Vol. LXII, No. 49
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)
CHILLY RECEPTION: Princeton University football head coach Roger Hughes yells through the chill in Princetons season-ending 28-10 win over Dartmouth in late November. Despite cutting down on turnovers and being more efficient in the red zone this fall than in 2007, Princeton posted a second straight 4-6 season. The Tigers went 3-4 in Ivy League play to take fifth in the league standings.
In assessing what the Princeton University football team needed to do this fall in order to be an Ivy League title contender, Tiger head coach Roger Hughes boiled things down to three statistical areas.
The ninth-year head coach said the Tigers needed to improve their turnover ratio, be more efficient in the red zone, and increase productivity in third down situations.
Check, check, and almost. The 2008 Tigers committed only 12 turnovers as opposed to 30 the previous season as their ratio improved from minus-eight to even. Princeton had an 82 percent success rate in the red zone this fall, up from 71 percent in 2007.
Offensively, Princeton was better in third down situations, converting 42 percent of the time as opposed to 38 percent a year ago. On defense, the Tigers were slightly worse as opponents had a 46 percent success rate, an improvement of six percent over 2007.
But despite following the blueprint nearly to the letter, the Tigers ended up at 4-6 overall and 3-4 in Ivy play this fall, exactly matching the programs 2007 record.
While Princeton was more careful with the ball and generally more efficient, it developed a penchant for shooting itself in the foot in the third quarter.
The trend started with the season opener when the Tigers squandered a 17-7 halftime lead at the Citadel, getting outscored 17-0 in the third quarter on the way to a 37-24 setback.
On the season, Princeton was outscored 69-31 in the third quarter. In critical Ivy losses to Brown, Harvard, and Penn, the Tigers scored a total of three points in the third quarter while surrendering 31.
After a 14-9 loss to Penn in early November, Hughes frustration over the succession of bad third quarters boiled over.
We have not done well in the first two possessions on either side of the ball a lot of times in the third quarter, said Hughes, who now has an overall record of 43-46 in his Princeton tenure.
We are going to look at everything we are doing at half; maybe we need to stand outside and run sprints the whole half to keep them loose. I dont know but we are going to find the doggone answer to figure out why we are not coming out with the passion we need to. Its not that we arent playing hard; its that we are not playing right for whatever reason.
The Tigers showed some improvement in the third quarter in their season ending 28-10 victory over Dartmouth, outscoring the Big Green 14-7 in that period.
While frustrated by his teams final record which left Princeton in fifth place in the Ivy standings, Hughes had no qualms with the attitude displayed by his players as they went through the up-and-down season.
It is disappointing that we werent able to put together a better season but the nice thing is that this group has bounced back from adversity each week, said Hughes.
They have been pretty resilient from the standpoint of preparing to win even though they havent seen the results on the field that complement all the work that they have put in. That hasnt swayed them from putting in the work and doing what they need to do to be ready.
The players, though, werent all work and no play. They have really been a fun group to coach and more importantly they have been fun to be around, added Hughes. It has been fun to see them develop.
In Hughes view, the character displayed by the squads seniors kept the team on track in terms of effort.
We have seen no drop-off in work ethic and the reason it hasnt is frankly because of this great senior class, said Hughes, whose seniors posted a 24-16 record over their four seasons and helped the program earn a tie for the Ivy title in 2006.
This team probably practices harder than our Ivy championship team of 2006.
I have been very pleased with their leadership and their work ethic. The nice thing about this group is that there is no one senior that I would not want to take home and have dinner with. They are very good people too. They are going to be very successful as they leave Princeton and do whatever they want to do.
While the seniors didnt achieve the success they wanted in their final campaign, several received All-Ivy recognition with wide receiver Will Thanheiser and defensive lineman Pete Buchignani earning second-team honors and classmates punter Ryan Coyle and defensive lineman Matt Koch getting honorable mention.
The Tigers have some All-Ivy stars returning in junior running back Jordan Culbreath, a first-team choice after leading the league with 1,206 yards rushing, junior offensive lineman Mark Paski, a second-team choice, and junior linebacker Scott Britton and sophomore linebacker Steve Cody who earned All-Ivy honorable mention.
Hughes is hoping his returning players can learn some lessons from the teams fall of near-misses.
Clearly the ups and downs have been very emotional; the frustrations have been magnified from that standpoint because I didnt really feel I would be sitting here talking about 4-6 with the way we played most of our games, maintained Hughes.
We figured we would be 8-2, 7-3 pretty easily and we really could have been. What our underclassmen have to understand is the fine line between being 4-6 and 8-2. This group worked as hard as any group I have ever been around anywhere but we have to find a way to get the little extra that makes the difference in the very close games.
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