Griffith's Got Stats: Previewing the Dartmouth-Princeton football game

by Evan Griffith | 10/29/18 2:15am

The Ivy League football title will most likely be decided next week, as undefeated Dartmouth takes on undefeated Princeton University in central New Jersey. Princeton and Dartmouth are currently ranked atop the Ivy League statistically; the teams are ranked first and second, respectively, in both total offense and total defense. Both teams will be looking to capture their first outright Ivy League football title in over 20 years; Princeton has not won the title outright since 1995, while Dartmouth hasn’t won outright since 1996 (Dartmouth split the title with Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania in 2015 and Princeton split it with Penn in 2016).

Dartmouth football came into this season with low expectations from the media. The Big Green was picked to finish sixth in the Ivy League in the Preseason Ivy League Media Poll, only ahead of Cornell University and Brown University. This shouldn’t have meant much to the team, since in eight of the last nine years the team had finished higher than its predicted placement in the poll. The media’s low placement was understandable, given that Dartmouth had graduated roughly half of its starters on offense and defense. The team was young but had plenty of competition for the starting roles. Before the season started, four quarterbacks were vying for the starting role, including Jake Pallotta ’20, who was the primary backup to Jack Heneghan ’18 last year, Derek Kyler ’21, wildcat quarterback Jared Gerbino ’20, as well as freshman transfer from the University of Florida Jake Allen ’22. The defense has centerpieces in Jack Traynor ’19, who was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy player at linebacker last season, as well as Isiah Swann ’20, who was a second-team All-Ivy selection.

Dartmouth had been quick to outplay its predictions, climbing up to a number 20 rank in the Football Championship Subdivision Poll leading up to the Big Green’s matchup against Harvard on Saturday. Dartmouth accomplished this by starting its season with a 41-0 shutout of Georgetown University in the team’s home opener in a match where Rashaad Cooper ’19 had a 112-yard rushing day and Drew Hunnicutt ’19 had a 102-yard receiving day. Dartmouth then topped Penn 37-14 and beat Yale University, the team predicted to finish first in the Ivy League in the same poll that predicted Dartmouth to finish sixth, 41-18 in New Haven. Dartmouth would enter the FCS Poll after the team’s second shutout of the season against Sacred Heart University, ranked 24th in the country. Dartmouth would then post a two-score victory at Columbia University and then beat Harvard for the first time in 15 years, and the first time at home in 25 years, 24-17 in a cold, rainy mess of a game. Although it was a one-possession game, the game was not as close as the score indicated. Dartmouth jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the first half. The students must have realized that the game was pretty much over, as most of them cleared out to get away from the cold, rain and hail once halftime hit.

Princeton entered the season picked to finish second behind Yale in the preseason poll. The Tigers, offensively, have looked the part, only scoring under 45 points in one of the team’s seven games (a 29-21 victory against Harvard). Interestingly, due to the scheduling changes put forth by the Ivy League last football season, Princeton won’t play either Harvard or Yale at home this year; one of those two teams is usually the team’s homecoming game. Princeton has yet to face Yale this season ­— the Bulldogs will be part of the Tigers’ tough three-game stretch to finish the season, which also includes undefeated Dartmouth next weekend and Penn. Princeton has looked good on offense, but the combined record of the teams that Princeton has faced so far this season is 21-31. The combined record of Dartmouth’s opponents, on the other hand, is 27-26, indicating that the Big Green has faced a better quality of opponents.

The key to the upcoming matchup of the unbeatens next Saturday is how Dartmouth’s defense can shut down Princeton’s offense. Princeton, in their matchup with Cornell this past Saturday, was able to gain over 500 yards of total offense and used 13 players in a running game that was able to record 358 yards and seven touchdowns. Princeton senior quarterback John Lovett plays a similar role as Gerbino with Dartmouth as a wildcat quarterback. Lovett and Gerbino currently rank third and fifth in the Ivy League in rushing yards with 608 and 474 yards, respectively, which is a fantastic feat considering they’re both quarterbacks. Lovett rushed for 159 yards and one touchdown on 19 rushing attempts against Cornell, which is typical of a wildcat quarterback. Gerbino rushed for 183 yards and one touchdown this past Saturday against Harvard as well. While Princeton has recorded at least 45 points in all but one of its games, Dartmouth has not allowed more than 18 points in any of its games this season, in addition to recording two shutouts. Isiah Swann is one of the leaders of this Dartmouth defense and will have to step up in a big way against Princeton’s offense. Swann currently has seven interceptions on the season as well as eight pass breakups, leading the Ivy League in both categories. Rocco Di Leo ’18 is also an integral part to this team’s defense, as the fifth-year senior currently leads the Ivy League in tackles for loss with 9.5, as well as in sacks with seven.

This game next week will most likely decide the Ivy League title. It will be hard for Dartmouth to travel to New Jersey and overcome Princeton’s home field advantage, but Dartmouth’s defense can certainly rise to the occasion.