In a Game Worth the Wait, Patience Will Prevail
BY JAY GREENBERG
Tim Murphy, who’s Harvard Crimson lost by eight points to Princeton and seven points to Dartmouth and presumably knows better than most, picks the Big Green Saturday.
“I think Dartmouth’s the better team,” said the coach. “To me, when you have the dominant defensive team in the league that has consistently been the ticket to winning an Ivy League championship.
“They have three three-hundred pound, twitched-up defensive linemen. I can’t remember ever seeing that in the Ivy League.”
Dartmouth is second behind Princeton in Ivy scoring defense, first in rushing defense. Whether you choose your favorite statistic, or note that Murphy and Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens were childhood friends, or just give the Harvard coach credit for a rare burst of coaching candor, he still will have no say in what actually occurs after 1 pm. Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.
Just about everybody has an opinion, just like practically everybody on this Dartmouth defense has a tackle for a loss. Murphy actually is not saying a whole lot more than is Bob Surace about this Dartmouth defense, minus the prediction, of course.
“I can’t recall any team better in eight years,” says the Princeton coach. “And we have played playoff teams.”
So many intriguing questions. So many ways this first November meeting of Ivy unbeatens since 2001-and for Princeton since 1993-can go. To win, Dartmouth will have to do a better job on Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson than anybody has so far and Harvard did a pretty good one and still gave up 13 catches and a touchdown. It should be close enough that turnovers–and it won’t take many–probably will be the decider unless the kicking game is, or one trick play breaks a death struggle.
Comparative scores—Columbia, which fell to Princeton by 35 and to Dartmouth by 12, is the only other common opponent to this point–and statistics turn into damn lies as benches get emptied in the second halves.
Here is the most impressive numbers and the most formidable Princeton challenge:
Dartmouth has allowed only two opposing backs to break 50 yards all season. Princeton backs have done that 12 times, six of them for more than 100.
Defense starts against the run. Offense is doomed to end soon after its complete abandonment. When it is not 45-0 at the half, the game is getting into third-and-short, all the better to do that with running bull quarterbacks like Princeton’s John Lovett and Dartmouth’s Jared Gerbino. So through all the bursts, juking, cutting and dragging for those last three yards, who will be put to the ground Saturday with more efficiency? Lovett (7.7 yards per carry) and Charlie Volker (7.3)? Or Gerbino (6.5 yards per carry) and Rashaad Cooper (6.9)?”
“Dartmouth is a very impressive tackling team,” said Princeton Offensive Coordinator Sean Gleeson. “Even with all the disruption they have created with their D-line, the top three tacklers on their team are the three linebackers.
“That makes sense with the way they play coverage, how they keep things in front of them. No. 3 (Kyran McKinney-Crudden) tackles well in space. Jack Traynor is a returning star. The[back eight]
tackles well, if the D-line doesn’t get to you first.”
The starting front three has gotten to everybody so far for a combined 10 sacks, 13.5 tackles for losses and 2.9 yards per opposition rush, best in the FCS. The Big Green also has given up just 4.63 yards per passing play.
“That number is unreal,” says Surace. But he won’t go as far as TO say this front is the best he’s ever seen, because once there was a combo this good and he was fortunate enough to have it.
“(Jackson) Perry and (Rocco) Di Leo have a Caraun Reid—Mike Catapano thing going,” said Surace. “Perry has a lot of similarities to a Reid–strong, thick body, quick. I think he has a future after college.
“But their entire front is good. I watched every player they have and it wouldn’t be [outrageous] for Buddy to nominate all 22 starters for All-Ivy. They are that strong.
“Traynor is a sideline to sideline guy, big and physical. He was in the top three or four last year for player of the year (Bushnell Cup) voting and is better this year.
“(Corner Isiah) Swann has tremendous ball skills, is a terrific athlete and so long, which helps with the bigger receivers. He will play to the boundary. If Jesper is in the boundary, he will see Swann and if he’s to the field he will see (Dewayne) Terry.”
Terry is a rare underclassmen on a unit of Don Dobes’ dreams. Dobes, 16 years a Princeton assistant under Steve Tosches and Roger Hughes and in his ninth year as Defensive Coordinator at Dartmouth, has a track record for doing a job on the opposition’s best threat.
An exception was a year ago when Chad Kanoff threw for 444 yards, 169 of them to Horsted and 138 to Carlson. Horsted scored on a 29-yard post, completing an 80-yard drive in just 2:16 to put Princeton ahead, the only problem being it still left three minutes on the clock for Dartmouth to work on a depleted Tiger defense. An interception of a desperate Princeton lateral on the kickoff for a touchdown was the only reason it became a two-score final. And probably the reason the Tigers didn’t win is that Dartmouth took the rest of the time off the clock.
Last score might win it again Saturday. Provided somebody scores. Considering how remarkably healthy both these teams remain in Week Eight, as dominant as these defenses have been, the game certainly doesn’t figure to be 54-44 this time. But all due respect for what Dartmouth has earned, it hasn’t faced a choose-your-poison combination of playmakers like John Lovett, Charlie Volker, Carlson and Horsted.
“He makes the very difficult catch,” said Teevens. They will throw the ball up in the air to him and he is just taller than everybody.
“Up he goes and he will fight for the ball. He is a very, very impressive player, a dominant guy in this league.”
An irresistible force (7.5 yards per Princeton offensive play) against an immovable object (4.2 allowed by Dartmouth) is the most intriguing setup you can have for a game. Gets a coach’s juices flowing!
“It’s going to be fun,” said Gleeson. “I have a lot of respect for the way they are playing football. It’s going to take everything we’ve got.
“There is some overlap when the coordinator has been there as long as he has. They know us and we know them but every year presents a new wrinkle.
“They move Perry and Di Leo around on the line to create some matchups, sort of like what the (Houston) Texans do with J.J. Watt. Whether against single blocking, doubling or using the back in pass blocking, so far Perry still has owned it. We will do our best to put ourselves in the best (blocking) positions.
“This is a unit that makes you complete the ball down the field because they keep a lot of things in front of them. We did that last year against them but this year they have the complement of a really good pass rush that can get pressure with four guys or even three. So they can sit back and admire what the guys up front are going to do.
“You are aware of someone who has the kind of statistics (seven interceptions) that Swann has and he is even more impressive when you watch him. He is really good at the tops of routes.
“But whether it is Jesper or Steve we have a lot of experience playing at the top of routes and catching the 50-50 balls. So I feel good.”
Dartmouth leads the series 49-44-4, has won seven of the last eight, the exception being the Tigers’ 38-21 Ivy-Title clinching victory on Powers Field in 2016… Princeton is 14th in the latest AFCA coaches Top 25 poll, Dartmouth 20th… This is only the third time in more than 100 years–the others being 1935, a Princeton victory and 1966, a Dartmouth triumph–that these schools have both been undefeated headed into a November head-to-head… Television is ESPN+ Cody Chrusciel, Coffee Jones, Lisa Roman, NBC Sports Philadelphia, and NBC Sports Boston. Radio TuneIn and WPRB 103.3 will be handled by Patrick McCarthy and Tom Criqui… Lovett’s streak of 17 straight games with a rushing touchdowns is two shy of the Ivy record by Yale’s Mike McLeod (2006-08)… Horsted needs 19 catches in three games to better Kevin Guthrie’s Princeton record of 193.