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The Dartmouth
February 25, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Big Green to finish season at home vs. Tigers

It's that time of year again. Snow is falling outside your window. Jack Frost is doing his thing. The football team only has one game left to play.

That's right. If you missed the team all season and want to change that, if you like the nostalgia of Senior Day or if you're just crazy about Dartmouth football, come to Memorial Field at noon tomorrow.

Want more encouragement?

The Big Green (1-8, 1-5) have a good chance of beating this week's opponent, the Princeton Tigers (3-6, 1-5).

The contest pits two of the three teams tied for last place in the Ivy League. The winner will find solace in a strong conclusion to an otherwise forgettable season. The loser will suffer the ignominy of last place in a mediocre eight-team league.

Considering its recent offensive performances, the Green may enjoy the former scenario.

Last weekend against Brown -- which maintained its tie for first in the Ivies with Yale with a 35-28 win -- the Green moved the ball brilliantly and managed to score at the end of several of their longer possessions.

In earlier weeks Dartmouth showed it has the capability of moving the ball, but could not score. Perhaps the side has turned over a new leaf.

Like the leaves in Hanover, Dartmouth's defense has been falling.

Interrupted by a solid performance against a weak Columbia squad and a very good game versus Cornell, Dartmouth has been burned by Lehigh, Yale, Harvard and now Brown.

Which of these groups Princeton's on-again, off-again offense will join is unclear.

Big O

In two of the last three games, the Green have set new season highs for points scored, topping out at 28 last weekend.

"I thought we had our best offensive game of the year," Dartmouth Head Coach John Lyons said. "I hope we continue to make the improvements we have offensively."

Behind stellar running by Reggie Belhomme '00 in the first half last weekend and solid passing throughout the game, Dartmouth was able to score on four different possessions for the first time all year.

Quarterback Brian Mann '02 continued to improve his accuracy, bringing his season completion rate up to 60 percent with an 18-27 performance.

Mann's 1,520 yards average out to 168 per game, a respectable number considering the Green's short passing attack.

"A lot of it has to do with how much time he has to throw," Lyons said. "It seems we've been effective in some of the quick and mid-range" plays.

Belhomme's 129 yards on the ground marked his first 100-yard rushing game in two years. Previously he had been averaging 2.9 yards a carry, whereas against Brown he went for 5.2.

Princeton should do a better job defending the run, so it will fall to Mann and his young receiving corps to pick up the slack.

Although Belhomme leads the team in catches, wideouts Matt DeLellis '02, Damien Roomets '02 and Matt Davis '03 and tight end Lee Roach '01 have all caught over 20 passes, and have all picked up important first downs in recent games.

A Green passing attack like against Brown or Harvard -- in the first half -- will score some points. If Dartmouth plays as it did against Columbia or Yale, it will be a long afternoon.

Discriminating

Princeton's defense has had varying success with no obvious pattern.

The Tigers allowed 41 points to Penn two weeks ago -- a team the Green only gave up 17 points to -- but they held Yale to 23 the next week. The Bulldogs scored 44 on Dartmouth.

Harvard was able to win with only 13 points, but Brown blew out Princeton 53-30.

"They're one of the top defenses in the league in giving up yardage," Lyons said. "They're playing pretty good run defense. People have thrown it against them."

If recent weeks are any indication, Princeton should be able to keep the Green from setting a new season high for scoring yet again.

Tiger cubs

The Princeton offense is led by a sophomore quarterback and features a freshman as one of its two regular tailbacks. The youthful squad has had its ups and downs this season, exhibiting inconsistency similar to Dartmouth's own offense.

"They're young like us," Lyons said. "On offense it seems that they struggle at times."

Princeton scored three points in its first two games of the season but then roared back for 57 points over its next two games, including its first win of the season against Fordham.

Since then the Tigers have scored as many as 44 points and as few as six.

Quarterback Tommy Crenshaw has largely been responsible for the fate of the offense. He has thrown for 1,491 yards and five touchdowns. His 56.1 completion rate is far below Mann's, but his seven interceptions are half as many as Mann has thrown.

Against Columbia, Crenshaw completed 24 of 33 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns. Several weeks earlier, however, he was benched during a poor performance against Brown.

Like Mann, Crenshaw's numbers have been improving of late, and he comes to Dartmouth hoping to cap a solid first season as the starter.

Similarly, freshman scat-back Cameron Atkinson hopes to break into the starting lineup next year. Princeton's speedster only averages 3.5 yards per carry, but he has totaled 314 yards and four touchdowns.

Atkinson and starting tailback Kyle Brant will be difficult to defend because the Tigers can always have a fresh runner in the game.

In the passing game, Crenshaw's favorite target by far is Phil Wendler. He is Princeton's answer to standout Ivy receivers like Cornell's Joe Splendorio and Yale's Eric Johnson.

Wendler has caught 67 passes for 731 yards and four touchdowns.He is Crenshaw's go-to guy on third down and can also catch the deep ball.

"It looks like they move the ball pretty well but they've had trouble scoring points," Lyons said. "They're going to more four- and five-wideout sets -- spreading people out more than in the past."

Despite this, the Green may need to double cover Wendler if they hope to keep the Tiger passing game under wraps.

Stoppers

While early in the season Dartmouth's defense kept the team in games but was not aided by the offense, the reverse is now true.

Last Saturday, Brown's punter entered the game for the first time very late in the fourth quarter because the defense had failed to hold the Bears until that point.

"We never really stopped them," Lyons said. "What we need to do is play well on both sides of the ball for a whole game -- we haven't done that."

The Green have watched a number of teams make big plays -- whether on first down or third-and-long -- that keep a defense on the field and lead to scores. Except against Cornell, Dartmouth has not come near the opposing quarterback more than a few times in a game.

"We've got to get more pressure on the quarterback," Lyons said.

The Green will have to contend with many receivers in the game at one time -- something they have not done successfully to this point.

They will also have to stop Princeton's dual running threat. However, the defense has only had real difficulty with top running backs, of which the Tigers have none.

Princeton has averaged 26 points its last three games, but 18.4 for the season. The Green defense should be able to keep near their season average.

This is it

The outcome of this game will set the tone for how both teams enter the off-season. The winner will not finish in last place, and will have concluded the season on a high note.

For the Class of 2000, this is the last hurrah.

"I think the guys will really get after this one," Lyons said. "I know that the seniors in their last home game are excited."

After tomorrow there will be no more preparing for the next game, only reflecting on this one. For the Green, hopefully the memories will be positive.

Prediction: Green 23, Princeton 20