Like six of its Ivy League opponents, a majority of Yale’s Ivy League games last year were decided by no more than a touchdown. With such parity in the Ancient Eight, no facet of the game can be overlooked on the gridiron, especially not special teams.
With a mere 20 points separating the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and Yale at the top of the Ivy League Football Preseason Media Poll, special teams once again will be a major factor in determining the Ivy League champion.
“Here [in the Ivy League] more than anywhere else, [special teams are] emphasized probably more,” said John Butler, who is Harvard’s assistant coach for linebackers and special teams.
Preseason favorite Penn returns one of the most prominent special teams players, third-team All-American kicker Peter Veldman, who outscored all Ivy Leaguers last year by converting on 12 field goals and 43 extra points for 77 points.
In Penn’s season-opening win against Duquesne University Sept. 20, Veldman scored seven points for the Quakers, converting on four of five extra-point attempts and adding a 20-yard field goal for a 51-10 rout.
Under first-year assistant coach Butler, Harvard, which had seven games decided by fewer than eight points last year, is seeking to improve its special teams’ performance. Harvard finished in the league’s basement in net punting, averaging 26.7 yards per kick.
The Crimson scored six touchdowns but converted on only four extra-point attempts in its 43-23 win against Holy Cross Sept. 20.
Kicker Adam Kingston made a 33-yard field goal for the Cantabs, which could foreshadow better success for Harvard’s kicking game this year.
Special teams penalties, turnovers and miscues plagued Yale in close losses to Dartmouth and Lehigh last year. Unlike Harvard, though, Yale’s special teams were well above average in the Ivy League last fall.
Yale was first in kickoff returns, with more than 22 yards per return, and also ranked first in kickoff coverage, holding opponents to less than 14 yards per return.
Tight ends and special teams coordinator Matt Dence praised the consistent explosiveness of deep men David Knox ’06 and Robert Carr ’05. In the 62-28 season opening win over Towson last Saturday, Knox returned three kicks for 73 yards, averaging a strong 24.3 yards per return.
Although Ryan Allen ’05 and Chandler Henley ’06 punted for the Bulldogs last year, Nate Lawrie ’04, is Yale’s top punter.
“Nate’s really booming the ball,” Dence said. “[Allen] is right on his heels. He did everything we asked him to do over the spring.”
Lawrie and Allen split the punting duties against Towson Sept. 20. Lawrie averaged 34.3 yards on his three punts, and Allen punted for 23 yards on his one attempt.
Field goal kicking should be a strength for the Bulldogs. John Troost ’05 was a perfect 33 for 33 on extra points last fall.
But, despite two Bulldog drives ending on downs in Towson’s red zone, Troost never had a chance to kick a field goal last Saturday. Troost converted eight of nine extra-point attempts in the game.
Despite the increased attention paid to special teams by the top Ivy League schools, Bob Bradley, tight ends and kickers coach for Holy Cross, which typically faces three Ivy League teams each year, said special teams are just as important for other Division I-AA squads.
“The [Ivy special teams’] schemes are pretty much the same,” Bradley said. “[I]n the end it still comes down to players. You’ll get an exceptional kicker or returner, and they will outperform the others on the field on a given day.”