October 2, 2019

Davidson, Griffin Enjoy Record-Breaking Efforts As Princeton Football Cruises Past Bucknell 56-23

SEVEN UP: Princeton University quarterback Kevin Davidson directs traffic in recent action. Last Saturday at Bucknell, senior Davidson produced an historic performance, breaking the Princeton single-game record and the Ivy League record with seven touchdown passes as the Tigers rolled to a 56-23 win over the Bison. Princeton, now 2-0, hosts Columbia on October 5 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Bob Surace was looking for his Princeton University football team to make a big jump from its season opener as it played at Bucknell last Saturday in the second game of the season.

But in the early stages of the contest, it looked like Princeton may be taking a step back after its 49-7 win over Butler in its 2019 debut as the Bison jumped out to a 7-0 lead and the teams were tied 14-14 midway through the second quarter.

“From my experiences in the NFL, every year you play teams coming off a bye, that is a huge advantage for them,” said Princeton head coach Surace, who spent 10 years as an assistant coach for the Cincinnati Bengals before taking the helm of his alma mater before the 2010 season.

“They came out on fire. We missed some things that we needed to hit. Credit them, their energy was more than ours was.”

Princeton picked picked up the energy from there, scoring 14 unanswered points to take a 28-14 halftime lead and never looked back on the way to a 56-23 win over Bucknell before a crowd of 3,795 at Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium

“I thought our guys really kept their focus, they kept battling,” said Surace, who earned the 50th win of his Princeton tenure as the Tigers improved to 2-0 and posted their 12th straight victory while the Bison dropped to 0-4. “As the game went on, we were able to make enough plays to win.”

Senior quarterback Kevin Davidson made a number of big plays, connecting  29-of-37 passes for 381 yards and a program and Ivy League record seven touchdowns.

“He broke the all time Ivy League record and the Ivy League has been around a long time,” said Surace of Davidson, who was later named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week and the College Football Performance Awards Co-Performer of the Week for the FCS.

“He did a great job managing his poise, managing the pocket. He kept his eyes downfield and he just threw it tremendously well. There were some great throws and the receivers played really well,”

Senior wide receiver Andrew Griffin played exceptionally well against Bucknell, catching nine passes for 200 yards and four touchdowns – tying Michael Lerch’s 28-year-old school record for touchdown receptions in a game and tying the Ivy record as well.

“Griff is one of those guys that if you don’t root for him, something is wrong with you,” said Surace of Griffin, who was named last week as a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Award, which goes to the top scholar-athlete in college football.

“The guy is an incredible leader, student, person. In my 10 years with the team, he is probably the best student I have ever had here. He is as good a worker as I have ever had and he is just fun to be around. He is fun to coach.” For Surace, it is special to coach both Davidson and Griffin.

“Those two guys are exactly what college sports at Princeton should be about,” said Surace.

“They are two guys who do everything right, who work their tails off, who embrace the academic side of things and embrace being high-level Division I athletes. They embrace everything good so when we say what is the NCAA supposed to be about, it is them.”

Giving up 398 yards of total offense to Bucknell, the Tigers didn’t do everything exactly right on defense.

“We weren’t precise on a few things, but it was the hottest day we have had,” said Surace

“We had guys in and out. Bucknell played a game that was more horizontal than vertical so we had to run to the football. You get 11 guys running 40 yards every play with pads on, that is tough. Our coaches did a good job of utilizing all of our personnel and getting guys in and out. We have to improve in the area of pursuit.”

Surace, though did see improvement from a number of new faces on defense.

“Tyler McDonald had his first varsity action ever last week; he is such a smart player and he was over thinking things,” said Surace of the junior linebacker.

“It was great to see him make just a couple of big time tackles and to see Jaylen Bailey do the same thing. James Staag had an interception and a sack. (and was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week) The more they do it, the more confidence they have that they can do it.”

While Princeton had some sloppy moments last Saturday, Surace is confident going forward.

“We are certainly not perfect by any means,” said Surace. “We have a long way to go but I think there is a lot of good to seize on.”

The Tigers will need to be sharper this Saturday when they host Columbia (1-1) in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

“Their defense is lights out and they have one of the best returners (Mike Roussos), if not the best returner, in the country,” said Surace.

“They have got the weapons. We saw Ronald Smith catch a 75-yarder to beat us two years ago. Josh Wainwright is one of the most explosive receivers that we go against. They have a veteran quarterback (Josh Bean) who has played well. They are improved up front on the offensive line. They have Al Bagnoli, who is a legendary coach. They went 6-4 last year with about 20 players who missed the year because of injury. They are as good as any team in our league, if not better.”

With the Lions posing challenges on both sides of the ball, Surace is expecting a good battle this Saturday.

“The last time we played them at home, the outcome wasn’t great but it was one of the best football games I have ever been in,” said Surace, referring to a 28-24 loss to the Lions in 2017.

“It is great competition. What they have done is to build a program and we are going to get everything under the kitchen sink. They are tough and they are talented. We are going to need to have a great week of practice and preparation.”