Davidson Steps Up and Tigers Still in Stride, 48-10
BY JAY GREENBERG
Sean Gleeson has been watching Kevin Davidson zip practice pass after unerring pass for two plus years, completion after completion telling the Princeton offensive coordinator that there was no need to send out the backup quarterback with a managed first-series script of two handoffs and a third-down screen.
You know, just to ease him into it? Kid, keep the turnovers to a minimum and let a good defense win the game?
Nope, no such babying of Davidson and no rattle to him either, as in the absence of John Lovett, the Tigers laid a 48-10 beating Saturday on Brown, thanks to the large presence of two 6-foot-four receivers that own the air rights wherever a Princeton quarterback, first string or second string or fourth string, may lob up a ball.
For the first series, Gleeson sent Davidson out with just a mouth guard, not a pacifier, although to be fair, even Linus in Peanuts never had a security blanket like Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson. They have the legs, the concentration and, as especially evidenced in their latest demonstration of their magnetism Saturday, the strength to win more jump balls than Bill Russell.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Davidson, asked how he felt when shown the first play.
For whatever butterflies the junior may have been suffering, Carlson and Horsted would settle any quarterback’s stomach better than Milk of Magnesia.
First play from scrimmage, Davidson went for 39 to Carlson, who wrestled the ball away from cornerback Jorquel Condomina. The third play went for 11 to Horsted and on the penultimate play of the scoring drive Horsted drew the most obvious pass interference call in practically 149 years of college football. Princeton had scored a touchdown on its first possession for a fifth straight game in this 5-0 start.
Lovett or Davidson, this offense does not screw around.
“We don’t want to get too predictable to start every game with a screen or an easy completion,” said Coach Bob Surace. “We have confidence in our guys; know the things they do best.
“Obviously, Kevin didn’t have to run today. He’s not a bad runner but John is an exceptional runner. Kevin has a strong arm. We are going to take more shots down the field.”
They are not shy to do this with Lovett either. In the first game of the year–and first in two years for Lovett–the initial play at Butler was a quick out to Horsted and then a bomb to him for a touchdown.
It’s good to be an offensive coordinator, or a quarterback, and have zero fear of third and long. That’s what a running game that pounded out 223 net yards (108 by Charlie Volker) and receivers like Carlson and Horsted on the outside do for your play calling.
“We are not going to start like that every time,” said Gleeson. “But if there are some nerves you can take air out of the situation if you can just up and fire.
“Kevin has a good strong arm to take a first shot.”
It is so strong, in fact, that Lovett, who, thanks to a medical redshirt, has been on campus longer than FitzRandolph Gate, told Surace last week that Davidson has the most velocity of any of the Princeton arms with whom Lovett has shared a practice field. That would include three Ivy Offensive players of the year – Chad Kanoff, Quinn Epperly and Lovett himself.
Davidson threw Saturday for 304 yards, 62 of them in one fell swoop on a highlight lead-and-catch by Horsted for Princeton’s second touchdown. Zach Keller, went five for five on another scoring drive.
These are talented highly recruited quarterbacks, who have waited their time, learned their stuff, and, day after day in practice, earned the full confidence the coaches and players felt in them Saturday.
“I’ve seen the same stuff at practice you saw today,” said Horsted. “Kevin puts balls on target and extends plays with his legs. “
It sure helps to have receivers who extend plays with their arms. Carlson and Horsted combined for 21 catches for 296 yards and three touchdowns. Every completion seems so automatic that it is easy to see the spectacular by now as the routine.
“Carlson’s (third quarter) touchdown (on a fade) was phenomenal,” said Surace. “And it was a nice high ball thrown, by Kevin, making an adjustment after he had just left one short.”
Horsted saved Davidson what would have been an end zone interception in the second quarter, yanking down the defender’s arms. Underthrown, yes, but hardly mindless, there being no such thing as a 50-50 ball when a Princeton quarterback puts one up on the outside.
More like 90-10. If it doesn’t turn into reception, there is a much better chance of an interference call than an interception. Horsted and Carlson just don’t lose.
“Everything gets contested on the perimeter,” said Gleeson. “Two big kids like that, there is no need to feel you have to thread the needle.
“When they get held at the tops of their routes they are so strong they still bring it down. They are both great in the air. Jesper catches them a thousand different ways and now Stephen is making a name for himself, too.”
The Tigers are 5-0 for the first time since 2006 and only the second time in 23 years. All questions about the quality of the first-half schedule are now irrelevant as five Ivy contenders, four of which beat Princeton a year ago, await.
Things went bad from 5-1 a year ago due to massive injuries in the defensive front seven. This year’s breath holding is about a double-threat quarterback who is not averse to running over people.
“John is day-to-day,” said Surace. “We will know more as the week goes on.”
We don’t need the week to know that for all the dimensions Lovett brings, Princeton can win a game without him. You were clued in Saturday as to what the Tigers knew all along.
“When Chad was gone in the spring of ’17, that was John’s chance to take a lot of first team reps,’ said Gleeson. “When John was not there this spring Kevin and Zack worked their tails off.
“That is the hardest part of the year, when we are developing our mentality and building up our offense. I just think these kids have a great attitude about how they go about their work. I’m happy to see the way they performed today because I have seen it in the weight room and in practices.”