Monday, October 16, 2017

Muddling Through

TigerBlog was watching the Princeton-Brown football game on the Ivy League Network when something curious dawned on him.

Brown Stadium is one of those rare facilities that still has natural grass. And since it appeared to be a rainy morning in Providence, there were the players, with dirt on their uniforms.

Back when TB was a kid, there were two kinds of fields - natural grass and the rock-hard carpeting that was the original artificial turf. There was always something special about games in rain or snow on grass fields, as basically everyone on both teams would be slipping and sliding all over the place. And best of all, they'd all be covered in mud long before the game ended.

The advent of artificial turf fields brought with them clean uniforms, even in the worst weather. These days, most fields are made of FieldTurf, which is softer and plays like natural grass, with one major difference - no grass stains.

It's a sign of progress, TB supposes. FieldTurf drains well, and maintenance is easier and less costly. It's not the near-cement that old artificial turf was.

It just doesn't allow for dirty uniforms. And there was a certain charm to that.

And there they were again, Saturday, on the ILN. Dirty uniforms. It was like old times.

TigerBlog can't vouch for what the uniforms looked like at the end of the game, since he only watched the first half. This one was over long before then.

The final would be Princeton 53, Brown 0. It was a 36-0 game at the break.

For that matter it was 9-0 Princeton by the time TB turned the game on, and this was shortly after the kickoff. There are days like this, when everything goes right and teams win easily. Or, conversely, when nothing goes right and teams are never in it.

For Princeton, Saturday was one of the better ones.

Here was Princeton's drive chart from the first half - field goal, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown. You're going to win a lot of game when you do that.

For that matter, here was Charles Volker's first half drive chart - not a touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, not a touchdown.

Volker, the Ivy League sprint champion, would carry 16 times for 163 yards and four TDs. One of those TDs was a 96-yard run, the longest run in the history of Princeton football. And Volker, with that sprinter's speed, as gone almost the second he touched the ball.

As Volker was going the distance on the 96-yarder, TB flashed back 14 years, when the longest pass play in Princeton history happened on that same field, as Matt Verbit and Clinton Wu connected on a 99-yard TD. 

Volker wasn't a one-man show, obviously.

Chad Kanoff had another good day at quarterback, going 21 for 27 for 237 yards and two touchdowns. Jesper Horsted caught seven more passes with another touchdown. The defense allowed just 170 yards.

And what does it mean?

Mostly it means that Princeton is now 4-1, 1-1 in the Ivy League, heading into a huge game Friday at Harvard. In fact, Princeton and Harvard are two of four teams who are 1-1 in the league, along with Yale and Cornell.

There are still two unbeatens, though only one of them will be that way at the end of next weekend. Dartmouth, who edged Sacred Heart in its final non-league game 29-26, and Columbia, who is now earned an OT win over Penn, will meet this coming week in Hanover.

This is a very crowded horse race right now. Princeton lost its Ivy opener against Columbia on a late TD pass from the Lions, but the Tigers aren't out of things at all. Each game is huge from here on out, obviously.

Columbia and Dartmouth are both 5-0 overall, in addition to being 2-0 in the league. Princeton finishes the season in Hanover against the Big Green.

The really interesting thing about Ivy football so far in 2017 is that no score is really all that stunning. Well, no result anyway. TigerBlog didn't expect Princeton to beat Brown 53-0, obviously.

As he checks the other scores each week, though, nothing is really all that shocking. That's the sign of a completely wide-open league.

If Princeton wins out, it still needs someone to beat Columbia to earn at least a share of the title. Will that happen? Who knows this year.

Columbia, Dartmouth, Cornell and Harvard can all win at least a share of the championship by winning their remaining games. That's also the sign of a balanced league.

Each team has five Ivy games remaining. The goal is to be playing big games in November. 

Nothing that's happened so far for Princeton changes that. So enjoy the 53-0. And then forget it.

Princeton starts that final drive Friday night at Harvard. Do not expect this one to be one of those days like this past weekend. Nope, this one will be tough from start to finish.

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