Yale Running Game vs. Princeton Run Defense
It’s no secret that Yale has a good ground game. While Rob Carr ’05 will not earn a second Ivy League rushing title, he is still among the best backs in the league. Both he and David Knox ’06 are capable of big plays. Of the top 20 rushers in the Ancient Eight, only three other runners average as many yards per carry as Yale’s duo. Princeton, however, is third in the league in rushing defense. They also boast the league’s leading tackler, sophomore Justin Stull, who bests the runner-up by nine. Senior defensive ends Tim Kirby and Joe Weiss were both All-Ivy selections last year, so Yale may have difficulty getting their speedy backs to the outside.
Yale Passing Game vs. Princeton Pass Defense
Unless Weiss and Kirby come up with a Herculean effort in pressuring Cowan, expect the Eli captain to pick Princeton apart. Cowan is second in Div. I-AA in total offense and has recorded five of the top 10 best total offense single-game performances in Yale history. He is on pace to break the Ivy record for total offensive yards in a season, set last season by Dartmouth’s Brian Mann, and the same record for an Ivy-only season set in 1999 by Brown’s James Perry. Though losing P.J. Collins ’04 to a broken collarbone is bad luck for the Elis, it won’t be enough to slow their attack against the Tigers, who start two freshman cornerbacks. Expect wide receivers Ralph Plumb ’05 and Ron Benigno ’04, and tight end Nate Lawrie ’04 to pad their already gaudy stats. All three are in the top 20 in the Ivy League in receiving yards. Lawrie and Plumb are third and sixth, respectively, in Div. I-AA in receptions per game. Plumb and Benigno are among the top 10 in scoring in the Ivy League.
Princeton Running Game vs. Yale Run Defense
The bad news for Yale is that Nick Hartigan and Sam Matthews — the league’s top two backs — ran freely against the Eli defense. The good news, however, is that Princeton has no such back. Without track star Cameron Atkinson, who graduated last year, Jon Veach and Branden Benson have split carries for the Tigers this season. Princeton is the fifth-best rushing team in the Ancient Eight. If Ken Estrera ’04 and Ben Breunig ’05 — who lead the team with 65 and 56 stops, respectively — play up to par, this side of the game will be even at best for the orange cats.
Princeton Passing Game vs. Yale Pass Defense
Princeton’s passing offense is middle of the road both in terms of production and efficiency, but Yale’s pass defense has been steadily dropping down the ranks of the Ivies. Now sixth in both pass efficiency defense and pass defense, taller receivers have given the shorter Eli defensive backs trouble all season — taller receivers like 6-foot-5-inch B.J. Szymanski. Szymanski, who was also a first-team All-Ivy centerfielder for the baseball team last season, is in Ivy top 10 in receiving yards and is also the only player in the league averaging over 20 yards per catch. Last season, Szymanski had four catches for 111 yards against Yale in a rain-soaked, windblown defensive struggle, in which Yale prevailed 7-3.
Quarterback Matt Verbit is nothing spectacular, but he doesn’t throw many interceptions and is fairly mobile. Yale’s best shot is blitzing and getting pressure on Verbit. The Elis are last in the Ivy League in team sacks, but Princeton’s offensive line is weak. Yale needs to get to Verbit to prevent big plays to Szymanski — a guy known for big plays.
Princeton freshman Colin McDonough leads the league in punting average; Yale’s Lawrie is last. That, however, is not the end of the story. While Princeton is second to last in punt returns, Yale is second best. The loss of Collins, the Eli punt returner, means that Chandler Henley ’06 will have to return for the Bulldogs. As in punting, Princeton has a better kickoff coverage unit than Yale. But Knox and Carr are two of the better returners in Ivy League, while Princeton’s Greg Fields and Jon Veach are average. In the kicking game, Yale has the definite edge. John Troost ’05 makes nearly 90 percent of his PATs and is tied with Pennsylvania’s Peter Veldman in field goals per game at 1.38, which is also good for ninth in Div. I-AA and first in the Ivies. Princeton, on the other hand, has used a kicker by committee scheme because, frankly, their kickers suck. Four players have attempted field goals for the Tigers this season, and they have made a combined three-of-eight. Worse, they have made just barely three quarters of their extra point attempts.
The Elis boast the second best turnover margin in the Ivy League, while Princeton is last. That alone is usually enough to decide a team’s fate in a game, but when that same team is averaging a whopping 38.5 points and 482 yards of offense per game, fourth and second in Div. I-AA respectively, the words “blow out” start to float through any fan’s mind.
Unfortunately for Yale, they have the worst scoring defense, at 27.9 points per game, in the Ivy League. Worse, Princeton has in Szymanski exactly the kind of receiver the Elis have had trouble defending — see 6-foot-4-inch Lonnie Hill’s 13-catch, 183-yard, four-touchdown performance last weekend.
The Elis might not be a great pass defending team, but I think they are better than that. If Siedlecki succeeds in exploiting a weak Princeton offensive line and getting pressure on Verbit, then Yale should win easily. We know that Yale players are smarter — Cowan, center Will Conroy ’04 and safety Steve Ehikian ’04 all were named to the first-team CoSida Academic All-District team, while no Tigers broke into first-team list — and I think by Saturday night we will know which is the better football team. The answer will be the same: Yale.
Yale 41, Princeton 21