They Are Proving Good as Advertised
BY JAY GREENBERG
We are deep enough into ten games that they start to become largely about the depth. Since the 2012 turnaround, the difference between three Princeton Ivy titles and four 5-5 seasons has been the erosion of bodies. The most dramatic example came in 2017 when everything but boils and locusts hit the defensive line. The two fewer games to an Ivy team’s season still don’t ever make them short, especially without a bye week.
This coaching staff does not teach tackling with fingers crossed, reserving that skill for themselves, along with hitting their knees every night that the knees are holding out. Some unexpected absences and the loss of captain John Orr before week one thinned out both the 2019 Tigers ranks, and to some degree, space on their bandwagon.
The rating service 247 Sports raved about the last two Princeton recruiting classes, but paper is thin, the Ethernet thinner. and the skinny bodies of freshmen who have not yet turned themselves into men in the weight room thinnest of all. Before you know it, you need 247 training tables and can come up almost that many reasons why a particular year never was meant to be.
But here are the Tigers building, not losing, reserve strength as they go to Brown Saturday with a 4-0 record.
Matthew Winston and Sultaan Shabazz, the latter getting his second interception during Friday night’s 28-3 win over Lafayette, have thickened a tall secondary, both in nickel packages and when Delan Stallworth missed the Columbia game. A bunch of next ups have come up big, especially in the front seven.
So far, so good on the replacement of three starting 2018 linebackers – four really, since Orr had capably started during the 2017 season after Mark Fossati was lost in week 3.
“When we lost John, James (Johnson) had to step up his communication and was forced into a leadership role,” said Surace on Sunday morning, after watching again his team give up just seven 1st downs and 162 total yards to the Leopards. “James has been really steady, done a terrific job and (sophomore) Daniel Beard has gotten better every game.”
“So have (freshmen) Anthony Corbin and (Junior Tyler) McDonald. We are going to have to continue to improve but I see how hard those guys are working and developing.”
As Sam Wright and Joey DeMarco (three sacks Friday night) emerge as dominant rushers, they are in much less danger of wearing down because of the trust earned by young D-linemen. “We are rotating seven interior guys in nickel situations – (Michael) Azevedo, (Alex) Kilander, Uche (Ndukwe) and Tola Banjoko,” said Surace, meaning behind Wright, DeMarco and Jake Strain. “And we use three at the rush linebacker position – (freshman) Cole Aubrey, behind (sophomores) Matt Jester and Ike Hall.
And then a star is being born in freshman DE James Stagg, who had another three tackles on top of his interception and a sack at Bucknell.
“He is a year older, sat out last season after being a late medical disqualification at the Navel Academy), which helps,” said Surace. “That makes a difference mentally, but James also is a good athlete who has done a remarkable job getting his body back stronger than it ever was.”
But About Those Seven First Downs . . .
Surace figures there should have been only about four.
“We didn’t wrap up (quarterback Keegan Shoemaker) a few times,” said the coach. “And this week we are going to face a quarterback (E.J. Perry) who is bigger, stronger, and more athletic than any I can recall we have faced.”
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting the quarterback down. But our effort to make [Shoemaker] throw under duress was really good. There was that one rollout after Sam missed when he chased the guy 15 yards. DeMarco had another one of those on a scramble. The sacks by Johnson and Beard were really good efforts of chasing the quarterback.”
And While on the Subject of Tackling:
“We are doing a good job, especially when the ball is thrown underneath,” said Surace. “That goes for both the initial tackler and the guys rallying in pursuit”.
“The Bucknell game wasn’t as good as we would have liked, but we have done much better since. Delan, especially, has had a number of tackles at the line of scrimmage or for a loss. For a cornerback, he has done really well with that.”
On special teams, freshman Will Perez does not miss. Coming off two tackles on the only two returnable Tavish Rice kickoffs against Columbia, Perez had another against Lafayette.
“Some young guys are tentative, afraid to make a mistake,” said Surace. “Will just plays football.
“He understands his responsibilities and flies down the field.”