Friday, November 2, 2018

Almost Kickoff

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Once again, let TigerBlog remind you of the schedule at Princeton tomorrow:

* field hockey against Penn at noon
* football against Dartmouth at 1
* women's hockey against Harvard at 3
* men's soccer against Penn at 4
* women's soccer against Penn at 7

And once again, let him remind you of the stakes (factoring out women's hockey, which still has four months or so left in its season):

* field hockey can win a share of the Ivy title with a win and Harvard loss to Columbia; Princeton is also playing for a chance to host the first rounds of the NCAA tournament
* men's soccer can win the Ivy League title and get to the NCAA tournament with a win and a Columbia loss or tie (there are still two games left in men's soccer, so Princeton would also win the big prizes with two wins, regardless of what anyone else does)
* women's soccer get a share of the Ivy title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a win; Penn gets the outright title and NCAA bid with a win or if the game ends in a tie

Got it? Getting annoyed because TigerBlog is repeating himself? He wouldn't keep saying it if he didn't think it was important.

As for the football game, it's No. 20 Dartmouth, coming in with a record of 7-0, against No. 14 Princeton, also coming in at 7-0. Dartmouth has actually won 10 straight dating to last year; Princeton has won 10 straight in which John Lovett has played.

It's the first time in Princeton Stadium history that there will be a November football game between unbeatens, and its Princeton's first time playing such a November game since 1993, when the Tigers lost 30-14 at Penn.

Actually, there have been five previous games since the formalization of the Ivy League where unbeatens will have met in November. Here is the list:
1964 — Princeton (7-0) def. Yale (6-0-1), 35-14
1965 — Dartmouth (8-0) def. Princeton (8-0), 28-14
1968 — Harvard (8-0) and Yale (8-0) tied, 29-29
1993 — Penn (7-0) def. Princeton (7-0), 30-14
2001 — Harvard (7-0) def. Penn (7-0), 28-21

Of that group, one is possibly the most famous game in Ivy football history, the 29-29 1968 tie between Harvard and Yale that prompted the famous Harvard Crimson headline of "Harvard Defeats Yale 29-29" after the Crimson rallied from 29-13 down with two minutes left (and 22-0 down earlier).

The other four games featured one close one and three relatively one-sided ones. There's an assumption that big games like this will by definition correspond to close games. It's not always the case.

So what can you expect from the game tomorrow?

In its most simplistic terms, you're looking at two of the very best defensive teams in the FCS. Both are especially strong against the run - and both are great at running the ball themselves.

Also, both are led on the ground by gigantic quarterbacks. Princeton's John Lovett you already know. Dartmouth's Jared Gerbino you met a year ago.

Lovett stands 6-3, 230. Gerbino is 6-4, 230. Those are two big bodies.

Lovett is third in the league in rushing yards per game at 101.3. Gerbino is fifth, at 94.8. Lovett averages 7.7 yards per carry, best among anyone in the league with more than 15 attempts. Gerbino averages 7.3.

If you want to break the game down to one thing, there will be a huge edge to whichever of those two has the better day.

A year ago, when Dartmouth outslugged Princeton 54-44 in Hanover, Gerbino went for a ridiculous 202 yards on 32 carries, scoring four TDs. If he does that again (especially the 32 carries part), yeah, Dartmouth would be fine with it.

Of course, this game is about more than just those two. Both teams have weapons everywhere. There's Dartmouth's Derek Kyler, who leads the nation in passing efficiency and completion percentage (73.7 percent). There's Princeton's Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson, either one of whom could catch 10 passes and score three touchdowns. Or there's Dartmouth's Isiah Swann, who leads the country in interceptions. Who's second? Princeton's TJ Floyd. Princeton has Charlie Volker, who has at least one touchdown in eight straight games and multiple touchdowns in four straight games, with three a week ago in a 66-0 win over Cornell.

And none of that takes into account the offensive and defensive lines both teams have, or their depth, or how they've manhandled pretty much everyone all year. Comparative scores favor Princeton, but that means nothing tomorrow.

There will still be two weeks remaining in the season after this weekend, so nothing is set in stone for the winner. Still, this is the game that pretty much everyone in the Ivy League has been pointing to since it become apparent early on that these were two teams who were going to have special years.
Now they meet on Powers Field. Maybe if they played 10 times, they'd split, but they only play once, so there's only this one shot at each other.

Maybe it'll be decided simply by the fact that one team is just better and can't be stopped by the other. Or maybe it'll come down to some play, some formation, some idea that neither team has shown yet this season because it hasn't had to.

It's a huge game, that's for sure. Will it also be a great one?

You'll find out tomorrow.

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