Monday, September 20, 2021

Opening Kickoff

There was something of an eeriness in the Princeton football locker room at Lehigh's Goodman Stadium in the moments before the opening kickoff Saturday afternoon.

Usually football locker rooms prior to kickoff are places of hollering and loudness. That wasn't the case Saturday at all. TigerBlog kept waiting to hear it, but instead he heard what he figured was the sound of something else: appreciation.

It was the first Princeton football game since Nov. 23, 2019, against Penn. As he watched warmups on the grass field of Goodman, TB thought back to that day and to one relatively minor but telling fact. As it was, the Penn athletic communications contact for that game was Chas Dorman, who has worked at Princeton for a long time now. TB was struck by that as something of a marker for how long it's been.

For the players, then, there was a great sense of appreciation that the new season was here, that they were finally back in uniform, some for the first time in three years. The sound of appreciation was a bit more subdued.

When the game finally began, TB could tell what everyone in orange and black was thinking: It was really great to see Princeton football again. 

And the Tigers weren't just playing. They were playing really well.

It was a dominant 32-0 win over Lehigh, one in which Princeton had all kinds of big performances. There was Cole Smith, who in his first career start threw for 412 yards (30 for 41, three touchdowns, no interceptions). Smith's 412 yards were the 12th most ever by a Tiger quarterback in a single game and were the most by any Princeton quarterback ever in his first start. He also became the 10th Princeton quarterback to complete at least 30 passes in a game.

Jacob Birmelin did what he does, which is to say caught everything thrown his way and then turned those catches into big yardage. He ended up with eight catches for 139 yards and one touchdown, moving him within 50 yards of 1,000 for his career (767 of which came in 2019).

Andrei Iosivas, who is a decathlete in the spring and an Ivy indoor Heps champion, caught four passes, but he turned them into 117 yards and two touchdowns. That's an average of 29.3 yards per catch, not to mention the play of the day, a 52-yard TD strike on a beautiful thrown deep ball by Smith that Iosivas simply ran under by outrunning the Lehigh defense.

The offense put up 516 yards, which is 20 yards fewer than the perfect 2018 team averaged per game. As impressive as that was, it was the defense that really was amazing in the opener. 

Princeton held Lehigh to 92 total yards, including minus-25 rushing, which was close to the minus-28 Princeton allowed (do you allow minus yardage?) against Bucknell in a driving rainstorm and mud bowl in 1996. The only time other than that when Princeton allowed (again, allowed?) fewer yards was minus-42 in a game against Vermont (TB has no idea what the weather was in Princeton on Oct. 6, 1928). 

Wherever Lehigh went, Princeton was there. The Tigers were fast, and they tackled fiercely and effectively. 

What's perhaps most amazing about the Princeton defense is the fact that the team leader in tackles had, well, do you want to guess how many tackles the team leader had? Never mind. TB will tell you. The answer is four. Just four. 

That's how deep Princeton is. Wave after wave of Tiger defenders came after Lehigh. The defense took away the deep ball quickly, and Lehigh was forced to make quick throws to the outside. The result was 117 passing yards on 20 completions (5.85 per) and 31 attempts (3.77 per). Compare those to Princeton's numbers: (13.73 per completion and 9.81 per attempt).

All in all, it was a great way to start the season for Princeton. It was hardly a perfect game, which is even better news for Bob Surace and his staff, since they'll be able to get everyone's attention easily. 

Now it's on to the home opener this Saturday at 1 on Powers Field in the first meeting between the Tigers and Stetson. As you probably realize, Stetson was coached until this season by former Tiger head coach Roger Hughes, who is now the president of Doane University.

Stetson comes to Princeton with a 2-0 record, after wins over Warner and Ave Maria. Stetson also had this week off prior to heading north.

Beyond that is the Ivy League opener against Columbia Oct. 2 and then the rest of the season beyond that. For one game, Princeton looked great all over the field - and looked great just to be back on a field.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Princeton football is BACK. First in your hearts, first in 1869 and first in the US News college rankings, the Tigers are back!