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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Princeton 24 Yale 17

The SportsProf family tailgated at a nicely appointed tailgate party on a field near Princeton Stadium. Put it this way -- the spread was much more intricate than a variety of grilled, shredded meats. Hoagies, crudite, salsa, guacamole dip, great corn chips, crab dip, wine, beer, Philadelphia soft pretzels and cookies constituted the spread. The food was great, the company better, and then we bought our $7 dollar seats and sat in the end zone, as over the years most of our friends have.

The questionable weather -- overcast, making noon look like 5 p.m. -- the proximity to Thanksgiving (meaning that many would-be attendees perhaps passed because of the travel they'll end up doing in 1 1/2 weeks) and the Tigers' overall record (bad) probably kept many of the orange-and-black faithful away. They missed a good game.

The game started out awkwardly for both teams. The Princeton kicker sent the opening kickoff out of bounds, and then a Yale special teamer made a dirty hit away from the ball on a Princeton player. The result -- Yale had the ball, and a sophomore special teamer was ejected and sent to the locker room. Yale's sophomore QB Patrick Witt -- a Nebraska transfer whose bio indicates that many big-time scholarship schools offered him full rides -- then tried to go to work. Witt's a good passer who will give the rest of the Ivies fits in the next two years, but this day would belong to the Tigers.

Witt threw a few picks, the Tigers coughed up the ball on several occasions, including once at the Yale 6, the Tigers failed to sense a Yale onside kick after the Elis made it 21-10 and then failed to guess that on fourth and short inside Princeton territory Yale would fake a punt and get a first down. Still, the Tigers bent but did not break, and they beat Yale for the first time in 3 years, 24-17.

So much for what I had speculated. I told my group before the game that given the way Penn pasted Princeton last week, I expected Yale to win by a few touchdowns. Okay, I was wrong -- Princeton showed that it could play well -- so to speak -- for more than a half and they beat their longstanding Ivy rival.

As with Ivy football, there were many parts of brilliance. The Princeton play calling was for the most part innovative, although they might need three back-up quarterbacks because they expose their QB when he runs the option. The running game was deceptive, but the passing plays were not all that creative. The offensive coordinator kept on calling for flanker screens, overloading the receivers on one side of the field and then throwing the ball quickly to the furthest receiver, who then would try to pick up blockers. On occasion, the play worked, but on other occasions, it didn't. On one play, a Yale defender blasted a Princeton receiver so hard after catch that the ball went backwards to the Tiger 7 from about the 17, but fortunately for the Tigers a running back fell on the ball. Princeton needs more vertical and crossing patterns to complement the flanker screens and occasional slants in order to deceive opposing defenses more.

On defense, the Tigers defensive tackles had their moments but on many occasions were moved out of the way on running plays. One Tiger defensive end excelled in pursuit, in blocking a pass and in making a menace of himself. The linebackers were good, but why is it that on many if not most occasions the Tiger defensive backs don't go for the ball. They were content to fall in behind Yale receivers and tackle them after they made catches. As I said to a friend, in the NFL, the defensive backs are hungrier and are draped all over the receivers. In this particular Ivy game, the cushion was too big, as though the defensive backs would sacrifice on each play a contained gain rather than to anticipate, step up and make the big play.

All in all, though, the Tigers came out organized and more driven than Yale, and led 14 to 3 at the half. It should have been 17-3 or 21-3, but a fumble deep in Yale territory late in the first half negated what could have been a bigger advantage. Yale woke up in the second half and played more aggressively on defense and offense, but in the end it was too little to late. With less than 2 minutes to go the Tiger defense rose to the occasion and obliterated any chance of a 2-minute drive for the Bulldogs.

It was a nice win for Princeton in an otherwise disappointing season, with losses to Penn on the road (42-7) and Columbia at home (38-0).


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