Precisely, The Tigers Are Out of Room for Error
BY JAY GREENBERG
Dartmouth completed the greatest rally in its history on Saturday to score in the finals seconds and stun a Yale team that had been blowing away its non-conference competition.
Surace confided last week his belief that interception-prone Cornell nevertheless had the talent to be in the Ivy race and, sure enough, the Big Red cleaned up its act and came from 14-0 down to beat Harvard by a touchdown.
Already, only Dartmouth and Columbia remain unbeaten in the league. With six weeks to go and every team having at least five conference games remaining, there is reason to believe a majority of those contests will be decided in fourth quarters. Somebody is going to have to enjoy an especially charmed season to go 7-0, maybe even to manage a 6-1. But when each game comes down to a few big plays, which team is going to make most of them?
So consistent execution of the little things remain inescapable as the Tigers, their margin for error reduced immediately by a 28-24 loss to Columbia two weeks ago, assess their readiness to stay in the hunt. After Surace watched the video of Saturday’s 50-30 win over Georgetown, he was asked to look at the big picture and had to answer in snapshots.
“I think our base play on both sides of the ball has been really good,” said the coach. “Our third-down play on offense (29 conversions in 56 attempts) has been consistently good.
“After giving up (three) third-down conversions on the first drive (Saturday), we get off the field eight times in a row. So we are making good plays and good adjustments on defense and also showing some explosive plays on offense. The special teams could be more consistent but at least once or twice a game a punt or kickoff return has given the offense good field position, really encouraging. And we have been really sound on penalties.
“But there are other areas where I don’t like our consistency. We are not getting off the field on third-and-longs. If we have them in that situation eight times in any game, the offense may be able to execute one or two of them, but it shouldn’t be four or five, like they have been doing, especially with the way we have rushed the passer and tackled extremely well.”
What the Tigers are not doing as efficiently is reading the play, a reflection of the relative youth in the back seven. By the end of last season a suspect secondary with three new starters had become dominant and this year’s linebacking corps seemed on its way to repeating that scenario. But then captain Mark Fossati was lost, making it critical that sophomores John Orr and Jackson Simcox step up. In his starting debut, Orr had five tackles, including one for a loss, and Simcox, now the primary backup in the middle, had four.
“I thought our ‘backers played well other than a couple coverages where they need to be quicker in their drops,” said Surace. “We have got to get them understanding the score, down and distance
“They were playing like it was a three-point game and jumping routes they didn’t need to jump, these are things that will come with experience. Other than maybe six or seven plays, they played great.”
Rush linebacker Mike Wagner forced a fumble and had two-and-a-half sacks, bringing his season’s total to six and a half, numbers that give him a good start towards All-Ivy recognition.
“His freshman year, we threw Mike to the wolves and he still ran around and made plays,” said Surace. “Last year he played more on the pass plays in alternating with Birk (Olson) and had a good year. And you could see in the spring he was becoming more confident.
“It’s natural that Kurt (DE Holuba) will get more attention, leaving [Wagner] manned up one-on-one more often. And he’s been really good in those situations.”
Ball on the Ground Dept:
Ryan Quigley’s third-quarter fumble was returned for a touchdown. And Volker was saved from making Princeton’s start that much rockier when his cough-up in Princeton territory was nullified by a Georgetown offside.
“I stress ball security all week, every week,” said Surace. “Those were terrific tackles; they put the hat on the ball but both times we weren’t carrying it exactly where we wanted it.
“And that goes beyond the running backs. I counted on film six times we were loose with the ball. This was the third time in four games we lost the turnover battle. It caught up to us last week. And that has to change.”
One of Surace’s messages to the team Sunday was that the depth guys have to reach a little deeper. Leading 50-10 in the third quarter it was time for the third stringers to get playing time, but many of them did not make the most of it. After Georgetown scored the next 20 points, Surace put the first offensive unit back in for an eight-minute clocking-killing drive.
“We have too many guys who want to be on the bus (with the smaller travel roster) or in a role and need to realize that ‘this is my opportunity’ and tighten up on their details,” said the coach. “We had a fourth-and-one that we didn’t block that well. Thanks to a missed block, Charlie (Volker) had nowhere to run.
“There was a third-and-ten when we didn’t take our drop deep enough. It should have been interception or at least a breakup and Georgetown ended up scoring.
“We were trying to keep Kurt and Wags and Matt Hampson to 50 snaps so we put in a different group but it really struggled on the edges. We held another team under 2.0 yards per rush and in this case it would have been negative yards if we had done better with our responsibilities. I thought Sam Wright and Mike Perloski both did some good things inside during that touchdown drive; we had good push up the middle. But we didn’t contain it well, and that was very disappointing.”
Pick Six Dept:
Freshman cornerback C.J. Wall’s third interception of his four-game collegiate career was run back for a 38-yard touchdown.
“We were in a great coverage call,” said Surace. “One thing you do against the quick (passing) game that we warned all week they would use to slow our pass rush, is to mix different coverages.
“We allowed C.J. to lay the flat on that play and come inside the receivers, which was a really good job by coaches (Steve) Verbit and (Marvin) Clecidor, disguising the coverages. And CJ jumped it perfectly.
“He almost had another one later with the same call, but the quarterback recognized it and threw outside where nobody could catch it. “
Princeton might have been down 14-0 if not for a third-down breakup on the goalline by another freshman, nickelback Trevor Forbes.
Game Balls . . .
Went to Wall, quarterback Chad Kanoff (25-for-29, four touchdowns, zero interceptions) and James Johnson for his overall excellence on special teams. Speaking of kick coverage, for the second time in three weeks, Chase Williams had a memorable open-field stop, chasing down Isaac Ellsworth at the eight-yard line, after the Hoya returner had trouble picking up a Tavish Rice squib kickoff.
“Not only is Chase playing great on the core-four special teams but he is starting to put himself in the mix at safety to earn a bigger role there,” said Surace.
“Just like with Jesper (Horsted) and others who are two sport athletes (Williams plays lacrosse), he misses the spring but is diligent catching up on our game plans. ‘We saw at the end of last year that Chase was coming on. He missed some time with an injury early in camp. But the last week he made a huge jump.”