Let’s Be Accurate About Princeton’s Quarterback Plans
BY JAY GREENBERG
Every single Tiger who contributed to last year’s team total of 289 catches, 30 of them for touchdowns, is returning, except for the quarterback who threw them.
But void the thought that Chad Kanoff, well on his way to making the Arizona Cardinals, leaves a void. Instead, enjoy one Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year replacing another. The next time this happens will be after Nassau Hall is unearthed in an archeological dig.
You will remember John Lovett. In his junior year, before a 2017 medical redshirt season, he ran for 20 touchdowns and threw for 10, the former being the only reason the latter total wasn’t higher. If you don’t recall any of that, perhaps we can tweak your memory with the 2016 Ivy League title Princeton won with Lovett, the closest thing to automatic that a college football red zone probably ever has seen.
But now Lovett is the quarterback for 99 yards, not just the last 20, facing the same burden of proof that Kanoff had a year ago to demonstrate he could get the ball over the goal line. That was put to rest almost as quickly as Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson can get off the line of scrimmage, which is mighty fast indeed. But with a pro-style quarterback graduated and a college option-style QB returning, it is fair to wonder whether the standard Kanoff set is unfair to anyone, and how much the 2018 offense might be different.
We use the word “might” because, contrary to the excitement created by the recruitment of one of the most coveted quarterbacks in the nation–Brevin White–and the assumption that Offensive Coordinator Sean Gleeson will go back to using a two-headed monster, there will be no pigeonholing of Lovett as the jack-of-all-trades he was in 2016. And there is never a rush to play a freshman.
Starting camp on Saturday as Lovett’s backup is junior Kevin Davidson, who, under less extraordinary circumstances than those around him this season would be a highly anticipated starter. This kid can throw, potentially even at the level of Kanoff.
“Kevin had a tremendous spring ironing out some of the areas in which he had to improve,” said Coach Bob Surace. “It took Chad time to develop the poise and confidence we saw his senior year; every year he took steps.”
Perhaps White will be out of the blocks faster than Kanoff, who five years ago was almost as exciting a get for the program as White. As Surace has allowed, Kanoff played basketball in high school and wasn’t then a fulltime student of the game, as has been White.
But there haven’t been many freshman quarterback flashes in the Ivy League. And there figure to be even fewer going forward as more and more FBS-level recruits at all positions see evidence, as did White, that they can prepare for the pros in the Ivies, too. The level of competition grows harder all the time. So White is going to have to beat even the extraordinary expectations for him to see more than just spot duty in 2018, if that.
It’s good to be this loaded. But of course, before we call this an embarrassment of riches, more embarrassing would be an inability to put Horsted, Carlson, Tiger Bech, Jordan Argue, Alex Parkinson, plus a treasure trove of good hands coming out of the backfield, to their best use.
As Kanoff, his arm strength still the least of his attributes, showed, the most important three rules in 100 yards of real estate is location, location, location. Fair to say, that is a tough act for Lovett to follow, and a critical one to any belief that this offense can be dynamic to the level of the one a year ago.
“For accuracy, Chad was in the top one per cent of the country,” said Surace. “Johnny is in the top one per cent of the country for athletic ability, size, and intelligence.
“He has every bit the arm strength of Chad and some throws are even stronger. The difference, when we used them together, was in the drop back passing game, Chad was in that range of 80 per cent accuracy. And John was lower.
“But the spring (2017) before John had his injury–when Chad wasn’t here because of his medical redshirt and John got the majority of the reps with the first team–his completion percentage was off the charts, approximately 79 per cent, in the Chad territory.
“That was really exciting. If he can get himself up to there you are talking about him not just being a special football player, because he is a special football player, you are talking about a real special quarterback. I have seen on TV the level of player who combines exceptional athletic ability with accuracy, but never coached one.”
Kanoff hit some bombs. But the MO of the Princeton passing offense in 2018 largely was yards after the catch on balls delivered by the quarterback to the perfectly in stride Horsted, Carlson and Bech.
If Lovett can’t do that consistently, the plan will evolve. Gleeson went into last season using Davidson in Lovett’s old role until two fumbles inside the five and Kanoff’s efficiency suggested a path of less–well actually it was little–resistance. Princeton’s red zone efficiency proved practically the same as in 2016.
All is subject to change. White isn’t the only wunderkind from the purported best FCS recruiting class in the nation who may force a role for himself by Week 10. As there have been under two offensive coordinators, there will be plays with two quarterbacks in the game at the same time. But camp begins as Lovett the guy, Davidson the backup, and White, Zach Keller and Cole Smith competing right behind them.
“The plan always is to put our best 11 on the field whenever we can,” said Surace. “My hope is they all reach their potential and let it play out.
“But knowing what I saw from John last (spring 2017) somebody is going to have to come in and be amazing to beat him out. You can count the athletes in college football who are more athletic on two hands and I’m talking at USC or wherever. Two-hundred-and-forty pounders who run 4.5 don’t grow on trees. And last time I could evaluate him, John was delivering passes like a very poised quarterback.
“It’s unfortunate when they get hurt. But that’s the beauty of fifth years. It really allowed John to develop that spring–he was getting reps with the first unit, building his confidence. The balls weren’t hitting the ground; they were right on the money, time after time.”
Every returning player on the two-deep who missed significant time in 2017 is good to go for the start of drills on Saturday morning; Kurt Holuba and Mark Fossati at the top of a long list that doomed the Tigers to settle for 5-5 . . . With some slight alterations in times–and exceptions like August 24 for media day and mandated off days –the Tigers generally will be on the field from 8:45 to 10:45 am.