History has a funny way of repeating itself. But this weekend, the Yale football team (3-3, 1-2 Ivy) will fight to prove the past wrong against Columbia (1-5, 0-3) at the Yale Bowl.
Last season, the Bulldogs started the season 2-0. They lost a big Tercentennial Weekend game 32-27 to Dartmouth Oct. 7 to commence the season’s collapse, winning only one more game and losing six straight to finish at a dismal 3-6.
The Elis began this season 3-0, a personal best for head coach Jack Siedlecki since he joined the program in 1997. But Yale lost its fourth game — a 20-17 heartbreaker to Dartmouth — and the team has since been on a three-game skid.
But the team hopes to stop history in its tracks now.
“The atmosphere on this year’s team is different from last year,” free safety Barton Simmons ’04 said. “Many of the guys on this year’s team also played last year, and those guys are determined not to let [last year’s collapse] happen again. Those guys want to turn this season around.”
The Elis will need a big turnaround if they want to finish with a winning record. In the season’s first three games, Yale outscored its opponents 127 to 56. Since the Dartmouth loss, Yale has been outscored 75 to 44. The Yale offense has struggled to find the end zone, managing only four touchdowns in the last three games.
But most distressing of all is the collapse of the Bulldogs’ ground game. Over the season’s first three games, the Elis amassed an astounding 969 ground yards. Since the Dartmouth loss, the Bulldogs have managed only 139 rushing yards. Running back Robert Carr ’05, who ran for 558 total yards in the first three games, has only managed 222 yards since.
“Three straight losses weigh heavily on the confidence level of players,” Siedlecki said. “It is our job as a staff and team to rally around each other and believe in ourselves.”
But the Bulldogs are not the only team struggling this season. The Lions, pegged to finish last in the Ancient Eight by the preseason media poll, have not shown any reason to doubt the pollsters since. The Lions have not won since their season opener, when they edged out favored Fordham 13-11 with a last minute field goal on Sept. 21.
Still, the Lions have had their moments. Fordham, the only team yet to lose to the Lions, has gone on on to win six straight and is currently 6-1.
And in two out of its three Ivy League games, Columbia has lost by a field goal or less. The Lions were only three points shy of sending their Oct. 5 Princeton game into overtime, losing 35-32. And last week, Dartmouth barely eked out a 24-23 win over the Lions. Against Ivy League leader Pennsylvania, Columbia trailed just 13-10 at halftime.
“[Columbia] is a good team that has lost several close games,” Siedlecki said. “In three of those games, they led in the fourth quarter. We need a win badly and so do they. Every game is precious whether you are playing the first place team in the league or the last place team. That is the mentality we must take into this game.”
Siedlecki’s words have not fallen on deaf ears. The Elis are fully aware of the game’s importance, despite Columbia’s preseason ranking and record.
“[A win] would be really crucial,” Simmons said. “We’ve got to come out and stop the backward momentum and right the ship. We’ve got to change our mindset; we’ve got to get back into the mindset of winning.”
The Bulldogs will benefit from Columbia’s inconsistent run defense that has allowed 183 yards per game. And while Yale will look to revive its dormant rushing game this weekend, the Elis have learned not to rely on numbers.
“We are going to stick to a balanced game plan and keep our options open going into Columbia,” running back Pat Bydume ’04 said. “Dartmouth was one of the worst teams in Division I-AA defending against the run coming into that game, and they had a great game plan. We’re going see what they throw at us and play it from there.”
Yale’s secondary also will need to improve upon its performance last week against Penn. Columbia averages 222.5 aerial yards per game. Lions quarterback Steve Hunsberger is currently fourth in passing in the Ivy League, having completed 127 of 220 attempts.
To avoid a repeat of last year’s nightmare, when the Bulldogs opened the game with two missed field goals, Yale will need a solid performance from place-kicker John Troost ’05. Last week against Penn, Troost was a perfect 2-2 on field goals with 30-yard and 29-yard kicks.
Troost also has 25 straight extra points dating to last fall. He needs just three more straight to set a new Yale record.
Ed Perks ’90 holds the current record of 27 straight extra points.
With last week’s loss to Penn, the Bulldogs are essentially out of the running for the Ivy crown. The last time a team won the championship with two losses was in 1982 when Dartmouth, Penn and Harvard all tied for first place. But the Bulldogs have not loss their competitive edge.
“Nobody’s given up on the season,” Simmons said. “There’s a lot of pride on the team, and we’ve got a lot to prove. We could end the year and end up on the bottom of the league like everyone thought, or we can win our last four games and finish the season 5-2 [in the Ivy League].”