Monday, October 7, 2019

Good To Have A Tough One

Kevin Davidson started to walk away after finishing his postgame interviews Saturday and summed up the entire afternoon perfectly in a few short words.

"It was good to have a tough one," the Princeton senior quarterback said.

He was definitely right about that one. After two weeks of putting up video game numbers and having the starters out in the fourth quarter, Princeton found itself pushed for 60 minutes by a tough Columbia team. The Tiger would win 21-10, stretching their winning streak to 13 straight while taking the Ivy opener on a day that was anything but easy.

And that was the best sign.

How would Princeton respond to its first serious test? The answer turned out to be "very well."

Columbia brought to Princeton Stadium 1) a defense that was top five in the FCS in a bunch of categories, 2) Ronald Smith, who broke the Tigers hearts on the same field two years earlier with a 63-yard TD reception with 1:12 left for a 28-24 win and 3) an attitude that the Lions deserved a shot at the Ivy title as much as anyone.

Add to that the fact that the Tigers, whose previous two first halves ended by a combined 70-21, found themselves behind at the break 10-7 and you can see that a win was hardly preordained.

One issue that Princeton had in the first half was that time of possession was completely lopsided, as Columbia had the ball 20 minutes to Princeton's 10. Sometimes that's not that big a deal, when, say, one team scores really quickly.

Sometimes it is a big deal. Princeton's offense never really got into great rhythm in the first half, largely because it hardly ever had the ball.

It all changed in the second half. Possession time was even. Princeton put together three long drives - two that ended in touchdowns and a third which essentially killed the second half of the fourth quarter to salt the game away.

The defense in those final 30 minutes allowed no points. The closest Columbia got to scoring was on a field goal attempt that would have made it a 14-13 game early in the fourth, but Joey DeMarco got a hand on the kick, and that was that.

Princeton's defense held Columbia to 206 total yards and 1.1 yards per rush. There were four sacks. Columbia's two quarterbacks combined for a great completion percentage by hitting on 24 of 30 passes (80 percent), but the fact that it added up to just 166 yards indicates that the Tigers tackled well.

There were several players who seemed to be everywhere, including linebackers James Johnson (11 tackles) and Jeremiah Tyler (10 tackles, 3.5 for loss, one sack) and defensive lineman Samuel Wright (2.5 sacks, seven tackles).

As for the offense, Davidson came into the game having completed 81 percent of his passes. Against Columbia, he "only" completed 63 percent.

He looked so good in the first two games that his numbers against Columbia seemed a bit tame: 22 for 35 for 271 yards and a TD, with his first interception of the season.

You want a little context on those 271 passing yards? You know who never threw for at least 271 yards against an Ivy League opponent? John Lovett.

Yes. That's not exactly apples to apples, since Lovett did so many other things to perfection and brought with him more intangibles than any Princeton football player TigerBlog has seen.

But still. It does tell you a bit about how high Davidson has set the standard for himself and that his performance was still first-rate. He is poised, moves well outside the pocket and has an incredible arm - all qualities he displayed in the second half yesterday.

He calmly led his team on those long drives in the second half, and he made the biggest play of the day when he dropped a perfect pass in to Dylan Classi on a 3rd and 10 from the Princeton 31 on the drive after the blocked field goal.

Had he and Classi not made that play,  Columbia would have the ball and a chance to drive the other way for the lead. Instead, it took just four more plays to get in the end zone for the score that pretty much put the game away.

That touchdown, by the way, came on a 31-yard run from Ryan Quigley. He and Collin Eaddy continue to be a great complement to each other, and the two running backs accounted for all three Tiger scores against Columbia.

Next up is Lafayette, Friday night at 7 at home and on ESPNU, in the final non-league game of the year. Then it's six Ivy games in a six weeks.

Princeton, as TB pointed out last week, has won 12 Ivy titles and has won the league opener in all 12 of them. That was what was on the line Saturday afternoon.

Get a win and take that first step.

And that's exactly what Princeton did.

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