What Princeton Must Do to Defeat Penn
BY JAY GREENBERG
1) Simplify. The coaches have talked about not over complicating the assignments for what has become an exceedingly young defensive line. With the exceptions of a few prodigies, freshmen who have cracked the lineup always have been worked in to do specific tasks they have mastered in practice, and then gradually have their responsibilities expanded as they prove capable. That’s not possible now.
Both Penn quarterbacks, Will Fischer-Colbrie and Nick Robinson can run, so the edge has to be better set than it was a week ago as Cornell was rallying in the fourth quarter.
2) Contain Justin Watson. Twelve catches for 82 yards by a receiver who will be in the NFL next season represented a good day’s work for the Tigers in their 28-0 win a year ago. Watson did not hurt them with an explosive play or in the red zone. As the Quakers move him from side to side and into the slot, defending him is going to be a team assignment.
A young Tiger secondary has been maturing as the season moves along but, of course, pass defense begins with the rush. There is still talent standing on the D line, including potential future All Ivy candidates, but players who should more comfortably be playing 20 plays will have to be used for 40 or more and grow up fast.
3) Capitalize. Both teams have lost all their close ones this year; something will break for one of them this time. A year ago, the statistical battle was almost even but long Penn drives were stopped with tackles on fourth downs and an interception. In converting three long drives, and pitching a shutout, Princeton made all the big plays, an early blocked punt by Jesper Horsted for a touchdown being a tone setter.
Penn’s red-zone conversion numbers (16 touchdowns in 23 opportunities) are decent, but their third-down conversion rate is subpar (36.59 per cent). Turnovers at key times have been damaging to the Quakers. Meanwhile, field position would help an undermanned Princeton defense; kick coverage suddenly was not good against Cornell.
4) Be disciplined. The Princeton offensive line that had been immaculate suffered six penalties against Cornell, no small factor in being held to 28 points and losing the game by one. You can count on a veteran, proud, talented O-line to go back to business as usual this week.
5) Score. Despite the above, the Tigers still put up 28 points against maybe the league’s best defense in Cornell and converted three long drives in the loss to almost-as-tough Columbia. The offense is loaded, healthy, and anxious to make amends. The Penn defense has settled down from some early struggles, but if it takes 40 points to win, the Tigers certainly are capable of that.