Friday, September 5, 2008

Football Shows Encouraging Signs During Yale Scrimmage

The annual Princeton-Yale football scrimmage, which kicks off a weekend when most schools are playing their first (or second) real game, took place Friday night on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

The starting Princeton offense impressed on its first drive. Starting running back Jordan Culbreath, the hero of last year's win over Cornell, ran the ball six times on the drive, including consecutive rushes of 13 and 17 yards. He looked quick and shifty and found holes cleared by an experienced offensive line. It's been a while since you could call this line an experienced one, but players like Mark Paski and J.P. Makrai have come into their own and should be leaders.

Another leader on this offense is tri-captain Brian Anderson, who put Princeton in front 7-0 with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Will Thanheiser. Both players worked hard on the play; Anderson broke from the pocket and scrambled left to buy time, while Thanheiser came from across the field and toed the back of the end zone when he leapt for the scoring pass.

Anderson and Culbreath played only two series, but they looked good overall. Anderson completed 4 of 5 passes for 52 yards, while Culbreath carried the ball 10 times for 74 yards. The offense struggled without Culbreath; a banged-up RC Lagomarsino didn't play, so the majority of the carries went to freshmen Eric Stoyanoff and Jonathan Meyers. The two combined for 39 yards on 12 carries and showed promise, but neither was really able to carry the offense.

The defense was able to get most of its players some time, and like the offense, showed some promise. However, the inexperienced pass defense was picked on by Yale. The Bulldogs, who scored a 28-7 win in the scrimmage, scored its two last touchdowns on long pass plays in the second half. With the starters in, Yale did put together a 69-yard touchdown drive that featured two pass plays of more than 20 yards. During the Media Day session that preceded the scrimmage, defensive coordinator Steve Verbit noted the secondary as a work in progress, and clearly it will need to be better when the two teams meet for real in November.

Like all other positions, there were positives in the backfield, including an interception and 20-yard return for Glenn Wakam.

Overall, a scrimmage is a weird game to watch. After the first quarter, there were no kickoffs and no punts, and by the second half, there were no extra points (although we credited Yale with both extra points during that session, because a 26-7 final score just doesn't sound right). It was a good test for Princeton against a Yale team that won 17 of its last 19 games heading into this season.

By the way, while Princeton is scrimmaging Yale this weekend, Week 1 opponent The Citadel is taking on ACC favorite Clemson. Pretty much the same, right?

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