Simply, This Offense was Fantastic

  • November 20, 2017


Gradually, most of the skullduggery that had become Princeton football’s calling card in the Bob Surace era faded from usage in 2017.

The quick flips to in-motion flankers, double reverses, shovel passes, and, most uniquely, throwbacks between two and even three quarterbacks handling the ball on the same play either became diminished or were completely stashed.

As bamboozled defensive coordinators were shamed to have already been fooled twice or more; some of the element of surprise had dissipated. But the Tigers didn’t need to trick anybody.  There were no fake noses and mustaches on Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson, no use of Tiger Bech as their body double, or even reaches into the 16mm cans for secrets of the Lonesome Ends (we’re dating ourselves here).

After about two drives, was any opponent stunned to see Horsted and Carlson speeding over the middle and Chad Kanoff leading them in full stride? Or Kanoff putting the ball in the end zone where defensive backs couldn’t have made a play on the ball with a fire truck and a ladder?

“We had a similar amount of {trickery to previous years) going in each week,” said Offensive Coordinator Sean Gleeson. “But Chad was so good throwing the ball down the field.

“I think you asked me [during camp] whether, with all the height we had on our receivers, the fade ball going to come back into this offense. When you can throw it up to one of your tall guys and have a high success rate, it’s hard to say no.

“You lean towards the things you are good at.   We were explosive. The touchdowns were coming from all over the place.”

Kanoff broke the Ivy League record for single-season passing yards with 3,474 and surpassed Doug Butler’s 24-year-old career passing mark at Princeton with 7,510. Kanoff’s single-season completion percentage of 73.2 was the highest ever in the Ivy League. His 29 touchdown passes were the most for a single season in school history, and he came within one of Ivy League record.

The Tigers stumbled in the red zone just once, against Columbia.  After that, Kanoff obliterated all concerns that in the absence of John Lovett, the 2016 touchdown machine, the Tigers would struggle getting the ball over the goal line. Last year, the Tigers scored 37 TDS on 46 possessions inside the 20. This year they were 40 out of 52, an insignificant three percentage points difference.

Charlie Volker missed the first game with an illness, didn’t really get going until the fourth week and still ended up with 14 rushing touchdowns. So as the need faded, early season experimentation with finding a goalline running-passing option all in one body fizzled.

“We’re kind of a game plan specific team,” said Gleeson. “If you see a team that is going to over-pursue, you might want to run a reverse or a behind-the-back play. But it’s hard to argue with being No. 1 in the league.  We played to our strengths.

“Years ago people would play man-to-man if they figured they had the personnel to do it. Now, 80-90 per cent do it and deal with the repercussions. They feel like even if you beat them once or twice, the odds are in their favor. So lucky for us, people continued to play man against us and Chad was exceptional the way he put the ball on the money every single time.

“We never have tracked our ability to be explosive, instead had a goal of efficiency–the accumulations of 12-15 yard plays that had spelled our success. But we had an offense this year able to score on five-play drives. With two wideouts who are the best in the league, Chad could make every single throw and get us out of trouble.”

As productive as were the receivers in 2016 and in the record breaking championship season of 2013, the Tigers averaged 6.6 yards per offensive play in 2017, almost a yard-and-a-half higher than last year and almost a yard more than in 2013. The 2013 team quarterbacked by Quinn Epperly and Connor Michelsen had 286 more total yards but, on average yards per play–6.6 to 5.7–this team was better.

“We had an offensive line that was really successful, especially in pass protection, and a quarterback that was the most accurate in Ivy League history,” said Coach Bob Surace. “Then too, our personnel had changed in a lot of ways.

“I wouldn’t say all our trickery was because of guys like Quinn and John Lovett, but that type of player allows us to do a little more with that.

“It is such an advantage when the guy receiving the snap can run or pass. You saw Dartmouth do it successfully [in its 54-44 win over Princeton] Saturday, even without the threat of a pass. When you add that passing threat on the same guy who can run like John, it just adds so much value. When a player has to hand the ball off you are 10 on 11. If not, you are 11 against 11.

“We were looking to see if we could find the guy to do at least some of that. But then we started getting into games with Jesper and Stephen making these incredible body control catches from a quarterback who could make every throw.

“From Game Three in 2016 on, the game slowed down for Chad. On that last touchdown to Jesper (to give Princeton a lead with three minutes remaining at Dartmouth) you are asking him to fake, and then make a read. If the guy steps a foot toward you, you throw the ball; if that guy sits, you hand the ball off because in theory he can’t get there.

“The quarterback has to make that decision, release the ball quickly, put the ball on the money. And he did, threading it between two guys.”

Vic Prato Wounded in Service.

Vic Prato ’15, who played in all ten game of the 2014 season as a backup defensive lineman, was seriously injured last week in a suicide bombing attack in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Prato, a second lieutenant, was one of four servicemen in a vehicle when the bomb went off.  All survived. Prato underwent surgery in Germany and his injures are no longer considered life-threatening, according Steve Simcox, the president of the Princeton Football Association, who informed the guests of Prato’s misfortune at Sunday night’s Donold B. Lourie ’22 Football Banquet.  But while the lieutenant has body sensation, there is preliminary concern about paralysis in his limbs.

“When we recruited Vic, his goal was to serve in the Army,” said Bob Surace. “He is a very dedicated guy.

“[During junior year] he came to me struggling with the challenges of ROTC, football and the engineering curriculum. That’s a big load. He was just giving himself a C in everything, and wanted to know what he could do to get better.”

“We worked with the ROTC at Princeton to make sure he wouldn’t be missing the important football things that were setting him back. He played his senior year and did a good job for us.

“I got to know and love the family, being from Westchester (NY) County, they were around a lot. Vic has had so much passion for Princeton football.  He has kept in touch with the program as much as anybody from that class.”


The award winners named at Sunday afternoon’s banquet:

Hank Towns h82 (Devotion to Princeton and contributions to the community at large):  Erik Ramirez.

Class of 1952 (excellence on special teams):  Hayden Murphy.

Harland (Pink) Baker ’22 (freshman defensive stalwart): Trevor Forbes.

Donald B. Lourie (freshman offensive stalwart): Collin Eaddy.

Ronald A. Rogerson (inspiration to fellow players): Mark Fossati, Kurt Holuba and John Lovett.

Charles W. Caldwell (most improved):  Quincy Wolff.

Richard W. Colman (skill and scholarship): Dick Bush.

Dr Harry Roemer McPhee (durability and fortitude): Mitchell Sweigart.

John P. Poe, Richard Kazmaier (player of ability and perseverance:  Chad Kanoff.

TIGER TAILS will have coverage of the All Ivy Teams, to be announced Tuesday, and Asa S. Bushnell awards for Ivy League Players of the Year.  The four finalists–two on offense, two on defense–will be announced on Tuesday, November 28, and the winners named Monday, December 4, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. . .In coming weeks, we will have our annual review of  the plays and players of the year, plus Bob Surace’s farewells and thanks to each individual senior.

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