It’s Good to Pull One Back from the Hamper
BY JAY GREENBERG
A year ago, when 5-1 began to dissolve into 5-5, the loss of Kurt Holuba in Week Six was the turning point. But it wasn’t the final straw. That was the injury to Matt Hampson, who in Week Seven became the eighth member of defensive line lost for the season
The emerging Hampson was essentially the last stopper in the sink. Down the drain went the run defense without him, Penn rushing for 317 yards and Dartmouth for 343.
“He really had been a bright spot both in the pass rush and against the run and to lose him really hurt the team and was devastating to Matt,” said Bob Surace.
Forty-nine weeks later, Hampson returned Saturday to record three tackles in the 48-10 victory over Brown. The last guy to go down was the last guy to get back. We note that symmetry here but much more material is this: At midseason this year the Tigers are adding a good defensive lineman, not subtracting.
“Knock on wood,” said Surace.
“Matt didn’t have as much time to recover as the others. We needed to do more with him during camp to get him up to speed and get stronger. I thought he practiced real well last week so it was time and it was nice that the score was what it was. He ended up playing 20-25 reps.
“He needed them. You are out that long, your technique is off and everything else is off. I hope down the stretch we can get Matt not only to that point he was at a year ago but beyond.”
Actually the gain in numbers during another absence by Holuba is not just limited to Hampson, a junior. Sophomores and a quality class of freshmen DL are gaining trust as the season moves along.
“Kurt is as good a defensive player as I have ever coached and I’ve had two (Mike Catapano and Caraun Reid) start in the NFL,” said Surace. So of course we miss him on the field, but off the field, Kurt has taken guys under his wing.
“He has been a great addition to (Defensive Coordinator and D-line Coach) Steve Verbit. Players are really starting to come on.”
At the top of that lengthening list probably is sophomore Sam Wright, who twice on Saturday ran down Brown quarterback Michael McGovern for sacks, showing the athleticism that tickets Wright as an eventual All-Ivy player.
“That quarterback was hard to contain,” said Surace. “On a lot of those third downs we got him out of the pocket and the way he bounced around, we were eight or nine seconds in coverage.
“Our guys kept hustling to the play while a lot of guys running to the quarterback. Sam’s two plays stood out but he wasn’t the only guy who kept chasing. We had five sacks and forced [McGovern] to throw out of bounds a number of times.”
LESS THAN SPECIAL DEPT:
Two blocked Princeton kicks Saturday–one on a field goal and one on a PAT–brought the number on the season to three, which, with tighter games coming up is already three too many.
“It was a combination of things,” said Surace. “We have to do a better job blocking and have to get the ball in the air, although that was the first time Nico (kicker Ramos) had that issue.
“The thing we have to work on is our urgency. We are not getting the ball snapped until there are a few seconds left on the play clock. When you don’t have much time you can’t disrupt the rhythm of the rush. On the field goal they had three [rushers] on one blocker, which isn’t allowed. But we have to do a better job blocking and getting the ball off and that’s on me.”
YOUNG BLOOD DEPT:
Freshman punter George Triplett hit a 47-yarder on one of three punts Saturday, his longest of the year in a limited sample size. “I think we are doing ok on that unit but when I watch us in practice, I see us playing on a different level,” said Surace. “We have to get there in the games.”
Christian Brown became the first freshman to start on offense or defense, in place of the injured C.J. Wall at cornerback. “Christian is one of the best athletes on the team,” said Surace. “And he is a savvy player.
“When we have had cornerbacks miss practice we have put him there. Then we alternated him between corner and safety. But for the last month we have had him at corner.
“I hate playing freshmen in multiple positions. It’s too confusing to them. But I feel a little more comfortable about defensive backs because the terminology is the same as in high school.”
The eyes have it. On Saturday Charlie Volker turned two first-down runs into touchdowns of 22 and 37 yards.
“When a guy plays football and runs track, football people joke ‘Oh, he’ a track guy,” said Surace. “I think the track people say Charlie is a football player.
“He has always played in a way where he is looking to initiate contact. We have had a number of big and strong running backs through the years; guys who will get you five yards. Where Charlie has added a dimension is in his vision at the second level, against the linebackers and DBs. He is really setting himself up to get into space.
“Those were very well-blocked plays, but then he got them to over-pursue and cut back, using his athleticism and vision to score.”
HE’S A WINNER DEPT:
Two championships and six straight non-losing seasons notwithstanding, it’s been a long climb to a winning record from a 2-18 start. Saturday’s win pushed Surace’s career mark at Princeton to 43-42… Speaking of numbers, week after week the Tigers offensive statistics have become numbing, so maybe the best fact or figure from Saturday’s victory was holding Brown to three-of-14 third-down conversions (and 0-for-2 on fourth down). “They throw the kitchen sink at you–the flea flickers, reverses, double passes–and we read all those things really well and tackled,” said Surace. “The first series, when Delan (Stallworth) and Mark (Fossati) combined to stop [receiver Andrew Bolton] a yard short, was especially terrific, like a clinic.’”[email protected]