Welcome to the main event of the Ivy League weekend.
In one corner is the 22nd-ranked Harvard Crimson. Undefeated over an FCS-best 14 games, the reigning Ivy League champion will bring one of the most explosive offenses in the nation to Powers Field Saturday at 1 p.m (ESPN3/WatchESPN).
In the other is Princeton, the Ivy League upstart that comes into Saturday’s game on its first three-game win streak since the 2006 season. Defense has been Princeton’s calling card, and it will need to be so again Saturday.
Harvard and Princeton are two of the three unbeatens in Ivy play, and one will end the weekend with nothing worse than a share of first place with Penn. The other will be left to win and hope, an undesirable position to be entering the final month of the league race.
With a national audience on ESPN3 watching, and an Alumni Weekend crowd hoping to see its first win over the Crimson since the magical 2006 championship season, Princeton takes on the current power in the Ivy League Saturday.
And the rest of the league will be paying close attention.
WEEK 6 LINKS:
All-Time Series: Princeton 52-45-7
Last Year: HARVARD 56, Princeton 39
Last At Site: Harvard 45, PRINCETON 28 (2010)
Last Five Years: Harvard 5-0
Last Princeton Win: PRINCETON 31, Harvard 28 (2006)
Current Streak: Harvard 5
Lights, Camera, Action
Saturday’s 105th meeting between Princeton and Harvard will be streamed live on ESPN3 and WatchESPN. ESPN3 is the online platform for ESPN, while WatchESPN is the mobile app. John Sadak and Rocky Boiman will be calling the action from Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.
The game can also be heard live on WPRB 103.3 FM and on GoPrincetonTigers.com, with Dan Loney doing play-by-play.
Harvard has won five straight games in this series, as well as 14 of the last 16 games. Over the last five games, the Crimson have won by an average margin of 17.8 points.
Princeton scored 39 points against Harvard in the 2011 meeting in Boston, the most it has scored in a single game over the last 52 games. On the flip side, Harvard scored 56 in the same game, which is the most Princeton has given up in the span of 313 games, dating back to a 61-8 victory by Delaware in Week 2 of the 1981 season.
Princeton has won three consecutive football games for the first time since 2006, when the Tigers won their most recent Ivy League title. That was also the last time Princeton defeated Harvard, a 31-28 comeback home victory over the Crimson.
Strength vs. Strength
Princeton currently has the second-ranked scoring defense in FCS football, behind North Dakota State. The Tigers are allowing only 11.6 points per game this season, and they haven’t allowed a touchdown in Ivy play.
As a team, Princeton allowed 32.5 points per game last season, and the fewest it allowed in a single game was 21. This season, 21 is the most it has allowed in a game (Georgetown).
That defense will face its stiffest test, as the Harvard scoring offense is ranked third in the FCS (behind Old Dominion and Eastern Illinois). Harvard is scoring 41 points per game, and it has scored 45 in both of Ivy games.
Over And (Shut)Out
Brown came into last weekend’s game at Princeton riding an Ivy League record 162-game scoring streak, dating back to the 1996 season opener. That stretch finally ended, as the top-ranked defense limited Brown to 17 yards rushing and a 3-for-15 success rate on third downs in a 19-0 victory for Princeton.
Princeton had two players honored by the Ivy League following its 19-0 victory over Brown. Senior Caraun Reid was named the Defensive Player of the Week after recording four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in the shutout of Brown. He outscored the Bears on his own with a safety against Mark Kachmer early in the second quarter.
For the second time in three weeks, freshman Anthony Gaffney was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week. He recorded his Ivy League best third interception and added five tackles and a sack in the shutout win over Brown.
Over the last three weeks, five of the 12 Ivy League individual honors have gone to Princeton players. Freshman placekicker Nolan Bieck took the Special Teams honor after making four field goals against Columbia, and Mike Catapano took the Defensive Honor after 2.5 sacks at Lafayette.
In the first three quarters of the last four games, the Princeton
defense has allowed a grand total of 19 points. During that same stretch of play, the defense has scored nine points on its own.
Over the last two games, Princeton hasn’t allowed a single point in the first three quarters.
Leading The Way
Princeton and Harvard are the two top-ranked defenses in the Ivy League. Princeton is ranked first in scoring defense and pass efficiency defense, while it is second in total, rush and pass defense.
Harvard is ranked first in total and rush defense, while it is second in scoring defense.
Tackling The Issue
Senior linebacker Andrew Starks ranks third in the Ivy League with 9.6 tackles per game, and he has ranked in the top five in tackles over each of his last two seasons. In two games against Harvard, Starks has averaged 10.5 tackles per game.
During Princeton’s current three-game win streak, the defense has limited its opponents to a 20.9% conversion rate on third downs. Last season, opponents had a 41% success rate on third downs.
Princeton is a +67 in point differential over the last three weeks. The last time Princeton had that high a differential over two games was Weeks 5-7 of the 1995 Ivy League championship season, when the Tigers were +82 against Lafayette (41-0), Harvard (14-3) and Columbia (44-14).
Princeton has made a major rise in several of the Ivy League defensive statistical categories:
|Stat||2011 Rank||Total||2012 Rank||Total|
|Total Defense||6th||396.5 yds/gm||2nd||306.0 yds/gm|
|Scoring Defense||7th||32.5 pts/gm||1st||11.6 pts/gm|
|Pass Defense||8th||270.5 yds/gm||2nd||211.6 yds/gm|
|Pass Eff. Defense||8th||164.1 eff.||1st||100.1 eff|
Princeton has also made several jumps in other statistical categories. In 2011, the Tigers ranked eighth in turnover margin (-15), seventh in penalties (64.9 yards per game) and sixth in opponent’s third-down percentage (41.4%). This season, Princeton ranks first in turnover margin (+6), first in penalties (32.8 yards per game) and third in opponent’s third-down percentage (29.5%).
Freshman Anthony Gaffney, the recipient of two of the last three Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors, leads the Ivy League with three interceptions; each has come in an Ivy League game, including one last week against Brown. Both he and fellow freshman Matt Arends started at cornerback last week; Arends started for Khamal Brown, who was lost for the season prior to the Brown game.
Gaffney is also among the Ivy League leaders in kickoff returns. He ranks second to Yale’s Tyler Varga with a return average of 26.8 yards (Varga averages 26.9). Gaffney returned the opening kickoff at Columbia for a 94-yard touchdown; since that play, Princeton has never trailed in any of its three games.
Freshman Di Andre Atwater should return this week; he averages 55 rushing yards per game, though he missed the Brown game with injury.
Over the last three games, Princeton has outrushed its opponents
567-204; last week, the Tigers outrushed Brown 194-17. In two Ivy League games, including a 34-6 win at Columbia to open this three-game win streak, Princeton has outrushed its opponents 305-56.
Princeton has had five players rush for six TDs over the last two weeks. Of those six, three have come from running backs (Akil Sharp 2, Will Powers), and one each has come from a quarterback (Quinn Epperly), a wide receiver (Roman Wilson) and the left tackle (Spenser Huston).
In 2009, Princeton scored a total of 27 fourth-quarter points in 10 games. The next season, Princeton scored 41 in the fourth quarter; last season, that number dropped to 37 points.
Through five games this season, the Tigers have already scored 39 points, and they have allowed only 17. Of those 17 points allowed, 14 were scored by Lafayette after Princeton had established at least a 28-point lead.
When In Roman
Junior wideout Roman Wilson missed most of his first two seasons with a variety of injuries, and he is showing this season what he can do when healthy. He leads Princeton in receptions (15), receiving yards (260) and yards per catch (17.3), and he has Princeton’s only touchdown reception among the wide receiving corps.
Senior Akil Sharp, who missed part of the Georgetown game and all of the Columbia game with an injury, returned in style at Lafayette with 60 yards rushing and two touchdowns. He has four touchdowns this season and ranks third in the Ivy League in scoring (6.0 pts per game).
Princeton’s leading rusher last weekend was sophomore Will Powers, who rushed for 14 times for 57 yards and capped the scoring with an eight-yard touchdown. He also had a 37-yard run on
3rd-and-21 to get Princeton out from the shadow of its own end zone.
Princeton has used two quarterbacks in a rotation this season, and both led Princeton to at least one scoring drive on their own against Lafayette. In the final two touchdown drives, both quarterbacks were used on at least one play.
For the season, Connor Michelsen leads the team in completions (57) and yards (121.8 per game), while Quinn Epperly has the better completion percentage (57.7) and more touchdown passes (one).
Of course, the team leader in touchdown passes is senior holder Tom Moak, who threw one apiece against both Georgetown and Columbia on wide field goal snaps. Moak is also tied for third on the team with seven receptions.
Head Of The Class
Senior Joe Cloud, a two-time All-Ivy League punter, has been named one of 147 national semifinalists for the 2012 NFF National Scholar-Athlete Awards. The 147 nominees also comprise the list of semifinalists for the 2012 William V. Campbell Trophy, endowed by HealthSouth, which recognizes an individual as the absolute best football scholar-athlete in the nation.
Cloud is one of only three Ivy League players who were named among the semifinalists.
The Crystal Ball
Princeton returns to the road next week to take on the offensively explosive Cornell Big Red Oct. 27 at 12:30 pm. The game can be heard live on WPRB 103.3 FM or on GoPrincetonTigers.com.
Princeton returns to Powers Field Nov. 3 to take on Penn at 1 pm. If you can’t make it, the game can be seen live on ESPN3.