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Princeton gears up for evenly-matched homecoming game against Harvard

<h5>The Princeton cheerleading team performs on the sidelines at the Ivy League opener against Columbia.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Angel Kuo / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The Princeton cheerleading team performs on the sidelines at the Ivy League opener against Columbia. 
Angel Kuo / The Daily Princetonian

After over a year without competition, Princeton football has come back in full force. Undefeated at 5–0, the team is currently ranked No. 17 on the FCS Coaches Poll and is off to a solid start on both sides of the ball.

They’ll hope to keep that success going this weekend against the also-undefeated, 16th-ranked Harvard Crimson.

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The Tigers’ defense has allowed, on average, only 15.4 points per game, placing them seventh in all of FCS. Following a disappointing defensive showcase against the 1–4 Brown Bears, where the Bears scored over 40 points on the Princeton defense, the team will attempt to restore its previous success coming into this Saturday’s homecoming game.

Offensively, the Tigers are ranked fifth in scoring offense on the FCS list, averaging 41.2 points per game. The team is led by senior quarterback Cole Smith, who is off to a hot start scoring 12 total touchdowns to only two interceptions. He was recently named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week following Saturday’s game against Brown after breaking Princeton’s record for single-game completion percentage (92.6) and having the second-most passing yards in a single game (476) in program history. 

Senior running back Collin Eaddy, who came within one touchdown of tying the school record for single-game rushing touchdowns against Brown, has also been instrumental in the team’s wins. Coming off a week of career days for multiple Tigers, Princeton will hope to continue its offensive dominance against a tough Harvard defense. 

In an interview with Princeton Athletics, offensive line coach Chris Zarkoskie commented on the o-line’s depth and role in the Tigers’ offensive success. 

“We’ve played 10 guys (offensive lineman) in a game before and haven’t skipped a beat. We put Jalen (Travis) and Jonathan (Boyd) in during the Brown game and we went right down the field and scored,” Zarkoskie said.

“You also have upperclassmen leaders who are behind good football players in Ford Roberts and Zackary Zambrano, and they don’t skip a beat either. There’s also Blake Feigenspan who operates the offense when Niko needs a drive or play off,” he added. “I’m really fortunate in how the first five gel and how they influence the next group which makes them all better.”

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Senior offensive lineman David Hoffman added, “Our offensive philosophy is fast, physical and hungry so that defines the pace we go at.” 

With the Tigers averaging 455 total yards per game, ranked first in the Ivy League, their philosophy has proven true.

The Crimson, however, offer unique challenges. Allowing only 10.4 points per game, Harvard’s defense has consistently shut down opposing offenses, forcing 12 turnovers in only five games ⁠— an Ivy League-best — and holding opponents to a 26 percent third-down conversion rate. 

The Crimson have also averaged 213 rushing yards per game, the best rushing attack that Princeton will face thus far in the season. In an interview with the First in Football podcast, Head Coach Bob Surace ’90 commented on Harvard’s strength on the ground.

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“The second you are out of a gap, they’re gone. And you see it every single game, they put so much stress on you to be perfect defensively,” he said. “I don’t know if any team in the country has had more long runs than they’ve had.”

And while Princeton boasts the second-best rushing defense in the FCS with an average of 54.6 yards per game, they are topped only by Harvard. This matchup will be one to keep an eye on, with both Harvard and Princeton making cases about why they are the best defense in the Ivy League. 

Historically, games against Harvard have been brutally close, with Princeton coming out on top in the last three matchups. The last time Princeton lost to Harvard was in 2016 (23–20 OT). But Harvard’s team this year looks different from those of the past, having earned its first national ranking since 2016 in the most recent FCS Coaches Poll at No. 16, one slot above Princeton.

Ultimately, the outcome of the game will come down to who can minimize offensive mistakes and dominate in the trenches. If the Tigers can find a way to slow down the Crimson’s elite run game, while continuing to find success pushing the ball down the field through the air, Princeton has a good chance of coming away with a victory against a very physical Harvard team.

“At the end of the day, it’s about us,” Eaddy told Princeton Athletics. “When it’s all said and done, it’s going to be the team that’s more disciplined and whoever plays tougher. And in these past three years, it’s been us.”

Jude Stacy is a contributor to the Prince. He can be reached at judestacy@princeton.edu.

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