Balance. This is what the Bulldogs hope to bring to the Yale Bowl this Saturday when the 130th season of Yale football kicks off against the University of San Diego.
The 2002 squad contains a healthy mixture of both veteran players and new blood. Returning 39 letterwinners and 16 starters, the Elis will have plenty of experience to go on this weekend against the Toreros. Their experience starts right at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
Seniors Kyle Metzler ’03, Matt Lewis ’03, and Nick Sinatra ’03 all return as starters from one of the better offensive lines in the league last season. This veteran squad, anchored by senior center and three-year letterwinner David Farrell ’03, will be sure to provide new starting quarterback Alvin Cowan ’04 with plenty of pass protection.
“It’s nice to have those veteran guys [offensive linemen] in front of you,” said Cowan. “It’s good to know they’re there for you.”
The defensive line, anchored by two senior All-Ivy candidates — Captain Jason Lange ’03 and Luke Mraz ’03 — is no different. Lange made 36 stops last season, including an interception against Fordham which he returned 58 yards, while classmate Mraz had 2.5 sacks from the tackle position.
Behind the veteran linemen, there is plenty of talent, but also several question marks. With the loss of Billy Brown ’02 and Keith Reams ’02, the Elis are fielding a younger group of receivers. Although less experienced than their predecessors, members of this new crop have already played significant roles. Junior P.J. Collins ’04 was the team’s third leading receiver with 20 catches for 224 yards and two scores. Ron Benigno ’04 and Ralph Plumb ’05 made big catches last season and look to make significant contributions this year.
“I think our receivers may be the deepest we’ve ever had,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “They seemed to have been the group that stood out most during preseason.”
The biggest “X Factor” for the Bulldogs this weekend and this season is undoubtedly the new starting quarterback Alvin Cowan ’03. Before last Tuesday’s scrimmage against Union, Cowan had only completed two passes, both on fake punts. Cowan’s lack of experience, although worrisome, has not dented Siedlecki’s confidence in his new starting quarterback.
“Alvin is one of these [unproven areas of the team],” Siedlecki said. “We think we’ve got a good quarterback and he’s gotta show us.”
With the departure of veterans Peter Lee ’02 and T.J.Hyland ’02, Cowan will have big shoes to fill this weekend. Thus far, Cowan has shown that he can handle the challenge. During the Bulldogs’ preseason scrimmage with Union, Cowan completed 12 of 18 passes for 192 yards and two scores.
Cowan said he is not concerned with his lack of experience.
“I almost consider it an advantage,” he said. “People haven’t seen us play and it is a lot harder to figure out what we are going to do. I’m pretty confident in what I can do and what the guys around me can do.”
Besides the mix of new and veteran players, the Bulldogs also seek to find more balance in their offense.
“We didn’t run the ball very well last year,” Siedlecki said. “We ended up throwing the ball too much. This season we would like to be more balanced.”
Part of the reason for the Eli’s troubled run game last season is the series of injuries that decimated the backfield. Robert Carr ’05 had 325 yards and three scores until a groin injury midseason sidelined him for five games. Junior Pat Bydume ’04, slowed by a leg ailment, missed six games. If the Yale backfield can remain healthy this season, the Bulldogs will be well on their way to a balanced attack.
To start off the season on the right foot, Yale needs to get by the Toreroes. The last time the two teams met in 1999, the Bulldogs won, 17-6. But, the Toreroes come into Saturday with the advantage of having two games already under their belt.
In their last outing, San Diego thoroughly trounced the La Verne Leopards by a score of 39-8. For their performances in that game, junior quarterback Eric Rasmusen and junior defensive back Gavin Ng were selected Pioneer Football League Players of the Week. San Diego also boasts a fast and agile group of receivers which may present a challenge for the Elis’ inconsistent secondary.
Coming off a tough 3-6 season, Yale has had both reason and opportunity to make some adjustments in the off-season. When they step onto the field Saturday, the Elis will need to put to rest much of the doubt and disappointment that plagued the team at the end of the last season. Nevertheless, excitement runs high in the locker room.
“I don’t think anyone on the team is thinking much about last season,” said Lange. “We’re a completely different team than we were last season. Guys are really excited to get out on the field and prove themselves.”