October 20, 2021

No. 17 PU Football Defeats Brown 56-42, Now 5-0; Setting Up Showdown with Undefeated, No. 16 Harvard

AIR SHOW: Princeton University football quarterback Cole Smith fires a pass in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior Smith passed a career-high 476 yards and four touchdowns as Princeton defeated Brown 56-42. Smith was later named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week. The No. 17 Tigers, now 5-0 overall and 2-0 Ivy, host No. 16 Harvard (5-0 overall, 2-0 Ivy) on October 23.

By Bill Alden

After the Princeton University football team overcame Brown 56-42 last Saturday, Bob Surace tipped his hat to Bear quarterback E.J. Perry.

“We have gone against some really good offensive players in my 12 years and even the four years that I played; E.J. is the best opponent I have gone against in this league at quarterback,” said Princeton head coach Surace of Perry, who passed for 331 yards and five touchdowns while rushing for 82 yards in a losing cause.

“He had a great game. I told him after the game, it is not just his performance, it is the leadership, and the competitiveness.”

Fortunately for Surace, his quarterback, senior Cole Smith, produced a career performance in guiding the Tigers to victory, hitting on 25 of 27 passes for a career-high 476 yards and four TDs to help Princeton improve to 5-0 overall and 2-0 Ivy League. He was later named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week.

“It was just like with them; it was a really, really good job by our coaches scheme-wise and then a great job by the players executing,” said Surace of Smith, whose passing yards total in the game was the second most in Princeton history behind the 501 piled up by Bob Holly against Yale in 1981.

“Cole did the same thing, there were some real small windows on some of those throws and the receivers did a great job getting them. I was doing the proud dad thing because my son A.J. was 14 for 16 [for Notre Dame High] and he only played a half. I said to him I was hoping you would be near A.J.’s stats but you put him to shame.”

In the early stages of the contest, it looked like the proud Princeton defense, that had given up only seven points in the first three games, was going to contain Perry as the Tigers led 14-0 going into the second quarter.

But Surace knew better with former Princeton offensive coordinator James Perry, E.J.’s uncle, at the helm of the Brown program.

“Their style of play and ability to score quickly puts stress on you,” said Surace, noting that Brown had been down 33-0 to Bryant on October 2 before scoring 29 straight points in a 36-29 loss.

The Tigers found themselves under a lot of stress in the second quarter as Brown reeled off 21 points.

“We had a hard time with our contain; E.J. did a great job of getting out of potential sacks and getting out of the pocket,” said Surace.

“He broke some tackles. He threw the ball well. Some of the throws, he threw it into small windows. James is a great coach and has a great scheme. E.J. is playing well, their whole offense is.”

Clinging to a 28-21 lead at halftime, Surace urged his players to stay in the moment.

“This game was a track meet and you can’t panic, you have to stay in that one play at a time and be disciplined,” said Surace.

“To the players’ credit, they did a really good job with that. It is hard thing to do. It is easy for me to say but for a 20-year-old kid it is a hard thing to do.”

Senior running back Collin Eaddy did a great job, rushing for 130 yards and four TDs on 15 carries.

“That was his Michael Jordan game, he got sick during the week,” said Surace, referring to the famous game where a flu-stricken Jordan scored 38 points in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz.

“On Wednesday and Thursday we kept him in his dorm room, just to not spread it. With COVID era you are going to test him so fortunately it wasn’t COVID but he had a bad flu. Even Friday, he was sweating all over the place. He has just been so strong with tough runs. He had a couple of openings and he was able to get into space for some long ones. He is so consistent. He just looks like he is having fun out there.”

Princeton’s receivers had a lot of fun against Brown as senior Jacob Birmelin made 11 catches for 175 yards, senior Dylan Classi made five receptions for 146 yards and one touchdown and junior Andrei Iosivas had six catches for 140 yards and a pair of TDs. Classi and Iosivas set new career single-game highs in yards while Birmelin surpassed 100 career catches.

“They are so well balanced — when they had to make dynamic catches, they did,” said Surace.

“When they got the ball on short routes, they fought for extra yards. They were a couple of balls in tight coverage where Cole put it in perfectly and it still took a really good catch to come down with it. They block; they really do a good job with each other of reaching their full potential.”

The Tiger defense, though, will need to do a better job in the Ivy stretch drive.

“We have to tighten things up,” said Surace. “In the Columbia game (a 24-7 win on October 2) the defense picked up the offense and played magnificent while we had a few struggles, it took a little time. We were not precise on some of the details. This week in particular we had to tighten some things up, we are going against some great players. E.J. is one of the better quarterbacks to ever play in our league. Against him, you have to play better than we did. We are going to have to improve.”

With Princeton hosting Harvard (5-0 overall, 2-0 Ivy) on October 23 in a critical league clash, Surace knows his squad is facing a great challenge. 

“They are always a terrific team, they are recruiting tremendous players,” said Surace, whose team is now ranked  No.  17 in the AFCA Coaches’ Poll with Harvard at No. 16.

“Tim [Murphy] is going to go in the Hall of Fame as a coach. They have a great staff. It is the challenge that you love. From the little bit I have seen of them, this is as good as any Harvard team I have seen.”

In order to overcome the powerful Crimson, the Tigers will need to take care of the little things.

“We are going to have to pick up our level of detail, discipline, and technique,” said Surace.

“We are playing hard, I watched the game film last night and our effort has been tremendous. We are playing together, they are having fun out there. You don’t have to be perfect, have you got to pick it up to where we are minimizing some of the mistakes we are making.”