With new play-caller and new playmakers, Princeton football looks to continue offensive brilliance| Sep 19, 2019
First-year offensive coordinator Andrew Aurich ’06 has some massive shoes to fill. He is replacing Sean Gleeson, who coached a Princeton offense that broke the Ivy League record with 470 points in 10 games in 2018. Gleeson then departed for the offensive coordinator position at Oklahoma State, a top program in a conference known for offensive innovation and sky-high scoring numbers.
Making things even tougher for new play-caller is how much talent he needs to replace. Two-time Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year John Lovett ’19 now plays for the Kansas City Chiefs, and his two favorite targets, receivers Jesper Horsted ’19 and Stephen Carlson ’19, also signed with NFL teams as free agents.
So one could understand the skepticism about Princeton’s chances to defend its Ivy League title following an unbeaten 2018 season. The Tigers finished third in the preseason media poll, behind Yale and Dartmouth. Aurich, however, isn’t worried about the pressure stemming from trying to repeat perfection.
“I’m sure from the outside there’s pressure, but our guys understand that we’ve already moved on from 2018,” Aurich said. “We’re focusing on 2019 and the challenges it’s going to bring.”
But if there’s anyone who understands the magic behind one of college football’s most dominant offenses over the past few years, it’s Aurich, who played offensive line at Princeton from 2002–2005. He’s coached the offensive line since 2016, and has also coached the running backs and tight ends, helping him understand the offense from several perspectives.
“I think I had a unique advantage versus other offensive line coaches who made the transition to offensive coordinator,” Aurich said. “Having worked in this offense for so long and coached multiple skill positions in the offense, I probably had a better understanding of the passing game than most offensive line coaches. It just comes down to a change in responsibilities and workflow.”
He also has a track record of getting strong performances from relatively inexperienced players. Last season, he coached an offensive line with three new starters into a major strength for the team, with the unit consistently keeping pressure off the quarterback and creating holes for the running game.
This year, the offense will have to adjust to unproven players handling the ball. At quarterback, senior Kevin Davidson has one career start, albeit an impressive one, and sophomore Brevin White, who caused a stir by choosing Princeton over Alabama, could start to see snaps as well.
Horsted and Carlson combined for 1,730 of Princeton’s 2,413 receiving yards last season, so the Tigers will have to rely on younger options like junior Jacob Birmelin and sophomore Dylan Classi at receiver.
While this year’s offense will likely look a bit younger, there won’t be a shortage of talent. Princeton’s now-sophomore class was the top-ranked recruiting class in the entire FCS, and many of those players should start to see the field.
“We have a lot of players who are going to get their first real extended action,” Aurich said. “There were a lot of guys who were extremely talented just waiting to get on the field, who happened to be behind some really great players. They’ve been practicing like guys who are hungry and going to take control of the role they’re going to have.”
And, of course, that talent will be supplemented by the offensive system that helped lead Princeton to three Ivy titles in six seasons. So in the 150th season of Princeton football, don’t be surprised to see the team put up impressive numbers on the Princeton Stadium scoreboard.