Regrets? Matt Allen ’12 has had a few in four years of losing Princeton football. But there is only one worth mentioning.
“I’m really disappointed that I only got to play with Chuck Dibilio [’15] for one year,” said the guard.
So having been told repeatedly that the game you remember the most from your career is your last one, Allen doesn’t see a door closing Saturday, but rather the holes he can open toward the first rushing title by a freshman in Ivy League history.
Dibilio goes to Dartmouth with 749 yards in six league games, only 17 behind Big Green senior Nick Schwieger, a head-to-head battle that makes the bus well worth boarding for the long drive at the end of a 1-8 season.
“Linemen don’t get stats – you measure your success by how well your running backs do,” said tackle Kevin DeMaio ’12, the only other senior starter on the offensive line. “We really want to get this.”
Dibilio, already the first Ivy League non-transfer freshman to surpass 1,000 yards in a complete season (1,002), needs 185 yards, seven more than he had last week against Yale, to break the freshman record set in 2003 by Harvard’s Clifton Dawson, a transfer from Northwestern.
Coach Bob Surace ’90 says he will not be asking for yardage updates during the game for play calling and substitution purposes. Winning for the seniors’ sake – and just plain winning’s sake – takes precedence. But certainly chasing Schwieger will not be exclusive from pursuing a win, since Princeton’s passing attack has been sporadic and Dartmouth (4-5, 3-3) is last in the league in rushing yards allowed per game.
“I have never been a guy who shies away from trying to get records,” said offensive coordinator James Perry, a former Brown quarterback who remains the Ivy leader for career passing yards.
More curious will be Dartmouth’s approach against a Princeton team that ranks second against the rush and eighth against the pass. The Big Green showed some balance against Brown, but still used a healthy dose of Schwieger (37 carries, 137 yards).
“You are aware of your opponent’s weaknesses, but you are what you are,” said Surace.
And Schwieger is a load.
“I’d say he has a little more wiggle than Chuck, makes guys flat-out miss, drop their underwear on the ground,” said Surace. “Chuck will make one cut, hit the hole, or break the tackle.
“For a freshman, his balance, ability to accelerate and vision are impressive. The game seems in slow motion for him, He catches the ball really well and his blocking is getting better.”
Surace had feared that as the season wore on, the freshman would wear down. But ever though backup Brian Mills ’14, who will return this week, has been out since the sixth game – linebacker Steve Cody ’12 (shoulder) likely will be a game-time decision – Dibilio not only has gotten stronger by the carry, but by the game.
“If you grabbed Chuck’s shoulder, you would realize that’s a very strong kid,” said Perry. “But [at 5 feet, 10 inches and 200 pounds] it’s not his size but a knack for breaking tackles. It’s a low center of gravity and a low pad level, to use coachspeak. You don’t expect a freshman to break the tackles he’s breaking.”
It’s also been beyond the expectations of Dibilio, who just hoped to be able to get some snaps as a freshman and never thought he would be an all-time record holder. Caraun Reid ’13, Princeton’s fine defensive tackle, says every yard he denies Schwieger Saturday puts Dibilio one yard closer to the title. And to Allen, every yard gained means closure on his career.
“Of course it’s disappointing we haven’t had a winning season,” Allen said. “But I think we have turned the direction around with the offensive line.
“We didn’t have much of a rushing attack last year. This year it is exponentially better.”
In the pros, it is customary for running backs to reward the grunts who paved the road to glory, and Allen laughed that he’d be happy with a steak dinner for his work. But both Allen and DeMaio added with modesty that the freshman has done more than his share of the heavy lifting.
“[Dibilio] doesn’t owe us anything,” DeMaio said. “We owe him.
“If one of us misses a block he can still make a play for 15 yards instead of two. He makes us look really good out there.”