play as well as we liked early in the game,” Surace said. “Credit the other team.”
Once again, though, the Tigers quickly got back on track. The Princeton defense held Columbia to a field goal that first drive, and senior quarterback John Lovett capped off a touchdown drive on Princeton's first possession with a 37-yard pass to senior wide receiver Steve Carlson.
From there, Columbia and Princeton traded two more scores, with Columbia scoring on a short run on the second play of the second quarter to make the score 13–10. After that, it was all Princeton. Lovett led the offense down the field on the next possession, scoring on a short run on fourth-and-goal after his third-down run, ruled a touchdown on the field, was overturned by replay. Princeton would score twice more in the half to make the score 30–10 at halftime. The game never became any more interesting, as Princeton coasted through the second half en route to their eventual 45–10 win.
In what is emerging as a theme for the season, Columbia's defense struggled to contain Princeton’s dual-threat quarterback. Lovett wasn't as sharp throwing the ball as earlier this season, completing 12 of 22 passes for just 135 yards and two touchdowns, but he was highly effective as a rusher, averaging more than 10 yards per carry with 174 yards rushing on 17 carries. Although Lovett failed to connect with his receivers on many deep passes, he credited their presence on the outside for opening running lanes.
“When you have two guys on the outside in Steve [Carlson] and [senior wide receiver] Jesper [Horsted] that are such deep threats, it opens up the run game a lot,” Lovett said. “We were able to pound the rock early and set the tone.”
Surace emphasized that Lovett energized the rest of the offense with his performance.
“When the great quarterbacks get in there, the rest of the guys’ tempo picks up,” Surace said.
Perhaps most importantly, Lovett made good decisions with the football. For the third consecutive game, he threw no interceptions, and the Princeton offense played a turnover-free game. Columbia, on the other hand, gave up the ball three times. Two of those turnovers were interceptions by junior safety TJ Floyd, who has three picks in the past two games. Despite that accomplishment, Floyd remained humble.
“I think it’s more what the coaches are doing more than me,” he said of his interceptions. “They’re putting me in the right position to make a play, and I’m just doing my job.”
Surace said he stressed winning the turnover battle throughout that week and that the turnover margin was a major part of Princeton’s win.
“[Last year against Columbia] we gave up four turnovers,” he said. “For us to finish with none, that plays a big role in the game.”
As strong as Princeton’s play was, there remains room for improvement. Surace cited the long opening kickoff return, as well as a blocked punt and botched extra point after Princeton’s first score as the type of mistake that needs to be cleaned up.
“I walked off the field not feeling as good as I should have, because I'm not happy about that,” Surace said.
Minor mistakes aside, Princeton’s commanding win Friday night against a good Columbia team sent a message to the rest of the Ivy League.
“That was a very impressive football team you saw there today,” said Columbia head coach Al Bagnoli, putting it succinctly.
As promising as Princeton looks, Ivy League championships aren’t won in a single game, and there is a lot of season left. The team returns home next week for its non-conference finale against Lehigh (1–3) and will play its Ivy League home opener the week after against Brown (0–2, 0–1).