Bull­dogs hop­ing to spoil Prince­ton’s per­fect record

Greenwich Time - - SPORTS - By Chip Malafronte cmalafronte@nhreg­is­ter.com

NEW HAVEN — The last time a Prince­ton foot­ball team sported an 8-0 record was in 1995, when strug­gling Yale trav­eled to New Jer­sey and spoiled the Tigers’ shot at per­fec­tion with a 21-13 vic­tory.

Prince­ton is once again 8-0 and en­ters the Yale Bowl on Satur­day (12:30 p.m.) with one of its strong­est teams ever. The Tigers have de­mol­ished the op­po­si­tion from both sides of the field, bal­anc­ing one of the coun­try’s best of­fenses with one of the stingi­est de­fen­sive units.

It’s been 54 years since Prince­ton last fin­ished a sea­son un­de­feated. Yale — not yet math­e­mat­i­cally elim­i­nated from the Ivy League race — would like noth­ing more than to once again blem­ish that per­fect record.

“We need to fo­cus on our­selves,” Yale coach Tony Reno said. “Prince­ton is a good team, but we need to fo­cus on play­ing our game the way we need to play it. You have to stop the run and hit the quar­ter­back against Prince­ton, which we’ve done the last two years.”

Last Novem­ber, Yale eked out a 34-31 win at Prince­ton to clinch a share of the Ivy League crown. The odds are slim, but the Bull­dogs (5-3, 3-2) still have a chance to win a sec­ond straight ti­tle.

For that to hap­pen, it’ll take a per­fect storm of events.

Dart­mouth, which suf­fered its first loss of the sea­son at the hands of Prince­ton last week­end, needs to lose one of its fi­nal two games. The Big Green is at Cor­nell on Satur­day and last-place Brown next week. In ad­di­tion, Penn must beat Prince­ton and Yale must take Har­vard on Nov. 17.

Of course, the first or­der of busi­ness is vic­tory Satur­day against Prince­ton, no easy task.

Ranked 11th in the Foot­ball Cham­pi­onship Sub­di­vi­sion, Prince­ton is av­er­ag­ing 46.1 points per game, on pace to shat­ter the Ivy League record of 437 points scored in a sea­son. Quar­ter­back John Lovett is a dual threat whose scored at least one rush­ing touch­down in 18 straight games and has two of the league’s top receivers in Jes­per Horsted and Steven Carl­son.

The Tigers de­fense gives up lit­tle — 9.1 points per game, in fact. Only Col­gate has al­lowed fewer in the FCS.

If there’s a sav­ing grace for Yale, it seems to have found a bud­ding star in fresh­man quar­ter­back Grif­fin O’Con­nor, fresh off an Ivy League rookie-record 436 yards pass­ing and four touch­downs in last week’s win over Brown.

When ju­nior Kurt Rawl­ings went down with a sea­son-end­ing leg frac­ture Oct. 19, Reno re­placed him with sopho­more Jimmy Check the fol­low­ing week at Columbia, a game Yale lost to put it in this pre­car­i­ous po­si­tion in the Ivy stand­ings.

Check’s pedes­trian per­for­mance led to O’Con­nor’s break­out game. Reno didn’t use O’Con­nor against Columbia be­cause he felt O’Con­nor wasn’t quite ready. He made a sim­i­lar choice two years ago when Rawl­ings was a fresh­man, keep­ing him on the bench un­til the sev­enth game. Two weeks later, he en­gi­neered a mas­sive up­set at Har­vard.

The plan all along, Reno said, was to shelve O’Con­nor un­til after Yale’s midterms ended Oct. 28.

“Grif­fin is a tal­ented kid,” Reno said. “We have strict pro­to­col for fresh­men quar­ter­backs be­cause of the midterm pe­riod. His abil­ity showed we can speed him up once it was over. Then Kurt went down and … we didn’t feel he was ready at Columbia yet. You don’t want to put a quar­ter­back in a bad sit­u­a­tion where he can’t have the op­por­tu­nity to suc­ceed. We felt after the Columbia game we could get him ready. That’s my call. Good or bad, that’s on me, the QB sit­u­a­tion.”

Steve Musco / Yale Ath­let­ics

Yale fresh­man quar­ter­back Grif­fin O’Con­nor.

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