Bulldogs hoping to spoil Princeton’s perfect record
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.”
Yale freshman quarterback Griffin O’Connor.