Football preview: Princeton at Columbia

After a thrilling 36-33 double-overtime victory over Lafayette in its home opener, the Princeton football team faces Columbia in its Ivy League opener Oct. 2. Through two games, the Tigers have looked like a very good team at times but also have made mental lapses. Staying sharp and keeping emotions in check will be key this week, as Princeton seeks revenge against a team that beat the Tigers 38-0 at home last season.

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One of the keys to last week’s game was the play of senior linebacker Jon Olofsson, who shifted from outside linebacker to middle linebacker after senior co-captain and preseason All-American Steve Cody was lost with a broken leg in week one. Olofsson finished with 16 tackles. Junior outside linebacker Andrew Starks has transitioned smoothly from the secondary and also has looked good this season. Through two games, Starks leads the team with 11 unassisted tackles and two tackles for losses. Princeton’s defense will be tested by Columbia quarterback Sean Brackett, who is second in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) with a 155.7 quarterback efficiency rating.

Offensively, Princeton continued to roll against Lafayette, finishing drives and scoring four touchdowns a week after the Tigers attempted six field goals at Lehigh. Princeton averages 29 points per game through two games and senior Trey Peacock leads FCS wide receivers with a 147 yards-per-game average. Columbia linebacker Alex Gross, the heart and soul of the Lions’ defense, is a former Ivy League Rookie of the Year who has 26 tackles in two games this year.

History
 
Princeton has dominated the series historically but suffered its worst loss ever to Columbia last season at home. The Tigers’ lead stands at 64-14-1. Princeton has won six straight games at Columbia’s Wien Stadium, though the games have always been close. Two years ago when the Tigers last traveled to New York, a Peacock touchdown catch sealed a 27-24 victory late in the fourth quarter. In its last five games at Columbia, Princeton has won by an average of 4.6 points. One stat that might give Tiger fans hope: Princeton has never lost two straight games to Columbia.
 
Players to watch
 
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Mike Catapano ’12 (Office of Athletics Communications)

Princeton defensive end Mike Catapano ’12

Catapano has been a force on the line through two games this season. He has recorded nine tackles (including two for losses), one sack, two pass break-ups, one forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. Against Lafayette, he regularly beat his man and collapsed his side of the quarterback’s pocket. His continued production will be key against Columbia and Brackett, who has completed 66.7 percent of his passes for 327 yards and two touchdowns.
 
Columbia running back Leon Ivery
Lafayette was able to sustain drives by running the ball against Princeton last week and finished the game with 138 yards on the ground. This week, Princeton will look to limit Columbia’s ground game to give the Tigers’ quick-strike offense as many possessions as possible. Containing Ivery, Columbia’s sturdily build running back, could be a key priority. He’s gained 109 yards on 27 carries this season (four yards per carry).
 
Roster notes
 
After losing a number of key contributors in week one, Princeton did not suffer any injuries to major players last weekend. Freshman Joe Goss will continue to start at center while junior Mike Muha recovers from a leg injury. Junior Jaiye Falusi remains the starter at free safety for the injured Matt Wakulchik.
 
Around the Ivies
 
In week two, Brown smashed Harvard 29-14 at home — the first major Ivy League upset of the season. Penn stayed close with No. 1 Villanova, eventually losing 22-10. Yale knocked off Cornell 21-7 on the road, improving its mark to 2-0, while Dartmouth defeated Sacred Heart 21-19 to earn its second win of the season. Columbia beat Towson at home 24-10.
 
Final Quote
 
“I love it. We’re playing so fast, so physical. When you’re playing that fast, it takes a lot of the thinking out of it, which is huge for me. I just go out there and play as opposed to [over-thinking].”
– Quarterback Tommy Wornham ’12 on Princeton’s no-huddle offense