With five veteran receivers as targets and two experienced quarterbacks pulling the trigger, Yale’s aerial game looks to reach new heights this season.
Last season, Yale beat opponents on average yards per completion and total touchdown passes while losing in completion percentage, but the loss of starting quarterback Alvin Cowan ’04 and veteran receiver P.J. Collins ’04 to injury did not help the passing game. But with their healthy return, and the experience of quarterback Jeff Mroz ’05, receivers Ron Benigno ’04 and Ralph Plumb ’05 and tight end Nate Lawrie ’04 alongside, the team has reason to believe its passing game could be one of the best in the Ivy League.
“We’re excited to have [Cowan] back,” Lawrie said. “He hadn’t played pretty much for an entire year, but yesterday [the scrimmage against Princeton on Sept. 6] showed us that he can still get the job done. And as for P.J. [Collins], he’s the fastest guy on the team, and having the kind of speed that he has, it really opens things up. He really gives us a legitimate downfield threat.”
Cowan, who only played one complete game last season, set a school record in Yale’s season opener against San Diego by throwing for three touchdowns and running for three more.
In the following weekend’s game against Cornell, Cowan broke the fibula in his left leg on the second play of the game and sat out the remainder of the season.
Collins, who had 200 receptions prior to his injury, suffered a compound fracture in his clavicle that kept him off the field for the majority of the Bulldogs’ Ivy schedule.
But this season, Cowan and Collins are both back and healthy.
But Cowan and Collins are not Yale’s only aerial weapons. The Elis also return veteran receivers Benigno, Plumb and Chandler Henley ’06. Plumb was the Bulldogs’ top receiver last season with 55 catches for a total of 592 yards. Benigno was a close third and averaged 17.5 yards per catch and a team-high six receptions for touchdowns.
“Our receivers are a diverse group,” Yale head coach Jack Siedlecki said. “We run two, three and four receiver sets and will mix and match per game plan. P.J. [Collins] provides speed, Ron Benigno is a great route runner, Chandler [Henley] has the best pair of hands I’ve seen since Eric Johnson, and Ralph [Plumb] is a big physical receiver that is a threat everywhere on the field.”
Besides its wideouts, Yale also will be returning All-Ivy tight end Lawrie. Lawrie hauled in 41 passes for 505 yards and four touchdowns last season and was the team’s second most productive receiver.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with Nate [Lawrie] this year,” Cowan said. “He’s not going to be unknown any more, and teams will be looking for him. But he’s a big target to throw to, and for the coaches he’s like a security blanket. They’ll definitely throw some wrinkles in there to get him the ball.”
Increased practice may also work to Yale’s advantage.
“Coach Sied[lecki] has been telling us that we are further along this season than we have been at similar points in past seasons,” Collins said. “The changes they have made to our practices this preseason [less two-hour double sessions and more three-hour single sessions] has been really helpful. I have a great feeling about our offense this year.”