Princeton beat Harvard 30–24 in its homecoming game at Princeton Stadium. Here are three takeaways from the game.
The turnover differential may have saved Princeton
Harvard ran for more yards and threw for more yards than Princeton. The Tigers, however, dominated the turnover battle, forcing three turnovers and committing none. Princeton ended up scoring 17 of its 30 points off turnovers.
All three turnovers came from intercepting Crimson quarterback Jake Smith, and they all occurred at critical moments in the game. The first came early in the first quarter when junior linebacker Jeremiah Tyler stepped in front of a pass and returned the ball deep into Harvard territory, allowing Princeton to kick a field goal and take a 10–0 lead. The second came courtesy of sophomore linebacker Daniel Beard one play after Princeton was stuffed on a fourth-and-inches run in the third quarter, and the Tigers scored a touchdown a play later. The third, from junior defensive back Matthew Winston, came on a crucial third-down play in the fourth quarter and allowed Princeton to essentially seal the win with a score on its next possession.
Smith easily could have thrown two more picks, as junior defensive back Delan Stallworth and senior defensive back TJ Floyd both dropped sure interceptions.
“I thought we did a good job disrupting [Smith],” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “When he threw it into coverage, we did a good job capitalizing.”
Meanwhile, Princeton committed no turnovers against a Harvard defense which entered Saturday having forced nine turnovers in its first five games.
“That’s a hard defense to not turn the ball over [against],” Surace said. “They’re all over the field in the defensive backfield, and they disrupt the quarterback. The maturity of [Davidson] and the skill guys in terms of protecting the football, that was critical.”
Princeton completed some impressive deep passes
Senior quarterback Kevin Davidson is known for his strong arm. Saturday, he continued to also demonstrate his ability to be accurate on deep passes into tight coverage.
Davidson completed 20 of 35 passes, a step down from his 73 percent completion percentage entering the game, but he was strikingly accurate on long passes.
He was helped out by a stellar effort from his receiving corps, with junior receiver Jacob Birmelin, sophomore receiver Dylan Classi, and sophomore receiver Andre Iosivas all making remarkable catches downfield.
“These guys work really hard,” Surace said about his receivers. “Kevin would throw to them until the next day after practice. I have to kick them off the field off the practice because they’re constantly doing that … They’re constantly working on their craft.”
Perhaps the most impressive, and important, completion came late in the game with Princeton clinging to a 23–21 lead with 3:25 remaining. Davidson stepped over a defender to avoid a sack and threw a 13-yard pass into the end zone, which Classi hauled in with one hand.
“I had to use my athleticism and jump over someone,” Davidson joked after the game. “Since Dylan and I have worked together so hard for the past seven or eight months, we were just on the same page. It’s going to be fun to watch in film tomorrow.”
Davidson’s performance also impressed Harvard head coach Tim Murphy.
“He’s an elite quarterback,” Murphy said. “We had everyone covered, and he just stuck it in there. He threw about three corner balls that were NFL-quality balls, and the receivers made some great plays.”
Against one of the best defensive fronts in the country, Princeton’s O-Line held its own
Harvard’s defensive line entered the game leading the FCS in both yards per rush allowed and sacks per game.
On paper, Harvard seemed to get the better of Princeton’s offensive line. The Tigers rushed 38 times for just 2.7 yards per carry, and the Crimson recorded four sacks. Besides one long rush from junior running back Colin Eaddy, Princeton had little success moving the ball on the ground.
However, as Surace noted after the game, the four sacks allowed were mainly a function of Davidson not being able to find an open receiver downfield. And crucially, on most passing plays, the Princeton offensive line bought enough time for Tiger receivers to get open downfield.
“When you see man-to-man, you’re getting the ball down the field,” Surace said. “That forces the O-Line to do a good job, and for the most part they gave Kevin enough time.”