Leaky Crusaders defense hosts Bulldog’s balanced offense



Holy Cross’ football team hopes to end its two-game losing streak on Saturday in what should be a fireworks display of two high-octane offenses at Fitton Field.

Last year, Yale beat Holy Cross 28-19 at the Yale Bowl.

Home field advantage favors the Crusaders (1-3, 1-1 Patriot League). Holy Cross’ sole victory this fall came at Fitton Field: a 42-34 win over Georgetown on Sept. 13. Yale (2-0, 1-0 Ivy) has yet to play an away game.

The Holy Cross defense has been suspect through its first four games, allowing an average of 40.3 points per game, and the Crusader offense has struggled to eke out any semblance of a ground game.

The Holy Cross defense has struggled to defend both the run and the pass. In a 43-23 loss to Harvard on Sept. 20, the Crusaders surrendered 277 ground yards and 354 aerial yards. In last week’s double overtime 46-45 loss to the University of San Diego, the Crusaders relinquished 455 yards total. Last year, Yale beat San Diego, 49-14.

Holy Cross competes in the Division I-AA Patriot League. The Ivy League and the Patriot League have been evenly matched this season, with the Ancient Eight holding a 5-4 advantage.

But if the Crusader defense finds a way to stop or slow Yale, the Crusader air attack can blow the game open. Holy Cross is averaging 32.5 points per game this season.

The Crusaders’ leading rusher, Steve Silva (61 season attempts for 289 yards), has passed the century mark only once this season, in the Georgetown win. Silva is unlikely to improve his statistics this weekend; the Bulldogs have not allowed a 100-yard rusher, and they have kept opponents average scores under 18 points.

Not only has the Crusader ground game been ineffective (producing 494 yards in four games), but the Holy Cross backfield has shown a tendency to turnover. The Crusaders have lost four fumbles and average one fumble every 31 carries.

The Crusaders’ offensive attack is predicated not on Silva’s legs but on quarterback John O’Neil’s arm. O’Neil and backup quarterback Brian Schiller have accounted for 1,189 yards in 138 attempts, along with a mere three interceptions. O’Neil has a 62 percent completion rate for eight touchdowns and only two picks, earning him a Manning-esque 156.4 QB rating.

The Crusaders look to get the ball to their playmaker receivers: Ari Confesor and Nick Larsen. Confesor is the Crusaders’ go-to receiver, hauling in a team-high 32 catches for 437 yards and three touchdowns so far this season. Larsen is the team’s deep threat. Four of his five receptions have been for touchdowns, including a 72-yard touchdown grab.

This pass-predicated attack will force the Bulldogs to limit their presence in the box, relying on secondary coverage and a heavy rush from the front four. The Eli defense should be up to the task after shutting down the Cornell offense on Sept. 27. The Bulldogs yielded a mere 148 passing yards and had one interception, showing tremendous improvement from the previous week’s Towson performance in which the Elis were gouged for 320 aerial yards.

Holy Cross has not excelled on special teams this season. In the double overtime loss to San Diego last week, a two point conversion at the end of the double overtime earned San Diego the victory. Confesor remains a threat on kick returns; he had a 47 yard return against San Diego.

The difference in the game will be turnovers and time of possession. Yale has committed only one turnover this season, while causing seven in two games for a plus-six margin.

In both games, Yale has utilized a balanced attack to win the battle for time of possession. If the Bulldogs can impose their mix of run and pass on the suspect Crusader defense, the offense will be the team’s best defender, keeping the explosive Holy Cross offense on the sidelines.

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