A lot has changed since Yale last played Princeton.
When the Elis bested the Tigers 7-3 in a sopping Yale Bowl last Nov. 16, it was a game of field-position and floundering offenses. Saturday’s scrimmage at the Bowl showcased offensive firepower.
Last season’s Ivy League rushing leader Robert Carr ’05 and promising tailback David Knox ’06 split touches, each carrying nine times for close to 30 yards. Carr also scored on a pitch, beating slower defenders to the outside and dashing just inside the pylon. While the explosive Carr-Knox tailback combo has been much anticipated during the off-season, they were not the only ones to perform well in the scrimmage.
No score was kept in the unofficial contest.
“[Wide receiver] P.J. [Collins ’04] played really well,” captain Alvin Cowan ’04 said. “The entire O-line played great, especially considering it was our first live go.”
Yale dominated the oft-overlooked special teams game, blocking a punt, engineering a number of good returns, and forcing the Tigers to start deep in their own territory after the Princeton return man stepped out of bounds attempting to return a deep kickoff by Andrew Sullivan ’05. It was a welcome change from last season, when Yale muffed a number of key punts.
The Eli defense did not, at least at this early stage, appear as leaky as many had predicted.
Though Yale lost All-Ivy performers Jason Lange ’03 and Luke Mraz ’03, Bryant Dieffenbacher ’04 is back from a knee injury suffered last season. Dieffenbacher, thought by many to be among the best defensive linemen in the league, showed Eli fans what they missed last season when he burst through the Princeton line and stripped Greg Fields for one of Princeton’s three turnovers in the first half. Dieffenbacher also recovered the fumble.
The Bulldogs did give up a big play: an expertly thrown, 40-yard pass to the back of the end zone just before the end of the half. But the Eli secondary performed admirably given the loss of free safety Barton Simmons ’04 to injury. William Jacobs ’04 and Matt Handlon ’06 shared time at Simmons’ position.
Handlon, a 6-foot-2-inch 225-pound converted running back playing his first collegiate competition on the defensive side of the ball, neared the team-high in tackles.
“The toughest [thing about switching to defense] is that you have to change your mind set,” he said. “On offense, you know what you’re going to do on every play, but on defense you have to read and react. For me, the toughest thing is just reading [what the offense does], especially the play-action passes.”
Handlon said the touchdown pass came off a fly route in which the receiver simply got a couple of steps behind the defense.
The defense redeemed itself in the second-half by creating its own big-play: an interception return for a touchdown by Nate Thorne ’05.
Perhaps most exciting for Yale, however, was seeing Cowan back behind center after missing most of last season, including the Princeton game.
Though he said that he did not feel comfortable until the second of his two series, Cowan reunited with All-Ivy tight end Nate Lawrie ’04 on a 21-yard touchdown pass.
“That particular play isn’t designed to pick up a ton of yardage,” Lawrie said. “However, as soon as the ball was snapped, I noticed that Princeton was running a blitz on my side of the ball. This left me pretty much wide open, and I was able to beat a few guys and dove into the zone for the score.”
Even scarier for opposing defenses is that Cowan could not scramble because he wore, against his wishes, a red jersey that signals defenders not to tackle him.
“When I’m live, we will definitely be doing more option/scrambling stuff,” Cowan said. “We wanted to keep our stuff pretty basic yesterday. I think once we start game-planning and tailoring things to the players out there, you’ll see more of that kind of stuff.”