After Sputtering Down the Stretch Last Season, PU Football Looking for Fast Start Against Lafayette
FUN BUNCH: Members of the Princeton University football team enjoy a light moment as they posed for their team photo at the program’s recently-held media day during preseason camp. Princeton, which went 5-5 overall and 2-5 Ivy last fall, kicks off its 2016 campaign when it hosts Lafayette (1-1 in 2016) on September 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Heading into mid-October last year, things looked very promising for the Princeton University football team as it started 4-0 overall and 1-0 Ivy League.
But getting hit with a wave of injuries, that early promise didn’t pan out as the Tigers lost five of their last six games, with four of those defeats coming by seven points or less.
Looking ahead to the 2016 season, Princeton head coach Bob Surace believes that the mentality to pull out the close ones must be honed on a daily basis.
“You have got to execute, we always use the words, you rise to the occasion, but I think you fall back on your habits and I really stress that part of it,” said Surace at the program’s recently-held media day.
“We have practiced really hard for a reason. We have created some chaos in practice for a reason. We are gong to be playing in a really challenging league. There are no games any more where you just circle teams and walk out there and you are going to run over somebody.”
Princeton will be looking to put its foes on the run, featuring a no-huddle offense and a smash-mouth defense.
“We are playing fast,” asserted Surace. “We have done some things to speed ourselves up and get in attack mode on all three sides of the ball.”
The quarterback tandem of senior tri-captain Chad Kanoff (203-of-335 passing with 2,295 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2015) and multi-talented junior John Lovett (286 yards rushing, 318 years receiving, 11-of-15 passing for 94 yards and 3 touchdowns) will spearhead the Tiger offensive attack.
“They are both starters, they are going to be on the field together and separately,” said Surace.
“They are good football players and we are going to utilize them to their strengths in any given week. They are leaders, the rest of the team is responding. When Quinn Epperly and Connor Michelsen did a drill, it was always sharp and that’s the way it looks right now. That is probably the biggest difference between last camp and this camp. Those guys make sure of that every day because the quarterback does set the tone.”
Tiger offensive coordinator James Perry, a former star quarterback at Brown, likes what he is seeing from Kanoff and Lovett.
“They have both taken their development very seriously and they have done that during these practices as well,” said Perry. “We have had a good start at camp and both of them have shown good improvement.”
Perry is hoping to see some quick development in the offensive line, which will feature some new faces.
“What camp always means for linemen is that we are trying to create depth,” explained Perry. “We are a system that wants to use a lot of linemen; we are not going to play five guys for all 90 snaps of the game so for the first half of camp we have done a very good job of creating depth. At the same time, some of the guys who have played a lot of football, including Mitch Sweigart, Mason Darrow, and Eric Ramirez, and they are taking their development very seriously. We have been very happy with the combination of those things.”
Surace, for his part, is looking for senior Darrow and junior Sweigart to anchor the line.
“We moved Mason Darrow late last year from tackle to inside and he has made a smooth transition to center,” said Surace.
“He is great leader with that group. Mitch Sweigart has playing in the last 20 game and he is really playing at a high level right now. It is really nice to have a center and a left tackle to solidify it.”
The Tigers boast a solid solid group at receiver, led by a trio of seniors, Isaiah Barnes (33 receptions for 466 yards and 2 TDs in 2015), James Frusciante (9 receptions for 137 yards) and Trevor Osborne (24 receptions for 306 yards and 3 TDs), and promising young players like sophomores Jesper Horsted, Stephen Carlson, and Alex Parkinson.
“We have had had as much depth this camp as we have ever had,” said Perry.
“We have three older guys who have played a ton of football in Isaiah, James, and Trevor. They are great practicers and I think if you are a young receiver on this team, you very quickly saw that. All of them worked hard in the summer and as a result we have all of these young guys who are now pushing for playing time and creating that wide receiver depth.”
Battle-tested senior tight end Scott Carpenter (24 receptions for 225 yards and 3 TDs) figures to be a key weapon in the passing game.
“Scott has played an immense amount of snaps; he hardly ever leaves the field,” said Perry.
“His dedication to being in shape and working hard that way is huge for us so we expect another good year for him.
Perry is looking for big things from a trio of running backs, senior tri-captain Joe Rhattigan (612 yards rushing for 7 TDs in 2015), sophomore Charles Volker (147 yards rushing, 1 TD), and senior A.J. Glass (94 yards rushing, 1 TD).
‘They are working, we measure how these guys finish,” said Perry, referring to his running backs.
“We watch every film and every play and where they are taking the ball to and there is rarely a snap where they are not 20 or 30 yards down the field. I think all three of them have played enough football that they understand that the reason we are doing that is hopefully in the game they can take some of this balls out. I would expect all three of them to have a very good year based upon what they have shown in camp.”
The Tigers appear to have a very good front seven on defense. On the line, Princeton will feature junior Kurt Holuba, junior Ty Desire, senior Henry Schlossberg, and senior Birk Olson. At linebacker, a trio of seniors Rohan Hylton, R.J. Paige, and Luke Catarius along with junior Mark Fossati, will be leading the way.
Associate head coach and co-defensive coordinator Steve Verbit believes that the Tigers have a lot of potential in the trenches.
“They have got a chance to be a pretty good front; we are taking it one day at a time right now,” said Verbit.
“We have a couple of guys coming back from injuries. As a group, the came back in tremendous shape. They are stronger and a little bit bigger than they have been in the past so they all have a chance to be good.”
In the view of co-defensive coordinator Jim Salgado, the return of star linebacker Hylton from injury will be a major plus for the Tigers.
“Rohan looks great, he looks fast, fresh,” said Salgado “He missed pretty much the last six games for us so he is chomping at the bit. He is a guy who has played a lot of football so we are just excited to have him back on the field. You can see the speed at that middle linebacker position.”
The development of Catarius and Fossati has strengthened the linebacker position for the Tigers.
“Luke Catarius played a bunch for us last year when Rohan went down, his progress has come along very nicely,” added Salgado.
“Mark Fossati is another linebacker for us who has had a really good preseason and we are looking for big things out of him.”
In the secondary, senior safety and tri-captain Dorian Williams will play a big role.
“Dorian is a guy who is a four-year starter for us so we are excited about having him back,” added Salgado.
“We lost three other starters but there are guys who have been in the program who we are counting on. Guys like Markus Phox, James Gales, and Sam Huffman played for us at the end of last year in nickel situations. For those guys, it is their turn. They know the system, they had a great spring, and now let’s go, it is time to play.”
For Salgado, the keys to having a great year defensively come down to the basics.
“We have got to stop the run, we talk about that all of the time, that is first and foremost,” said Salgado.
“We are going to run and smash and we are going to get to the ball. If we do that, then we are going to get after the quarterback. In the grand scheme of things, we want no explosive plays, no plays over the top. That is what has got to be done for us to have a great year.”
While Surace is hoping his team will have a chip on its shoulder after being picked to finished fifth by the Ivy preseason poll, there are more pressing concerns with Lafayette coming to Princeton Stadium this Saturday night looking to avenge a 40-7 loss to the Tigers last fall.
“It will be a different Lafayette team, they were decimated by injuries when we played them that week,” said Surace of the Leopards, who are 1-1 this season, having defeated Central Connecticut State 24-10 before losing to perennial power Delaware 24-6.
“They are a 60-scholarship school so we are not going to have any easy games and we are going to have to execute against a really good defense that they present. I expect us to win the first game. We have got to focus on now, on the day.”