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Princeton needs touchdowns in the red zone
Princeton’s 28-23 loss at Hampton Saturday illustrated a scoring pattern that has existed in all four football games. Most of the dots are red, and are easy to follow.
The adage is that numbers don’t lie, and in this case the math explains the 1-3 record.
The difference is between the red zone and the end zone. Princeton can find one, but not the other.
Against Hampton, Princeton settled for five field goals and only one touchdown. It has become the theme of the season.
So far, Princeton has scored six offensive touchdowns and kicked nine field goals.
Opponents’ drives have resulted in one field goal and 14 touchdowns.
The Tigers have moved inside the 20-yard line 19 times and come away with just the five touchdowns, a success rate of 26 percent.
Conversely, opponents have reached the red zone 11 times and come away with eight touchdowns. That’s 82 percent success.
If Princeton had found a way to score touchdowns in even half its red zone situations its record would easily be 3-1. But it didn’t. And it isn’t.
Starting at Brown on Saturday, in what will be six straight Ivy League games, that has to change if Princeton is going to stay in the race.
That is, the red zone can no longer be the black zone, where the offense disappears.
“There’s something we have to unlock to get that ball in the end zone,” Princeton coach Bob Surace said yesterday. “So far we’ve played some tough competition, so hopefully that helps us.”
That’s essentially true.
Princeton played Lehigh down to the end and the Mountain Hawks are ranked 10th in this week’s national polls. Bucknell and Hampton also received votes for the Top 25.
Princeton twice was inside the 10 against Hampton, and both times came away with no points. Penalties again played a role.
Still, there were positives.
Freshmen continued to play well, including running back Chuck Dibilio and receiver Matt Costello. Dibilio gained 147 yards on Saturday on 21 carries, and Costello had a career-high six catches.
Cornerback Khamal Brown continues to play well, as do safety Mike Zeuli and linebacker Garrett Leicht.
The Tigers won the turnover battle by recovering two fumbles and making an interception, which they did not do in the other losses. Princeton’s offense is averaging 373 yards per game, which is a higher number than the other guys: 362.
One other number to consider: Princeton has given up seven touchdowns on plays of 26 yards or more. Of Princeton’s six offensive TDs, its longest is 26 yards.
Against Hampton (3-2), there was too much speed, and as Surace said, “We have as many freshmen playing as they do transfers from 1-A schools. We knew it was going to be a huge task. But for us to play as well and as hard for as long as we did much of the game, we had a chance. We were resilient.”
Depth continues to develop on both lines – they played 10 offensive linemen Saturday – and injuries have been kept to a minimum.
Linebackers Tim Kingsbury and Andrew Starks came out a little dinged up but should be ready to go against Brown.
For Princeton, whoever plays, the numbers have to start reversing. Especially in the red zone.
By Paul Franklin, The Princeton Times