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Football heads to Tigers’ jungle for Ivy clash

After win over Holy Cross pushed team to .500, Bruno takes on defending conference champions

Riding a two-game winning streak, the football team heads to Princeton Saturday to begin a six-game gauntlet through the Ivy League. A matchup with the defending Ivy champions on their home turf will test the Bears as they seek their first conference win.

With their nonconference schedule behind them, the young team has matured steadily and appears to be on track to potentially do some damage in league play, said Head Coach Phil Estes P’18.

After dropping its first Ivy League battle to Harvard, Bruno can’t fall to 0-2 in conference and expect to challenge for a title, said running back Andrew Coke ’16.

“These games are for an Ivy League championship. These games are what we’ve been training for the whole season,” he said. “One more loss and it doesn’t put us in position we want to be.”

On the other hand, Princeton jumpstarted its title defense with a 38-6 thrashing of conference punching bag Columbia (0-4, 0-1). Steered by reigning Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Quinn Epperly, the Tigers have one of the most dangerous offenses in the country. The squad averages 38.2 points per game — 11 more points than Brown’s highest total this season.

Princeton’s gaudy offensive numbers are the result of the unit’s fast pace and ability to move the ball on the ground and through the air, Estes said. But he added that with strict discipline, Bruno could negate Princeton’s style.

“If you make a mistake, they are trying to go fast and bring it into the next play,” he said. “You just have to play your responsibility. When they start the fast tempo, people try to do too much.”

Bruno’s success is rooted in its defense, which has kept the team in every game despite its low scoring totals. The defense has even shown glimpses of brilliance — such as holding the University of Rhode Island to zero total yards in the third quarter — but it will have to show more than glimpses Saturday.

“Their offensive coordinator runs a smoke-and-mirrors scheme. They’ll put two quarterbacks in the game at one time, just to get the defense out of sorts,” said defensive end Robert Hughes ’17. “Our attack plan on defense is to ignore that and see through it to see the simple stuff that they’re actually doing.”

Bruno’s defense will get a lift from the return of linebacker and co-captain Dan Giovacchini ’15, who has battled multiple injuries. Starting safety Will Quigley ’15 is sidelined with injury, but backup Zach Gillen ’15 filled in with a solid game against Holy Cross last weekend.

The injury-depleted Bruno defense hasn’t seen a dip in performance because of the impressive play of young backups, Hughes said.

On the other side of the ball, the game may come down to the ability of quarterback Marcus Fuller ’15 to pass the football against a weak Tiger secondary. The senior has shown steady growth since an ugly opening game, including almost 200 yards passing in the second half and overtime against Holy Cross.

“As an offense as a whole, we’ve come a long way. Marcus has gotten better every week — we all have,” Coke said.

Princeton’s defense boasts a stout front, which has allowed just 78 rushing yards per game, but a lackluster backfield, surrendering 268 passing yards per game. But Coke said the Bears would not alter their offensive strategy based on these statistics.

“We are just going to go with what we do every week,” he said, adding that they observe what is working during the game and lean on that.

A new weapon in the passing game emerged last week in Brian Strachan ’15. The senior has played both running back and wide receiver at Brown, but established himself as Fuller’s favorite target with eight catches and three touchdowns against the Crusaders.

The tandem of Strachan’s production and explosive receiver Alex Jette ’17 could wreak havoc on the soft Princeton secondary.

In the ground game, Coke is coming off a career-high performance with 89 rushing yards against Holy Cross. But Seth Rosenbauer ’16, a strong backup quarterback who has been impactful in the running game, is unexpected to play because of a concussion he suffered against URI.

Saturday’s test will show the growth of the inexperienced Bruno squad from nonconference play, and determine whether it can compete in the Ancient Eight.

“There were a lot of questions surrounding us, especially in pre-season, but we’ve been proving to the league and ourselves that we’re a pretty confident team,” Hughes said. “It’s getting a lot more comfortable.”


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