After months of anticipation, the Bob Surace ’90 era begins Sept. 18 as Princeton opens its season at Lehigh (1-1) in Bethlehem, Pa. After three consecutive 4-6 seasons following the 9-1 championship campaign of 2006, former coach Roger Hughes was relieved of duties and replaced by Surace, the starting center on the Tigers’ 1989 Ivy League title-winning squad.
Surace was previously the offensive line coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, who in 2009 won the AFC North title on the strength of a smash-mouth running game. Surace brought to Princeton a completely new offensive and defensive system and seven new coaches to help him realize his vision. The coaching staff is considerably younger than the previous regime, and by all accounts the players are energized and excited to hit the field.
Princeton does have a number of question marks as the season opens. Four members of the offensive line graduated last year, and each has been replaced by a player who has never started a collegiate game. The veteran of the line is senior right guard Andrew Mills, who started all 10 games last year.
Princeton returns a number of key players at the skill positions on offense. Wideouts Trey Peacock, Andrew Kerr, and Jeb Heavenrich are all experienced seniors, as is tight end Harry Flaherty. Running back Jordan Culbreath ’11, who has made a remarkable recovery from a rare blood condition, will start in the Tigers’ backfield. Sophomore Akil Sharp, who saw significant time as a freshman last season, is Culbreath’s backup. Junior quarterback Tommy Wornham returns with a year of starting under his belt, and the coaching staff hopes that he will provide poise, strong decision-making, and leadership on offense.
The Mountain Hawks are coming off a 35-0 shellacking at the hands of national powerhouse Villanova. Lehigh is led offensively by junior quarterback Chris Lum and senior tailback Jay Campbell. Lum has thrown for 460 yards and a touchdown in two games this season. Campbell has added three touchdowns and 116 yards. Lum’s favorite target is sophomore wide receiver Ryan Spadola, who has hauled in 14 catches for 187 yards. At 6 feet, 3 inches and 200 pounds, Spadola presents a sizable target and will test Princeton cornerbacks Blake Clemons ’12 and Glenn Wakam ’11.
Princeton defeated Lehigh 17-14 last year on the strength of two huge plays. Linebacker Steve Cody ’11 returned an interception 77 yards for a touchdown, and Wornham ran 67 yards for the first touchdown run of his career. Cody notched 11 tackles, and Dan Kopolovich ’10 ended Lehigh’s final drive of the game with a fourth-down pass breakup. The game also was Culbreath’s last of the season. He suffered an ankle sprain that led to a diagnosis of aplastic anemia days later. Lehigh outgained Princeton (332 yards to 163) and picked up 22 first downs to Princeton’s six. But a missed field goal and three failed fourth-down conversions doomed the Mountain Hawks.
Princeton has won its last two games against Lehigh and three of the last four. Historically, Princeton leads the series 39-12-2.
Players to watch
Princeton running back Jordan Culbreath ’11
Culbreath was a monster two seasons ago, putting up 1,206 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushing for more than 150 yards five times on the way to a first-team All-Ivy selection. Last season, expectations were through the roof as pundits projected Culbreath to be the best player in the Ivy League. Instead, Culbreath was stricken with rare blood disease and played only a game and a half. Many thought that his career was over, but Culbreath had other ideas.
After being cleared to play by doctors, Culbreath hit the ground running, taking part in preseason training camp. Though the staff has been cagey about how many carries he will get this season, Culbreath is listed as the starter on the depth chart. More than one of his teammates has suggested that he is in great shape and could handle 20 touches a game.
Lehigh senior linebacker Al Pierce
The Mountain Hawks’ equivalent to Cody, Pierce is a menace in the middle of Lehigh’s defense. Through two games, he has 22 tackles, 3.5 tackles for losses, and two sacks. He also has forced a fumble. Though slightly undersized at 6 feet, 1 inch and 215 pounds, Pierce will look to create big problems for Princeton’s offense, particularly in the running game.
The Tigers enter the season with a healthy roster. Aside from offseason injuries that ended the seasons of offensive lineman Kevin Mill ’12 and defensive linemen Brad Megay ’12, Princeton is at full strength.
The Tigers field a number of new starters. The offensive line features four newcomers, including sophomore left tackle HaNur Kim, the youngest member of the group. The base defensive formation is now a 4-3, though the Tigers will present varied looks on defense. In the base formation, sophomore Andrew Starks will play outside linebacker after having played in the secondary last year. Sophomore Mandela Sheaffer, a former wide receiver, will start at strong safety.
Around the Ivies
Every Ivy League team opens its season this Saturday with a non-league game. Yale, Brown, and Columbia host Georgetown, Stony Brook, and Fordham, respectively, while Cornell and Dartmouth travel to Wagner and Bucknell. Preseason favorite Harvard hosts Holy Cross, and reigning league champion Penn hosts Lafayette in a game that will be televised live on ESPN3.com.
“We did not take the ball away [last year]. We’ve committed to doing that, and that will be a major emphasis. If you can finish in the pluses, you’re going to have opportunities to win games.”
– Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90, on the team’s commitment to forcing turnovers