Ivy Player Of The Year Quinn Epperly Leads Loaded, Experienced Backfield
PRESEASON CAMP: Schedule
Between the 2009-2011 Princeton football seasons, a 30-game stretch that included only six wins, the Tigers scored a total of 49 touchdowns.
Last season, which featured eight wins and an Ivy League title, Quinn Epperly accounted for 43 touchdowns himself. Epperly, by the way, wasn’t the starting quarterback until October. He was, however, an Ivy champion by November and the Player of the Year by December.
Epperly led a record-setting offense last year, though the depth of talent around him can not be under-valued. The backfield — both quarterbacks and running backs — are loaded with key returners from last season, as well as a handful of players looking to add their own unique talents to the group.
In the third part of the 2014 Princeton Football Preview Series, those two positions go under the microscope.
Well, Quinn Epperly is back. So that’s good.
Numbers don’t always paint the most accurate picture of a season. In this case, however, they do the job. He completed 68% of his passes for an average of 213.7 yards per game, and he threw 25 touchdowns to only three interceptions. He also led the team in rushing, averaging 57.0 yards per game and scoring 18 touchdowns. He even caught four passes and threw a key block on Roman Wilson’s game-tying touchdown in the first overtime at Harvard.
So, all in all, it was a productive junior season. What he can do for an encore is one of the biggest questions in the league this season, but he isn’t the only quarterback who will play a role on this offense.
Classmate Connor Michelsen was the starting quarterback in both the 2012 and 2013 season openers, and he posted strong numbers before a season-ending injury late in his sophomore season. Remember, while it was Epperly who threw the winning touchdown to Wilson in the 2012 victory over Harvard, Michelsen was the player who earned Offensive Player of the Week honors. His arm ranks up with anybody in Orange and Black over the last decade, and he has worked hard to become a bigger part of the offense this season.
Both Epperly and Michelsen are capable runners, but offensive coordinator James Perry has plenty of other options in the ground game. Junior Di Andre Atwater earned second-team All-Ivy honors despite missing the season finale at Dartmouth; he averaged more than 50 yards per game, and he had twice as many carries as any returning back. A tough between-the-tackles runner, Atwater will probably enter the season as the starter.
Classmate Dré Nelson only had 44 carries last season, but he posted a team-best 6.5-yard average. He showed every ounce of his ability in the 59-23 win over Yale, gaining 77 yards on only five carries, two of which went for touchdowns. An All-Ivy sprinter, Nelson could easily see his touches double this season — he could see several of the quick flips and end arounds that went to Roman Wilson last year.
Senior Will Powers has been Mr. Reliable every time he steps on the field. One of Princeton’s best special teams players of the last two years, he averaged 4.6 yards per carry and added three catches last season.
Princeton graduated only one quarterback or running back who made an on-field impact last season. Brian Mills ranked third on the team in rushing yards (36.7), and while his numbers weren’t staggering, he provided a dangerous speed threat. Just ask Georgetown.
WHO COULD ALSO MAKE AN IMPACT?
We could have listed Kedric Bostic in the “Who’s Back?” section, but when you start rolling off the key names from the offense last season, you’d probably take a while to get to him. Nevertheless, his versatility gave offensive coordinator James Perry a plethora of two- and three-quarterback options, and his role should grow more this season.
Sophomore Chad Kanoff saw limited time at quarterback when Princeton held big, late leads, but he has yet to throw his first collegiate pass. Tiger fans can expect to see him throw a lot of them over the next three seasons, but how many of them will come this year is one of the most interesting questions. He has all the attributes to be a premier quarterback in this league, but will Epperly and Michelsen block his path until 2015?
Two sophomores to watch in the backfield are AJ Glass and Joe Rhattigan. Rhattigan averaged 6.3 yards per carry last season, second only to Nelson in rushing average, and scored a touchdown against Cornell. Neither carried it more than 15 times last season, but both were also swimming upstream in an offense that was far more complicated than they were prepared. After a full offseason and a second preseason, that should change, and one could easily move into the top rotation. This offense has been running back-by-committee since 2011 Ivy League Offensive Rookie of the Year Chuck Dibilio suffered a stroke that following offseason, and that isn’t likely to change this year.
A FEW NUMBERS TO KNOW …
1,068 • Speaking of Dibilio, he remains the only true freshman in Ivy League history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season. While his impact between the lines was limited to that year, he is healthy, back in school and around the team, which matters more than anything. Still, that performance in 2011 shouldn’t be forgotten.
30 • The number of passing attempts before Epperly missed one against Cornell. His 29-for-29 start is an NCAA record, but it is also a testament to the work he has put into his accuracy. While that was once considered his weakness, he challenged Jason Garrett ’89 for the Princeton completion percentage record last season.
14 • The number of rushing touchdowns of five yards or fewer for Epperly last season. It wasn’t a Sherlock Holmes-level mystery what the Tigers were going to do at the goal line last year. But it seemed to be a horror story to try to stop.