By Craig Sachson
A former Ivy League champion returning to his alma mater as head coach to turn around a struggling football program. Year 3. A nationally ranked Ivy League rival coming to your house.
There is a precedent for something wild and unexpected to happen. James Perry knows. He helped make it happen.
Perry, in Year 3 as head coach of the Brown University football team, was in his third season as offensive coordinator at Princeton when the 2012 Tigers welcomed #22 Harvard to Powers Field. The undefeated Crimson led 34-10 in the fourth quarter and seemed well on its way to its sixth straight win over Princeton.
Nine years later, and Princeton has moved into the top tier of annual Ivy contenders. The Tigers have won three of the last six Ivy League championships and 13 of their last 15 Ivy League games. A two-touchdown rally over a ranked Monmouth program put Princeton in the Top 25 of all three major FCS polls, and it showed that the Tigers could overcome a slow start and find a way to win.
Brown, meanwhile, is the team trying to make its climb towards the top half of the league. The record over the last two seasons certainly isn’t what Perry was looking for, but a closer look shows real growth in Providence. During the second half of the 2019 season, Brown won at Columbia and lost games by 2, 2 and 6 points, the final being a near-stunner of eventual Ivy champion Dartmouth in the finale.
Brown won its first game of the season last weekend, a 31-10 home win over Colgate that saw the Bears score in each quarter and throw for more than 350 yards. The Brown defense scored a touchdown, and it only allowed one well after the outcome was decided.
This James Perry-coached Brown program will be prepared, focused and ready to win this weekend. Princeton has showed time and again that it brings the same mentality each game. In the Ivy League, any other attitude is a quick path to defeat.
Week 4 Notes
Ground Attack • When you rush for 2,060 yards in your career, it’s tough to pick a favorite one. But the one Collin Eaddy gained on 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter at Monmouth last weekend has to at least enter the conversation.
Eaddy, who needs 181 yards to break into the all-time Princeton Top 5, was called upon to keep the Tigers’ final drive alive last weekend, and he delivered. In a game that saw him score three touchdowns, his biggest carry extended a drive that concluded with freshman Jeffrey Sexton’s game-winning field goal.
Eaddy has proven the ability to run past you or through you, but he’s also running past some historic names in the Princeton record books. He has more career rushing yards than any Princeton back who has graduated in the last 19 years, and he has a very realistic chance to finish his career in the top three, just behind two historic names (perhaps you are familiar with Keith Elias and Judd Garrett). If Eaddy averages 64.9 yards over the next six weeks, he’ll rank third all-time at Princeton and have more career rushing yards than any Tiger in 28 years.
Passing Fancy • The Ivy League passing leaders will go head-to-head in Providence this weekend. Brown senior EJ Perry, the nephew of James Perry and the 2019 First-Team All-Ivy quarterback, leads the league with 336.8 passing yards per game. He set an Ivy League record for total yards in 2019, and he nearly led the Bears to a stunning upset of Ivy champion Dartmouth on the final day of the season.
The #2 passer in the Ivy League is Princeton senior Cole Smith, who has a less gaudy 259.5 yards per game, but also is unbeaten as the Tiger starter. Facing his first bit of real adversity last weekend, Smith threw for 282 yards and got the Tigers in field goal range in the final minutes for Sexton’s game-winning kick. He continues to have a strong connection with classmate Jacob Birmelin, who leads the Ivy League with 88.3 receiving yards per game, but he spread the ball around in the win over Monmouth.
Defensive Domination • Princeton is the only team in all of FCS football that has allowed fewer than 200 total yards per game this season. The Tigers are allowing a meager 3.23 yards per play this season, and a major reason is their ability to get into the opposing backfield. Princeton has five of the Ivy League’s Top 25 leaders in tackles for loss, a group led by Uche Ndukwe (5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks) and Sam Wright (4.5/4.5). Jeremiah Tyler, the 2019 Defensive Player of the Year finalist, has four tackles for loss of his own.
That pressure will be critical against Perry, who can carve defenses up if given the time. Brown ranks seventh in the FCS in passing offense, and junior wideout Wes Rockett ranks in the national Top 25 with 83.8 receiving yards per game.
Go Fourth • The Princeton defense has yet to allow a fourth-quarter point this season. Monmouth scored a touchdown in the final minutes last weekend, but that came on an interception return. The defense’s late-game performances has been especially stellar over the last two weeks, when the Tigers were in one-possession games against both Columbia and Monmouth.
Head coach Bob Surace thought he would be strong on all three levels defensively, and he’s been proven correct so far. The afore-mentioned pressure has been one reason, but the experience in the defensive backfield is certainly another. Cornerback Delan Stallworth leads the team in tackles (18), and he and Christian Brown have been more than dependable at the cornerback position.
A Special Start • Freshman kicker Jeffrey Sexton was named the Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week after his game-winning field goal against Monmouth, but he’s been impressive for Princeton all season. Sexton is 8-for-8 on field goal attempts, with at least one from beyond 40 yards in each of the last three weeks. His 46-yard field goal at Monmouth matches the longest any Princeton kicker has made since Week 9 of the 2011 season (shoutout to Patrick Jacob), and he is the first Princeton kicker to start 8-for-8 since Nolan Bieck opener the 2015 season with a 10-for-10 run.