Columbia Game Story – Jay Greenberg

  • October 1, 2016

BY JAY GREENBERG

NEW YORK – Best Tuesday ever, declared Bob Surace last week, and he’s counted 63 of them since he became the Princeton coach.

Pretty good Saturday, too. The fruits of the Tigers weekday labor were 38 minutes of possession time in a 48-13 rout of Columbia, a result you can take with a grain of salt or not, considering the Lions 0-3 start and their history.  Surace took it as a step forward.

“We came out on Tuesday fast and we had to be against this team,” said Surace, “Nobody has sustained drives on them.

He was referring to a small sample size: Two close Lion losses to St. Francis, Pa. and Georgetown, Princeton’s opponent next week. Maybe then we’ll get a better idea of whether the Tigers are as good as they looked here. As Lehigh murdered Yale 65-35 Saturday, on top of an earlier win over a Penn team (that won at Dartmouth Friday) one conclusion seems safe to reach. The Mountain Hawks are every bit as good they appeared in dismantling Princeton last week.

For now, for the 2-1 Tigers, nothing succeeds like success. The ease with which they won Saturday had to be confidence-building, no matter how tough Columbia, in its second season under an Ivy League master in Al Bagnoli, proves to be the rest of the way.

Princeton scored on marches of 80, 80, 70, 70, 60 and 43 yards.  Johnny Lovett ran for five and two-yard touchdowns behind bulldozer blocks by Zach Kuehm and Reily Radosevic.  Joe Rhattigan caught touchdown passes from both Lovett and Chad Kanoff, the Tigers scored six touchdowns on six trips into the red zone and surely they would have scored more had not Surace emptied the bench in the fourth quarter.

Kanoff, who threw three interceptions a week ago at Lehigh, was 21-for-25 for 230 yards with no interceptions and three touchdowns. One was to a perfectly-led Rhattigan for 13 yards for Princeton’s first score, the second to a wide open Trevor Osborne over the middle to give Princeton its first lead at 13-6. The third was the best one of all, a pinpoint toss to an extremely well-covered Scott Carpenter in the end zone as Princeton went up 41-6.

Kanoff also led Lovett perfectly on a 31-yard flea flicker on a third-and-three from the Columbia 49 that set up the first touchdown.

“We put some stress on [both Kanoff and Lovett] this week and they did a great job in practice,” said Surace.  “I thought our execution was what it needed to be.”

Lovett perhaps made the best one of all the good quarterback plays on the day with his throw on Rhattigan’s second touchdown. Rolling out and appearing to be running out of time and room with three Lions chasing, he tossed a strike that enabled Rhattigan to get a foot down inbounds for his second touchdown.

“You either have to put that ball in a spot where it’s going to be incomplete or a touchdown,” said Surace. “In the past, he wouldn’t have done that. It was a mature decision by Johnny: I was proud of him.”

Good throw, better catch. It put the Tigers up 27-6, on the way to four second- quarter touchdowns and a 34-6 halftime lead. But essentially Columbia had already deflated on a strip-and-fumble recovery by Brannon Jones.

On first-and-10 from the Columbia 20, Jones knocked the ball out of the hands of quarterback Anders Hill and recovered at the five. Lovett threw the bullet to Rhattigan and thereafter Columbia had nothing left but punts until Hill took advantage of a coverage breakdown by the backup secondary to complete an 88-yard fourth quarter touchdown pass to Josh Wainwright.

Columbia wasn’t Lehigh with its dizzying short drops and multiple weapons, but the Tiger pass rush, still minus Tyler Desiré, was better this time. Kurt Holuba had his best game of three and, as good as was Jones’s play, Henry Schlossberg made the top one of the day when he sacked Hill in the second quarter while being occupied by two blockers.

“Dorian (the blitzing Williams) really made the play, forced the quarterback to step up into me,” said Schlossberg. But the senior nose tackle still had to get his arms free to make the tackle and did.

“Henry is so strong,” said Surace. “Coming from his freshman year, it’s amazing how hard he has worked the weight room to become so good at getting penetration.”

“We were coming off the ball, attacking edges, not just moving into the middle of the guy. I really thought we fought hard.  We count on those guys up front to be impact players.

“Our coverage hasn’t been as good as I like but we can compensate for that with a better rush.  Last week it was a combination of a lot of bad plays (front and back).

“Steve (defensive coordinator Verbit) has two guys in the NFL (Caraun Reid and Mike Catapano). He’s tremendous when it comes to schemes. He had a good game plan this week with some twists on things.”

A lot of twists remain in the next seven weeks, and a few turns too. But Princeton looked like a good team on both sides of the ball Saturday, which certainly beats the alternative coming off a loss.

“The guys seemed to have more giddy-up,” said Verbit. “I thought we were a little better.

“That’s the goal each week, getting better.”

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