In routing Georgetown 50-22 last Saturday, the Princeton University football team did something it hadn’t accomplished in nearly 13 years.
It marked the first time a Tiger squad had reached the 50-point mark in a game since a 55-28 win over Brown on October 19, 2000.
But as a measure of the heightened expectations around a Princeton program that went 5-5 last fall after back-to-back 1-9 seasons, Tiger head coach Bob Surace wasn’t thrilled by his team’s performance in the win over the Hoyas.
“We didn’t play great by any means,” said Surace, whose team improved to 1-1 with the victory.
“We missed a lot of opportunities in the second quarter. We still have a lot of room to grow. It is good to get a win and be correcting things off of that.”
But coming a week after Princeton had squandered a 22-3 halftime lead in losing 29-28 to No. 18 Lehigh, Surace was happy to see his team close the deal as it outscored the 1-4 Hoyas 21-7 in the second half after building a 29-15 lead by intermission.
“We used the term finish,” said Surace. “It is not just finishing games, it is finishing plays. In the Lehigh game, they converted on third and fourth downs by inches and we had opportunities to get first downs and we came up just short.”
The Tigers came up big in the running game Saturday, gaining 326 yards on the ground with Brian Mills leading the way with 110 yards and junior quarterback Quinn Epperly rushing for four touchdowns, becoming the first Tiger to do so since legendary running back Keith Elias accomplished the feat in 1993.
“Each week we look at ways to run the ball,” noted Surace. “We have a good stable of running backs and we have some quarterbacks who can run the ball. We have been good with the ball handling so far. In week one, DiAndre Atwater had more than 100 yards and this week, Mills had more than 100. We have been running the ball hard and finishing runs. The receivers are blocking well downfield. I have really been happy with that.”
Surace wasn’t happy to see his team fall behind 12-8 last Saturday. “We were up 8-0 and they had a really good drive and got a touchdown,” said Surace. “We got the ball in bad field position and they ruled a play a fumble and we didn’t see it that way. It is one of those things that happens, whether it is right or wrong, you have to go to the next play. The sports analytic people say there is no such thing as momentum. Momentum is your next day’s starting pitcher or the next play.”
The Tigers did regain some momentum, forging ahead 15-12 on a one-yard touchdown run by Epperly late in the first quarter and then building the lead to 22-12 one possession later as Mills bolted 53 yards for a touchdown.
Strong defensive play helped the Tigers hold the fort when they hit a lull offensively in the second quarter.
“I like that we complemented each other in the second quarter,” said Surace.
“We struggled with our protection on offense and our defense played unbelievable. We scored on the last drive of the half and then we got the ball back in the second half and scored on the first drive. We got the ball back and scored again. It was a really good sign.”
Surace is hoping for another good effort by his squad as it hosts Columbia (0-2) on October 5 in the Ivy league opener for both teams.
“We are both 0-0 in the league,” said Surace. “We have had our home opener and we have had our road opener and we have handled things well. I hope that playing a team like Lehigh (now 4-0 and ranked 10/13 nationally) will help us down the road, they beat New Hampshire on Saturday.”
In Surace’s view, Columbia has the ability to beat anyone in the Ivy League.
“They have a running back, Marcorus Garrett, who was first-team All-Ivy, he is as good as it gets, he is averaging 7 or 8 yards a carry,” said Surace of the back who has 240 yards on 30 carries this season.
“The scores in their games have dictated that they throw the ball. Any time you have a running back like that, there is a chance that you can get into a slugfest. Their receivers have been doing a good job. They have a quarterback [Trevor McDonagh] starting his second game; he is a good football player. He is a kid we really liked. On defense, they are a strong group up front and they have speed on the back end.”
While Columbia has suffered two lopsided losses this season, falling 52-7 to Fordham and 37-14 to Monmouth, Surace believes the scores are deceiving.
“They have struggled with turnovers; I think they have made eight turnovers in two games and that is a hard way to win,” said Surace.
“Pete Mangurian is a great coach, he was in the NFL forever. The fear is that they clean up the turnovers.”
If Princeton can build on its effort against Georgetown, it could clean up in the matchup against the Lions.
“I thought the first game we didn’t finish and last week we took a step in the right direction,” said Surace.
“I think the effort showed up in the box score. We have played together, how we handle success is key.”