Senior WR Trio Ready To Lead Another High-Scoring Princeton Offense
PRESEASON CAMP: Schedule
He caught 86 passes for 919 yards and 11 touchdowns, including one that will be remembered among Princeton’s most exciting of the last three decades. He actually has two of those grabs, and both clinched heart-stopping comeback wins over Harvard.
When Roman Wilson graduated, he took a big chunk of Princeton’s record-breaking total offensive and scoring offensive numbers. The Tigers are left picking up the pieces this season with a talented group of underclassmen, many of whom seem ready to flourish after a year in the system.
They’re left with a senior, recovered from an injury and ready to provide a deep threat this offense would miss without Wilson.
Oh, and they’re left with a senior trio who combined for a mere 139 catches for 1,505 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
So it might not be time to reach for the panic button just yet.
Whether it was the production of his position mate, Wilson, or the play of Quinn Epperly, senior Matt Costello has been the underappreciated rock of this offense for three years. He ranks eighth all-time in receptions at Princeton, and if he matches his catch total from last season, he will graduate with the third-most catches. Though he is the ultimate move-the-chains receiver, he showed his ability to make the spectacular catch with a 30-yard touchdown catch in triple-coverage at Dartmouth.
Through the final five games of the season, senior Seth DeValve caught 38 passes, only six fewer than Wilson, and he had over 75 yards receiving in four of them. He is built like a tight end … or a linebacker. He caught nine passes for 115 yards at Dartmouth, and many of those yards came on short passes, when he simply overpowered the first defender who reached him. The Tigers made the quick flip to Wilson in motion a signature play last season; the quick screen to DeValve could earn that status this season.
Then there is Connor Kelley, who once started at quarterback as a freshman, and then suffered a devastating knee injury that cost him the 2011 season. Fully comfortable on the field last season, Kelley became a red-zone target, ranking second on the team with six touchdown catches. He isn’t quite as physically imposing as DeValve, but he’ll be no fun to tackle either.
As a freshman, Scott Carpenter got a taste of Ivy League competition, though mostly in special teams situations. He doesn’t have significant experience as a weapon in this offense, but the coaching staff believes he will become a major force in the Ivy League. Just how quickly it happens could have a big impact in the offensive success this season.
Wilson’s numbers speak for themselves, but the versatility he brought to the offense will be difficult to replace. While his triple-overtime touchdown catch at Harvard may be the signature play of his career, it may not have even been his most important one of that overtime. Facing third down and trailing by seven in the first OT, offensive coordinator James Perry gambled with a reverse that could have resulted in a 4th-and-really-long. But he trusted Wilson, who got around the end (with help from an Epperly block) and scored a touchdown. When Princeton needed a play, they found Wilson anywhere on the field; that was usually good enough.
The other big loss from this group is tight end Des Smith, who struggled through injuries during his first three years, but made the most of his last chance. Smith was considered more of a blocking option by most before the year, but he dispelled that notion with one spectacular touchdown grab after another, including a leaping grab in traffic for a score at Harvard. Smith went from unknown to All-Ivy in 10 memorable games.
WHO COULD ALSO MAKE AN IMPACT?
Robby Templeton believed he could be the deep threat of the 2013 Princeton offense, but a season-ending injury never let him find out. He is back, and he could have the type of breakout senior season that Smith experienced last year. The Tigers had record-setting success without the type of speed threat that would at least keep one safety honest. They would love to see what would happen if Templeton could open the defense a bit.
There is a bevy of sophomore wideouts who could also make an impact. James Frusciante saw the most time of any freshman wideout last year, and has some similar traits as Wilson. Trevor Osborne, Evan Perkins and Lawrence Wilson are also in that mix, though it will be tough to displace the senior trio who had the big impact last season.
A FEW NUMBERS TO KNOW …
.5 • The total difference in yards per catch between Princeton’s three top seniors; Costello averaged 11.1, DeValve averaged 10.8 and Kelley averaged 10.6. Tough to match that level of consistency and production.
38 • The difference in receptions for DeValve between Weeks 1-5 (11) and Weeks 6-10 (49). In the first five weeks, DeValve’s single-game high was seven catches. In the last five weeks, seven was his single-game low.
80.9 • Yards receiving per game Costello would need to become Princeton’s fourth receiver with at least 2,000 career receiving yards. He averaged 53.4 last season, though that number was about 22 yards more than he had the previous season.
NEXT IN THE PREVIEW SERIES: quarterbacks/running backs.