Get the Red Out of Those Eyes in that Red Zone
BY JAY GREENBERG
Princeton converted 37 touchdowns in 46 trips inside the 20-yard line last season, 31 of them scores by John Lovett. He was the closest thing to automatic one is ever going to see on a football field.
“John can throw the ball, run with it, catch it and block,” said Coach Bob Surace. “Players like this don’t fall off the apple tree.”
You don’t have to be Sir Isaac Newton to understand that Princeton’s version of Cam Newton will be missed. Lovett, recovering from July surgery, was–and will be again–the gold standard of touchdown makers, but as camp begins there are two significant silver linings to his loss.
One is that Lovett, the returning Asa S. Bushnell Cup winner as Ivy offensive player of the year, was not knocked out of the lineup in mid-season, forcing new offensive coordinator Sean Gleeson to drill a totally new plan on the run. The other is having a 5th year quarterback, Chad Kanoff, who in just two years as a starter has already thrown for 4036 yards, which would be more if he weren’t coming off the field in favor of Lovett when the Tigers most threatened.
“Where I saw Chad’s improvement from year one to year two was his degree of comfort and decisiveness,” said Surace. “ In the Lehigh game [three interceptions], even in the Lafayette [opener] I don’t think his decision making was at a level I liked. But in the last eight games, there were very few times I would say, ‘What a bad decision.’
“Chad is on pace to be second all time at Princeton in yards,” said Surace. “In 148 years of Princeton football, he has done things as well as anybody who ever played here.
“But to try to turn him into a John Lovett or a Tim Tebow would be a disservice to Chad.”
Kanoff has the arm, touch and size (6-4) that are attracting pro scouts. He has proven escapability–a huge third-down scramble maintained the most critical drive of 2016 to bring the Tigers from behind against Dartmouth. When the need arises, those long legs stretch out well, but of course, Kanoff doesn’t have the burst or ability to make tacklers miss like Lovett. So it’s onto the drawing board for new and varied ways to finish.
“With John, we only needed a few plays down there,” said Surace. “Run one of them, and see if they could stop it.
“Having him was like a closer throwing 103 miles-an-hour. You don’t have to mix in too many change-ups. Now, we have to be more creative. It probably will be harder to prepare for us because we likely will have more options.”
Perhaps no coach in college football is more innovative than James Perry in his use of two quarterbacks on the field at the same time. But he has become the head coach at Bryant University, replaced as offensive coordinator by Gleeson.
Surace thinks Gleeson, who had offensive coordinator experience at Fairleigh Dickinson before coaching the running backs and special teams coaches at Princeton, was ready for this promotion two years ago. There shouldn’t be much of a learning curve for him, but there will be for opposing defensive coordinators having to make difficult guesses as to what is coming next since it won’t be Lovett.
Gleeson would have provided us details on the plan, but then he would have to kill all you readers. San Diego will have played two games before coming to Powers Field at Princeton Stadium on September 16, but will have little video of anybody scoring touchdowns for Princeton besides Lovett.
The element of surprise won’t end there, though. There will be new wrinkles up through Week 10 as auditions for the Committee to Replace John Lovett are ongoing.
“I think you learn a little bit about your group in the spring and that figures into what you do early in training camp,” said Gleeson. “But it’s hard to foresee a kid’s development in the summer. Things can get turned on their heads in three-to-six practices. We will see what sticks.
“We have a great luxury, tremendous quarterback depth. Each has strengths in his own way.”
Sophomore Zach Keller, at this stage more runner than passer, could emerge as the goalline guy. No attempt will be made to pound square pegs into round holes. Big-armed sophomore quarterback Kevin Davidson, Kanoff’s heir apparent for 2018, is not a Lovett prototype.
To some degree, or a great degree, the touchdowns will be spread around to tailbacks Charlie Volker and Ryan Quigley, sometimes on the ground, sometimes through the air. “Anytime you get a guy out of the backfield who can catch the ball, that is a tough matchup,” said Gleeson.
So will be tight end Graham Adomitis, who caught two touchdowns in 2016. Junior wide-out Alex Parkinson’s six-foot-five inches makes him a candidate for fades.
Of course, the loss of Lovett is not just on the goalline. As a tailback-quarterback-receiver on the other 90 yards of the field, he was a first-down machine, not just a touchdown machine. With both he and Kanoff in the game at the same time, there was little predictability to this offense regardless of the line of scrimmage.
But now Kanoff will get more chances to finish what he starts. “Of course you want to score and be on the field every play, but that is not up to me so I don’t worry about it,” he said.
Neither does Gleeson fret about Lovett’s loss because he feels loaded with options, some of them as yet sight unseen.
By hook or crook the Tigers will get it in, the crook part well established by eight years of trickeration–as Don King used to call it–practiced by Surace’s Tigers.
“We have never been short of ideas–three tailbacks on the field, two quarterbacks,” said Gleeson. “We will find ways to get our best players on the field.
“This will flower into something just as productive.”
“Very sharp,” said Surace about the first day on the field Wednesday. . . . Tigers will put on shoulder pads Saturday, will be in full pads on Sunday. . . With few exceptions, practices will be 8:30-10:30 a.m.