PU football gears up for Toreros attack

Tigers host San Diego 1 p.m. Saturday

By: Justin Feil
   Last year, it was the defense that carried Princeton University’s football team to a 24-17 win at San Diego.
   Not that he doesn’t believe in the Tigers’ offense, but Tim Strickland expects more of the same as the Princeton hosts San Diego 1 p.m. Saturday in Princeton Stadium. The junior free safety thinks the Toreros have the firepower to test the Tigers more than they were in a 23-21 win over Lafayette last Saturday.
   "San Diego is much different than Lafayette, just from the perspective that Lafayette came out in a couple different sets," Strickland said. "They were going to run iso’ and counter. They were going to give you boots. And they were going to give you sprint. San Diego likes to spread the ball out. They like a lot of four and five receiver sets. They like to let their quarterback make plays.
   "I think the onus is on our secondary to step it up and shut that down. I think if we can stop the run and force them to pass, that’s when we’re going to have to make plays."
   In last weeks’ win over Lafayette, cornerback Jay McCareins scored on a 75-yard interception return. Last year, he scored on a 36-yard interception return in the win over San Diego, one defensive play after PU defensive end James Williams returned a fumble 12 yards for a touchdown.
   This, however, is not last year’s San Diego team.
   The Toreros are 3-0, and come to Old Nassau with last week’s 17-14 win over Yale fresh in their minds. It showed the steps the program has taken under second-year coach Jim Harbaugh, the former University of Michigan standout and 15-year NFL quarterback.
   "Defensively, they run around, they hit, they play relentless, they play hard," said PU head coach Roger Hughes. "Offensively, their quarterback is a playmaker. He can create. He’s not a runner who throws when he has to. He’s a quarterback. When he breaks the pocket down, he’s looking downfield and looking to throw the first (down pass). He’s extremely athletic and we have our work cut out for us.
   "Their wide receivers are very good. I think skill-wise, they’re better than Lafayette from what we saw. We clearly have our work cut out for us. That’s evidenced by the fact what we saw last week against Yale. Yale dominated the first half. Their kids hung in there, and hung in there and found a way in the end zone and kept Yale out of it at the end of the game. It’s a much more mature team than last year."
   San Diego also rallied against Princeton last year after falling behind, 21-0, in the second quarter. Getting the Toreros at a disadvantage is an aim again this week.
   "We try to do what every other defense tries to do," said Strickland explaining, "manage first and second down and try to get them into a third down that’s not comfortable for them and then go out and play."
   In the first half against Lafayette, Princeton allowed one first-day play to go 12 yards, the one pass play they completed on first down. The other 10 first-down plays made a total of 18 yards.
   "You have to give a lot of credit to our front seven, especially in the first half," said Strickland, who had two solo tackles last week. "Our guys, we just ran to the football. Stull and Holuba did a great job in the middle. You saw Nate Starrett’s interception. Our D-line did a great job. There’s a lot of pressure on those front three. They hold a lot of double teams being a front three instead of a front four. When they come to play, we’re a tough defense."
   Hughes had high praise for new defensive starters like Holuba and defensive ends Mike Meehan and Brett Barrie as well as freshman reserve noseguard Peter Buchignani. They were some of the less experienced players. The defensive backfield, however, is considered a strength with so much returning. They lost just one starter from the backfield, and Dave Ochotorena has moved to Strickland’s strong safety spot while Strickland was able to slide back to the free safety position vacated by Brandon Mueller. The Tigers were at full strength against Lafayette as J.J. Artis returned to cornerback after a preseason injury and Jay McCareins returned at the other cornerback.
   "When you lose a player like Brandon Mueller, you’re going to have trouble filling his shoes," Strickland said. "But I think as far as J.J. and I being the two juniors playing with David and J-Mac, it’s both of our third years and we’ve become a lot more mature. Ocho and J-Mac are both seniors and they’ve had a lot of game experience. I think the combined game experience between the four starters is a huge deal. We try our best to manage the game and really watch film and know ahead what we’re going to do instead of having to react. That’s a big part."
   Strickland played cornerback as a freshman and moved to the strong safety spot last year. During preseason camp, he played a lot of corner with Artis’s injury but was able to move to free safety, where he should be the remainder of the year barring injury to Artis or McCareins. He’s getting more familiar with his role and responsibilities as the free safety.
   "Free safety, you have to align the defense a lot more," Strickland noted. "You’re pretty much the last person to line up. You have to make all the coverage checks, with motions, make sure you hear all the linebacker stunt calls. I think free safety is more of a challenge mentally. Strong safety, you’re up in the box, taking on blocks and all that stuff. It’s not as much of a mental game."
   Strickland has been extra studious in game sessions against San Diego, which runs a pro style offense under Harbaugh. But with such experience on the defense, there aren’t many new wrinkles to see. Still, the Tigers are hoping to shut down the Toreros for the entire game Saturday after Lafayette scored two of its second-half touchdowns through the air. Strickland is preparing for an even more dangerous passing offense in San Diego.
   "I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a concern for us," he said. "We came out really, really strong in the first half and we hope to do that again, and if the second half calls for us to shut down their offense we need to get it done in the second half and not have letdowns. And obviously, we’re up 20-0, our secondary we knew they were going to try to home run us to get back in the game and unfortunately we gave up some big plays."
   Strickland doesn’t expect those letdowns in the Tigers’ second game of the season. He’s looking forward to knocking off another unbeaten. San Diego is unbeaten in three tries. Lafayette was 2-0 before last weekend, but the Tigers showed no signs of a slow start. But that’s just what it was — a start — as Hughes cautioned.
   "It’s definitely something we can build off," Strickland said. "It was Lafayette’s third game. It was our first. We were harping on getting out of the box fast. We went over there two years ago and got down and couldn’t climb back in it. We really wanted to get off to a great start and I think that’s good.
   "I think there’s a lot of positives we can work off of, and there’s definitely a lot we can work on too. We have a smart defense and that will help us correct those things."