They Bring Home the Bread
BY JAY GREENBERG
One certainly works up an appetite in running 96 yards for a touchdown. And that’s not just in the case of Charlie Volker, who scored it, but the offensive linemen who chased him the length of the field to share in the joy of an extraordinary moment, the longest run from scrimmage in 148 years of Princeton football.
So it was a good thing that Lynn Volker supplied her son on the bus ride home Saturday with enough pumpkin bread to pass around to the guys who did the grunt work. The theory that blockers and running backs who eat together beat Brown together was not half baked.
“We feel 100 per cent appreciated,” said left guard George Attea. “Charlie shared that pumpkin bread with everybody.”
Three was enough to go around, just like the credit, as a line with this level of talent, depth and experience lives up to the high expectations set for it coming into this season. But it gets harder from here. This is 4-1 Princeton’s midterm week–in the classroom and on the field–against a presumably tough-as-ever Harvard squad on Friday night in Boston.
“Always talented, a team traditionally among the tops in the league,” reiterates Coach Bob Surace.
Following two exhilarating Princeton victories–one the 2012 miracle from a 34-10 fourth-quarter deficit, and 2013 in overtime–Harvard has won the last three contests, making it eight out of the last ten. But it’s not back to the pumpkin, just pumpkin bread, for the Tigers to keep up the strength to go bicep-to-bicep with the Crimson, perhaps even into an overtime like last season.
In addition to its usual array of skilled players, Harvard has an all-over the field rundown artist in linebacker Luke Hutton and the usual ten-men deep defensive line anchored by Bushnell Cup candidate D.J. Bailey. Princeton counters with an NFL prospect left tackle, Mitch Sweigart; two more returning all Ivy performers in right guard Erik Ramirez and right tackle Reily Radosevich; plus All-Ivy candidates for 2017 in center Dick Bush and left guard Attea.
Eight linemen who saw playing time in 2016 returned, fueling every expectation of these guys delivering time for quarterback Chad Kanoff, plus canyons for running backs Volker, Ryan Quigley and Collin Eaddy. And all have come through, particularly the last two weeks when Princeton totaled a combined 103 points and 995 yards against Georgetown and Brown. These grunts with grades beat you up and, most impressively, refuse to beat themselves.
Members of a Princeton team that commits only 3.6 penalties per game, they don’t false start, and they don’t hold, at least not much. On the rare occasions that they do–or a line judge says they do–it doesn’t happen a second time, as it did again and again for Brown in the first half, getting the Bears off to a horrible start from which they could not recover.
The pumpkin bread must be brain food. We wouldn’t write this on an official site of the world’s greatest undergraduate university if it probably weren’t true, at least sort of. If you think these guys get rattled, you need a slice. At Brown, backup center Alex Deters was whistled for holding one play before he was the primary stick of dynamite that blew that huge hole up the gut for Volker.
“Alex has a max-play mentality,” said Attea. “Onto the next play already; can’t let it linger,”
It helps to have the lingering feeling that if you screw up repeatedly, chances to fail again will be curtailed.
“We have been at the top of the league in penalty yardage against year-in, year-out,” said Coach Bob Surace. “I hope we instill discipline. The best way to correct undisciplined penalties is in playing time. “
Sweigart has been starting for four years and hears the same message daily as Deters, a sophomore.
“Every day, before we even start our stretch, it’s ‘Hands tight, elbows in!” says Attea. Over and over again.”
The guy saying it is offensive line coach Andy Aurich, who never worries about that particular message getting old.
“That’s a daily thing because it has to be,” Aurich said. “Some guys just get a little too comfortable. If their mind starts going elsewhere, that’s when you start having those false starts.
“Having so many guys with experience definitely helps. You hear the pads popping; this group works extremely hard in practice. It is a mindset.
You do things enough, you don’t have to think about them as much. Surace cited both Attea and Bush for having made big strides in becoming more instinctive.
“We play really fast so we are going to want guys who think quickly,” said Surace. “We don’t want overweight, heavy, slow linemen; we want athletic ones, sometimes a little lean, but they can move and run and are tough and smart.”
You don’t get that way without experience, that’s why the backups are going to get 20 snaps a game at scripted times, regardless of field position. At Brown, it was Deters’s turn to spell Bush whether the Tigers had taken over at midfield,or were backed up inside the five after a downed punt, which, in this case, they were.
“It is all pre-determined,” said Surace. “We try to roll those guys in for at least a series or two in the first half.”
That’s how your best guys are fresher in fourth quarters and how Deters will be that much more prepared to replace Bush, the third senior starter, next season. Breaking these guys in one series at a time makes them less likely to tire.
“It’s like with relief pitchers who are best when they go through the lineup once,” said Surace. “With younger players typically, you like to have them go one series at a time. Sweigart and Radosevich playing as much as they did at freshmen, that was unusual.”
So are the sack totals, currently five in five games. Chad Kanoff has unfurled those long legs occasionally to make the sticks but an escape artist, he is not. And still opponents have not hit the quarterback much more than the five times they have put him down.
“Coming into the season, pass protection was an area I thought we needed to improve,” said Aurich. “And we have.”
Of course, so has Kanoff in not holding the ball, a large part of the battle.
“Tom Brady is not an escape artist,” said Surace. “Most years, not so much this year, he is one the least sacked, and least hit, quarterbacks because he gets rid of the ball.
“Peyton Manning never got sacked because he was unbelievably great in getting rid of the ball on time. The receivers ran their routes on time. So the coordinator did a tremendous job. My point is that sacks are blamed on the offensive line but there is a combination of factors.”
Spoken like an old center. But the truth nevertheless. These Princeton men are not stupid. In the huddle Kanoff isn’t the Big Man on Campus with a chance to play in the NFL, just a guy whose success rides with men he had better call by their first names. He doesn’t have to give these guys homemade confections, just perhaps the shirt off his back, understanding that he would be on his without their tender mercies.
“In Cincinnati, we called the offensive line The Mushroom Society,” said Surace. “You are in the dark and you eat crap.
“That’s the role you play, so you have to have cohesiveness. Coaches (Eddy) Morrissey and now Aurich have done a good job building that.
“To this day, the guys who played with me on the line for Princeton are some of my best friends. We have three guys on our staff (Surace, Aurich and tight ends coach Mike Willis) who played the offensive line at Princeton. We understand the chemistry of the group. They aren’t going to get their names in game stories because they have no individual stats.”
Their stats are Kanoff’s and Volker’s. And ones that belong to the entire offense.
Phil Aurich, the brother of Andy, who was wounded in the Las Vegas shootings, went home Monday, the next step in what is expected to be a complete recovery. . . . Kanoff leads the FCS with a 73.9 completion percentage, better than Princeton’s all-time leader for a season, Jason Garrett, who finished 1988 at 68.2 percent . . . . Tigers’ 52.9 third-down conversion rate is third in the FCS. They also are third in the FCS in rushing defense at 54 yards per game. . . Volker’s 96-yard run at Brown was not only Princeton’s longest ever but the third longest in Ivy League history, which began in 1956. . . Tiger Bech leads the Ivies with his 24.4 yards per kickoff return.
This is the 110th meeting between Princeton and Harvard, the Tigers leading the all series 54-48-7, despite Crimson wins in eight of the last ten contests. . . The game will be televised live on the NBC Sports Network and streamed live on the NBC Sports App with Paul Burmeister doing the play by play and Ross Tucker ’01 as analyst. Radio, as usual with Cody Chrusciel is 103.3 WPRB or TuneIn app (search Princeton IMG Sports Network)
Multiple changes in the league schedule for 2018–including traded slots on the Princeton slate by Dartmouth and Penn–will send Princeton to Harvard again next year before the alternating home-and-home resumes. Next week’s home opponent, Cornell, will be back at Princeton Stadium again next season.