PU football falls to 0-4

Tigers can’t take advantage of first-half opportunities against Colgate

By: Justin Feil
   The Princeton University football team had opened six previous seasons with three straight losses before beginning the 2003 season also with three losses. But for the first time in the 134-year history of the football program, Princeton lost its fourth straight game to open a season.
   Princeton lost a 30-3 decision to No. 17 Colgate on Saturday at Princeton Stadium to fall to 0-4 while the Red Raiders improved to 6-0. Princeton handed Colgate its only loss against an Ivy League opponent in the last 18 games last season, which was also the last time the Red Raiders lost a game, but couldn’t duplicate the feat Saturday.
   Jamaal Branch rushed for 191 yards and tied a career-high with three touchdowns to lead the Red Raiders on offense. The Colgate defense knocked down seven of Matt Verbit’s passes and bottled up a Princeton offense that hurt itself as well with poor execution. It was only the second time in three seasons that Princeton has been held without a touchdown, and the first time this season that the Princeton offense has had less yards than an opponent. Colgate ended the game with a 421-231 advantage.
   Princeton was more opportunistic on defense than in any other game this season, but Colgate was the more advantageous team on offense in the first half. Colgate’s defense held the Tigers had just three first downs in the first 30 minutes and the Red Raider offense held a 245-55 advantage in total yards as it jumped to a 20-3 half-time lead.
   Princeton made little noise in the second half. The Tigers surrendered a field goal to start the second half to fall behind, 23-3, with 12:45 to go in the third quarter, turned the ball over on downs on their own first possession and threw an interception on their second second-half possession. Their best chance to score in the second half came when they drove to the Colgate 21 before Verbit’s fourth-down pass was deflected out of bounds. Colgate meanwhile used its running game to control the ball almost 18 minutes off the second-half clock.
   "I don’t think that adjustments were the issue," said PU head coach Roger Hughes. "It was execution of the adjustments. Part of that execution is we’re going up against a pretty good team, and you have to give them their due. With their athleticism you can’t make a mistake and recover."
   Things might have been different had the Tigers offense started the game stronger and been able to take advantage of four second-quarter turnovers by Colgate. They didn’t, and the Red Raiders walked away with the win.
   "What you witnessed there was a gold old-fashioned butt kicking," Hughes said. "They beat us in about every phase of the game. The statistics prove that.
   "We had our opportunities. One thing we hadn’t done to this point that we’re going to focus on is we created a lot of turnovers. It gave us opportunities to claw our way back into the game. Minus just one turnover we had, we held onto the ball better."
   Princeton turned the ball over on downs to start the game, and Colgate capitalized with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Chris Brown to J.B. Gerald that capped a 10-play, 70-yard drive to go up, 7-0, with 7:19 to go in the first quarter.
   "Certainly when you drive on a team of that nature and you have success, success breeds success," Hughes said. "We really felt if we could just get some kind of score on the board, then yeah, the momentum would have changed.
   "There were enough momentum changes that our defense created with turnovers that I really felt that that one thing shouldn’t have been a factor in the game," he added. "We had the ball on their side of the field three times in the first half and came away with no points. The compounding of those things certainly added up. It was frustrating because of (the lack of execution)."
   Princeton’s best chance in that first possession for something to light up the scoreboard came on first-and-10 from the Colgate 36. Verbit’s pass turned B.J. Szymanski around, but the catchable ball dropped from the Tiger receiver’s fingers.
   Twenty seconds after the Red Raiders’ first score, they had another. The Tigers fumbled on their first play of their second offensive possession, and Colgate scored a touchdown one play later when Branch raced in for a 24-yard touchdown. Lane Schwarzberg’s second extra point made it 14-0 Red Raiders at the 6:59 mark.
   The Red Raiders turned an interception by Antrell Tyson into six points on another 10-play drive, this time when Branch ran around the right side untouched for a 17-yard touchdown with 3:30 left. Branch’s run came one play after Colgate converted a fourth-and-2 on a 14-yard pass from Brown to Branch.
   The Tigers had similar opportunities thanks to their defense, but only converted one of four first-half Colgate turnovers. Princeton had caused only one turnover in its previous three games combined. But the turnovers caused weren’t capitalized on and the Tigers never even managed enough to counter Colgate’s first score.
   Princeton’s Justin Stull, who matched Alan Borellie with 13 tackles apiece, had an interception of a Brown pass, but the Tigers offense lost 15 yards and punted on the ensuing possession. Sam Snyder then picked off another Brown pass when Colgate got the ball back, but the Tigers’ offense went three plays and out. Stull stripped Jamaal Branch and recovered the fumble for a third straight Colgate turnover, but then PU quarterback Matt Verbit’s pass on third down hit off the helmet of offensive lineman Kevin Manning and was intercepted by Antrell Tyson.
   "Offensively, I thought our execution was poor," Hughes said. "We had some dropped passes, we had some backs miss some things, we had some offensive linemen miss. I’d like to think that’s on us to execute better, but I also have to give Colgate their due. They’re not a bad team."
   Princeton finally scored following a fourth Colgate turnover — a botched punt that went through J.B. Gerald’s hands and was recovered by J.J. Artis — but even that Princeton score had a "what if" feeling to it. Tight end Randy Bly had a Verbit pass go through his hands at the 10-yard line on first down. Given the ball at the Colgate 14-yard line, Princeton managed just seven total yards before settling for an Elliot Bishop 25-yard field goal.
   "In the crucial situation, we get a dropped pass after an interception, which I thought frankly was a great call but we didn’t execute," Hughes said. "That’s the difference between having success and then success breeds success.
   "In this league, I think confidence is a big thing. As you get more confident in what you’re doing, you expect good things to happen. I think we’re confident in what we’re doing, but we’re just not doing it all the time, in crucial situations."
   Branden Benson came off his first career 100-yard rushing performance to lead the Tigers with 60 yards on 10 carries. Szymanski caught six passes for 54 yards and Blair Morrison had five catches for 61 yards. Verbit finished 20 for 39 for 169 yards. He was sacked four times.
   Princeton looks for its first win of the season, and tries to even its Ivy League record at 1-1 when it travels to Providence, R.I. for a 1 p.m. game Saturday against Brown.
   "At some point in time," Hughes said, "I still believe this team can be a pretty good team."