Sports

After rough start, football team falls against Princeton

With aerial offense, Fuller ’15 sets personal, conference records, despite 27-16 loss

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, October 20, 2014

Over its past two Ivy League games, the football team has established a theme: not playing a complete game.

The Bears (2-3, 0-2 Ivy) dug themselves a huge hole against Princeton (3-2, 2-0) Saturday, trailing 24-0 shortly into the second quarter. Despite a spirited second half, Bruno could not surmount the deficit, falling 27-16.

“We’ve yet to put together 60 minutes of football,” said linebacker and co-captain Dan Giovacchini ’15.

The start of Saturday’s game was the exact opposite of Bruno’s matchup against Harvard three weeks ago. In that game, Bruno grabbed an early lead and was up 14-13 before a miserable fourth quarter led to a 22-14 loss. But the two games are similar in that the Bears simply didn’t show up for an important part of the game. On Saturday, instead of the fourth quarter, it was the first.

“If we play well for three quarters, not playing well for one quarter can be the difference in the game,” Giovacchini said.

From the opening kickoff to the conclusion of a Princeton drive that extended less than a minute into the second quarter, the Bears were outgained 263-42 and outscored 24-0. The ostensibly staunch Bruno run defense gave up 68 yards on 12 carries, and the solid secondary was torched by a backup quarterback for the second straight Ivy game. Princeton quarterback and reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Quinn Epperly missed the game with turf toe, but backup quarterback Connor Michelsen went 16-for-19 for 195 yards over those first few drives, including a run of 13 consecutive completions.

“We came out pretty flat,” Giovacchini said, and described the game’s opening stanza as “probably our worst first quarter in a long time.”

He also said the defense was “caught off guard with the pace” of the Tiger offense.

The game looked well on its way to being a blowout, and it seemed unlikely Bruno would hold the electric Tigers offense under 50 points. But after Princeton went up by 24, a switch flipped in the Bears, who proceeded to outplay the Tigers for the rest of the game.

“We did fight to the bitter end,” said quarterback and co-captain Marcus Fuller ’15.

From their first possession of the second quarter until the end of the game, Bruno held a 405-222 yardage advantage and scored 16 of the game’s final 19 points. The defense buckled down, limiting the Tigers to only 60 more rushing yards on their final 24 carries. Michelsen completed only 17 of his next 26 passes, gaining only 172 yards after Princeton took its huge lead.

After the initial shock, “we were more poised, more in control,” Giovacchini said. Of course, he also noted that the effort was “too little, too late.”

An individual bright spot, Zach Gillen ’16 continued his breakout. The safety was third on the team with seven total tackles and picked off a Princeton pass.

As one might expect, the Bruno offense had to get somewhat pass-happy after falling so far behind. The running game was also not an option because of how well Princeton stopped it: The Bears finished with -7 yards on the ground. These two factors combined for Fuller to produce one of the strangest statistical profiles any quarterback can, as the Bears seemingly picked a simple offensive strategy after the first quarter: Chuck it deep.

Fuller finished the game 29-for-71 for 454 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. The 71 attempts were an Ivy League record. He surpassed his career high in yards by 214, in completions by nine and in attempts by a staggering 24. His 40.8 completion percentage was abysmal, but he threw so many deep passes that he ended up with a respectable 6.4 yards per attempt. Nearly half of Fuller’s completions went for at least 14 yards.

The main beneficiary of the bombs-away play-calling was receiver Troy Doles ’16, who caught six passes for an unbelievable 200 yards. He torched the Tigers all day, catching balls for 23, 26, 37, 42 and 70 yards. Before Saturday, his best career game came against Georgetown University in the season opener, when he had four catches for 68 yards.

Not to be overlooked, Brian Strachan ’15 also had an excellent game. He set career highs with 10 catches for 146 yards, in addition to scoring a touchdown.

“We moved the ball through the air pretty well,” Fuller said. He added that the air raid strategy stemmed more from the team’s big deficit than their struggles rushing the ball.

The team was “chasing points” once it fell behind, Fuller said. “With the looks that they were giving, through the air was the best way to do it.”

Fuller emphasized that the Bears needed to “finish drives.” Bruno reached the red zone five times, and only one of those possessions ended in a touchdown, with three ending in field goals and one in which Fuller was picked off in the end zone.

“We need to execute better,” Fuller added.

While the numbers for the receiving corps make Bruno’s aggressive strategy look good, 42 incompletions will stifle any offense. Overall, the offense’s results were just as poor as they have been in the past few weeks.

With another weak offensive performance and a temporary defensive lapse that lasted long enough to crush Bruno’s hopes, the Bears are now 0-2 in conference. But things are not as bleak as they seem: The two teams Bruno has faced will likely be its most formidable opponents all season.

“It’s a little upsetting to be 2-3, frankly, but it’s not panic mode,” Giovacchini said.

The team still has games against the majority of the conference, including a home game Saturday against traditional Ivy doormat Cornell (0-5, 0-2). If Bruno can defeat the Big Red and lowly Columbia, which is also winless, it only needs to beat one of Dartmouth, Yale and Penn to match last season’s 3-4 conference finish. While Bruno’s expectations coming into the year are still realistic, an 0-2 start is hard to hope on.

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