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By Craig Sachson

Week 4 Preview: #24 Princeton (3-0) at #25 Monmouth (3-1)

Week 4 can be a terrific judge of a team’s competitiveness. The season opener is exciting for any player, and Week 2 is an opportunity to fix the early mistakes, prepare for the Ivy season, and sometimes play your first home game.

Ivy League games need no motivation.

That leaves the random non-league game that finds its home inside of the league schedule. Patriot League teams have been the traditional opponent here, though the 2020 schedule was supposed to send Princeton to Army. This year offers something new and exciting as well, an in-state showdown between a pair of nationally ranked teams.

24th-ranked Princeton will make the short trip to West Long Branch, N.J., to face the 25th-ranked Monmouth Hawks Saturday at 1 pm ET (ESPN+). These two teams have met only once, and it came during Princeton’s most dominant season in more than 50 years. Jesper Horsted set Princeton’s career touchdown reception record during a 51-9 home win over Monmouth during the 2018 perfect season.

This weekend should be a far more competitive game, as Monmouth enters the game with a 3-2 record (having played a challenging first month) and has reached the NCAA postseason twice in the last four seasons. If Princeton is looking ahead to the heart of its Ivy League season, it will face a long afternoon. But there is no reason to expect an unfocused Princeton team, which was pushed to the limit in a 24-7 home win over Columbia last week. This veteran-laden Princeton team hasn’t looked past — or lost to — a non-league opponent once in the last four years.

The Tigers’ competitiveness isn’t in question. Whether they can knock off a nationally ranked team on the road … well, that’s what we will find out soon enough.

Week 4 Notes

The Defense Doesn’t Rest • Princeton’s defense showed a hint of mortality last weekend by actually allowing points for the first time in 2021. Still, it remains the standard by which all other FCS programs will be measured this season.

Princeton currently ranks #1 in the FCS in both total defense (164.0 yards/game) and scoring defense (2.3 points/game). How dominant has this group been overall? The total yardage difference between Princeton and second-ranked James Madison is more than the difference between James Madison and 11th-ranked Montana State.

As for points, only four teams have allowed fewer than 10 points per game, and only Princeton is allowing fewer than five. The Tigers also rank first in rushing defense (2.7 yards/game) and fifth in third-down conversion defense (25.5%). Because Princeton was able to go deep into the bench the first two weeks, the overall stats are pretty well dispersed, but a few things have been noticeable through the first few games. Nobody is blocking either Uche Ndukwe (five sacks) or Sam Wright (four sacks), and Jeremiah Tyler looks like the best player on the field most of the time. He had the biggest play of the young season so far, an 11-yard sack on 3rd-and-3 when Columbia was threatening to take a second-half lead last weekend.

As Princeton fans can attest, it isn’t the first time Tyler has made a momentum-changing play.

Monmouth will provide the most balanced offensive attack Princeton has seen this season. The
Hawks are averaging 30+ points per game, and they have done so with more rushes (208) than passing attempts (175). The efficient running attack led by Juwon Farri (103.2 yards per game) has kept Monmouth’s offense in manageable situations, which in turn has led to a near 40% success rate on third-down conversions.

Quarterback Tony Muskett is completing more than 62% of his passes, and he is coming off a four-touchdown performance in a 54-17 home win over Gardner-Webb. If Monmouth can keep him in a comfortable pocket — a challenge against this Princeton front — he can be dangerous.

Rush To Judgment • Everything you need to know about Collin Eaddy could be seen in his game-clinching 17-yard touchdown run in the closing minutes against Columbia. Facing a 3rd-and-3, the Lions knew a stop would force a field goal attempt that would keep them within two scores. They also knew Princeton was likely to run the ball and keep the clock moving. They called the right defense, got into the backfield and hit Eaddy before he could reach the line of scrimmage.

And none of it mattered.

Eaddy, currently seventh all-time at Princeton with 2,013 rushing yards, shed the tackle, broke through the line and sealed the victory with a 17-yard touchdown run, the 21st of his brilliant career. He is an all-around threat, a back as happy to run through you as he is to run by you. (He’s probably happier to run through you, to be fair.)

Running behind one of the best offensive lines in the 12-year tenure of head coach Bob Surace, Eaddy could be a difference maker moving forward. Monmouth has been solid against the run this season and has a pair of tackling machines in the backfield in upperclassmen Anthony Budd (33 tackles) and Tyrese Wright (28).

A Special Start • It hasn’t made an obvious difference in a game yet, but Princeton should be pleased with its special teams so far. Freshman Jeffrey Sexton leads the Ivy League in field goals made (5) and success rate (100%), and he has connected on 40+ kicks in each of the last two weeks. Junior punter Will Powers, a 2019 All-Ivy honoree, leads the league with a 46.2-yard average on the season.


june, 2023