NO. 22 PRINCETON READY FOR SENIOR DAY BATTLE VS. YALE
PREVIEW: Yale (5-3, 4-1 Ivy) at Princeton (7-1, 4-1 Ivy)
By Craig Sachson
For a special group of seniors, Saturday will feel especially meaningful.
Senior Day always captures the emotions. Hearing your name over the public address, running the length of Powers Field into the waiting arms of family and teammates, and celebrating one final game together inside Princeton Stadium is something you watch multiple times, but truly experience only once.
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down athletics in the Ivy League, this Princeton group wasn’t sure it would ever get its day. The seniors had to decide to trust the process, rely on each other and train as if their moment would indeed come. That faith will be rewarded in the best way possible Saturday, as the Class of 2022 will not only get their Senior Day moment, but then they’ll play their most historic rival in a game with massive Ivy League title implications.
Princeton hosts Yale Saturday at 1 pm (ESPN+), with the winner guaranteed to play the following weekend for at least a share of the Ivy League championship. Both teams enter the game with matching 4-1 records in Ivy competition; the winner will be 5-1 going into the Nov. 20 season finale, while Dartmouth also enters the weekend 4-1, and will host Cornell Saturday at 1:30 pm.
The senior class will tell you that their own pregame festivities is secondary to the importance of the game. As sophomores, they were part of an undefeated run to the 2018 Ivy League championship — a march that included a wild 59-43 road win at Yale. They also experienced the heartbreak of a home loss to Yale the following season, which ultimately kept them from a second straight title.
They know which conclusion they liked more, and since this is the ultimate final chapter on their historic Princeton journeys, they plan on authoring the happier ending.
WEEK 9 NOTES
History Lesson • This will be the 143rd meeting between Princeton and Yale, marking the second-longest series between two college football teams (trailing only Lehigh-Lafayette). Yale leads the all-time series 78-54-10, and both teams have split the last two meetings, the last four meetings, and the last eight meetings.
These teams first met Nov. 18, 1873 in New Haven, Conn., and played countless memorable games throughout the 20th century, including a 35-31 Tiger win in 1981 that was voted the Princeton Game of the Century. More recently, this game has had a direct impact on the Ivy League race in five of the last seven years, as the team that won this game (Princeton: 2013, 2016, 2018; Yale: 2017, 2019) went to win at least a share of the Ivy League title.
Three For One • Princeton is the only team in the Ivy League to rank in the top three in both total offense and total defense in both all games and Ivy League games only; no other team ranks in the top three of both in either category. In Ivy games only, Princeton is averaging 372 yards per game offensively while allowing only 323.4 yards per game.
Throwing It Around • Two of the Ivy League’s top passers will be on display this weekend. Princeton senior Cole Smith ranks second in the Ivy League with 232.8 passing yards per league game this season. Yale quarterback Nolan Grooms ranks fourth overall, but he is coming off one off the best individual performances of the season when he completed 18 of 26 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns in a 63-38 win against Brown.
Catching On • Princeton senior Jacob Birmelin leads the Ivy League in both receptions (52) and receiving yards (669). With eight more catches this season, Birmelin would become only the fourth receiver in Princeton history with multiple seasons of at least 60 catches. The others rank among the all-time best in program history:
Jesper Horsted (196 total catches): 72 in 2018, 92 in 2017
Kevin Guthrie (193 total catches): 88 in 1983, 75 in 1982
Derek Graham (177 total catches): 84 in 1983, 62 in 1984
Jacob Birmelin (119 catches currently): 60 in 2019, 52 through eight weeks of 2021
A Fine Nine • Jacob Birmelin currently ranks ninth all-time in program history with 126 career catches, and has a very realistic chance of moving inside the top six. Here is who stands ahead of him, and how many catches he would need to match them.
T4 – Chisom Opara 154 (28)
T4 – Matthew Costello 154 (28)
6 – Trey Peacock 141 (15)
7 – Judd Garrett 137 (11)
8 – Connor Kelley 129 (3)
T9 – Jacob Birmelin 126
T9 – Roman Wilson 126
Sack Exchange • Five of the Ivy League’s top nine leaders in sacks will be in action Saturday on Powers Field. Yale’s Clay Peterson leads the league with 10.5 total sacks, while Princeton’s Samuel Wright ranks second with 7.5 sacks. Tiger teammate Uche Ndukwe has six sacks despite playing in only six games, while both Princeton’s Cole Aubrey and Yale’s Reid Nickerson have five sacks apiece.
Feeling Down • Princeton leads the Ivy League in allowing the fewest opposing first downs this season (15.0). Part of that success comes from its own discipline, as it has allowed only six first downs via penalty; no other Ivy League team is in single digits in that category.
Conversion Chart • When the Princeton offense faces third downs Saturday, it will be a test of strength vs. strength. The Tigers rank second in the Ivy League with a 43% conversion rate on third downs, while the Yale defense ranks first in the league with a 23.6% allowed conversion rate.
50-50 • The Ivy League has had three games where the winning team has scored at least 50 points, and Princeton or Yale has been on that side in all three. Both scored 63 in a win (Princeton over Stetson, Yale over Brown), while Princeton also posted a 56-point game over Brown.
Class of 2022:
Samuel Wright II